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B Plot

My journey into Indie Publishing

Picture of Renée holding her book Jaded Hearts

Twelve years ago, I decided to write again. It was a hobby at first, but as my writing and stories improved, I gave serious thought to publishing. At first, I thought traditional publishing was the route for me, but I knew the odds of being published were slim. 

I attended several author conferences to learn from experienced writers. I attended panels where agents described what they were looking for in an author. I attended sessions in which panellists were representatives of small presses, and they were extremely candid in explaining their resource constraints. A small Canadian press owner said he wouldn’t publish an author if the author had already self-published the book. I asked why. The owner said the author had already taken his customer base away, the author’s friends and family. 

I was stunned by their response. The small press expected to sell 15-25 units. While it’s unlikely an author will make a full-time income selling books, it seemed to me an established press (with its newsletters, social media, connections, etc.) should be able to sell more than 25 units. 

Or, I should say that a small press should have a goal of selling more than 25 units. They shouldn’t stop trying to sell once the author’s sold it to their friends and family. 

The other representatives of small presses on the panel agreed with the person’s assessment of not taking on a self-published book.

That conversation left me with a lot to think about. 

I was leaning towards indie publishing at this point because my fantasy romance series is 29 books. No publisher will agree to a 29-book series from a no-name author. And worse yet, a publisher might agree to the first three books but not the entire series, leaving fans hopping from one publisher to the next looking for the series. And my nightmare, the first book is picked up by a publisher, and they control whether the rest of the series is published for the next seven years. 

One key takeaway from these conferences is that writing a series is easier to sell in the long term than writing a stand-alone book. Indie authors at these conferences say a series provides a higher return on investment in marketing dollars because if a reader picks up book four and likes it, they’ll likely order the first three. 

That works in my favour because I like to write long arcs that can’t be contained in one book. 

I participated in other conferences that had representatives from larger publishers on panels. One panel discussed the importance of authors self-promoting their work because publishers don’t have the budget to market their books. Many publishers no longer pay for author tours, and it’s up to the author to organise blog tours, pay publicists, and attend book shows.

If the author’s expected to put that much effort into marketing, I’m leaning towards keeping more of the royalties to compensate for that work. Most publishing companies don’t budget on their percentage of royalties. If you have an agent, additional percentages are directed to the agent. 

A publisher said they receive over 6,000 submissions for 48 slots. Of those 48 slots for new books in one year, 12 are already earmarked for a specific series. That leaves 36 books that the publisher would be open to considering books. Of those 36 books, the publishing company leans heavily in favour of authors they’ve worked with before.  

The editors are swamped with submissions which is why most authors receive a form rejection. The editors don’t have the time to provide individualised feedback. 

Finding these calls and submitting the proposals (which have to be tailored to each publisher) seems like a lot of work for a low acceptance rate. 

Traditional publishers and agents are the way to go for many authors. Publishing companies and agents offer unique value-add to a large swathe of writers. Many writers prefer to leave the business stuff to professionals and focus on writing their next book. 

That’s okay. 

What I’m presenting are my experiences and perceptions. 

The first year of COVID did something to my brain. I couldn’t write fantasy romance anymore. I had started the first four books of a series fantasy romance series, but I couldn’t continue with them. At least, not at that time. 

I switched from writing exclusively fantasy romance to other genres including contemporary, historical westerns, and sports romances, to jumpstart my writing. Someone tagged me in a call for a book submission as part of a common-world series. Multiple authors would be writing books based on the same world, and their characters could and would interact with one another. 

It was an interesting concept and in a new genre. I had never submitted to a publisher and figured it was worth this one shot.  

I submitted an outline, and it was approved. I wrote the piece and submitted the first three chapters. I was thrilled when the editor asked for a full manuscript, which I promptly submitted. The editor came back to me with suggestions on improving the text and said she’d be willing to review the entire manuscript again.

I was excited to receive such coaching and advice from an editor at a respected mid-range publisher in the United States. I know several authors who have published with this company and were extremely pleased with their experience. I reworked my manuscript and resubmitted it. It was turned down. 

I could have lived with it being turned down. However, the editor said it wasn’t a fit for the common-world series and then directed me to a fee-for-editing service at the same publisher. I perceived the common-world series as a hook to attract different (new to the publisher authors) and then direct them to their paid editing services.

Whether that was the publisher’s intention or not, that’s how I interpreted the situation. It left me more convinced that Indie publishing was the way for me. I control the costs and the production schedule and have full creative oversight of the cover, marketing, and social media posts. I also have direct control over how much advertisement I spend and when. 

I’m always learning and honing the skills needed to be an indie author. I regularly take writing courses to improve my craft. I participate in a professional writers’ association and attend conferences. I listen to writing-related podcasts and learn about marketing, social media, and different mechanisms that successful indie authors use to keep their content fresh, balance writing with running the publishing business and keep to a production schedule. 

I learned about the broader indie author ecosystem and the services available to support an indie author. These include low-cost cook cover options, editing services, video trailer services, and a host of other supports for successfully launching a book.

By no means am I suggesting you sink 10k in a book launch. I take the grow-steady approach, where I grow my following/readership over time. All money I make from writing gets reinvested into marketing. I have strategic marketing campaigns, and I look for no-cost, low-cost ways of advertising. I engage in review swaps and so on. 

The group 20 books to 50k offers great marketing insights. This group is tightly moderated. It’s best to sort through their archives before asking a question (as the question will likely not be accepted by an admin). They have a yearly conference in which most sessions are viewable through Youtube. 

Years ago, I decided to be a writer. I didn’t know which route I would take, but as I engaged with the market, it became clearer that indie publishing was my way. Will I think that way in five- or ten years? I don’t know. But for now, indie all the way. 

Thank you @LouSchlesinger for the topic suggestion. 

Readers are encouraged to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron 

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