Indie, Indeed: Talking Indie vs. Traditional Publishing and Why So Many Choose Indie.

Hi. My name is Bethany Anne Lovejoy, and I’ve included a photo of myself below just to remind you that I am a real person with a real dog who really loves me.

This is because when we talk indie publishing, people often get a little blood thirsty.

There was a storm and my car was broken and needed to be replaced and to be honest I was kinda praying the storm would take it– but do so quietly so my dog wouldn’t be alarmed.

Anyway; I wasn’t planning on doing this. To be honest, I was planning on having a post mortem post for my latest series released on Saturday, starting a blog event around Wednesday, and then just writing for the rest of the month with some check ins. But here we are…

And if you don’t know why we’re here then, welp, here’s my summary.

Authors Behaving Badly: the Busy Month of January

Okay, so someone faked her death, there was some coloring book drama, a bunch of morally questionable books came out– and everyone turned to point towards indie publishing like, “you did this.”

Which, I mean…

Listen, there are both good and bad things about indie publishing.

I’ve queried before, I’ve looked at going traditional, I’ve also had offers to represent my books traditionally (which unfortunately happened long after said books became published), and yeah. I’m also friends with traditionally published authors and heard their stories as well as being well versed in the general process of publishing these past few years but I am going to put a disclaimer here that as I am one person who primarily publishes in the indie sphere, I can’t speak for the community as a whole, and as I look at expanding my publishing record, I am looking into releasing a few books traditionally as well and becoming one of the many hybrid authors.

I’m not going to sit here and say that traditional is bad, nor am I going to state that indie is a bad way to publish. I’m just going to state what I know, tell you why so many are publishing indie, and then refer you to the amazing Katee Robert who breaks down publishing a lot on her twitter as well.

Let’s Talk Indie

Okay, we’re going to state the widest known fact about indie here and sort of break it down.

Indie publishing is more accessible.

It is, it just is. Amazon has made it so simple for an author to just upload a manuscript, slap a jpeg on there, and run. (We’re going to talk about amazon in this section because I’m amazon only, spoiler.)

There’s no querying, there’s no waiting. Hell, there doesn’t even need to be editing if you’re ballsy– but so many people are missing the actual facts here. The largest one of those being that if you’re going to be successful in indie publishing, you have to actually have a good book.

Actually, more than that, but I’ll touch on that later.

The long and short of the good book theory here is that it’s actually pretty easy for readers to tell if a book is bad, and without a big marketing department to get you all of those amazing author reviews, tweak your blurb to appear palatable, and send your books off to readers who actually like that sort of thing… you’re going to fall flat.

Even if you’re successful with your initial launch, a well written book is one that will hold up in the market, passing between readers with ease. A poorly written book? Not so much. Just one one star review can sink your ratings and tank your sales, and if a reader marks your book as containing glaring grammatical errors then a handy little banner shows up on your amazon listing to tell people about it.

To be a successful indie author, it turns out you actually have to write… well. And often.

The often thing kinda gets me, and I don’t think a lot of people really understand it, considering the fact that I’ve broken down to a lot of other indie authors that one book is very rarely going to make you a millionaire, but let me break it down.

Because of how the amazon algorithm works and because of how readers work, in some genres you need to publish more than others in order to make a living. Namely romance.

This is called rapid releasing and it’s the best way to make a living, even better than the momentary high of being a tiktok favorite.

Rapid releasing is where you build your catalogue very quickly in a very short amount of time so that your readers actually have something to read. Since a majority of your income comes from that initial launch day release money and backlist sales, it’s important for a lot of indies to release as much as possible as quickly as possible so that they have the backlist to maintain readers’ attention and survive when there isn’t a new release coming out. It’s the reason why indie authors often have like fifty something titles out a few years into their careers where as traditional only have two to five.

Now, some people employ ghostwriters to keep a stream of steady releases, and I am a ghostwriter for a few other indie authors; but a lot of people don’t. This is because you’re not guaranteed a profit with any book that you release and to be honest? More authors lose money on their first few releases than ever gain money. Trust me.

Now, reading all of this, you probably think that being indie sounds like an awful, grueling adventure; so why do people do it?

Well, I’m glad you ask.

The Realities of Traditional Publishing

Okay, so we’re going to lead off with the primary factor here, which is money. That’s going to be the thread that connects literally all of these points under the realities of traditional publishing, because authors unfortunately like to eat. Therefore, money.

Advances.

You are given an advance when your book is sold to a publishing house. A lot of publishing houses have begun breaking these advances down into chunks in exchange for you actually editing and refining your manuscript, a lot of these chunks are quarterly…

Hearing that, some of you are going to think that the advance that an author would receive is big enough to live off of for a year or something– you’d actually be wrong.

Most debut authors I know have gotten two thousand dollar advances, which isn’t exactly life changing money but is nice. It’s not enough to quit your job or anything, but it does make things comfier.

Now the important thing to note here is; you won’t get any royalties until that advance earns out… and also most authors don’t earn out their advances.

This is because you’re only given a percentage of each sale, and said percentage goes towards making back that advance payment until bam, it’s time to earn royalties.

I know one person who has earned out her advance. She gets three dollars in royalties checks every month.

Which, like, no shame to her. No shame to her publishing house. A lot of people went into making her books, but she makes more as an indie author because all of her investments have been made upfront and also she controls how she’s marketed which brings me to…

The midlist.

Most authors are midlist. Not best sellers. That’s just reality.

It’s hard to explain midlist, but basically, they’re books that sell a decent amount, but don’t warrant a ton of attention. They still make money for the publishers, they’re just not being pushed like a bestseller would, and while they still have a dedicated fan base, it’s just not enough for many publishers to feel like they warrant extra attention.

Sometimes a midlist book explodes in popularity, sometimes it doesn’t. A lot of the times it doesn’t. A lot of the times those authors on the midlist feel like their books could have been sold better, and thus when the rights expire; bam, republished as an indie.

Sometimes.

Or sometimes the rights expire and they become sorta lost media. That’s just how the game is played, I guess.

And the game is played for a super longtime.

Let’s talk about…

The Wait.

This is what got me with traditional publishing. I heard back from an agent regarding one of my books a year after it was published, and that’s a long time when all you want to do is write.

Everything about traditional publishing takes a long time.

I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.

In order to get your foot in the door in traditional publishing, you need to get an agent, and in order to get an agent, you need to query. Only when you’re querying, you’re querying at the same time as hundreds of thousands of other people, many of whom having sent their manuscript to the same agent as you and left a massive pile of papers on their desk.

The poor agent, or their intern depending on how they’re feeling that day, is then left to sift through said massive pile of papers reading ten to twenty page samples of manuscripts (sometimes more, depends on the agent) to find gold. And said gold? Said gold is a piece of fiction that they feel could sell in the marketplace anywhere from six months to a few years from then, which is not an easy decision.

This means that a lot of books are turned down, only for the author to pick them up, spruce them up and query again, or give up on them and begin writing a new manuscript. A lot of the time, your first manuscript doesn’t get picked up (which is probably good in my case), but it takes months to hear that news, and even if you get picked up by an agent for a book you’re not necessarily guaranteed to sell said book.

And even if you sell said book, you’re not necessarily guaranteed a sequel of said book.

Or a sequel of the one following it.

You’re just waiting to see if you earn out the advance of that first book, and if you’ve proven your value to the markets, and to a lot of authors that’s hard. I mean, it was hard for me!

I didn’t want to wait, gosh darn it! I wanted to write more books.

And thus, indie.

“So, Wait, Miss Lovejoy, Are You Saying that Traditional Publishing is an Unprofitable, Hellish Slog?”

Whoa, I would never say that.

In fact, I’m querying later this year.

What I am saying is that for a lot of authors, the current structure of traditional publishing just isn’t financially feasible or emotionally fulfilling at this moment, but there’s a lot of great things about traditional publishing and bad things about indie publishing. In fact, let me make a list to save my carpal tunnel-addled wrists here and break it down a little

Good things about traditional publishing:

  • They handle your marketing, which can actually be really really good depending on where you rank with them. They have a ton of resources at their disposal, and can really help even an already existing author continue to grow. (Thus why some indie authors are branching out to go traditional as well)
  • There’s the prestige associated with it, largely because it’s not easy to get traditionally published.
  • An amazing support system built in, rather than indie where you kind of have to go searching for it.
  • They are so good at handling rights and finding ways to make your book more accessible, which is something I really admire about traditional publishing and wish was easier for indie. I want people of all kinds to have the opportunity to experience my story!
  • Beautiful covers most of the time.
  • It’s easier to get into libraries and events, as well as connect with other authors.
  • They handle just about everything but the writing. (And recently some of the marketing as traditional pushes authors towards social media, but more on that another day.)

Bad things about indie publishing:

  • You are expected to do nearly everything on your own and figure out the quality of the people you hire on your own which can result in a lot of being scammed and feeling burnt out.
  • There is a large upfront cost.
  • There is a stigma against indie publishing because for everyone who works really hard at it, there’s someone who just throws a book up. A lot of people don’t take into account the success of the throwing a book up guy and the fact that he typically leaves after two titles, so they lump you in with him.
  • It’s very socially taxing at times because there is no wall in-between you and other people, and it’s hard to explain to the people who read your books and feel a connection to you that you can not trust everyone in this world. (I had a lot of people try to mail me dog treats this year, and some took it poorly when I informed them that while I appreciate the gesture, I cannot accept them. I appreciate the gesture of cooking Brownie biscuits but as I do not know you nor what you used and have my own allergies as well as caring for the well being of my dog… please don’t.)
  • Running your own audiobook auditions. That’s a story for another day. (We almost got an Alice audio book where someone sounded like a Texas production of A Christmas Story)
  • Not every book is guaranteed to sell, which can put you in a tight spot financially after investing, and none of your income is guaranteed.

That’s All I Have to Say for Now

There’s a lot more that could be said about this, there’s a lot more I could say about some of the drama going on in the community, but if you’re looking for more information on publishing, there are so many different resources you can check out, and so many authors who really actively talk about the realities of publishing. I love Katee Robert, she’s so open and realistic when it comes to publishing, and she’s just a really amazing person overall.

Katee talks about her adventures in publishing here and she’s SO COOL. She’s just so smart and strategic and creative and ugh, I adore her.

One thought on “Indie, Indeed: Talking Indie vs. Traditional Publishing and Why So Many Choose Indie.

  1. Oh yeah, I’m one of those authors who didn’t earn out their advance. And while I was grateful to have a marketing team behind me, I also didn’t have any control over what happened with the book. Am greatly considering self-publishing just to round out my experience and to get a feel for both. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Like

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