Why Independently Publishing Works for Me

I am independently publishing my debut novel, PEAK CROSSER (EMPIRE OF THE PEAKS BOOK 1) and I've decided to do that with my next work, SEED OF SYCORAX. My decision on the later was heavily influenced by two podcasts and an interview I recently consumed. 

In an interview with author Hugh Howey at Digital Book World, I may have found my self publishing manifesto. Howey unloads on the traditional publishing model and says new authors should work exclusively through Amazon to maximize profitability. He highlights price control, branding and speed as key advantages to independently publishing. He also does not have much positive to say about traditional publishing. 

Next was an episode of the excellent Author Biz podcast. In episode 71 (dated March 7, 2016), best-selling author Annie Bellet has an excellent interview with host Stephen Campbell. She recounts her story of ignoring the classical publishing advice, striking out on her own, and then finding a lot of success (and money) publishing her own stuff. 

Lastly was an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast with author Michaelbrent Collins. He discussed the good and bad of self publishing, with the traditionally published authors on the panel offering counterpoint.

Last November on this blog, I recounted why I chose to independently publish my debut novel, PEAK CROSSER (EMPIRE OF THE PEAKS BOOK 1), which is due out on May 26. The biggest reason: I had been rejected by 30+ agents and four publishers. In other words, I didn't have much of a choice.

My latest project, SEED OF SYCORAX, is an epic space opera inspired by Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST. As I prepared a query letter and revamped my query list, I stopped before I finished. I didn't want to query again. I don't believe in the process, so why should I participate? The interview's with Hugh Howey and Annie Bellet rang in my mind.

So here are my three reasons to continue independently publishing my fiction.

The gateway to traditional publishing is rusty and broken.
This is how publishing traditionally works: Author writes novel, author queries agents, agents query publishers, publisher decides to pick novel and sign the author. Though there are exceptions, the process is extremely slow and depends on an author's ability to effectively query, not her ability to write a good book. Besides its inefficiencies, it's also a strange system to break into. Why are literary agents so important? Why are they the gatekeepers? It's a good system for publishers, because they can outsource finding new authors and don't have to sift through the chaff. And it's great for agents because they get 15%. But is it good for authors? And why is it done the same way in 2016 as it was done in 1956? Almost every industry in the world has morphed, yet traditional publishing looks almost exactly like it did if my grandfather had been publishing a novel at my age.

The independent economy is better than the traditional economy.
Let's say I've signed with a publisher and they've given me a nice $10,000 advance. Before studying publishing, I would have been stoked. But here's the deal: I don't make any additional revenue until my gross royalties eclipse $10,000. So, let's say my ebook is priced at $5, and Amazon keeps 30%. What's left is $3.50, and the author typically gets 25% of that. Net is $0.89 per ebook. To hit $10,000, that's 11,236 books sold. And I didn't mention the 15% your agent gets, which would make it more like $0.75/book. That's 13,333 books to make $10,000.

Of course, my little math exercise does not include paper books, but let's stick with the ebook example for simplicity. If I independently publish, I get the $3.50 to myself. I only have to sell 2,857 books to make $10,000. That's right: 25% of the books and the same profit. 

But that's not fair. A traditional publisher will cover the expenses of cover art, editing and distribution. They will also, in theory, handle marketing, though that's likely not going to be much of anything for a new, unproven author. And the 15% you give to an agent wasn't wasted, assuming the agent's connections and pitching got you the traditional publishing deal.

But in our hypothetical example, do the publisher, agent and e-retailer deserve 85% of the value of what you created? As the author, as the artist, aren't you the one who created most of the value, but yet you get so little? Except for the biggest authors, the match favors those who independently publish. 

Creative control is greater when you're on your own.
One of my biggest gripes about working in the corporate world is that I feel like I have so little control over my work and my career. One of the reasons I'm drifting toward writing is that I can control more.

Of course, both sides of this coin are not as different as they appear. In my corporate career, I do actually have a fair amount of autonomy and I do have some control of my career. And in traditional publishing, unless you become a rock star, you're not going to have as much control as you'd think. 

Independent publishing gives me total control. I pick the cover, I pick the editor, I chose when to launch. Now it's not total control: I can't make readers enjoy my book, and I certainly can't make anyone buy it. And control can be scary. If my book falters, I can't blame the publisher or an agent for not making it work; that will be all on me, and I'm good with that.

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Independent publishing isn't for everyone. I am a marketer by training and career, and I enjoy the business side of things. For many authors, they want nothing to do with the business side, preferring a publisher and/or an agent to handle that stuff.

So the independent path is my road for now. Could I eventually be traditionally published? Absolutely, if they right opportunity arises. But my launchpad will be this one, and I'm really excited to see where it takes me.