When I first decided to publish a book I didn't have very realistic or really any grounded expectations of what I wanted to happen. I wanted to write a book but I didn't want it to just sit on a shelf, something I could say I did and maybe bring down once in a while to show off. I think pretty much everyone who writes a novel, or a short story or a poem or a sonnet or whatever we put down on paper does so because we want that story, that message, that something that was deep inside us to come out and go into the world. We write it because we want to share it. We need to share that story or at least I did. In fact, I needed to share five or six before I got it right and found one I thought really had the wings to fly in the world.
Then the problem came. How do I publish this thing? By the time Watcher was nearing completion I had become a pretty active user of social media and had a decent Twitter following with a couple of hundred friends on Facebook. Nothing earth-shattering but enough that I could get opinions and start to question the writing industry I was about to join as a full-fledged member. No more training wheels, it was time to jump in. Thanks to the wonderful Twitter writing community and the Indie Author Coalition (both of which I highly recommend) I discovered that there was definitely no shortage of authors seeking a path to recognition and that they had chosen not just the two roads I was familiar with (Indie or Traditional) but a whole plethora of hybrids and alternative journeys. It seemed suddenly that every title had its own story to tell outside of the brilliance hidden within its pages.
That there even were options was a surprise. I came into writing assuming that I would have to pitch my fledgling manuscript in submission hell for years to even attain an agent, let alone a contract. Did people still use agents? Were they necessary? How do you pick the right one? The questions abounded. Truth was, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing...and that's how I ended up choosing the path that would ultimately be ( I believe) the most beneficial to my personal vision of success. You see, success was the thing that I had to determine. What did it look like? What did it encompass for me specifically and what did it not look like? Were there things I wasn't willing to give up in exchange for say a larger market or a shot at more money. To say I wasn't in it for the money would be a bald-faced lie. As writers, we all want to get paid for our art but there is art involved and when morality and monetary concerns come together, it can get murky.
I felt obligated to my creation to give it the best life possible. Like a child being ushered off into the world. I felt like it was my duty to prepare it the best I could for a positive and fulfilling life and hope...one day it would return, stronger and better because of that. Or some shit, I don't know but I knew I had to do right by the art. So my list of demands looked a little something like this:
1: Creative Control
2: Purity of Vision
3: Opportunity for Profit
Yours may look different. It probably does but this laid the groundwork for the hardest decision I ever had to make about my craft. How to proceed with a finished manuscript and a lackluster bank account.
In truth almost before the last words were written I knew what was going to happen. I knew that as much as I idealized the phone calls from big publishing houses, offering up thousands of dollars in advances, validating your talent and begging for your gifts on shelves nationwide (worldwide?) it had to be different. For one, this story needed to be told right now and entirely because of my own doing. I promised myself when I started that if I reached 35 and hadn't finished a book, I'd move on to something else. That was ten years ago. Ten years! How could I envision the level of procrastination an author can muster when truly pressed. So at 34 and counting, I knew it was time. I also knew that waiting on a publisher meant maybe never seeing my book in print, maybe waiting years and finally giving up in frustration (or not...some traditional writers hit out of the park and I might have been one of them) or maybe....giving up on this dream altogether. I did not want that.
I wanted to feel like I had made something worth sharing and I did. I also wanted to bring it to the world on my terms. This meant a lot of work. Lord knows, I've learned more about formatting and kerning and PDFs with freaking page numbers that won't freaking line up...they just...it's not right and I don't know what I did wrong and AHHH!!! It's a learning process. To make things harder I decided to become an imprint. So legally I'm a publisher and an author recognized as an LLC by the state of North Carolina. This gives a ton of added benefits I'll cover in another article but in short, I gained complete artistic control and protected myself from potential trouble should any arise. Fingers crossed.
So my decision was made. Indie was the way to go but I want to point out here this decision wasn't made because I was afraid of failure or because it was easier by any means. Doing it right. Putting out a top-quality product that can compete with the big publishing houses side by side on a shelf, advertising that product, propping it up, pitching it to distributors, going to every single store in a 100-mile radius and raving about how great it is...is exhausting. It's the hardest thing in the world sometimes. I really wish there was a team of editors making sure my copy was perfect. A design group putting together a gorgeous cover and an army of publicity specialists lining up book events but....that's not the industry. Even traditional novelists don't get the support they once did and most of the trad authors I know do a TON of self-support on their own social media, on their own pages and blogs and of their own volition. The fact is, publishing has changed and the way we write and sell books has changed with it.
So I gained creative control by taking out the middle man but in exchange, I took on all the responsibility of getting that exactly right and learning the lessons of what failing to do so costs you. Spoiler: time and money. Neither of which an indie author, especially one who still works a 40 hour week, has much of. I maintained my specific vision for my book by being essentially the director of my own publishing plan but this meant...I had to have a plan (I didn't) and if that vision was off? Oops, no one to blame, no one to pick up the pieces. So there were some bumps. But I still had the third demand, the most important if you want to sleep inside and eat at least two meals a day. I had to profit.
Profiting as an indie author is about easy as balancing a pickle upright on your nose, while riding a unicycle, in an amphitheater with hungry lions. It's hard. The money is out there, the sales are out there, thousands of rabid book readers who want YOUR BOOK are out there but reaching them.....is hard. It's soul-crushingly hard sometimes and even though I make pretty steady sales, if I stop for even one day, so do they. It is not a set it and forget it, three-step plan to success. It's more like fifteen steps and some of them may not be right so you have to go back and try again and what was I doing again? It's a job. But....it's one I love and I think most of us do. Now that the decision has been made, I wouldn't change it for the world. I'm super excited about being in charge of my own future and I get REALLY excited when I think of bringing other authors into the fold down the line, promoting their creations and increasing the exposure really great talents receive. Someday in the future that will be a moment of true accomplishment. For now, though, I'm learning the ropes and it's one of the most frustrating and fulfilling things I've ever done and that's perfect.
So, for me being indie was a decision born of several factors. I wanted control, I wanted to make money and I wanted to do it my way. If that sounds like you, you might be an indie too. If not, there's so many roads to take on this crazy weird journey, find the one that works for you and don't ever ever ever give up. I don't think there's any wrong way to be an author unless you just stop trying. Even then, you can always start again. Good luck, see you on the shelves!