I was scrolling through my news feed this afternoon and came across an article that was posted in the Indie Author Group. The second I saw the title, every horrible, terrible memory from my first attempt at publishing came rushing back to me. I promised one day I would I have an answer for why it took so long to publish my first book, and here it is:
Indie Publishing was still in its infancy when I completed my first book. After two rejection letters, I started looking at different ways to get my book out there. When I typed “alternative book publishing options” in a Google search, it was page after page of “Don’t Do It”, “You’re NOT an Author”, “Indie Pub is For Hacks”, “100 Reasons You Shouldn’t Indie Pub”…you get the idea. It was drilled into my head that indie authors were industry pariahs, low men on the totem poles and would never be taken seriously.
*revised with updated industry terms and other valuable information*
Vanity Press Publishing
I mentioned once on MySpace (yeah…it was that damn long ago!) that I’d written a book and was struggling to publish it. Within about a week, my inbox was filled with “interest” in my novel. I was thrilled! Until I opened the first email. And then the second. By the third one, I wasn’t even bothering. The presses contacting me weren’t legitimate publishers with verifiable distribution. YOU paid THEM to publish your book. There was no risk on their part. If the book sold, they got a cut of the profits, if it didn’t, “oh well.” To this day, I get at least one email a week from companies like this. I always caution new and aspiring authors to read the terms carefully and research the company thoroughly. Look at their distribution and the authors they have signed. And remember, if you’ve mentioned ANYWHERE on a public forum that you have either written a book or are working on one, you will show up on their radar. Unless you have an agent and a contract with a major pub house, there are going to be expenses. Vanity Presses aren’t necessarily a bad option, just make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you send them your money or your manuscript. ***Side Note*** I spoke to an author once who sent her completed MS to one of these presses. They decided NOT to publish it. A few months later, her book showed up for sale under a different author’s name.
***Author G.B Miller contacted the blog to include the following note about Vanity Press***
“Vanity presses offer zero editorial help, zero marketing help (unless you pay for it) and zero distribution (Amazon only). They will publish your manuscript as is.”
Digital First Publishing
After ruling out Vanity Press (I didn’t have $8,000 just sitting around) I looked into a third option. Digital First includes publishers like Ellora’s Cave and Siren. You didn’t pay anything up front, didn’t have to have an agent, and everything was done electronically. The publisher would distribute your book through their site and affiliates, they would get a percentage of your sales (45-55% at that time) and would mail you a monthly/quarterly check. One of the things that I didn’t like about Digital First was the lack of creative control. You literally sent in the MS, they edited/revised to their specifications and designed their own cover. Most of these presses also had contract requirements between 2 and 5 years. Now remember, this was several years ago, and I am almost certain several aspects of this type of publishing have changed. In talking with authors who DO publish through these presses, I’ve learned there are two very attractive benefits:
1. Distribution. If your book performs well digitally, it’s possible the pub will print it in trade and distribute it to book retailers. Places like Barnes & Noble and Target have special contracts with some of these presses that reserve a certain amount of shelf space for their books.
2. And this is the BIG one. There are fewer genre and content constraints. That is not to say “anything goes,” but this allows authors to step outside traditional formats and common themes to publish something The Big Five may consider too risque or sensitive for their market. My absolute FAVORITE series debuted with Ellora’s Cave. Berkley signed the 6th book, and every one after that. There are, to date, 27 books in this series, and every new release debuts on the best seller’s list.
***Lynne Connolly offers greater insight and details regarding current publishing options in How to Choose a Publisher.***
In “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors,” first published in March 2014 on GoodeReader.com, Michael Kozlowski says “Indie authors and self-published authors who claim they are real authors makes me laugh. The term basically doesn’t mean anything.” That is exactly the kind of negativity (along with the third rejection letter if I am being totally honest) that forced my manuscript into a box four years ago. Is he entitled to his opinion? Of course. Does he make a few valid points? That depends on where YOU stand.
Literature is a form of art. It’s subjective. What one person likes, another may hate. Just look at Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s one of the best selling books in history. It’s a major motion picture that is breaking box office records worldwide, yet there are almost as many people calling it “poor fan fiction” “that never should have been published,” as there are people calling it the greatest piece of fiction of our time. Regardless of detractors, Indies and Traditionals alike aspire to achieve the kind of success E.L. James has.
Are Indies Really Authors?
The indie industry has exploded, and authors like Tara Sivec and Jasinda Wilder have paved the way for so many aspiring authors to become published. These women went out on that limb when it was still dangling above the shark tank. They broke trope rules, crossed genre boundaries and charged through the criticism to become some of the most successful authors in the industry. I dare anyone to say these ladies are not authors.
Am I an Author?
Like Kozlowski callously pointed out, “Just because its easy to upload your written word, so that it can be downloaded to another machine does not make you an author, any more than me buying a stethoscope allows me to be called a doctor.” I believe the point he is ‘trying’ to make is that Indie Authors are not held to any particular standard. He highlights this by listing some of the criteria required in order to join certain professional organizations. I belong to one of those organizations, so by that definition, YES. I am a professional author. But he later discredits that by pointing out “professionals” are required to meet certain standards or guidelines in order to be considered a professional. The very reason I published Shattered Dreams independently is because it DID NOT meet the guidelines outlined by the publishers I submitted my work to. The story played out in my head like a soap opera. I wrote the book that way. Changing it to fit what pub houses wanted would have landed me a fat little contract, but it would have compromised the story and diluted its uniqueness. That was not something I was willing to do. So I put it out there on my own. I hired industry professionals to edit and format the content. I used a professional artist to design my cover. I spent the time and money to learn and understand an industry that changes almost daily. But by Kozlowski’s standards, I’m really not an author.
Yes, it’s a lot easier now to publish a book than it has been in years past. But that doesn’t make it easy. There is so much more that goes into publishing a book than I think most people realize. And when you’re going indie, it’s even more difficult. You have to find, interview and hire professionals for everything from editing to cover design and layout. These expenses are typically covered by pub house. As an indie, it’s all on you. You can buy stock photos and risk the same image showing up on someone else’s cover, or you can contract an exclusive shoot which will cost even more. Your cover design will be based entirely on your visual preferences and may not be well received. In the digital world, that can make or break your novel. Traditional publishers have a marketing team devoted to promoting their work. They have market insight not readily available to indies, and a distribution range that is almost impossible to achieve without major financial backing. Indies are relegated to digital distribution in a market that is expanding further and faster than readers can keep up. They have to come up with new and inventive ways to attract readers and hope that their work keeps them coming back for more.
I have a difficult time calling myself an author. My book is an original work of fiction that is available in digital and print versions. Both are selling. I’ve been asked for my autograph, invited to attend signings, and have even been nominated for a few awards. To anyone else, those things would probably make me an author. But the truth is, the stigma of articles like Kozlowski’s make me feel less than adequate enough to openly carry that distinction.
The literary world is changing daily. People who have been denied the opportunity to distribute their work to the masses are finally being given the opportunity. I can only hope that at some point in the future, those of us who choose a different route will be given the same consideration as those who have followed traditional methods. Instead of judging the method, it’s time to start judging the content.