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Friday, December 9, 2016

Writing Life: 10 Reasons Why I Publish Independently



I think I’ve written about this before, but I’ll write about it again, seeing as many people still ask why I publish independently. So, here you go:

Control

What can I say? I’m a control freak. When something matters, I like to be in control of as many of the things that are going to make it work as I can. I like being able to decide what goes on my book covers, when my stories and books are published, what formats they are published in, and where they are released. I like it a lot.

Responsibility

With great control… or was that power? Anyway, with great control, comes great responsibility. This means that I get to control when my book is released, how its formatted, and all the rest, BUT it also means that I’m responsible for how all that turns out. I can’t blame anyone, if the editing isn’t up to scratch, if my cover sucks, or if the book doesn’t release on time. I can’t pass the task of promoting my work to anyone else, and I can’t blame anyone for my sales figures, or lack thereof. I like this, too; it comes with being a control freak.

Accountability

Some think responsibility and accountability are the same thing, and, in many ways, they’re right. I like to extend the idea of accountability to include being able to account for where things have come from, and gone to. This means I can account for my income, my expenditure, and the intangibles like time spent on projects.

For instance, I know exactly what my royalties are, where they came from, what deductions were made along the way, and so on. I have spreadsheets for these. I also know when my books sold, and when the distributor got paid, as opposed to when I got paid, as there is often a time differential here. It helps me budget and plan more accurately, because I can track what is happening on each of my platforms. I cannot do this with a publisher, as I have discovered.

I also know where my time is going. I can calculate how much time I will have to put into editing, cover design, formatting, uploading, and updating the spaces where I talk about my work. Knowing when a release is going to occur means I can pre-load release announcements, and put aside time for updating Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and my blog.

My Time is My Own

My activities are not dictated by a publisher, an agent, or anyone else. They are dictated by me. Me, by the way, can be a pretty hard taskmaster, but she is reasonable about things like how sudden illness, or family emergencies can affect my output. I’m not likely to have Me cancel a contract because I went down with the flu and couldn’t write a word worth saving for a week. I don’t have to spend on getting to book signings at my own expense because the publisher says I have to do so many a year, but won’t cover the cost of (either in royalty payments or as part of their advertising outlay). I DO get to decide how to divide my time between writing, publishing, and promotion, and getting that right is a responsibility I have control over and am accountable for to Me.

Better Returns for Time Spent

Most traditionally published writers don’t break even. They can’t guarantee that last year’s books will be earning this year, or the next, or the year after that. I can’t guarantee that either, but I can guarantee that those books will still have the chance to earn, because they will be available until I decide they aren’t. I do not have that guarantee with a publisher.

I also make more per book sold than I would if I had a publisher publish for me, or an agent taking a cut. On Amazon or Smashwords, I earn around sixty or seventy per cent of the cover price of an e-book, and up to twenty per cent on a paperback. Sometimes it’s lower, but, when it is, I can see why, and that helps a lot. With a traditional publisher, I’d be making perhaps forty percent on an e-book, and maybe 7 per cent on a paperback.

Even though my initial sales volume might be lower to start with, it has the chance to build gradually over several years, which it wouldn’t do if I published traditionally, even if I was a popular mid-list author.

Faster Returns for Time Spent
If I published with a traditional publisher, it could take several months to negotiate the contract, and then the book wouldn’t be released for another 6 to 12 months. If I independently publish, I can release my work as soon as the editing, formatting, and cover processes are complete.

NOTE: I am currently working towards a twelve-month in advance release cycle, because that way I can develop a release schedule, which helps with promotion. This sort of advance planning is also good for my stress levels, and takes the pressure off my writing. It also enables me to plan my writing and production times better. It also helps that I write different genres and different lengths, although that has a downside, too, which I will discuss in another post.

Longer-Term Returns

This dovetails into the point above. If I published traditionally, I could expect my books to be out of print within two to three years, if not sooner. That means I would have no more income from those books after that point. This might be because I’d had to agree to give away my rights for the lifetime of the copyright, in order to win the contract – not worth doing, by the way – or it could be because I couldn’t sell the reprint rights to that book to another publisher. If I independently publish, I retain my rights, and decide how long I want that book to remain available, contributing to my sales, and attracting new readers.

Freedom to Write What I Want to Write

If I want to be published traditionally, the main advice is to study the market, and write to the market, that publishers don’t want to try something new, and dislike risk on new genres. While, in some cases, this is patently untrue, it seems to hold for many. Like any other business, traditional publishers have a good idea of what sells for them, and they like to maintain those lines. So, if I publish traditionally, I am constrained by publisher requirements on genre, length, and, to a certain degree, content.

When I publish independently, I can write the story I want to write, and then see if there is an audience for it. I can take a chance on myself, my ideas, and the kinds of books I like. I can even switch genres and keep the same name, without facing opposition to my release. I can work on series at my own pace, adding a book years after I thought I’d finished, or starting a linked series. This keeps writing fun, and gives me room to grow and develop as a writer, by exploring new things.

My Readers Decide

If I publish traditionally, my publisher tells me my work is worth publishing, and they tell my readers that it is worth reading – regardless of whether either statement is true, although the publisher generally believes so, at the time. This is because a publisher’s business is to sell the books in stock. They choose a product that fits their idea of market, package it and get it out there, which is fair enough.

However, if I publish independently, then I can put out stories different to those that fit the publishing norm. My readers can decide for themselves if those stories, or my more traditional tales, are worth reading or not, and they can vote by buying or not buying as they see fit. My readers become my validators, not a single person or a small team in an editor’s office.

And, yes, my readers have surprised me with their choices, and made me look at my work with fresh eyes. I keep them in mind, whenever I am trying to decide what to write next.

Freedom of Promotion

If I publish traditionally, I have some limits on my ability to promote, and limits on what I can control about what my publisher decides to do to promote. I can’t suddenly decide to discount all my horror stories for Hallowe’en, or give away books for free because it’s my favourite author’s birthday, or whatever, because a) I don’t control that side of marketing any more, and b) it’s not nice to give some poor person in the accounting department heart failure. By the same token, I can’t stop my publisher from making my books available at half-price for a book club or any other reason, which will usually result in a fifty per cent drop in my royalties whether I like it or not.

However, if I publish independently, then those sales and promotion decisions are mine to make, and the resulting loss or gain in income my responsibility. I can live with that.

So, there you have it, ten reasons why I’ve chosen the independent publishing path.

Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to be a published author. This way might not suit what you want, and that’s okay. Whichever path you choose – GOOD LUCK.

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