I was having coffee with a friend the other day, and of course I told her all about the book I am about publish. “Oh, but why not try to get a proper publishing deal before you do that?” she said. I told her I wasn’t interested in that route, and she quickly responded with “don’t put yourself down: you never know unless you try.” I assured her that this was a positive decision I was making, and nothing to do with being under-confident. Her response? “Well I suppose at least a proper publisher might see what you do and pick you up later.” My friend’s perspective is not an uncommon one; I have come across many others who think I am somehow selling myself short by ‘settling’ for publishing independently. So in this post I want to explain why it is my first choice to put my book out this way, without ever having sent off a single query letter.
1. Traditional publishing is a slow process in a fast world. Writing query letters, waiting for responses, writing more query letters, then playing by someone else’s schedule can take months; maybe longer. Once my work is as polished as I can make it, I want it to be out there in the marketplace, not on a decision-maker’s desk. I want to be moving on to my next book without worrying whether the first will ever be in a reader’s hands.
There is a strong argument to say that by publishing too quickly you are not ensuring top quality. Many who have traditional publishing deals have got there with their fourth, fifth, sixth book, and with each attempt they have improved as writers. Indies may do our improving in front of a live audience, but that does not mean we publish any old rubbish. Being an indie author is about taking control of our own reputation, so it wouldn’t make sense to put anything other than our best efforts out there. We can still hire an editor, use a graphic designer to put together a professional cover, and format our documents beautifully; the only difference being we commission it all ourselves.
2. I am an author. I know writers who are so disheartened by their pile of rejection letters that they are at the point of giving up their craft altogether. They have worked so hard for so long, and are still being denied their dream. Often there isn’t even anything wrong with the manuscripts they are submitting, they simply aren’t a good fit for the publisher or they have enough authors on their books already. Even those who are selected do not have a job for life: bestselling authors are dropped from their publishers more often than you might think. It doesn’t have to be that way: you do not have to play the lottery and your chance at success does not have to be someone else’s decision.
There is an amount of prestige that seems to come with being traditionally published, an external validation that you are ‘good enough’. This is a confidence issue at heart, which all creatives inevitably suffer. But the fact of the matter is, I write because I have to. It is my passion and it keeps me healthy. I want to publish because I want people to read my stories, and that is within my reach. I know I am meant to be an author, so I am going to be an author.
3. I want it all my own way. It appeals to me to maintain full creative control over the way my books are shown to the world. I can decide on my target genre, my pricing, my next project, the images and techniques used to market my work, and my schedule.
4. I have a manager’s hat. My day job has taught me a lot about the business world; I am well versed in strategy, marketing and finance. And, although it uses the brain in a very different way to creative writing, I enjoy applying that knowledge. There is a lot of hard work involved, sure, but for me, wearing a creative hat and a manager’s hat at the appropriate times will give me all round fulfilment.
5. It is the future. With increased connectivity and several large organisations making it simple to format, upload and distribute, independent publishing is more accessible than ever before. Where authors used to need a publisher and an agent, we now need a computer and the ability to research. More people are choosing this option all the time, including authors who have been traditionally published in the past. Indies are starting to gain respect in the industry: we can get our books into stores, we can attend conferences with established authors, and we can be nominated for awards. As with anything that replaces tradition, there is resistance. But, to be successful in a changing world you have to change with it.
I would hate for anyone to read this and think I am disrespecting authors who choose the traditional path: my entire philosophy of life is built around individuals doing whatever most closely aligns with the passion and values at their core. But I hope I have explained why this is the right path for me, and why going indie is not a fallback or second best plan: it is a proactive preference.
My first book – Fragments of Perception and Other Stories – is due to be published in November by my independent micro press, Orchid’s Lantern.