Thursday, May 1, 2014

Should You Be an Indie Author? Maybe Not.

"Life's a journey. It's a journey about discovering limits." 
- Larry Ellison

I'm not the most transparent person, but I do try to convey what I'm thinking, feeling, or doing the best way I know how. When I'm writing books, I can transplant my emotions and thoughts into the characters and share from a third-person point of view. When writing on the blog, I can't always "hide" behind a character or story. I enjoy being under a "cloak of mystery." I like that people don't know everything about me because I prefer they connect with my characters and stories than with me. I like being the person behind the scenes who doesn't step forward and shout to the world what I'm thinking.

I don't like to hold public debates, and I avoid arguments unless I feel strongly enough about something that I'd be willing to risk angry sentiment from others. Sometimes I like to stand up for the under-dog, and in those instances, I have no problem committing to an argument. 

Yet, every once in a while, I find myself curious enough to speak out. To toss off my "cloak" and let the world know what I think.  

I recently read (or better yet, skimmed) a couple of articles about how to distinguish between self-published authors and traditional.  It's a silly and overdone topic, but I'm going to offer a little advice within the context of my own thoughts on publishing. 

I'm a self-published author who started out with one book, and I will soon publish my fifth in less than a three-year span. I operate like a business or small publisher. My publishing company is a registered and trademarked company. I pay business taxes and then pay myself based on royalties. I use a professional and certified editor, beta-reader and graphic design consultants, etc. I do quite well with sales, and I have a long-term business plan for continued writing success, but I'm not about to give up everything else just to be considered by some as a "professional author."

I enjoy running businesses and doing other things, but that doesn't mean I'm any less of a professional because I don't write full-time.

I knew what I wanted from the beginning, and I didn't bother trying to find an agent or spend time submitting dozens of different letters with the hope that my letter would find the right editor at the right time. I didn't want someone else dictating the story or telling me I had to had hot and heavy sex scenes. I didn't want my voice and creativity to be stifled because the story I want to tell isn't the "next big thing." Perhaps this is why some wildly successful traditionally-published authors are turning indie or hybrid.

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." 
- Walter Elias (a.k.a. Walt Disney)

Sure, it's like running any other business in the beginning. You find your footing, work with the best tools and people you can, and mold it into a successful venture. With my business model, I will soon be as widely available to brick-and-mortar bookstores as authors with the big publishers because I've learned to operate as one, even if it's on a "tiny" scale.

Interestingly enough, I've spoken with brick-and-mortar bookstore owners who care only about the quality of a book, and whether or not they get it from Ingram or directly from the author. Now that is something to think about.  
Whether you're the publisher or the author, traditionally published or an indie, writing is a business. There's no way around it. 

I'm not speaking for against either road to publishing - both come with advantages and disadvantages. I've done the market research, and spoken with editors and agents in those fancy high-rise buildings in NYC.  The reality is that working with a big agent or publisher is not a golden ticket to the top, and the honest ones will even tell you that.

Do I believe that anyone is able to be an indie author? I do not. It's certainly possible because of technology. However, a person must have the mindset and willingness to put everything they have into their own publishing business (professional editing, professional book covers, etc) - all of the things that a traditional publisher would normally do for you. If you're not willing to put in the monetary and time investment, then you shouldn't be self-publishing. 

Some of us learn the hard way, but once you learn there's no excuse for poor quality. Here's something else to consider. Many successful indie authors have already done the leg-work. They've made the mistakes, learned what works and what doesn't. Many have even shared resources on how to self-publish like a professional. 

"It's fine to celebrate success, but it's more important to heed the lessons of failure." 
- Bill Gates
Unfortunately, many self-published authors don't take the time to learn from their mistakes, or better yet, learn from the mistakes already made by someone else. Does this mean that if someone doesn't have the ability to hire an editor that they shouldn't self-publish? This could get me into steamy hot water with a few people, but I honestly believe that they should not. This is one of those lessons learned.

There's nothing wrong with waiting for a chance to work with a traditional publisher, and in the majority of cases, traditional may be the best route for most writers. If I suddenly found myself unable to pay for everything a publisher would normally cover, would I stop writing? Heck no! Would I stop publishing? Yes. Would I consider a more traditional route? Possibly. That's not an easy thing to say, and I hope it never happens, but I stand by it.

Another way to look at this is from a reader's perspective. I know that the majority of readers just want a good story. If a book isn't riddled with mistakes, and they like the book, they don't care how it got published. They want quality, but the name of the publisher these days doesn't guarantee quality (that's a subject for another time).

In the end, I subscribe to the premise that quality and professionalism are far more important than the name of the publisher. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I bothered to look who published some of my favorite authors. I know some of them are big five authors, and many are small press or self-published authors (the professional type), but I couldn't tell you who published them, nor do I care. 

Will I ever attempt the traditional route? I can't say for certain. By the time I make up my mind, my own publishing company may be everything I ever dreamed of, so why make the change? Will I suddenly become a better, or different type of writer if I went down the traditional road? Well, let's just say I'd probably sleep less. Becoming a hybrid author has always been a strong possibility and consideration for me, but I wouldn't want to, or have to, give up my own company.

Then again, I don't know because I chose this path, and I couldn't be happier. 
"If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths, rather than traveled the worn paths of attempted success." 
- John D. Rockefeller
As a counter-argument, I do wish that there was some kind of quality control for self-published authors because unfortunately the professionals are often lumped in with the fly-by-nights who put no effort into producing and publishing quality books. There are many self-published and hybrid authors who work themselves "into the ground" in order to publish high-quality books. Those authors are accomplished and enterprising individuals who found a way to make their dreams come true. Speaking as an author, I'm honored to be among them. Speaking as a reader, I'd be proud to read their books.

All this talk of editing, I feel I should add a disclaimer that my editor does not edit my blog posts. Any and all errors are mine, which solidifies my point that professional editors are not optional for any published book. 

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