Indie author, whatever that means

Contrary to something I posted just last summer, I decided to skip the sturm und drang of finding an agent and/or traditional publisher and go indie for my first two books.

Now that it’s done? I couldn’t be happier.

I find it interesting that the DIY approach is lauded in a lot of different areas these days, but novel publishing seems to be one of the few holdouts. I don’t think there’s any real reason for that, beyond the general insular nature of the publishing world to begin with. All indie-produced goods and services are hit and miss in terms of quality, and it’s necessary to go by reviews or word of mouth to sort the good from the meh. But many people who would happily wear an Etsy-purchased hat to get lunch from an owner-operated food truck while listening to an unsigned band on their headphones nonetheless still prefer to get their books from enormous publishing houses. Doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, there is a lot of dreck out there, largely because a lot of authors think they’re too good to need an editor (Hint: you’re not. No, really.) However, there are also some gems, too, and given how much the publishing industry is royally screwing their artists these days, it makes sense to skip the middleman and take a more direct route to what you’d like to read.

For the record, I’m not anti-corporate in general. For one, a rather large one pays my bills. For two, another rather large one is behind the self-pub services I use. They don’t gatekeep on content, but they do take a cut for the service of getting my stuff out there to customers. Fair enough. I also think there are a lot of things that are best done by bigger companies or ones that have a lot of gatekeeping to ensure quality (medicine, yeah?) But I do think that many large media companies these days are more trouble than they’re worth, especially for people who want to make stuff that isn’t necessarily going to appeal to the drooling masses. Hell, half the reason most well-known fictional characters–even now!–are straight, white dudes (and their model-perfect, straight, white girlfriends) is because the big companies don’t want to waste resources on something they’re positive will only appeal to a small percentage of audiences. When you deal in billions, small-scale projects simply don’t make business sense, even if you know they’d sell to every member of the minority represented therein. And thus the rest of us are stuck endlessly searching for characters we might actually resemble or know.

When I first started agent shopping (with Harper–this was before Thunderstone was published), I kept having nightmares of being told I had to make Harper straight or white, or turn Tris into a girl, in order for the story to sell. After all, bi guys, much less non-white ones, are damn near unicorns, right? And who else would want to read a story about a guy like that? (Besides, oh, the legion of people who don’t have the remotest aversion whatsoever to characters with those traits.) I never had that experience, thankfully, but I do wonder sometimes if that’s part of the reason I didn’t get any bites. I don’t fancy myself such a terrific writer that that would surely be the only reason, but it’s not like the problem doesn’t exist, and if you’re selling something unusual, you can’t afford to be anything less than spectacular. And vice-versa. Ho-hum writing with a mass-appeal hook still gets pubbed, yo.

Once I did a little research into what it would take to skip the gauntlet and just get the story out there myself, everything came into focus. Now, I don’t have to convince agents and publishers to take a chance on my niche stories; I just have to convince readers. Granted, that’s a bit of a challenge. I’m not great at marketing, there are a limited number of places one can buy my stuff, and I do have the “indies suck” conventional wisdom to get past, too. Still, it’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make. I’d much rather have closer contact with my readers anyway. If nothing else, it helps me make sure that I’m handling the subjects I don’t know intimately (race, for instance) with at least some measure of grace and respect. Not sure that would ever happen otherwise.

I don’t think indie publishing is for everyone. People who don’t want to bother with anything other than just getting the story down would likely find the extra work involved a little daunting. And if you’re writing mass-appeal stuff, the extra money you can make when you’re backed by a company that can get you reviews, appearances and translations into 32 languages definitely has its merits.

In my case, I am writing the niche stuff, and I’m enough of a media polymath to feel comfortable doing the extra work. I can do the formatting and graphics work necessary, the tech side of it doesn’t faze me in the slightest, and I’m willing and able to hire an editor and cover artist for those services. Add in the fact that I’m making a far larger percentage on each sale than I ever could with a big publisher and yeah. This is definitely the right choice for me. I do sometimes wish I could get wider distribution and marketing–with the corresponding increase in sales volume–but I know I’d have to be writing something different to make that happen. And since first and foremost I’m writing these stories to fill my own needs for something beyond the wall-to-wall straight, white landscape, I’m not about to change that just to make a little more money.


About Shawna (A Mediated Life)

Writer, singer, parent, fan, media maven, and general ne'er-do-well. Fierce protector of the rights of the disadvantaged and endless pontificator on subjects both ridiculous and sublime.
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