“From this day forward, all authors are indie authors.” Mark Coker, president of Smashwords, made that statement at the San Francisco Author’s Conference. It clearly resonated with writers in the room.
Authors today have many options; our paths are no longer dictated entirely by a small number of publishing houses, editors, and agents.
- We can pursue traditional publishing deals, engaging with a major publisher or one of many smaller presses, through agents or on our own.
- We can work with “hybrid” publishers that combine attributes of traditional and self publishing.
- We can publish under our own imprints or those of self-publishing platforms.
- We can hire professional help ourselves or partner with services like Smashwords, BookBaby, Ingram Spark, or Pronoun to get our work out in the world.
As independent authors, we decide how much time, effort, and money to invest in our work. With those choices come duties. We alone are responsible for the quality of the work we produce.
The Responsibilities of Publishing
You have an obligation to your reader to produce something well-written, legible, and effective for their purposes – whether that means meeting the expectations of the genre or fulfilling the promise of a nonfiction book.
If you choose to forge your own path, take those duties seriously.
- Hire professional editors – the single most important thing you can do.
- Invest in professional cover design, or find someone who understands book covers.
- Own your ISBNs and retain control of your rights.
- Keep learning and adapting as the market changes.
Why Publish Independently?
Speed is the indie author’s greatest advantage. Even allowing for professional copy editing, cover design, layout, and proofing, authors publishing independently can get their works into the market much faster than the average publishing house.
Indie authors also retain control over all aspects of the book’s production and distribution.
For nonfiction authors who want to use a book as part of a broader platform for speaking, teaching, training, or other projects, the independent publishing route makes a lot of sense. When you publish independently, you have complete control over decisions including:
- Follow-on editions
- Whether to do an audio book
- How much you can excerpt, when and where, for other purposes
- Bulk book discounting
- Bundling the book with other services
Publishers naturally have their own objectives for the book, which include recouping the costs they have invested getting it out into the world and helping bookstores sell the book. Their objectives may not always align with yours.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Apologize
The self-publishing stigma is gradually disappearing, weakening with each bestselling author breaking into the ranks.
However, that new reality is arriving unevenly. Some people will always have a bias against self publishing as “vanity press.” Even among the attendees at the conference, some clearly felt embarrassed by the need to self publish.
One attendee asked about whether she should open her book launch party by telling everyone that she self-published, so they wouldn’t think she was trying to fool them. “It’s the elephant in the room,” she said, as if she had to apologize for being self-published.
I almost leapt out of my chair at that moment.
There are many things that you might need to apologize for, including:
- Text riddled with grammatical or typographical errors that editors and proofreaders would have caught
- Difficult-to-read or confusing interior design
- Unattractive cover
- Miscategorized book
Take responsibility for the book’s quality, but don’t apologize for your business model.
If the book serves the reader’s needs, it doesn’t matter how it got into the world.
Focus on the Book, Not the Publisher
The word self-publishing has that problematic word: self. It makes us focus on ourselves as authors, rather than the work, and we may feel insecure. (It’s that Imposter Syndrome at work again.)
What matters is the work, not the publisher.
The book Avid Reader, by legendary editor Robert Gottlieb, offers the inside story on famous books and authors. This man is responsible for editing many books that have graced my shelves and informed my hours. Early in the book (page 47), Gottlieb writes something that struck me:
“The act of publishing is essentially the act of making public one’s own enthusiasm.”
If it’s not sacrilegious to borrow words from one of the great editors of the publishing industry, I’d say this thought holds true for authors publishing their own works.
As both author and publisher, indie authors bear a double burden of responsibility for advocating for the book. Don’t shirk that responsibility or hide behind the label of how you published it.
Be enthusiastic about your work, not apologetic. Put it out into the world with pride.