It’s all about your options
Last week, Cedar and I were talking about what we might blog about over the next few weeks. One thing I want to do is a breakdown of my sales since the Kindle Unlimited program began. Because it entails math — I’m math-challenged at the best of times — it is something I don’t want to rush through. So it will be another week or two before I get it finished. So that left me scratching my head about what to blog on this week. Then I remembered a link Cedar sent me and a thread I saw on one of the social media outlets and, well, this post was born.
Being a writer, our professional life is a matter of options. Do we go indie or traditional? Do we try to get an agent or not? Do we use pen names or not? Do we try to join professional organizations or not? And the list goes on.
There is no one right answer. You have to look at your own situation and needs and then you have to have a serious talk with yourself about what you want out of the path you’re leaning toward. In other words, you have to look at your writing as your career and then you have to be as clinical about the decisions you make where it is concerned as you want your kids to be when they are choosing a college major. Even then, don’t be surprised to have second thoughts and doubts. It happens and you have to remember that it is all right to change your mind.
But you must, no matter what path you take, keep your eyes open and continue learning about the profession and all the different options that are out there for you.
Not to keep whipping the same old horse, but SFWA is one example of why it is important to be able to look at what you want and what is being offered in a dispassionate way.
For example, Amazon began letting indie authors and small presses begin publishing on the Kindle platform in 2009 – 2010, iirc. Before then, authors were limited to Smashwords and one or two other outlets. But with the introduction of the option of publishing direct to Amazon and the Kindle, indie publishing took off and the traditional publishing industry began to really bury its head in the sand, all the while wishing that the new kid on the block soon moved away and every forgot about him.
It wasn’t just publishers who hoped the indie trend was just that, a trend that would go the way of pet rocks. The so-called professional organizations did as well. For the first year or two, no professional organization recognized indie or direct to digital small press work as “pro”. Then, when it started hearing from its authors that they were making as much money — or more — from their indie work than they were from their “pro” advances, RWA (Romance Writers of America) changed their requirements for membership. They didn’t spend months and years studying the issue. They heard their membership, they did some quick research and they amended their requirements for “pro” level qualification.
Now, let’s look at what SFWA has done. It has dragged its feet. It has made excuses, ranging from needing to do more research to needing to reincorporate in another state to who knows what all to avoid the issue. A committee was formed to look into the situation. This has all been going on for years. Finally, in June of this year, it said it wanted to hear from the membership about what it felt about letting indie authors into their vaunted halls.
So, as an author, if you want to join a so-called professional organization, ask yourself why. What does the organization have to offer you? Does it even admit that you, who work as hard at your craft as a traditionally published author (if not harder), are a “real” author? Or has the organization continued to try to hold onto the old ways and ignoring the changes in not only the industry but in what readers want?
Look, too, at what that organization has said in the past about what you are doing. Organizations are like most anything else. They hate change and it takes time for major philosophical changes to occur. So, when you look at their archives or resources and see what they have to say. Another example again comes from SFWA. While the article initially comes off as fairly unbiased, the bias against indie publishing comes clear later on when it has a section listing the “bad reasons” for choosing self-publishing but there is no corresponding section on why it might be good to self-publish. While the links on the post were updated in August of this month, there is no note that the text has been edited or updated since it was originally posted. I don’t know about you but, to me, the whole thing reads as a “well, indie is an option, but if you want to be a real writer. . . ” sort of thing.
Now, one thing you will face as an indie author is that there are folks out there who think your book will be more poorly edited than a traditionally edited book. That is one of the myths the proponents of traditional publishing have been shoving out there and it’s something a lot of writers and readers have bought into. I’ll even admit that it does happen on occasion. But for those indie authors who take their craft seriously, they hire editors — both for content and for the technical aspects of writing. Do mistakes happen? Of course. I just had it happen to me. I relied on an editor I’d never used before based on recommendations from someone I trusted. Because of that, I didn’t do a final check the way I should have and a book went out with more mistakes than it should have. I have since had the book re-edited by an editor I know and trust and, between us, I think we caught everything. But that is the exception for me and for a lot of indie authors and not the rule.
That said, it doesn’t matter how many editors look at an indie book. There will still be those who give you a review dissing it because of grammar or spelling errors, real or imagined. They do it only because it is an indie book. These reviews are usually framed in such a way that the reviewer also notes that these errors wouldn’t have happened had the author gone the traditional route or hired a good editor. If you can’t take criticism, then don’t go indie. Because you will get these reviews no matter how well-edited your work might be.
I’m not going to tell anyone that they shouldn’t go traditional. There is still one traditional publisher (Baen) I would kill to sign a contract with. But I will tell you not to believe what you see on TV or in the movies about publishing. A “real” publisher isn’t going to send you on a cross-country book tour, on their dime, unless you are the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts. You aren’t going to have a senior editor assigned to hold your hand and talk to you every day. I know authors who have been with publishers for years who still have their work edited by editorial assistants and are lucky if the “editor” actually reads the book. But traditional publishing does take some of the work off of you. The publisher will deal with cover issues and typesetting and conversion and they will, hopefully, make sure your book is in the catalog sent to bookstore buyers. But the cost to you is a loss of control, a huge loss in what you could potentially make in the long term on the work and yet you are still expected to market the book. Few authors see any monies from a book after they receive the advance and their “professional” lives are at the mercy of BookScan numbers.
As an indie author, you are responsible for everything. It isn’t as difficult as it might seem, but you have to learn to let go and find help you can trust for things like editing and cover creation (if, like me, art is not your forte). A lot of it can be done in trade-off. I’ll trade editing services for cover work or conversion work for editing or editing for editing. From time to time, I will “hire” an editor if my go-to editors are busy with other projects and, when that has happened, it has usually bitten me in the butt. But, like everyone going indie, I’m learning.
And, honestly, it isn’t that difficult. Gone are the days when you had to do hand coding to make sure your e-book looked good. You don’t have to any longer. Most sites like Amazon, B&N, and even Smashwords allow you to upload a variety of text formats and they will convert to the preferred format for their outlet. That means, once you learn the tricks, you can upload a DOC file and be comfortable that it will convert accurately. (Smashwords is still problematical because of the meatgrinder and how it tries to convert to too many different formats.) Or you can take your DOC file and convert it yourself to the site’s preferred format — MOBI for Amzon or ePub for Apple or B&N for example — using free programs. That lets you do quality control before it leaves your hands. All tolled, converstion for me from my final edited DOC file to MOBI for Amazon is usually less than ten minutes and that includes flipping through the book doing a visual check to make sure the active table of contents is working and none of the internal formatting has been botched in the conversion.
As I said, it all comes down to what you want and how much responsibility you want to take for your work. But, before you make a final decision, go to the best seller lists in the genre you are writing and look to see how the list breaks down indie vs. traditionally published. (By this, I mean the site best seller lists and not the NYT etc because they don’t usually include indie work.) When you do, I think you might be surprised when you see just how many of those on the top 100 lists are actually indie published.
It is a brave new world out there and I’m excited by it, both as a writer and as a reader because indie has given me more options in what I write and what I read and that is always a good thing.