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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.

41 Comments
  1. I know my first reaction when I saw that article, and sent you the link, was “Why would I bother? What can they offer me?” The answer is nothing substantial. Not worth the money. I’ve got friends who let me bounce things off them (thanks, Amanda) and I’m learning as I go. Getting better, I think! The reliable editor issue is one we all share, I’m finding. I have a few people and hopefully they can keep my work on the straight and narrow.

    December 2, 2014
    • You and I have talked several times about why we should/should not join SFWA. Right now, my views match yours. There is nothing SFWA offers that I need or want. The only “pro” organization I’d consider at this point is RWA and that is no longer a hands-down decision.

      One thing we, along with Sarah, Kate and a few others are doing that I like is the mutual support thing. I know I can bounce ideas off of you guys or peg you for art or editing help. It helps knowing that line of help is there should I need it.

      December 2, 2014
      • Uncle Lar #

        It do beg the question, don’t it: there are so many benefits that a professional organization like SFWA could offer new and potential authors, and even established ones. Things like a vetting process for editing services, cover art, group deals on insurance, specialized legal advice, and so forth. Services specific to the needs of writers.
        When a need is there, and not being met, someone will attempt to fill it. SFWA may have to dry up and blow away first, but given the current situation that shouldn’t take all that long.

        December 2, 2014
      • Right now, I would say Sarah is de facto leader of the indie version of what we wish SFWA would be: part support group, part resource aggregator, part advice giver. The Mad Genius Club is the locus on the web, and more and more writers are finding you guys (I almost said you ladies, but the trolls, they forever lurk…).

        Thanks for all you do. And thanks for passing it forward.

        December 2, 2014
    • As a former SFWA member, about the only thing I can see from SFWA that might be of value is Griefcom. Apparently they have been able to help some folk. But the expectation value of it being of benefit to me is low enough that, well, I don’t consider it a good return on investment on annual dues.

      December 2, 2014
  2. About the only thing one can get from traditional publishing that they can’t do for themselves is the status of being chosen by the gatekeepers. That’s really it in my mind.

    The same is true of SFWA. About all they have to offer the indie is status of being “in”.

    I’m a veteran, a former Navy Corpsman, a father, a husband, and the first person in the world to accomplish a certain thing. I have all the status in the world I need.

    Now, I’d sign with Baen in a heartbeat, but that’s not because I need the status. It’s because I love the company would would love that validation. Of course, I also haven’t ever submitted anything to them either.

    December 2, 2014
    • That’s pretty much the way I feel, Tom. One thing I’m beginning to consider is that the gatekeepers have changed as well. Instead of the gatekeepers being agents or editors, they are the readers. All you have to do is look at the Top 100 lists for Amazon to see it. Readers are voting with their money and that, to me, is the way it ought to be.

      December 2, 2014
      • Yep, it is.

        The trick for indies is to get our stuff out there so the readers know it’s there to spend money on. Of course, that’s not unique to indie. Many traditional authors are finding that they’re having to do some of that themselves, and if anyone shouldn’t have to do that, it’s them.

        December 2, 2014
  3. newjerseybadger #

    Amanda, like the article. One nit and I hope it doesn’t make me a Grammar Nazi: the expression is “all told”. Pleasure to read your stuff, as always.
    Phil Sevetson

    December 2, 2014
    • Phil, lol. See, that’s what happens when I write these posts without enough coffee in me. And thanks for kind words.

      December 2, 2014
    • questionableprovenance #

      You are correct, of course, but when I read it, I thought that “all tolled” actually conveyed the same idea with a unique flavor. Maybe it should be adopted.

      December 2, 2014
      • In my defense, my pre-coffee brain was thinking along the lines of “if we totaled everything up” and shorted it to “all tolled”. Or maybe I was thinking of toll roads? Who knows. As I said, it was pre-coffee. πŸ˜‰

        December 3, 2014
  4. I’m starting to think I’m one of the few to have had good experiences with Meatgrinder over at Smashwords. Then again, I always tend to get stuck at that moment where the ebook looks fantastic across every format and device but the iPad.

    I swear, it’s always the frickin’ iPad…

    December 2, 2014
    • Wesley, I have a number of issues with Smashwords, not the least of which is the meatgrinder. I have had more than one title I put up through them look all right in preview and yet, when I check it later, find major formatting issues. Then there is the length of time it can take not only to work through the acceptance process but to get your work into the expanded market. Because of that, when I need an aggregator now, I use Draft2Digital.

      And yes, iPad conversion is the pits.

      December 2, 2014
      • Laura M #

        I’ve got one book aggregated through Smashwords and one through D2D. The latter was easier, but Smashwords gives me more information about whether my book is being looked at or downloaded, which I really like.

        December 2, 2014
        • Laura, I haven’t checked that interface recently. Does it do that for all outlets or just for Smashwords? And, is that worth the length of time it takes to get into the system for the extended catalog? (serious question there since I will soon be taking some of my titles out of Amazon exclusive)

          December 3, 2014
          • Laura M #

            It shows you all outlets. Is it worth it? For me, yes. I get so few sales anywhere but Amazon that the wait doesn’t bug me. I like seeing how many people see the book, how may sample downloads it gets, and where it got sold when it sells. It’s sort of a mirror for what marketing (to the extent I can call it that) works.

            December 3, 2014
            • Cool and thanks for the response. As I said, I haven’t used that interface for awhile so that is an upgrade I wasn’t aware of. I can see the worth of it, as well. Now if they would just get rid of the meatgrinder.

              December 4, 2014
  5. All I can say is ayup.

    December 2, 2014
    • πŸ˜‰

      December 2, 2014
  6. Uncle Lar #

    I have been a somewhat eclectic if voracious reader for going on 50 years now. Something in the firmware of my brain has blessed/cursed me with a knack for pattern recognition. Wrong usage, bad grammar, and homonyms just leap off the page for me. Last few years I have come to the belief that those assistant editors in the tradpub houses are increasingly relying on giving mid list authors a lick and a promise with a fast spell checker pass, and precious little else. Nothing else I can come up with would explain the number of obvious errors I see in published work.
    Been doing some first reader for a few of the writers here and have to say that typically their draft copy is as good or better than much of the tradpub stuff I’ve seen lately. In my feedback I give the word or phrase I caught and a suggested fix, usually a one line comment. So far have not needed more than a one page e-mail for my remarks. To put it bluntly, what I’m seeing in rough draft from folks here is on a par with what passes for published mid list work from the traditional houses.
    BTW, picked up the Nocturnal Lives boxed set and am working my way through slowly so as to savor the read. Amazon badgered me for a comment so I basically just said “good read.” Have since been told several folks found my comments helpful.

    December 2, 2014
    • Uncle Lar, I’m not sure they are giving mid-list — and some best sellers — even that much attention. I do know that there are a lot of unpaid interns (or there were ) who did the editing passes and then just had the editor sign off on it all.

      And you are right about the draft quality of some of the authors here. Sarah’s drafts are very clean, other than the fact she’s never met a comma she didn’t like. Dave’s are wonderful (of course, he and Sarah pull me into the story and I have to keep reminding myself to put on my editor hat). Cedar and Kate are very close to that. All of them I would take their rough drafts over a lot of trad pub “edited” mss.

      And thanks for the good words about Nocturnal Lives. As soon as I finish the current WIP, I’m going back to that universe to write Nocturnal Challenge. The plan is for it to be out in early Spring, if not sooner.

      December 3, 2014
  7. At the moment, the only things I can see that trad pub has over indie are 1) print distribution and 2)advertising. And that’s ONLY if you fit neatly into a popular genre, have been chosen as a push book, and are not relegated to languish in the mid-lists. On the other paw, I’ve seen how at least one indie author invested in good advertising and is selling books at a nice brisk clip. Not enough to quit the day job, but well.

    December 2, 2014
    • Yep, with the emphasis on being on getting the push. Otherwise, there isn’t all that much difference these days beyond no control and a lot less money per sale.

      December 3, 2014
  8. I think that the rate of observed typos is greater in an ebook than in dead-tree format. I was an early ebook adopter and came to this opinion reading traditionally published works. My conjecture is that because the workflow for ebook production diverges from that of dead-tree format this divides proofing resources between two workflows. Ergo, more typos slip through. The bad reputation for typos borne by indie writers includes guilt-by-association with the ebook format.

    December 2, 2014
    • I suspect the gold-rush mentality may be partially to blame, plus a certain “ebooks is ebil” mindset on the part of the traditional publishers. They didn’t *want* to put a lot of effort into making them look good, nor did they worry about typos making the publishers look bad. I was certainly surprised by some tradpub ebooks that clearly had never even been skimmed through by a human, given the formatting bloopers I found.

      December 2, 2014
    • I see them better when I do a final proof pass on my kindle. They are even more apparent when I do it on the e-ink Kindle.

      December 3, 2014
  9. Jess #

    I’ve observed a high rate of typos in some ebooks during the early days. On the other hand, I was rereading Larry Niven’s Protector last year and noticed that one of the supporting characters suffered a change of name partway through. Wasn’t the editor at Big Publishing supposed to catch that?

    December 2, 2014
    • I did too but a lot of them were from traditional publishers with OCR errors because they weren’t putting eyes on the e-book after conversion. From indies, a lot of it was because you had to worry so much about the html coding that sometimes you forgot to close a command, etc. Thank goodness we are beyond having to hand code now.

      December 3, 2014
  10. Pssst: if you are looking for topic fodder, Amazon, the EU VATs, and the unforeseen consequences of Brussels trying to punish Amazon and Apple would be great (once there’s actual data. At the moment there’s a bunch of heat but not much light.)

    December 2, 2014
    • Tell you what, how about you do it as a guest post for us? πŸ˜‰

      December 3, 2014
  11. jselvy #

    I think it important to remember that if you join an organization, you will be a member of that organization. If you join the Democrat party you are a leftist, if you join the SFWA, you support or participate in pedophillia, child abuse and serial rape. You will be tarred by the brush dipped by the leaders of said organizations.

    December 2, 2014
    • It’s all the glitter that scares me. πŸ™‚

      December 3, 2014
  12. Angus Trim #

    Thanks Amanda

    One of the reasons I follow this blog s articles like this.

    December 2, 2014
    • Thanks!

      December 3, 2014
  13. 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)

    Copyediting is something I’m really bad at. If I get wrapped up in the story (and, somehow, I still do when reading anything of mine that I’d actually consider publishing) my mind just fills in the correction and I don’t see it consciously. Fortunately, some of my “beta readers” are really good at spotting that kind of thing, to the point that for one of them even when it’s a matter of stylistic choice and she corrects something that’s technically “right”, I’ll go ahead and go with hers. Just saves me trouble (and avoids my missing some of the changes giving an uneven appearance).

    Covers? I’m not a very good artist, not to create art anyway. OTOH, I think I’ve got a pretty good “eye” and am a fair hand with graphics software (used to use Paint Shop Pro 8 but it doesn’t work reliably in Win 7 so now experimenting with GIMP) so thanks to sources like Dreamstime and Deviant Art, I can get the pieces I need to make a halfway decent cover.

    Of course the big trick, as always, is writing stories people want to read. Still working on that part. πŸ˜‰

    December 2, 2014
    • I find that tricks like radically changing the font and size can make spotting typos easier.

      It helps to know some artists, I’ve got a friend doing a new cover for Kiwi that will look great, if I don’t get banned for showing an alien’s butt….

      December 3, 2014
    • I’m pretty good at finding the art elements I want and I’m getting better at the lettering — even if Sarah still yells at me. And, yes, the big trick is writing what folks want to read.

      December 3, 2014
  14. Pugmak #

    Since I’m not all that smart, I’m fair sure this has already been said (or is already being done), but… just in case…

    Sounds to me like there’s a need for professional independent editors. Folks with the skills to do the editing but don’t play traditional “gate keeper” in deciding what gets put on the market.

    If I was a youngster heading off to college, I’d seriously consider putting in the time and effort to get proficient at the editing schtick with a plan to build an editing company to provide that service to independent authors.

    I’d even consider playing around with the idea of charging light fees up front with a back end of a small percentage of sales. Make the service affordable to those who haven’t broke big yet with “residuals” like in life insurance sales and still take less out of the authors’ pockets than a traditional house would.

    The better job I and my employees did at editing, the more sales get sold… or however that’s supposed to be said.

    Or, if I wasn’t a techtard, I’d start writing up software to do a better job at the conversion thing than is currently available.

    December 3, 2014
    • You are right about the need for pro editors. The problem is multi-fold, however. First, there are some really good non-fiction editors out there. The problem is that editing for non-fiction is different from editing for fiction and most excellent non-fiction editors do not make good fiction editors.

      The second issue is that a lot of those who claim to be editors and who are really nothing more than copy editors and proofreaders. Both are needed but what a lot of indies — and trad, published authors — need are editors. Those folks like Toni Weisskopf who can take a good story and make it a great one by making story flow suggestions, etc. I’ve heard of too many indies paying big bucks for what turned out to be nothing but proofreading because they didn’t check to make sure what they thought of as editing was what the so-called editor thought it was.

      As for conversion software, there is some very good software — free — out there now. However, if you want to write something to replace the meatgrinder, I know a lot of authors who would hoist you on their shoulders and declare you a publishing god.

      December 3, 2014

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