Why Give Indie a Try

I didn’t forget my post day. I forgot what day today is.  This is partly because I’m still feeling like “every day is Sunday” after we finished the heavy part of the house, and partly because today is a wee bit crazy.  We just took a load of hazardous waste (paint, mostly) to the local facility, and we’re now getting ready to go to the eye doctor (which is actually a good thing.  I think we’ll all agree it will be better if I can write without squinting at the screen and confusing os and es.) Also, I have the Hugo voting to do, I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.

So, what can I do that is useful to you on short notice?

Well, recently I had the opportunity to discuss indie versus traditional with someone I hope is becoming a friend.  So i sort of know the questions on your mind, and will try to answer them.  If I don’t cover them, ping me in comments and I’ll try to answer.

Things you wanted to know about indie publishing, but were afraid to ask:

1- Isn’t it a danger to do indie publishing?  Won’t it wreck my career?  I mean, publishers won’t take me seriously after that.

A- No.  No.  And also forget about it.  Not only Larry Correia, but a lot of other people whom I can’t be bothered to look up right now, start out indie, do well, then get picked up by a house.

2- Won’t having published indie first set off alarm bells at a traditional house?

Um… maybe.  But there’s alarm bells and alarm bells.  For ten years I’ve watched this kind of pick-up do better than traditionally submitted books.  From a business point of view, it makes sense: this person has proven that they can publish and sell, so if you give them a little push, who knows where they’ll end up?  But maybe it’s not a bad idea that a publisher also knows you have other options.  As Laurell K. Hamilton once told me “publishers are like men.  If you only have one, they’ll abuse the privilege.”  Now I’m not sure what that means about her relationships, but I know she’s right about publishers (except possibly Baen.)

3- So, what about Baen?  Why can’t I just go with them?

Well, Baen is ONE house.  And they publish rather specific stuff: sf/f and sf/f of a certain bend.  For instance, I thought they wouldn’t do well with Witchfinder because it’s so weird.  They might accept it because I’m their author, but it would be a bit odd with their very distinctive fan base (who read it anyway, but because it’s Goldport they know what to expect.)  And if you’re not already their author and are doing something like mystery or thriller with no supernatural elements (or even if you ARE their author) they’ll not be able to pick it up.

Also, Baen has a long reply time.  Also, Baen might prefer to not pick up a totally untried writer when indie successes would like to publish with them.  Or at least they’d prefer tried properties.  Can you blame them?

4- But there’s no money in indie!

Well, for the last two years, when I have been almost completely sidelined traditionally, I’ve been making better than my average before I went indie.  From Amazon.  I’m not getting rich or anything, but those are the reprints, and they’re still nothing to sneeze at.  (Around 15k a year, or a little more.)  My first indie published novel got me the same I got from traditional in the first three months out.  BUT more than that, my friends with no publishing track record are making about the same or just a little less from their books.

5- But what if my book isn’t good enough?

Good enough according to whom?  Given their rate of flops, the fact a traditional publisher wants to publish it doesn’t mean it’s “good enough” for the public.  At best it means someone else took the responsibility for it if it’s a flop.  But not really, since if it’s a flop it’s ALWAYS the writer’s fault.

By all means make sure that you spelled everything right, and that you didn’t completely forget one of the subplots resolution (which sometimes happens traditional, too.)

But in the end what counts is if the book finds an audience.  And you can’t decide that.  As my husband is finding out, some people out there ARE waiting for a book just like his.

Put the book out and find out.  If you’re really afraid it sucks, (to quote Kris Rusch) use I.M.N. Idiot as a pen name.  But be prepared for Mr. or Ms. Idiot to be a ROARING success.

Go on, do it.

There’s gold in them there hills.


  1. Would you please STOP encouraging the newbies? They are publishing in droves, and I don’t know what the world is coming to, and how the heck am I going to compete when I publish, and don’t you know the gatekeepers…

    Oops. Wrong rant.

    It’s psychologically easier, but it’s still no cakewalk (Americanism). But you will save yourself heaps in therapist bills if you don’t get a lot of rejection from people whose list you ‘are not quite right for.’ Over and over and over, plus that submission C*RP takes a lot of time and has a tendency to hamstring creativity.

    Just writing to hear myself think on the final push here. And then you go giving away all the secrets it took me four years of reading the blogs to acquire. Oh. Wait. If someone had told me this four years ago, I still would have to put in the work.

    Never mind.

    1. I’m tempted to say rejection slips build character. The only difference now is that instead of giving up breaking through the New Yawk state of mind, writers have another option.

      1. I’m enough of a character now, thank you.

        Oh, you mean the kind of character you have to build. Never mind…

  2. Any tips on how much of a backlog to have while getting the hang of the indie thing? As a buffer against ‘I didn’t count on that taking so long…’

    (I know it’s not a hard and fast number but I’m trying to get a handle on all this. As I plug away at the writing bit.)

    1. I think the toughest thing is actually taking the step to get that first one “hung up there” on Amazon. Getting the cover done….check. Getting it formatted for mobi…….. check. But then taking the time to actually get it published.

      I made some real comical errors that first day. Really got frustrated. But it eventually went live. I don’t have any self promotion tools or skills at all. That first novel, the beginning of July languished the first couple of days without any sales. Then there was a couple. Then a small burst, it went up to three one day. Then nothing.

      Amazon bumped me about the kindle lending library. I thought I’d joined that, one of my mistakes that first day must have erased that button. I corrected that. That seemed to create a bit more movement. Then a friend mentioned it on SBG sword forum, and I got three quick sales.

      Two weeks later, I published the second one. I found it fascinating and fun to watch the sales and kemp reads. Checking it several times a day the first couple of weeks, and still checking it three times a day now. Without the lending library, I don’t think I’d get the same amount of attention than I have without the library.

      My sister and I published #3 this last Sunday. That night, shortly after it went “live”, four books sold. Two of #2 and two of #3. Oddly enough, there has only been one purchase since then. But the lending library has had plenty of activity all things considered.

      I went into this with very little expectation, and frankly haven’t been disappointed. Having read a lot of blogs on this subject, I expected if I cracked $50 gross the first month, I’d be doing alright. On Monday I did the math on the kindle pages stuff, and added the “sales”, and found I was at a guestimated $91. No sales since then, but I had over 500 pages read on Monday {after my guess work}, the same yesterday, and today so far its 580. With the rest of today and the next two days, I might be surprised and surpass $100 by a few pennies. The lending library is a bit more than a third of that.

      I’m real appreciative of the effort that the Mad Genius gang has put in for helping us nubes. I still have a lot to learn on promotion, but have to admit to feeling pretty good, considering I’ve just started.

      1. Seconded on the “first is the hardest” problem. I spent weeks massively stressing on which of several works would be the perfect entry point into my body of work, and then fear that I’d somehow do it wrong and irreparably damage my brand. And then I put that first one up, and the sky didn’t fall. So I did a couple of shorter fiction pieces, and then my old MA thesis and another novel I had sitting around. I’ve got one more older novel I want to get up, but it needs a complete rewrite to bring it in line with some of the later works in the same world.

        Right now I’m trying to get serious about writing productivity. After all the years of rejection after rejection, it got way too easy to fritter away writing time on this and that, feeling that it didn’t really matter because I’d just get rejected anyway. I need to break those bad habits and start getting works finished instead of puttering away on this and that and setting it aside as soon as it gets frustrating. So while I’m on a business trip (we’re selling at Tampa Bay Comic Con this weekend, which means a two-day drive each way), I’m trying to make sure to get at least a little writing time in each and every day, instead of fiddling around on the Internet the whole evening after we’re done driving or selling.

    2. I should have had another novel written, but to be fair — yer honor — witch’s daughter ambushed me and comes before Rogue Magic, which I’m now wondering whether I should call Rogue Witch 😉 and I was sick. Also, I was led astray by bad company.

  3. Hey, Sarah! Hope the glasses thing goes easily. Also, hope the place you go to is one of those 24-hours-and-back places, because I’m hooked up with DavisVision through my workplace, and while “FREE” is a good price, waiting two more weeks to see clearly again is not so much. My appointment is Saturday, so wish me luck and I’ll return the favor.

    Okay, I just reread what I’ve written below. Reader Beware: it’s stream-of-consciousness. But it is what it is, and it’s all accurate descriptions of my impressions about the writing business.

    (I’m going to copy what I’ve written here and dump it on my Facebook wall, as well; if you decide this is too loosely related to the topic, feel free not to publish.)

    As a reader-who-isn’t-a-writer, I have to say about Indie, that I haven’t found it (much) worse for picking up good stuff than buying from the traditional houses; and it’s a _lot_ less expensive, which I dearly love. I have favorite authors in both places, and I suspect that the indie people are taking home more dollars per book that I spend than the traditional people, because I mostly by from people who seem to be on KDP. (Well… at the cover prices they’re getting, LKH and Jim Butcher might be exceptions to that.) The main problem with Indie, is the same problem I have with some of the small publishing houses; stuff makes it through that should never see the light of day. The main problems _writers_ will have with Indie, is the same problem they have everywhere else: (1) having to be careful of the language in the contract which they sign, and (2) now that it’s offered for sale, how to reach people who might like to read it; the problem of obscurity.

    But, indie or traditional, _my_ problem remains the same, two (almost) contradictory symptoms; (1) my TBR (To Be Read) pile (ebooks, pdf comics and graphic novels, technical material, and a couple of paper titles, all bought and paid for) is in triple digits, and (2) anywhere I go to find good new fiction (Goodreads, Riffle, Fussy Librarian, Shelf Awareness, search engines), the hit rate — their descriptions sounding like something I’d be interested in — is fairly poor. (Fussy Librarian says they’re working on something that’ll allow peer tagging and hopefully lead to better matches, but didn’t have a release date yet). Existing favorite authors are almost my only reliable source.

    Also, I have no idea whether I’m in some kind of snobbish minority here, but the _descriptions_ of most of the indie books in most places are _very_ poorly written, in terms of describing anything I want to read. I really have to pretty much ignore them and browse the excerpts, when those are provided, and that means a much larger investment of time to decide whether I like something. Finally, there are _so many_ new titles out there that I’m reasonably sure that finding stuff that interests me is more a random event than the result of a well-executed search. (Yes, I think I can do a better job than most people, and the few people for whom I have written puff and/or reviews for have, at least to my face, largely agreed with me. If I had time, I’d do more.)

    One of the best things which I think a relatively unknown author can do for his/her sales is to find someone who can read their book and describe-or-review it in such a way that the person glancing at the cover (or the webpage presenting the title, or whatever) knows (1) what it’s about, and (2) what’s most interesting about it. I don’t think there is any substitute for this, if you want people to buy it, and feel like they’ve gotten what they paid for. I think this is a lot more important than any question of promotion or placement, and much more likely to lead to favorable word-of-mouth and reviews.

    All this isn’t precisely on topic for your post, I know, but as a customer, I want writers to know that (1) I don’t CARE who published your work, as long as it’s good, tightly written, and almost completely lacking in spelling/syntax/grammar errors, and (2) I NEED some good ways of telling the quality, or at least the degree to which the plot will interest me, short of buying the book and reading half of it. Cheaper prices will get my interest faster than higher, but a description which doesn’t draw me in will turn me away from a book immediately. I don’t need spoilers, but I want to know the flavor of the writing and the premise of the plot, and fainting heroines or faint-hearted “heroes” need not apply. (I’m fine with anti-heroes, that’s different.) I’ll try to find some bad and good examples and post them here later.

    Also, I tend to get a little petulant when I spend the money and then find out that the book isn’t nearly as good as it was billed, and I’m not sure how to avoid that other than by really reading a significant portion of the book. Not that long ago, I left a really flaming review — no obscenity, but a definite one-star, don’t-touch-this-if-you’re-serious-about-military-fiction review for a guy whose work I’m never going to read again, because while he did decent romance, he did awful science and awful military verisimilitude. I guess my experience with Baen’s mil writers — Williamson, Drake, Weber, Ringo — and guys like Tom Clancy left me with a much higher level of expectation of milfic/milSF than most customers, because most of his reviews were very favorable… but the military aspects of the book sucked and I felt it important to say so, if only to warn other serious-mil-fic fans of what to expect. (He wasn’t happy. Predictably.)

    Meh. Okay, brain dump over. Hope this helps you and/or other readers.

    –Phil Sevetson
    7/29/2015, 4:55PM EDT
    New York, NY

  4. Two arguments in favor of TradPub as far as I can tell.
    First, that cash advance.
    Second, the publisher does all the scut work that indie authors must do for themselves: from copy edit, to cover, to all the various aspects of promotion and marketing.
    In that first case, those advances are getting smaller by the day, and the lead time for a new author to be taken on can be measured in years, while indie publication can start paying off almost immediately.
    Point the second, yeah right, from what I see in the industry a mid list author gets a lick and a promise at best. And all done at the whim of some faceless editor drone with precious little author imput.
    Mostly that’s not the case at Baen, but keep in mind that they release four or five new books a month, so at best 60 a year. And they have I suspect thousands of submissions to their slush server in that same time frame.
    So, all that said, seems to me a new unpublished author would be foolish to not seriously consider indie.

      1. I may be biased (I’m a retired technical publisher) but some or most of that scutwork involves necessary skills, all of them learnable. (Cover art may be an exception.) Nor do modern tradpub imprints necessarily do them well, especially for newbies or midlist authors. I say: If you can write a page-turner in any genre, you should be able to write good promo copy. Crack a book and see how it’s done. It may not be as hard as you think.

        1. What brought this to mind is a e-publication of a well known novel that looked like it was run through OCR software with no one bothering to even give it a spell check. Really shoddy.

          1. All the things I’ve had to learn, going Indie, are skills that will help me judge how good a job a publisher is doing. And hopefully doing better at it than I’ve been. Should I ever bother to submit anywhere else. I suspect I’m addicted to having complete control.

        2. “all of them learnable. (Cover art may be an exception.)”

          *snort* Oh, you are singing the song of my people…

          1. I am, though wistfully: My mother was an artist, and could draw quite well, though she never did anything significant with her talent. I’m very good at technical drafting, but I can’t draw people or landscapes (much less planetscapes) worth a damn.

            If you do cover art and have a portfolio page somewhere, I’d like to see a link.

  5. Reblogged this on amiecus curiae and commented:
    But, but, but, I want a gatekeeper to confirm I’m good enough! Oh wait… that doesn’t mean what we think it means, does it 😀 I’m going Indie the next month or two and I’m terrified. This post speaks to my soul 😀

  6. I have four self-published novels and short stories in a number of self-published collections. I have had some very positive feedback and a small but very enthusiastic fan base.

    If I were to negotiate with a publisher–an option that I am leaving open–I would be orders of magnitude more confident now than when I finished my first book. Four years ago I would have just accepted any crumbs I was offered and not even bother to read the fine print. Today I’d be able to make a deal, and be emotionally prepared to walk away if it wasn’t right for both of us.

  7. I’ve only got a short story and a novella out which, combined with my total suckitude at marketing, limits my sales quite a bit. Trying to knock out a few novels before the end of the year, though. Because I’d about murder for $15k a year, let alone more. 🙂

    1. novels sell more, trust me. And Amanda — the b*tch who wrote very fast these last three years (what? Amanda, twin, I love you. Actually I do, but I’m jealous too) — tells me that everything goes higher after 10th novels. I.e. all of them sell more.

      1. 10th?!? *heaves sigh* OK, so 2016 may be the Year of the Fat Deposits. Good. (Two in the queue to release this year, four more done for next year, one half done.)

  8. #1. Write it.
    #2. Get feedback from people who are good at doing that sort of thing.
    Everything else is #3.
    And by the way, I just reviewed two of Cedar Sanderson’s short stories on Amazon: The Dryad and the Dwarf, and The Twisted Breath of God. In the second case, the review may actually be longer than the story, but I strive to give value.

  9. Hokay. You convinced me. (You, and the image of those pointed boots of yours…) With any luck at all, I’ll be uploading my first novel to KDP tomorrow or the day after.

    There have been hazards. While checking for ebook formatting issues earlier today, I realized that I was editing again. I did it for money for so many years that it’s hard to stop. I’m also a mutant in that I enjoy editing and polishing, to a truly dangerous extent. My primary Writing Avoidance Behavior is to open something in another window and start editing it.

    Some points that I would add to your essay:

    1. Tradpub takes a long, long time. I’m already 63. I can’t hand a novel to some company in NYC and wait five years for it to hit the shelves.

    2. Tradpub has a risk template that they’re hesitant to move beyond. I spoke to several Manhattan acquisitions folk about novel-length humor, and they seem terrified of it. A friend of mine has a steampunk zombie SF western horror series underway. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, which is probably why he’s been turned down so much. Print publishing is a low-margin business, in which most titles fail to make any money. Nobody wants to try anything new. The old sales chestnut Sell More of What Sells (SMOWS) doesn’t work if you don’t know what sells. And it’s hard to know whether something sells until you try it.

    3. Tradpub demands control, often for the life of the copyright. Modern tradpub contracts are frightening things. (Much has been written about this; if people here are curious, google it.) Ebooks never go out of print, rights never revert, and the publisher is not obligated in any way to do anything but sit on your material. Nor does it end there; the noncompete clauses can interfere with everything else you write, including blogs.

    4. Many of us who have waited out indie publishing have heard all the horror stories about how it’s impossible to rise above the noise level, it ruins your chances of selling to tradpub (is that a bug or a feature these days?) and that it just doesn’t work. Except that (as you say) it does. We who have become cynical keep asking ourselves, what’s the catch?

    There is no catch. And that’s the beauty of the whole thing: You can publish it when it’s finished, not five years later. You have total artistic freedom and total artistic control. My big problem wasn’t believing that I can do it (I can) it’s believing that indie is real. It wasn’t real five years ago. It is now.

      1. Wasn’t meant to be a tease, sorry. The other night Sarah gave me The Talk about waffling about things instead of posting the novel, and I wanted to reassure her that it would be up on KDP by or before the weekend.

        The title is The Cunning Blood and it’s a hard SF action/adventure idea piece. I hesitate to say more about it until I’m sure I know the MGC rules about pimping your work in the comments. Many forums like this seriously frown on such things.

        1. Amazon says you published it in HC in 2006, but doesn’t have a Kindle version up yet, so I’ll look forward to it.

          1. I’ve posted the ebook and it’s currently “in review” up at KDP, which I expected. I’m hoping they’ll turn it loose tomorrow. Do check back.

          2. Shazam! There it is:

            Didn’t even take 24 hours. I’m impressed. Now to get to work on the other stuff; this was the biggie.

  10. Apologies if this doesn’t make a lot of sense, rambles, or is full of typos: I’ve been running flat out (metaphorically, but you get the idea) for the last nine hours and am just about to keel over.

    Sarah, thank you for posting this, and I’m bookmarking this post so I can come back and show it to my skeptical friends and family. Reason being that I’m about to publish my first short story on KDP (should have it ready to go and uploaded by the end of next week), and I keep running into people who can’t understand why I’m not going tradpub. They can’t seem to comprehend the fact that I’ll have to wait months and months at minimum to receive a piddling sum for a 13,000-ish word short story, assuming a sci-fi mag decides to buy my story at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those clowns that turns out nothing but dreck and only cares about the paycheck, but since I’m out of a job at the moment, I do need some source of income, even if it is just a few cents every now and again. I have posted some of my work online for free, so I do have something of a fanbase built up (not big by any stretch, but they seem fairly dedicated) so we’ll see. And if this short doesn’t go anywhere, well, I’ve got a novel that I’m in the process of editing and a few ideas for some more shorts as well. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

  11. Reblogged this on Raptor's Nest and commented:
    I’ve tried explaining to some folks why I’ve decided to go the indie route with my work, but Sarah A. Hoyt lays it out far better than I’ve been able too.

  12. Aw, come on, you guys. People who are saying they’re uploading to KDP or wherever, PLEASE put up links or at least give us enough info that we can find you on your platform. There are at least three of you posted above who I’d be willing to give a look-see, too, but I can’t see enough info about you to find your work.

    –Phil Sevetson

    1. If you click my Gravatar, it takes you to my Amazon page. (Thanks Dorothy G. for telling me to do that!) The only thing not connected there (yet) is the urban fantasy short story “When Chicken Feet Cross the Highway,” because it’s too new.

        1. Actually, your Gravatar image worked for that, too. A bit indirectly, but it worked. Purchased volume 1 of your series.

          1. Thanks! I should probably write down what links directly to where and post it on a card at eye level on my desk. Assuming I can find my desk under this pile of books . . .

    2. Would the mods here please clarify MGC policy on mentioning / linking to your work in the comments?

      1. Not an official mod, but the general understanding is you can mention your work if it is part of the conversation (no “Hi, nice post, buy my stuff!” drive-bys) or you have a specific point/question/complaint (“What do you think about the cover of [link]? Is it genre confused?” or “My blurb goes thud. Any suggestions?”) One link per comment goes through without trouble, but two or more get every comment sent to the moderation waiting room, no matter who you are.

  13. I have 12 self pubbed novels under my own name, and two more coming out in the next couple of weeks. I’m doing okay, and I’m working on trying to do better.
    I also have about two dozen novellas under a pen name (trashy tawdry romances) that I wrote for fun (and yes, profit) that while they don’t make a lot of money (I sell about 5 of them a day) they were a very worthwhile learning experience, plus a lot of great writing practice – that I still get paid for.
    The only way I’d work for a publishing house now was if the advance was a lot of money, and I got to keep a larger share of the ebook royalties than they seem to pay to most.
    Oh, and I got to examine their books.
    I’ve known a few publishers, which may be why I don’t trust them very much.

  14. If someone is not committed to going full indie, there are such things as micro-press publishing houses, which have some of the TradPub benefits (such as editors and design folk on staff) without some of the negatives (such as eternal control of copyright.) For instance, I have a friend who writes paranormal romance for a small press. She’s also the cover design expert, since she’s also a fantasy photographer and the press was started by a friend of hers. The press follows Yog’s Law and has decent reversion rights (three years after publication if no mutual contract extension is made.)

    It’s the sort of thing that might be good to give a hand up to someone who isn’t quite sure if they want to go indie, though there is still the acceptance barrier. And, of course, any advance is going to be tiny. But I think it’s a reasonable middle path, and it wouldn’t surprise me if such mini-presses survive and thrive where the big ones are vulnerable.

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