When I first started writing, my goal was to publish traditionally with one of the big fantasy publishing houses like TOR or Orbit. Independent publishing never crossed my mind because I had never read any independently published books. I thought that the majority of them were terrible and I’ve never been a very fast reader, so I decided that the gatekeepers within traditional publishing houses would guarantee a better read.
Now, this isn’t always the case.
In my opinion, the best gatekeepers are the readers, not the acquisition editors or whoever else deals with the actual manuscript evaluations within publishing houses. Readers know when a story is bad. Readers know when a story is good. If it’s good, they’ll rave about it on social media.
My first introduction to independent fiction was the Nysta series by Lucas Thorn. I’d stumbled across his novels because, funnily enough, I saw his Twitter account and noticed that I actually worked with the guy! Small world, huh? So I downloaded the first book that night and started reading. The language was crass and the violence extreme. And I loved it! There was something raw and fresh about it.
I soon found that this freshness is one of the hallmarks of independent fiction. That’s not to say traditionally published fiction doesn’t offer this because it does. But it’s few and far between. If you’re a reader after a particular kind of story, there’s probably an independent author who’s written it.
Now, all this is a long way of saying that I decided to publish independently rather than go through the process of submitting to an editor and going through the whole trade process. I wanted to find readers who like the kind of stories I’m writing, rather than impress a single individual at a publishing house who might just not like my particular style. (Caveat here: I’m not saying all editors are so fickle. In hindsight, it was probably a [bad] generalization, but this was my reasoning at the time.)
So, now that my prejudices against indies were overcome, the floodgates opened with many more reasons to publish independently. Here’s a few.
You have complete control over what you write and what you publish. For some people, this might be more of a headache than a benefit. But isn’t it better to choose what’s going to be on your cover, or what to include in your story, than to have someone else decide for you?
2. Bigger Royalties
Publishing independently means making more money. The small number of books an average trad author sells per day could equal a lot more money if they were independently published.
This is also a good thing for readers. More money means a writer quitting their day job, which means more time to write and more books for story-hungry readers.
3. Success Depends Upon Me (Largely)
This one is a bit tricky. Luck is involved with almost any enterprise. Independent publishing is no different. Where independent publishing differs from traditional publishing is in the amount of luck required to succeed. The largest factors in determining success are how hard you work and how well you market. The majority of successful independent authors write a ton and publish a ton. They are also very savvy when it comes to marketing. They know the kinds of books their readers want to read. They also know where to find those hungry readers so that they can get books into their hands.
Having written these benefits to independent publishing, I now realize that many (all?) of them could be seen as downsides for those who simply want to write.
The biggest thing to remember is that everyone’s mountain is different (I’m borrowing this analogy from Michael Anderle). There are some authors who won’t feel like they’ve accomplished a damn thing unless their novel is sitting on the shelf of a chain bookstore. Others might want to torture English Lit students with their books.
Those mountains are totally fine. But they’re not my mountains.
For as long as I can, I want to write imaginative fantasy stories that highlight the darker side of human nature. Whether or not I accomplish that goal depends upon whether readers like my stories. The first (and arguably the most important) way to get people actually reading your story is a good cover. I’ll be talking about how I organized the cover for The Shattered Orb in the next post (Spoiler: there were hiccups along the way).