Monday, 21 September 2015

Thoughts from six months of self-publishing

I always meant to blog about things I've learned since starting self-publishing, but for some reason I keep forgetting to. (Okay, it's probably because I'm having too much fun self-publishing to blog about it. :P) But I thought I'd share some thoughts and lessons learned in the six months since Adamant released.
  • This is absolutely the right path for me. I write non-conventional stories that don't subscribe to one sub-genre, and have a knack for completely missing trends. Everything's a hard sell these days, and publishers can't afford to take too many risks (which is why so many established indie authors and people who've done well on sites like Wattpad are landing contracts--they've already proven they have an audience). But at the same time... well, just look under the urban fantasy and dystopian categories on Amazon. Plainly, readers do still want these stories, even if agents and publishers are burned out on them. Also, I write MG, YA, and adult books in all sub-genres of fantasy and sci-fi, and I jump around a lot. I'd hate to be tied into a contract that stopped me exploring all the worlds I want to write about.
  • Related: with indie publishing, there's room to experiment. You can write that time travel werewolf cyberpunk romance without fearing rejection. (No, this is not on my project list. :P) If something doesn't work in marketing, you can stop, research, find a new approach. You can replace book covers, rewrite blurbs, make your own release schedule and decide whether to do pre-orders. If something goes wrong, it's much easier to fix it yourself than sending multiple emails to your publisher hoping they'll put it right (believe me, I know).
  • I'm eternally glad I learned the craft first. I think this is the part that makes some people wary of self-publishing--the lack of quality control. I self-published my fifteenth novel, after I'd already signed contracts for five other books with a small press and spent years working with critique partners, beta readers and editors. I could have gone indie sooner, but I'm glad the first two novels I wrote are on my computer never to be touched again. It can be tempting to rush into publishing, but I definitely don't regret the time spent learning to construct a story (even if my first novel took ten years...).
  • It's always worth getting a professional edit and cover design. I wrote more about this in my post on marketing, but you only get one chance to impress potential readers!
  • People will try to scam you. You'll get marketing companies bombarding your inbox asking for money, and start-up publishers begging you to give their services a try. Be extremely wary of anyone claiming to be "experts" on publishing or asking for your time, money, or partnership. Not everything's a scam, but some "services" are completely unnecessary. I'm not the most tech-savvy person, but I saved $100+ on ebook formatting by learning to do it myself using Scrivener. There are people who'll offer to upload your books to e-retailers for a price, when, well, it's free. Research is absolutely key.
  • But the vast majority of people will welcome you. It's a very odd feeling, because my publishing history has been shaky, to say the least. As a 20-year-old student, I signed a contract with a "small publisher" (read: vanity press) for a middle-grade fantasy book which turned out to be the worst mistake of my writing career. I lost a lot of money, and I watched my book crash and burn as a helpless onlooker. But I think the worst part was feeling like I'd squandered that all-important "debut" opportunity. I wasn't allowed into debut author groups, and I put off re-querying because I dreaded having to explain my potentially career-ruining mistake to agents when I was already getting derisive comments from (luckily only a few) other writers, telling me I wasn't a "real author". But as an indie author, I've had nothing but support.
  • You can be business-focused without compromising your creativity. It's an advantage to have a series and a solid release plan, but ultimately, it's writing more books that will win you readers -- not spending hours chasing new marketing strategies for just one book (I've made this mistake before!). I've also seen people put off self-publishing because of the fear of admin cutting into their writing time, but traditionally published authors also have to register as self-employed, keep expenses records for tax purposes, and deal with resulting admin headaches. And ultimately, it's the author who has to decide which project to work on -- no matter how they publish.
  • This post from Hugh Howey really spoke to me. I admit part of the reason I put off self-publishing even though I'd been researching the process since 2012 (!) was due to the fear of having to do everything myself, with no publisher for backup. There's a learning curve, but the actual process of self-publishing was far less intimidating than I'd been led to believe, and there are whole forums and communities of other indie authors (like KBoards) who are happy to offer advice. Yes, I probably work more hours than I did before, but those hours are invested in my career. And let's face it, I'm a workaholic anyway. ;)
  • I'm much happier indie publishing. Of course, I'm not ruling out querying again, but right now, I'm more inspired, more prolific, and far less frustrated with the few irritating parts of the process (like paperback formatting) than I was with my attempts to break into traditional publishing.
Obviously, this is just my experience. It probably helps that I work freelance anyway, so I'm used to the uneven hours, keeping track of expenses and doing my own tax returns, and never being entirely away from work. I'm fairly prolific, I want this to be my career, and I never want a repeat experience of the helplessness of watching a book taken out of my hands and mishandled by a publisher who knew less about the reality of publishing in this day and age than I did at the time. As I said, I won't rule out querying again, but I can't deny the control over my release schedule and the ability to watch a book go from first draft to finished product is addictive. ;)

Of course there are risks involved, but without a doubt, I'd rather put a book out and risk it not selling than invest months or years in a project which might never see the light of day at all. Maybe I'll never have a breakout success, but as long as I can keep writing and publishing the stories I love, I couldn't be happier.


  1. Those start up companies and services are usually subsidy publishers. Run away!

    1. Yes! There are so many of them around, too. :/

  2. Great post! Even though going indie is a lot of work, I find it very fulfilling, in the long run. Glad self-publishing has been such a great choice for you so far! :)

  3. I'm so glad you mentioned that readers 'still do' want these stories. Write what you love. Write from your heart. And write where your love is. Period. Sounds like you've followed the right path for you. #happydance

    1. Forgot to mention that time travel werewolf cyberpunk romance sounds like an intriguing idea. :)