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The fourth installment in my publishing series covers indie or independent publishing. The other three articles are on traditional, small press, and hybrid publishing.

What is Indie Publishing?

Independent publishing is writing, producing, printing, marketing, selling, and promoting your own work.

I refuse to call indie publishing “self-publishing” because the term is still derogatory to some. It sprang from the days when traditional publishing had such a hold on the marketplace that anyone publishing their own work was considered vain and egotistical.

Publishing a book yourself is no different than starting your own indie music label.

The rise of Amazon KDP, IngramSpark, and other print-on-demand services changed the book industry, as did global indie bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Gray. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is now indie publishing all her e-books.

When you indie publish, you’re not doing it yourself. You work with editors, beta readers, writing groups, book cover designers, reviewers, and others. You’re releasing your book independent of a large press, but you’re not doing it alone.

Publishing yourself is becoming big business, which could lead to the corporatization of the indie publishing process, but that’s for another time. And no matter what happens in the indie world, the author always has the choice to pay for added services or put a book out as is and not worry about promotion or marketing.

Why Indie Publish?

This year, 2022, is said to be the worst year ever to publish a book. So many people wrote during covid that agents and publishers are currently overwhelmed with all types of submissions. In addition, traditional publishing companies are going out of business or consolidating, executives and agents are leaving in droves, and the entire industry is in disarray.

That means it’s taking longer for writers to hear back from agents and longer for agents to get a response from publishers. There’s also a higher probability of having your book rejected because so many books are considered.

What’s the alternative that’s becoming more popular every day? Publishing the book yourself.

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Pros to indie publishing:

  • You keep total control of your work. Many traditional publishers will not let authors contribute to the book cover or marketing.
  • A traditionally published book can take one to two years – or longer! – to get published. An indie book can come out in less time, within weeks or months.
  • Your book doesn’t get old. You can continue to market it indefinitely.
  • There’s a higher royalty rate if you sell directly, but not necessarily if you distribute outside the print-on-demand company you used.
  • Writers signed to a Big 5 are often unceremoniously dropped from the roster. You can’t get dropped if you’re indie.

Cons of indie publishing:

  • If you’ve never published before, you have a learning curve. It can be stressful because you must learn a lot.
  • If you don’t like marketing, you might find the process painful. I love creative marketing, but even I find it overwhelming at times.
  • There’s no advance, and you have to pay for everything.
  • You will have to spend time on the business side of books, which could take away from your writing.
  • It’s not easy to get your book sold in bookstores.
  • Indie publishers are not eligible for most prizes. I’ve heard from several authors, though, that awards are only to boost one’s ego. Book sales don’t increase with awards, except for the few top prestigious ones.

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Publishing stress is real

Truth be told, there’s a certain amount of stress getting your book out to the public, no matter which route you take. With traditional publishing, you query agents, and if you’re like most people, you get many rejections. This can take many months, if not years.

After you find an agent, the agent will most likely make suggestions and have you edit or rewrite parts of your book. Some writers don’t agree with the agent’s edits and have to decide how to proceed, which could come down to doing what the agent asks or finding another agent. That could start the rejection process all over again.

Once the agent is satisfied with your book, it gets shopped to publishers. This can take many, many months – and another round of rejections. It could take a year or two to get the book accepted by a publisher and then another year or two for the publisher to get it out to the public. And the publisher might want even more edits to the book.

Authors who are traditionally published often are surprised when they find out the company released their book, but all additional marketing is left to the writer.

With indie publishing, you don’t have the stress of agent and publisher rejections, but you must learn the ins and outs of publishing. There’s book cover design, editing, formatting the book for print, figuring out the best way to market it, and more. It can quickly get overwhelming.

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There are also marketing services you can purchase like virtual book tour companies and various types of consultants who can help you with your target audience, social media, sales – and on and on. You have to make a lot of decisions.

I have to admit, it gets dizzying at times. But I know it’ll be much easier for future books because I’ll have learned so much from this first one. And for the most part, I find it fun. Really.

In conclusion

You might want to write a book and forget about it as you move on to write the next one. You also might not care about getting the work to the public or how long it might take. If that’s the case, traditional publishing might be for you.

If you’re someone who’d feel more respected with a traditional publisher’s name in your book, then definitely go to one of the Big 5 houses.

I love the whole process of creation – from writing books to releasing and promoting them. I want to know the process, and I want complete control over the various aspects of production like book cover design and marketing. I also don’t want to wait years for my book to come out, so indie publishing is definitely for me.

You might want someone to handle the business and production end, and you might also want to have a say in what happens with your book. If that’s the case, you might want to look into a small press.

Whatever you do, remember to congratulate yourself on being a writer. According to a 2021 study, 55% of Americans say they have a good idea for a book, yet only 8% finish a novel. So keep writing!