The Promises and Perils of Indie Publishing


Three floors above the garishly flashing screens of Times Square a group of authors were gathered to hear a talk on self-publishing that was hosted by the NY Self-Publishers Meetup. Speaker Amy Edelman, an author both self and traditionally published who now runs IndieReader.com, urged her audience to fill the traditionally bare first three rows of folding chairs. She then launched into a five-point plan which she advocated authors who are considering self-publishing should follow for the best chance of getting their work into the hands of readers.

Indie Publishing

Indie Publishing (Photo credit: bjornmeansbear)

It became clear during the course of the talk just how many significant barriers an author is up against when choosing to self-publish. There is a stigma attached to these works: that they are somehow lower quality than traditionally published books, and that their authors produce them out of a sense of vanity rather than realized talent. However, the numbers argue otherwise. The original Fifty Shades of Grey was a self-published book and as of August 2012 the trilogy has outsold the combined seven Harry Potter books on Amazon.

So if both traditionally published and self-published works follow similar patterns of successes and flops, then why is the publishing system so slow to accommodate this emerging model?

“For whatever reason, I think traditional media has a stake in keeping self-publishing down,” said Amy, A logical argument, considering that commercially successful self-published books bring into question the role of the publisher in this changing media landscape.

But self-publishing is not for everyone. There is considerable risk in investing in a product that has no guarantee of success when the individual must absorb all the loss from a flop.

Other significant obstacles are distribution and publicity. Self-published works must apply for an ISBN number so they can appear in libraries and traditional bookstores do not carry them. The Internet has allowed entrepreneurial writers the marketplace they needed to even stand a chance of going up against traditionally published books for readership. Amy lays a large debt of gratitude to Amazon in particular. But even with this increased accessibility, press remains a large hurdle to clear.

Traditional publications do not often review self-published works. The New York Times Book Review has an internal policy not to review these works and has only departed from this in a select few instances. There are publications that offer paid reviews of indie books, with the option for an author to approve whether or not the review will be published. But many members of the indie community view this as an unjustified expense.

“Self-published authors have this idea that traditionally published authors don’t pay for anything,” Amy noted. She went on to discuss the cuts that traditional publishers take from author’s profits as proof that they are paying for their press.

Amy proceeded to lay out some very useful advice for authors who are considering self-publishing:

  • The Author/Editor Relationship

She stressed that before bringing a book to market, it should undergo a rigorous editing. Indie authors often get accused of writing something and immediately trying to sell it without proper review. If you plan on spending any money in the publishing process, an editor is your best investment. She clarified, though, that before you hire one, you should understand exactly the type of editing your manuscript needs, be it copyediting, proof editing or concept editing, as costs may greatly differ.

  • Designer

The book cover is an all-important signal to the reader of the type and quality of your work. Amy said, “People used to be able to tell when a book was self-published because of its cover.” It’s important to get out there and research book covers in the market to better understand the types of audience they target.

  • E-books

“Everybody should do an E-book. It costs virtually nothing to produce an E-book instead of a paper book. It can be your calling card.”

Amy mentioned that in exchange for 90 day exclusive rights to Kindle, you can publish on their platform and receive free promotions whereby your book is free on the marketplace for five days. This can draw traffic to your work.

  • Alternative Forms of Press

One of Amy’s suggestions for generating free publicity for your book is to send copies of it to all your friends and relatives when it appears on Amazon and ask them to write you honest reviews. Real reviews carry a degree of credibility that falsely positive reviews cannot.

  • Make Friends

Making friends with your independent bookseller and the Barnes and Nobel buyer could quickly fix your distribution problems. Like anything else, success in independent authorship can hinge on who you know and who they know.

Amy concluded the talk by saying that she hopes that in the future self-publishing will be viewed as a choice rather than something writers fall back on when they are rejected by traditional media.

“The traditional publishing houses are almost like parents in that they tell you what is good and bad. Indie publishers get to decide the tone they want, the cover. They’re making something they can really call their own.” Here’s to doing it yourself…and there’s a lot of it to do.

About the author: Caitlin L. Conner

Caitlin L. Conner is an experienced project manager with roots in the games industry. She’s earned credits in production management, game design and quality assurance testing for ten published titles spanning the casual and MMORPG genres.

At AlleyWatch, Caitlin focuses on editorial content, writer coordination, and time and resource management. She also contributes writing on gaming and women in tech.

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