In the final installment of my “publishing crash course,” I will be discussing independent publishing, also known as “self-publishing.” If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity publishing.
Independent publishing is a publishing model in which the author does not seek the assistance of a publishing company or press. Instead, the author takes on the role of the publishing company by managing the book’s production and distribution, often with the help of professional contractors. Because the author does the majority of the work by herself, independent publishing has been called “self-publishing.” However, many authors in the this model prefer the name “independent” or “indie,” for short, because they do not produce the book entirely by themselves, but rather, as an independent/non-affiliated business with the help of contracted professionals.
For some, independent publishing does carry a stigma in the publishing world. This is because independent publishing has its origins in vanity publishing. Before recent technological advancements, such as the e-reader, photographic design software, and print-on-demand services, the independent author could not produce books of the same quality as traditional presses and were dubbed “vanity” publishers. However, nowadays, most independent authors are entrepreneurs and professionals who can produce the same caliber of books as traditional publishers and have entirely separated themselves from anything resembling the “vanity” model of publishing.
The Steps to Independent Publication
1. Write your manuscript.
2. Revise your manuscript. I would argue revision is most necessary for independent authors.
3. Start your business. This step is optional. As an independent author, you can choose to operate as a sole proprietor (essentially, just as yourself), or you can opt to start an official business for your products, the most common choice being a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I will cover the pros and cons of each of these options in a later post. For immediate assistance, do a quick search or read “Section 1.5 Should I Start a Company?” of Joanna Penn’s book Business for Authors.
4A. Find beta readers. Beta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for you. They can be anyone from your mom to a retired editor, but it is best to find individuals within your target audience. Beta readers should tell you how your book will be perceived by the reading public, hence the desire for them to be your target demographic, and leave more intensive editorial critiques to you and your editor(s).
4B. Find editorial services. Because you will not have a publishing company to assign an editor to you, you must find your own editor. If you don’t know where to start, read this post. There are plenty of contract editors out there as well as websites to help you find freelance editors. The main thing is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types are:
Content editors — Help you refine your story by examining its character growth, plot arc, plausibility, etc.
Copy editors — Check to make sure that facts are correct, details are consistent, and grammar is sound.
Proofreaders — Hunt down typographical and grammatical errors.
5. Find a Cover Designer and/or Formatter. Once the content of your book is perfected, you need to find someone to make it look good. Again, because you will not have the assistance of a publishing company, you will be responsible for finding someone to design a cover for you book as well as format it for e-book and print forms. As with vanity publishing, you do have the option to take care of this yourself, but it is not recommended unless you have design education or skills.
6. Distribute your novel. After your book is edited, designed, and formatted, it is time to distribute. Most independent authors have their books available in e-book and print format on online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc. It is important to note that, since you do not have a publishing company representing you, your chances of getting into a bookstore (especially a large chain store) or library are slim-to-none. Therefore, if that is your big dream, independent publishing may not be for you.
7. Market your novel. You are entirely in control of gaining attention and attracting sales for your novel. This gives you a great amount of flexibility in your strategy, but it also means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, social media, active blogging and podcast communities, and myriad other strategies exist to make this task surmountable for independent authors.
Pros of Independent Publishing
- You retain ALL of the rights to your creative product.
- You are not locked into long-term contracts and receive much higher royalties (35-70%, depending on retailer and book format) than traditionally published authors (10-20%, depending on contract with publisher).
- You have complete control over every stage of production and distribution.
- You can hire contractors who best fit your business and branding model.
- You have a more direct relationship with readers.
- You have the pride of knowing you organized every stage of your book’s life.
Cons of Independent Publishing
- You do not have any help from a publishing company.
- You may face stigmas associated with vanity publishing.
- Others may pre-judge your work because it has not been “approved” by publishing authority figures.
- There are upfront costs that authors who are traditionally published do not have.
- If you choose to start your own business, there are expenses and risks associated with it as well.
- Your chances of your book being sold in physical bookstores, available in libraries, or made into a movie are slim-to-none.
Who Should Independently Publish?
Independent publishing is the best option for authors who want to have a full-time career as a writer. It is also best for writers who enjoy both the artistic side and business side of being an author, and who feel comfortable making final decisions in each field. Likewise, independent publishing is for authors who want to retain the rights to and control over their product and who are willing to put in intensive amounts of labor to compensate for the lack of assistance provided by a publisher.
If you would like a more personal look into the reasons behind independent publishing, read Why I Will Independently Publish.
What are your feeling about independent publishing? What other process steps, pros, and cons of indie publishing would you add? Let me know!