Here was the traditional publishing path for many years:
- query multiple agents until you sign with one,
- then have that agent sell your book to a publisher,
- then have that publisher line up an editor, and
- hope the book gets published before the publisher goes out of business, then
- return to step one or two with the next book, depending on whether you and your agent are still together
I realize that for a lot of people, the decision whether to go the traditional publishing route is determined by trying and failing to get an agent interested. I'm not going to lie -- that played a part for me as well. Querying agents is a skill that has little to do with writing a book, and I finally decided I just didn't want to bother learning that skill.
But that's not the only reason to choose to independently publish. Look, I made a list!
Not a vanity press
Reasons to go the independent publishing route:
- You get to choose the name of your publishing house. Okay, this is a pretty weak reason, but this is how Speculative Turtle Press was born!
- You get to choose what to write. If, as a completely random example that certainly doesn't apply to me, you first publish an urban fantasy novel, and then just want to work on this cozy mystery novella that you kind of love but that probably needs to get published under another pen name so as not to completely confuse the brand... you can do it! Nobody can stop you! Ha ha! You have the power!
- You set your own schedule. Nora Roberts (traditionally published!) had to create other pen names because she was writing quickly and her publishers didn't want her competing with herself. With independent publishing, you can publish on any schedule that works for you.
(Some readers might have issues with that, but this week has shown us that some readers just have issues. Lots of issues. If you hadn't heard, someone complained on Nora Roberts's own blog that a year was much too long to wait for a book and that NR needed to change her release schedule. And then this person proceeded to fansplain publishing to NR, a woman who has written more books than God. It's been a well-known fact for a very long time that the last person you want to have go after you is Nora Roberts because she is like an avalanche. The result in this case was not pretty. Expect a character named Debra to die a very horrible death in the next JD Robb book.)
- You get to pick your own title. In my case, I whine to my writing group that I still don't have a title, and then listen to them make bad puns and dad jokes for ten minutes until someone comes up with the perfect thing.
- You get to pick your own cover. Traditionally published authors don't get to do this. If they absolutely hate the proposed cover, they might be able to have some input, but in general someone else chooses the cover and that's the end of it. With independent publishing you do it all -- find the artist, work with them to put it all together, and sign off on the final product. This is a bit of a double-edged sword because you can screw everything up by having the wrong cover, but at least it's something you were responsible for.
- You get to pick your own editors. This is important. You have to trust your editor in order to not resent the things they're telling you about your precious manuscript. Even if they are absolutely wrong about... okay, fine, they're right again.
- The whole process is much faster than traditional publishing. Getting a book out in under six months after finishing the first draft is not too difficult. That would be nearly impossible in traditional publishing where it would be multiple years.
Reasons you might want to think twice:
- All those choices you made above might come back to bite you. Oh well. Live and learn.
- You have to learn about the important publishing stuff. No, it's not that hard to figure out, but that sort of learning is not as fun as watching TV.
- You have to learn how to market your book. There's no getting around this, if you want the book to sell. The good news is that as long as you don't expect your first book to sell millions of copies in the first week (spoiler! it's not going to, no matter what you do!), you can figure this part out as you go along.
- You have to figure out how to deal with all the distributors. I'm not saying that it's impossible to have the same ISBN for the same paperback at two different distributors, but yikes, it is difficult.
- You have to fund it all. It doesn't need to be too expensive, but you're paying editors and cover artists. You may also be buying ISBNs and paying for formatting software. That money has to come from somewhere. Ideally it will eventually come from the previous book's profits, but there's no guarantee when or if that will happen.
- You have to make a bunch of decisions about things that you don't feel qualified to make decisions about. Holy crap, what do I know about cover art? (Answer: more than I used to!)
- You have to keep track of your finances for tax purposes and stuff. Uh, yeah, I need to get my act together on this.