Self-publishing as an independent author is so much easier and rewarding than going down the traditional route, isn’t it? No agents, no publishers, better margins, choose your own cover artwork rather than have to put up with something dumped on you by a stranger who’s not even read your novel. Life in the freewheeling and carefree world of the indie is, well… freewheeling and carefree. Isn’t it?
September was the month I had to submit my accounts for the first year’s trading of the company I set up to handle my publishing. It was an administrative burden I’d been putting off since the end of June. I balanced the books and organised something in the region of 200 receipts, large and small, and registered a stonking loss on dismal sales. In part, this was because I’d gone down the traditional route of paying for a run of 5,000 copies of Apocalypse Later. In retrospect – had I known they were options – I’d have used Createspace or Lightning Source. But they wouldn’t have been able to deliver the rather lovely matt-black cover with silver foil block lettering that I could see in my mind’s eye glinting on the shelves of Waterstone’s.
Which brings me onto distribution. I’d not appreciated how hard it is to get retail distribution. In spite of a very successful PR campaign I failed to get into the bookshops despite a concerted effort. I did at least manage to get into one retail distributor. Amazon were my only outlet. Notwithstanding the tiny margins, their ordering algorithm meant I was put out of stock at my peak selling period. Whilst a friend who was published by one of the Big Six did have a stock-out problem with Amazon, at least she didn’t have to scrabble around trying to get distribution deals.
During September I’ve been working on the artwork for my forthcoming sci-fi parody series (sorry, still embargoed, but soon – I promise). Having created a set of logos and selected a winning design with the help of friends, I put the final version out to a freelancer. Instead of working on the design I’d sent – maybe half an hour’s work – he came back with four bizarre and irrelevant designs. Every twelve hours (he was based in the Philippines) he’d send me more wide-of-the-mark images and I’d bat them back with yet more detailed instructions and the same image I’d sent him previously. After five days of this I had to give up. I’ll find a designer in London and sit with him or her for an hour. As for the artwork for the Facebook timeline cover, I’m hand-drawing that when I have the time.
With 40,000 words done as of today, thoughts turn to promotion. I’m keen to hire my PR lady again, and have provisionally booked her. Will she get me the impact she did last time? It’s uncertain. But the whole question of PR is something a traditionally-published author would never have to concern themselves with – and they certainly won’t find themselves delivering review copies to newspapers at seven on a winter’s morning, or scrabbling around to write articles that get killed.
Of course, the indie author needn’t hassle themselves with registering a company, getting physical books printed, and hiring a PR agency. But if you take your work seriously as an indie then you have to act like a mini imprint. Yes, the margins are better, and you have more choice – but this is what economists and marketers would call ‘a redistribution of costs in the value chain’ (no, really, they would – I’ve worked with such people). My guess would be that successful indie authors – once all of the other tasks are taken into account – end up much closer to the earnings achieved via the traditional route than they’d care to admit. An honest indie would have to take into account the amount of time they spend blogging, interviewing other authors, Tweeting, participating in conferences and being active on social media, and then apply the hourly rate of a professional in those areas.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking the indie way at all. There should just be a little more recognition that publishing independently really is about being an indie publisher, rather than just an indie author. Here’s the truth: yes, the serious indie author gets to spend their time writing things that people will buy. However, they also have a day job, which is to sell what they write. So long as you recognise you’re both a writer and a publisher, you won’t go far wrong.