When people ask me this question, they are usually asking because they or someone they know is active or will be active in writing a book, and they are wondering what to expect. Others ask it because they are skeptical that it is even possible to make money without going through a traditional publisher.
My answer is usually a qualified “yes” it is possible (but certainly not guaranteed) to make money through an indie or as I prefer to call it, a micro-publishing endeavor.
Why the qualification? There are three basic reasons.
Indie or Micro-Publishing is a Small Business Endeavor
The first thing that one has to remember: Micro-Publishing is a small business. Like other small businesses, this means you will likely not be making money out of the starting gate. Rather, like other small business start-ups, you will have to put in long hours with little remuneration, and finally there is significant risk that you will run out of money, patience, or interest before the business begins to pay off. This comes with the territory of starting something you own.
A case in point, many writers that try to find a traditional publisher also spend a great deal of time writing with no remuneration and then attempting to convince a publisher to take on their manuscript (also with no remuneration). This start-up time when taking the traditional route is often excluded from pay-back calculations. The writers who run out of money, patience, or interest choosing this route are ignored leading to a “survivor bias” when comparing traditionally published authors with indie authors.
Many writers augment their early cash flow with writing-related income, for example, editing, free-lance magazine submissions, contract writing for trade journal or instruction manuals. In my own case, since I write Science Fiction, I tutor in physics and chemistry, as well as provide chemistry consulting as a way of staying connected to science.
Indie or Micro-Publishing is an Annuity Business
Secondly, Micro-Publishing is an annuity-driven small business. When you publish your first book, there will be an initial flurry of interest and then slower sales over the long term. Long-term sales depend on how many people hear about your book and hear enough good things to take a chance to buy it. You may also get copyright remuneration or some remuneration for library usage. These long-term sales are your annuity.
The key point: as you write more books, this annuity stream will grow, but often in the initial stages, the up-front costs of writing and publishing more books will grow faster than the annuity stream.
Most Writers Care About the Art as Much or More than They Care About the Business
Finally, writers are artists as well as business-owners. They have a message or art they wish to develop which is often more important to them than the money. I’ve often been told, “If you wrote Science Fiction more like mainstream SF, you would sell more books.” I think that’s true, but I wanted to write Science Fiction that I would like to read but no one else has bothered to write. For me that means I explore worldview, spiritual, and philosophic questions as well as maintaining a strong science component in my novels. Not optimizing only for the money, probably puts one on a slower growth trajectory, but through it I hope to connect with kindred spirits who long for the same kind of story that I seek.
So What Should I Worry About as an Indie Writer?
First, ask yourself what happens if my next book goes viral and hundreds, even thousands of readers want it at once? Can your distribution system handle it? If you only sell personal copies or mail them yourself, the answer is probably “no.” If some other organization handles the sales, then the answer is likely “yes.” In other words, make sure your distribution channel is scalable in case the breakthrough you hope for happens.
Writers are often taught to market aggressively. I won’t do that for two reasons: (1) I don’t want to approach anyone in a way that I would not want to be approached. I don’t like aggressive tactics so I won’t use them. (2) I started to realize that when friends would see me, they would immediately think “I haven’t bought Peter’s book yet.” I don’t want that either. Their friendship is much more important to me than a sale. They need to know that they don’t have to like or buy my books to be my friend. That thought should not even come up.
As a consequence, most of my “advertising” or marketing is low-key on social media, by email signatures, or by magnetic signs on my vehicle. Word of mouth, without my intervention, is still the best form of advertising. Improving my writing craft so that readers will enjoy my books so much that they will give them as gifts or recommend them to friends and family is my long term objective.
3. Things Change Unexpectedly
When I published my first book, it was still possible to use Canada Post to mail books to customers at a reasonable shipping charge. Now so many surcharges, special charges have been added that even with a small-business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to ship one book to a nearby small town. Who can afford to pay that much on a book worth $20-30? the answer is “no one.”
This unexpected change has shut down one potential channel for reaching readers. These kinds of changes that are beyond a writer’s control have a major impact on the business. Like all small businesses, one has to adapt and make sure there are several ways to get your books to your readers.
Above all, keep writing, connect with like-minded readers, and connect with other writers who share your passion to communicate with others and bring a little beauty and inspiration into their lives.
The third book in The Halcyon Cycle begins with the kidnapping of Albert Gleeson’s pregnant wife and adopted son. Mistrusted by the police, he follows them through a portal to a continent called Abaddon that is ten kilometers below sea level. This land is filled with strange and terrifying creatures.
In the center of this continent is a vast chasm, named Sheol, that drops in steps to an infernal sea fully sixteen kilometers below sea level. The high air pressure at sixteen kilometers below sea level supports dragons who are able to fly despite their size.
Gleeson’s nemesis, Bigelow, in his insatiable quest for power and dominion, has become a monster with an army at his disposal. The searchers become the hunted as Bigelow drives Gleeson and his friends into the depths of Sheol.
If you liked The Halcyon Dislocation, I hope you’ll give The Dragons of Sheol a try. This book has taken me three years to complete. After seven drafts, it’s ready for my editor. I am looking forward to publishing this in 2019. I am always delighted to hear from my readers.
In Flash Back, by Ellison Blackburn, we meet Charley, a middle-aged married woman who undergoes cellular regeneration. Cellular regeneration gives Charley the body of an eighteen year old (even though it doesn’t increase her overall life expectancy) without any loss of her memories or emotional awareness of her previous life experiences. What seems at the outset like a uniformly positive change without qualification, leads to many unexpected difficulties. It is a coming-of-age story with the twist that Charley is coming-of-age a second time.
Blackburn writes well and helps us to see the problems facing Charley with her new life. Charley’s inner dialogue and emotional as well as intellectual responses to her situation are well articulated. A well-written book.
During an interstellar fleet battle, a group of Stellar Union marines are sent on a desperate mission to destroy a key ironclad and allow the retreat of the mauled Stellar Union fleet. From this dramatic opening combat scene there is nonstop action as one adventure follows another leading to a remarkable climax.
This is a well-written book with engaging characters, and is filled with imagination, courage, and plot twists. The author imbues the combat scenes with authenticity. If you enjoy Science Fiction, this is a book well worth reading.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
If I were to describe Joshua Grant’s novel PANDORA in one line it would be: the movie ALIENS enacted on a cruise ship.
A cruise ship suddenly goes missing and then reappears one week later. All attempts to contact the ship fail and the ship’s owner dispatches his own security team ostensibly to see what’s happening before governments and the military takeover the investigation.
The investigating security team knows not only that something is seriously wrong with the ship, but also that the investigation is being handled in a completely unorthodox manner. However, the ship’s owner, Carver, knows exactly how to manipulate each member of the team to keep them on mission despite their serious misgivings. He also seems to have enough influence to keep normal modes of disaster investigation at bay.
This book is nonstop action delivered in frightening detail, with surprises at every turn. As readers we explore the devastated ship with the team as they suffer terrible casualties. Having traveled on several cruises, the layout was reminiscent of my own trips (except for the massive destruction of course) and that bizarre warping of a familiar and pleasant scene only added to the impact.
Grant is an excellent storyteller and the plot is well thought out. The fine descriptions put me into the midst of the action and kept me reading.
For my part, I found the coarse language jarring and distracting, but I realize for many readers this would make the tense, life-threatening scenes more realistic.
Amazon Link to Pandora
In summary, if you like Science fiction that comes across as Horror, then I think you will like this book.
My novel The Halcyon Dislocation was featured on December 19th on Kay MacLeod’s Indie Advent Calendar. Why not check it out?
Sky Ghosts: All for One is a fast-paced, action-filled fantasy that kept me engaged from the beginning to the end. The beings, Sky Ghosts, are a faction of super humans (they can fly, have extraordinary strength, and can heal themselves of injury) that at night battle their evil counterparts (Beasts), led by a corrupted, but very powerful former Sky Ghost called Eugene.
The story begins with a fortuitous rescue of two regular humans (Chad and Dave) by Sky Ghosts Jane and Pain (Patricia) in New York City. As the story unfolds, Dave and Chad have an interest to Eugene that causes him to do his best to kill them. Their protection and ultimate significance to the Sky Ghost cause is the enduring theme of the story.
My rating of three stars means that I liked the story a lot, but would not read it a second time. This really should have been a four star story (meaning I would come back to read it over and over again). However, the author often changes point of view within a scene so, as a reader, I’m surprised suddenly to find myself in different character’s head. There are also grammatical imperfections and sometimes the wrong word is used.
Having said that, I found this story contained a wonderful, exciting plot, with characters I found interesting and that I cared about. If you like fast-paced, plot-driven fantasy with strong female leads, I think you would enjoy this book.
A word of caution: I enjoy stories with lots of action. This one has a lot of “hacking and hewing” mainly of beasts. At times the language is also quite strong.
View all my reviews at Goodreads
Why Look at Independent Authors?
The world of books (and e-books) is changing. Traditional publishers with their teams of editors, their distribution networks, and advertising power are consolidating. Many smaller book stores are closing as readers shift to mega-stores and the internet. From my perspective, traditional publishers are focusing more and more on blockbusters to shore up their bottom line. This means that well-known authors and people with a platform (e.g. sports stars, celebrities, and pastors of mega-churches) have an edge. Increasingly, it is difficult for established publishing businesses to take a chance on a new author with an unproven track record.
Along side this trend, advances in on-demand publishing, easy internet and social media access, and the ready availability of contract editing expertise has led to the explosive rise of the independent publishing movement. More and more in my own reading, I find myself ignoring the best-sellers list and looking for the works of outstanding independent authors. There are many advantages to this:
- There are increasing numbers of high quality books available as professional editing becomes accepted as a key to producing a high quality book among indie authors.
- The numbers of indie books is enormous. You will find a huge selection in your favourite genre.
- Independent authors have true freedom to write what is on their hearts, unencumbered by the constraints of political correctness, or the biases of the mainstream media. I often wonder to what degree the philosophy, brand, and convictions of the owners of traditional publishing houses impact their product. Once they buy the rights to a book, they can (if they choose) influence it to a remarkable degree. To get away from that possibility, you have to look at the independents for whom the freedom to write what they like is paramount.
- It’s usually easy to get to know and chat with indie authors. They are generally delighted to talk to someone who has enjoyed their book and their following is often small enough that they have the time to engage in dialogue.
- Although the cost of hard copy books (hard cover, trade paperback, or paperback) are generally more expensive for independent works than for mass produced paperbacks by the traditional publishing houses (because of the higher cost of short print runs), e-books are not. Often e-books are available for much less from indie authors who are eager to get a foot in the door and expose as many readers as possible to their creation.
Although independent authors have many things going for them, they also have many challenges:
- It’s hard to become known. Most newspapers and best sellers lists focus on authors publicized by traditional publishers.
- Most awards are restricted to traditional publishers. It’s very hard for an independent author to get a prestigious award.
- There is a view that has been promulgated that self-published works are of poor quality because had it been good, it would have been picked up by a traditional publisher. In my experience this is false. Undoubtedly there are some poor books in the independent realm, but there is also a lot of poor and (to my mind) distasteful products in the traditional arena—works that make me question what I was thinking when I bought the books (check my one and two star ratings on Goodreads if you want details on my evaluation).
- It’s very hard for an independent author to get a review in a major newspaper. Again they tend to focus on their long-established links with traditional publishers.
So How Can I Help an Independent Author?
- Make reading independent authors a regular part of your reading diet. Use the internet to find books that interest you. Follow reading sites such as Goodreads.com and identify books from their huge database that are interesting to you.
- When you find a good book by an independent author, write them a review. As an author, I think I have to write a well-thought out, detailed review, and so I write very few of them. As I write this, I think I’m changing my mind. Certainly the long review is best, but perhaps a quick one or two line review is also good—better than saying nothing. Authors often don’t like to ask for reviews (even though they wished they received from people who laud their books) because asking defeats the purpose of an independent review.
- Help independent authors with social media: “like” their Facebook pages, retweet their book announcements, let your friends know when you like a book.
- Give an indie book that you like as a gift to someone else.
- Take the time to add an indie book that you like to a genre lists such as those found on Goodreads. Even two or three votes identifying a work as a valued book in a genre can make a big difference.
I belong to a couple of indie authors groups on Goodreads. In reading their comments, I think many feel like the green heron sitting alone in the marsh in the cover photograph. One often receives excellent feedback from readers on one’s writing, but one misses the little things such as reviews, posted ratings, and genre listings that can go a long way to helping a good creation become recognized. Let me know what you think. If you’d like to see what Peter is writing …
Why not fill out the poll below?
In the Writer’s Group that I attend we talked about self-publishing at our last meeting before we began to read our most recent creations. There were many thoughts presented for and against self-publishing versus the traditional route of searching for a royalty publisher for your manuscript. This question has been brought into sharp relief as traditional publishers and booksellers continue to suffer. For example Borders’ process toward Chapter 11 protection was recently documented (see the article by Tiffany Cary Borders Liquidation Riles Toronto’s Kobo, National Post, page FP1, July 19, 2011). So what is a neophyte writer to do with this question about whether or not to self-publish?
Let me begin by quoting Robert Sawyer, arguably the most successful Science Fiction writer in Canada.
Sawyer, in his Letter to Beginning Writers, says in his 10th bullet “Do not self-publish. Seriously. Don’t.”
Beginning with that rather strong censure of Self-Publishing, let me summarize the arguments against self-publishing that I have heard from writers, editors, and publishers:
- In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encouraging the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
- If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
- An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses.
- Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
- Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
- If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
I think some (perhaps all) of these statements contain an element of truth in them and I will talk about them in more detail later, but is there another side to this story?
The Traditional Flight Plan
When I observe other novelists trying to break into the traditional publishing market, I see the following sequence:
- Many beginning novelists spend years getting their first manuscript together. They buy books on writing, pay for critiques, attend workshops and writer’s conferences (all cost tens to hundreds of dollars) and they wonder if their manuscript and writing is any good. Some never leave this stage, endlessly revising their work. Others, in their hearts wonder if they can take the criticism that comes with having their “baby” critically appraised. If they can screw up their courage, they go to stage two and submit their manuscript to royalty publishers. It is important to realize (and frequently overlooked) that in stage 1 you are already spending copious amounts of time and money. Every book on writing, every conference you visit and every workshop you attend is money out of your pocket. It is not as if you only start to spend money when you decide to self-publish. So what about stage 2?
- In stage 2 writers will send query letters along with their manuscript to publishing houses, perhaps hundreds of them, proposing their manuscript for publication. Many will come back with a boiler plate “no,” others will say “we like the idea but it doesn’t fit with our publishing objectives” and a lucky few will actually receive a favorable response. An initial favorable response however does not guarantee publication. Generally each publishing house has a committee that oversees cash expenditures and even though an acquisition editor may pitch your idea to that committee they many still not fund it. The key point to remember at stage 2 is that the query letter time is competing with your writing competency development time. You have less time to write and all of the rejections you receive serve only to undermine your self-confidence (that may have some long run benefit since all writers need to develop a thick skin). Finally (and to me this is the most important shortcoming) you have not yet been able to get your book into the hands of your true audience, the book buyer. Let’s suppose that you are one of the lucky few who is offered a book contract. Now you have made it right? Check out stage 3.
- So you have your book contract and advance. The publisher now owns your idea and wants to maximize revenue from it. That may mean major changes in the content to direct it toward the market “sweet spot.” Furthermore with tight marketing budgets and most marketing directed toward the surefire money makers (authors with a large following, name recognition, and a good track record) the publisher will rely heavily on you to help with the marketing through book signings, blogging, publicity events, and public speaking. You are likely not on salary, but it is expected that you shoulder a significant burden of the marketing responsibility. One ought to ask oneself: “If I am spending all this time to make money for a royalty publisher, would I not be better off doing the same things for my own publication where the margins are much higher?” The answer is not straightforward. The publisher may have experts for every stage of the publication process and that may make for a better book (some publishers as a way of reducing costs, are laying off staff editors and using free lance editors instead). Those potential benefits are being traded off against the freedom of managing your own affairs. When you manage your own publishing you can change printers, decide when to launch e-books and try whatever marketing strategy makes the most sense to you. But you are not finished yet. There is also a stage 4.
- So your book is published and you have begun to bring in sales for your publishing house. Is your book a success? Generally a publisher’s minimum expectations are to cover the writer’s advance with royalty payments. If you do not cover that spread then your book has been a financial failure from the point of view of the publisher’s expectations. However some 96% of initial contracts are not covered by the paid royalty from sales. So after all this time if you are not one of the lucky 4%, you have a marketing failure next to your name. Is this really better than self-publishing?
My Own Approach
I am not at all against working with a royalty publisher, but my priorities are to grow in competence in the craft of writing, to learn how to market my books, and to connect with my readership. I cannot accomplish that if I leave the publication process solely in hands of someone else. I want to be wise about paying for printing, and I want to proceed with realistic expectations, but if I don’t have a book to give to my readers, I will not be listening to the people that really count.
So what do you think? Am I on the right track? Have you had any personal experiences with either royalty or pay-for-print publishers? Stay tuned for the next installment where I talk about some of the confusions, obfuscations, and misunderstanding related to self-publishing.
Thanks for reading,
Peter Kazmaier is author The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported into a parallel world.