What is an Indie Author?
For the purpose of this discussion an independent author (Indie Author) is an author who retains ownership and control of their created work. He may provide a limited licence to a publisher or distributor, but ultimate control of the work remains with the originator. In contrast I use the term “traditional publisher,” as a publisher who acquires exclusive rights to a work before publication. Note: these terms are for discussion purposes only and in no way is this discussion to be taken as legal advice.
Twenty Reasons for Becoming an Indie Author
- Reason number 1 for becoming an Indie author: it gives you the freedom to share your imagination with a worldwide audience.
- Reason number 2 for becoming an Indie author: it enables to spend your time writing your next book rather than dozens of query letters.
- Reason number 3 for becoming an Indie author: you can share your story directly with the people who matter most—your readers.
- Reason number 4 for becoming an Indie author: when your first book comes out and readers begin buying it—YOU ARE AN AUTHOR.
- Reason number 5 for becoming an Indie Author: you may be the one to invent the new genre that readers have been longing for.
- Reason number 6 for becoming an Indie Author: it enables you keep the freedom to write what you believe, in the way you believe it should be written.
- Reason number 7 for becoming an Indie Author: BIG BROTHER abhors voices that can’t be controlled.
- Reason number 8 for becoming an Indie Author: internet sales are easy to scale. If your book goes viral there is no limit to how many books you can sell.
- Reason number 9 for becoming an Indie Author: you decide when you want to follow the dictates of Political Correctness.
- Reason number 10 for becoming an Indie Author: with so many people on the internet, there ought to be 100,000 with tastes in stories similar to yours.
- Reason number 11 for becoming an Indie Author: with low overhead you can sell into niche markets that are unprofitable for large publishers.
- Reason number 12 for becoming an Indie Author: you learn to value and cherish every reader of your book.
- Reason number 13 for becoming an Indie Author: you are able to interact personally with many of your readers since your low overhead lets you thrive with fewer sales.
- Reason number 14 for becoming an Indie Author: for introverts (like me), it’s easy to converse about books when people find out you’re an author.
- Reason number 15 for becoming an Indie Author: researching your novel leads you to study many new subjects.
- Reason number 16 for becoming an Indie Author: you finally write the book you always wanted to read, but no one else bothered to write.
- Reason number 17 for becoming an Indie Author: every one you meet has a bit of knowledge about life and relationships that will make your novel more authentic.
- Reason number 18 for becoming an Indie Author: your book need never go out of print. After all you own it.
- Reason number 19 for becoming an Indie Author: take a step to overcome fear of failure and rejection. Put Theodore Roosevelt’s encouragement “to be in the arena” into practice. Silence your inner critic by writing and publishing your first book.
- Reason number 20 for becoming an Indie Author: in these days of “cancel culture,” if you own your book, your publisher can’t be pressured into burying it.
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.
I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.
Sky Ghosts are superhuman freedom fighters that clandestinely fight renegades of their kind (beasts) in order to protect the innocents, that is the rest of us, from the beast’s depredations. Sky Ghosts: The Night Before, like the sequel is filled with non-stop action, martial arts and blade combat interspersed with gallows humor. I enjoy that and I find Alexandra Engellmann handles the action scenes very well.
This novella (my e-book was 40 pages) is easy to read at one sitting and will let you know if you want to go on to the much more substantial Sky Ghosts: All for One.
As I understand it, from Alexandra Engellmann’s biography, english is not her first language. I would not know that from the quality of the writing. Indeed, I had a few complaints about word construction and unexpected point of view changes in my review of Sky Ghosts: All for One, but I find these little grammatical intrusions have disappeared in this later work.
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.