I’m reproducing here a blog post I wrote about indie pubishing as a guest blogger on She Writes. You’ll all recognize the reference to Pamela.
I spent yesterday morning in a fascinating conversation, a twenty-minute interview that ballooned into an hour and a half. I was talking to She Writes member Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of the independently-published Silent Sorority.
Indie publishing is at an extraordinary crossroads. Right now—today, this minute—it’s evolving out of the old vanity press model, through a veritable tsunami of slush that couldn’t get accepted by traditional publishers, into a radical new paradigm in which excellent authors deliberately choose indie over traditional publishing. They’re carving out a new publishing world, and as the stigma of self-publishing slowly disintegrates, authors can now publicly admit to their excitement over the flexibility and creative possibilities in going independent.
The truth is I’ve always kind of hankered after publishing my own work.
I’ve been writing for so long, and I have so much background in the actual mechanics of publication from my years in the composing departments of newspapers, that I’ve never been able to totally convince myself traditional publishing was worth all the effort. You pursue agents, so they can pursue acquisitions editors, so they can pursue their colleagues, so they can pursue distributors’ reps, so they can pursue booksellers, and maybe, somewhere down the line, you can sell a book to a stranger.
And, besides, I’ve been traditionally published. I know perfectly well how little an author makes. I’ve gotten used to nice, fat writing paychecks in the technical industry, and it never made any sense to pin my hopes on a career path that obviously couldn’t compare.
And now publishing houses are laying off editors in droves, agents are scrambling to make up the difference, and even award-winning publishing authors are losing their publishers. Coincidentally, the technology of ebooks and ereaders has suddenly become mainstream, along with POD and self-publishing. Six years ago, when I wrote my first annual chapter book for my son, my husband and I had to find a local bookbinder to hand bind a single copy. Now we can get it done professionally for a matter of a few bucks.
In only the last year, the independent publishing industry has exploded into an incredible primordial soup.
I began researching and blogging on this phenomenon a year ago, when I first began professionally editing fiction writers in the online community. At that time, serious professional writers were hiring independent editors, but not very many of them and not right out in front of everyone. Even six months ago agents were still telling aspiring writers, “You don’t need a editor.” (Some of them still do.) And I was blogging about the similarity between that moment in history and another moment, not so many decades ago, when publishers told aspiring writers, “You don’t need an agent.”
“The smart agents,” I said, “are going to start sending clients to independent editors.”
And now agents routinely send us aspiring writers. “The market’s very, very tough,” they’re saying. “Get all the help you can.”
In the same vein, a year ago traditional publishers were telling aspiring writers, “Don’t self-publish. No matter what your actual motivation, we will take it as incontrovertible proof that no other publishers would take you, and we won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.” Six months later I was hearing from top acquisitions editors they were buying self-published books. “They’re proving through sales they’re really good!” Now, this morning, I heard about an author who turned to indie publishing after he’d not only been accepted by an agent and one of the big-name traditional publishers, but assigned an editor, for whom he waited quite awhile before discovering she’d been laid off. His traditionally-publishable book was dead in the water, and rather than waste any more time and energy he went with Smashwords. Any author can now hire an editor and designer, get their own ISBN and copyright, and collect all their own royalties.
I can make my book anything I like. I have complete control over my title, my cover, my design, and my words. (That’s my hand-built desk in the cover photo! That’s my irascible cat!) My book doesn’t have to fit the standard model of a likely best seller by which traditional publishers make their decisions. I can promote it however I like. I can say whatever I like.
I can go renegade.
This is one of those wild-cat moments in the history of an industry you can’t plan for, you can’t deliberately create, you can’t even always recognize when you find yourself right smack in the middle. But you can look back on it later and wish you’d been a part of it.