Indie Publishing—two sides of the same coin.
Acquiring a publisher is like seeing a beautiful red apple at the very top of a tall tree and having no idea how to reach it. Indie publishing, on the other hand, is like spotting a somewhat under-ripe, low-hanging apple that’s within reach but not nearly as shiny. For some, the climb is the only way to go. For others, we are satisfied to take the easy pickings and attempt to ripen the apple ourselves. We get a guaranteed apple, and that’s the goal—right? To publish a book.
Not exactly. We want people to actually read our work. Authors who self-publish will find themselves sorely disappointed if they hope that their work is good enough to market itself. Unfortunately, this is not the Field of Dreams—just because you build it, does not mean they will come.
The reason publishers are so discerning about who they work with is because they sink large amounts of money into marketing their authors. As an indie, you best come prepared to invest in your business the same as any other publisher would. If you don’t, you will find your work falling into the Amazon pit of despair, where rankings are so low, your book will never see the light of day again. Your work may be published, but that does not mean anyone will ever see it.
Let’s say you come to bat with financial backing and are able to stir up a fanbase. Now what? Put out a book every year or so like a traditionally published author? Only if you want to start from scratch every time you release. The pressure to produce in rapid succession is enormous. Traditional publishers milk a book for all its worth with merchandising and marketing, allowing an author time to polish their next work at length before releasing to the public. As an indie, if you don’t release a new product every few months to keep yourself relevant, you quickly begin to fade from public view. Once the initial wave builds, there is substantial pressure to keep on top of the swell and ride the wave as far as it will take you, which means continuing to feed the momentum with new books.
When you wear all the hats—author, publisher, marketing pro, business manager—producing 3-5 books a year is a huge undertaking. Rushing the process is exhausting, and not only do we suffer, but the product suffers. Unfortunately, some authors cave to the pressure and scandals emerge such as the recent #cutpastecris ghostwriting/plagiarism debacle that is Christiane Serruya. Cheating the system (manipulating page counts, buying reviews, plagiarism) have become rampant problems that only make the situation worse. It is hard enough for an indie to compete against big-name publishers. How does the honest, hard-working indie survive in a market where so many are outsourcing their writing to mass-produce books, or unjustly taking an exorbitant number of pages from the KU global fund?
I would like to think that most of these individuals started out with the same honest desire to put their work in front of readers, but somewhere along the line, they succumbed to the pressures. I doubt any of us set out to become book-churning machines, but it can feel like a necessary part of self-publishing. Indie authors must remember that the low-hanging fruit may seem like a viable alternative, but it comes with its own challenges. If you choose to go indie, be prepared to work hard.
There is nothing easy about the world of self-publishing, however, it can be enormously satisfying. The key is to pluck that apple with the understanding that your struggle has only just begun. You must arm yourself with knowledge and realistic expectations, plan to put every ounce of your heart into your work and keep from using other authors as a measure of your own progress. When you have nurtured that apple until it is ripe a ripe, shiny red, there is nothing more gratifying in the world.