I’ve been reading some interesting discussions about the rise of self-publishing generally — or “indie” publishing as people are trying to call it, to link back to the indie movements for music and movies. It was never that interesting to me, honestly, because I never had a personal stake in it before. But basically: it’s no longer so clear-cut that traditional publishing is a superior way to make a living off your writing. The buying audience is changing and indie publishing is completely legitimate to many (MANY) readers who just want a decent story at a decent price.
Those who work in traditional publishing and/or primarily have their stuff go through traditional publishing, I think, have arguments we’d probably all nod along with: traditional publishers are gatekeepers of quality, they separate the wheat from the chaff, they provide full-service editing and cover creation, they’re able to get your books into brick-and-mortar stores, they take care of all the marketing and promotion. And of course, if you’re lucky, they’ve got the cash to pay you a nice advance.
Proponents of indie publishing, on the other hand, argue that all of the above can be done just as well by the writers and readers who connect directly in the marketplace. Indie publishing gives authors significantly greater royalties: compare 65% – 85% with ebook self-publishing on the various sites to 14.9% after everyone gets their cut with traditional publishing. Indie publishing also gives authors more control over timing: i.e. no waiting for 18 months for your book to appear on shelves and, if you’re self-pubbing ebooks, your books will be on the “virtual shelf” forever — cover out rather than spine out — and can’t be physically pulled to make room for new releases.
Indie publishing also allows authors to control their own marketing, including covers: anyone else remember the hubbub about Justine Larbalestier (I think), whose traditionally published book Liar got saddled with a cover featuring a protagonist of the wrong race? Another benefit of controlling your own marketing is that instead of getting sent on long exhausting/demoralizing book tours, you can keep everything online (and even traditionally published authors need to establish an online presence and by its nature most of that work devolves on them anyway, rather than the publishing house). So the author can devote more time and energy to just writing — which, per my last post and the advice of basically everyone, is the best marketing strategy anyway. (Good for someone like me, who is not naturally adept at this stuff, see above.)
Finally, indie publishing allows authors to control their own dynamic pricing and not be locked into impractical ebook prices set by traditional publishers. This may be less of a marked benefit after the Department of Justice price-fixing suit against the Big 6 traditional publishers, but I’m still finding a lot of traditionally published ebooks too costly at $9.99.
Other points to note: the fact that Amazon has reported more sales of ebooks than paper books in the US in the past two years, and I believe also in the UK now; the fall of brick-and-mortar book stores like Borders; the launching of other self-publishing or indie-like platforms by Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins; the fact that publications like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus have begun reviewing indie-published books; the fact that self-published authors are now being recognized on big bestseller lists like the New York Times’ ebooks list (not because they’re only just making big numbers, but because NYT is acknowledging that these numbers are a reality and have been for a while, and deserve to be included alongside traditionally published ebooks).
Anyway. I’m still studying up on it all. The below links are just a small sampling of the greater discussion going on everywhere, but they say stuff better than me:
- Here’s a Forbes magazine article which talks about the rise of indie publishing.
- Here’s a conversation between two authors who switched from traditional publishing (or legacy publishing, as they call it) to self-publishing. One is an author who I understand makes six figures a month now, and the other is an author who turned down an advance of half a million dollars from a traditional publisher to go his own way.
- Here’s a discussion with projections for indie publishing in 2013.
- Self-publishing phenom Hugh Howey weighs in.