Going Off Road (Indie Publishing): Why We Do It

It’s a long, perilous journey, fraught with stumps and ‘chuck holes, but still, some of us do it – we have taken our books out of the hands of New York Publishers. Why, oh why, would anyone do such a thing?

As writers, we share information – information about publishers, contracts, advances. It’s what smart business people do. It’s not gossip. It’s not burning bridges. It’s cooperative. The result of all of this sharing is knowledge and enlightenment, but also, it resulted in my being frozen, like a deer in the headlights – too afraid of making another poor business choice to try another path. So I was stuck – for ten years – in query letter hell while I tried to tackle a publishing house that might result in a living wage sale of my books. “Not for me” scrawled in the margin of my own cover letter, “Dear Author, It troubles me that I must send this form letter…,” but my favorite reject letters and the ones that inspired hope were those which included lines like, “I loved the writing style, your voice, etc., however it does not fit our niche audience.” I will always be grateful to those editors who took the time to explain the particulars of why something I wrote did or did not work for their particular publishing house.

Well, as my Grandma might have said, “if you can’t give the cookies away for free, then there might be something wrong with the recipe.” So I did it. I gave some of the cookies away – for free. I’m pretty well connected with the homeschool community, so I contacted that most discerning group of young adults and their parents, and I gave away a “review copy” of the book to anyone who would take it… and what I received in return were reviews! Good reviews. Folks wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters in the story, as the book was the first in a three book series.

About the same time, I was giving away free books, I started learning about a new business paradigm: a democratic business model. Let me give a little bit of backstory. In a democratic business model, the business is run, equally by the employees. That is to say, while some employees have specialized skills – management, production, test, etc. – they earn an income based on the profits the product garners and distributed based on the amount of work each has invested in the company. At this rate, an author, who has worked on a book for up to a year or two, is asked to do most of the marketing, and beyond distribution, cover art, and editing, has invested about 75% of the work, but earns only 8-10% of the cover price. (That’s about $1/book.) Think about that. A book is considered mid-list when its sales reach about 30,000 copies. Translated for all you humanities majors, that’s about $30,000 – for one to two years of work! With some amount of guess work, I was able to estimate my first books’ sales – the one published with a NY publisher – to have netted somewhere around $30,000, for which I received… wait for it… $2,000. You may ask how that translates with 8-10% royalty rate. That’s a vagary of a really bad contract and that’s a whole other informative article.

Luckily, I work in a female dominated industry where most of the “employees” don’t measure their success by their income or the size of their penis. Rather, all this industry requires is huevos and wouldn’t you know it – turns out I’ve got those! Women share otherwise private information, regarding income, what has worked for them, what has not. Women are by design, cooperative, social creatures. It was time for me to toughen up and get busy with the business of selling my next book, but how? The traditional publishing industry demands that it all be handled in a very systematic way: write the entire book, query, wait, be rejected or asked to submit sample chapters, wait, be rejected or be asked to make changes, wait, be rejected or be asked to sign a contract – which may or may not, (usually not,) be to your advantage. That’s a really long process over which the author has very little control! And obviously, I can’t live by “giving away the cookies for free” indefinitely. But it felt really good – to be in charge of my book in that way. And besides, that was just a test sample – the indie publisher’s editorial gauntlet, if you will.

All this soul searching came about around the same time Amazon was announcing their new e-royalty rate of 75%. And didn’t that mesh nicely with my estimate of my time invested in producing the product versus the publisher’s investment? It was time to go “off-road”.

Well, it’s been about a year and a half since my first indie-published book, ANGELS UNAWARES, was released. Where am I sales-wise? About 80 sales in a small family business (that’s about $400,) and on-line? Slow. A handful of friends bought the book when it first came out, but now I’ve learned a new skill. Amazon’s KDP select program allows the author to give away “free cookies” for up to five days. I chose two days, on a weekend. Over the course of the two days, advertising minimally through social networks, over 500 people downloaded the book. My sales jumped in ranking on Amazon, and since, I’ve seen a slow trickle in continued sales. I’m still learning the ins and outs of social media networking, selling on Amazon, and marketing, but I’m sure, there are other writers out there, (again, like my Grandma would have said, “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,”) who share information, success, what works, and what doesn’t.

I’ve hit a few ‘chuck holes along the way. I’m learning to avoid the stumps, but one thing is certain. I’m responsible for my own democratic business model… and it feels GREAT to be driving off-road, in charge of my business, and writing, and publishing… again!


  1. I'm considering using the Amazon select program for my ARCs instead of a regular ARC tour.


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