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Is independant publishing for you?

At one time, there were only two ways for an author to get a book in print; through a traditional publishing house that covered all the costs and paid writers royalties or by paying a company to print copies for a fee.

Traditional publishers offer important services such as editing, cover design, marketing and distribution to book outlets. Authors are paid up front with an advance on royalties, which is important cash for writers. Large publishers also have resources to broker movie deals. But, it is difficult for a writer to get a publisher to accept a books or to convince a literary agent to represent it. New books must be written to the highest level of quality. That has always been true. There is now a new consideration, return on investment. It takes the same effort to publish a book that will generate $50,000 in profit as it does to publish one that will bring in $1,000,000. People working in the publishing industry have a deep love of books and delight in discovering new authors, but it is a marginal business and economic factors influence the decisions of publishers.

Before her death, literary giant Ursula K. Le Guin was honored at the National Book Awards. In her acceptance speech she said, "Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship."

For decades, the only alternative to traditional publishing houses was for writers to pay companies a fee ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars to have their book printed. This was not publishing, just printing. Editing, marketing and advice were not included. Writers had to do all this themselves. Many people used this service to print personal memoirs that were given away to friends and family, though there were writers who distributed their own books, sometime door-to-door, because bookstores would not stock them and reviewers ignored them. Such writers may have had 4,999 books in their basement because their mother bought a copy. As a result, these book printing companies came to be referred to as Vanity Presses. Few writers who used these services employed professional editing. As a result, quality suffered.

Two decades ago, a new form of publishing emerged, self-publishing. There have been self-published books before, but they were rare. Self-publishing to the mass market began when Amazon introduced its Kindle eReader device and began accepting manuscripts directly from authors. Amazon does not charge fees to writers. Authors simply uploaded their manuscript and cover art. Amazon takes care of formatting. listing and distributing books. Amazon pays up to 70% of a book's retail price to the author. Self-published authors do not pay fees to literary agents, which can be up to 20% of the author's royalty. Perhaps the most alluring thing is that self-published authors have complete control over their books. Amazon now sells Kindle, paperback and hard cover books from self-publishers. Other bookstores, even chains, have begun to accept self-published books and reviewers are looking at them.

But there is a stigma associated to self-published books. They are not taken seriously by some. Many literary awards will not consider them and grants that are available to authors whose works are represented by traditional houses are not given to self-publishers. There is the impression that writers self-publish their work because they are not good enough to attract a publisher. That perception is not necessarily true. Established authors, such as David Mamet, now self-publish. If readers do not know that a great novel is self-published it would compare favorably with volumes from big name houses.

Still, there is some ground for concern. Far too many self-published books are poorly written. They are not professionally edited and contain typographical and grammatical errors. Plots can be inconsistent and even incomprehensible. Dialogue may be unbelievable or juvenile and characters can be shallow. Such books and authors serve to reinforces the prejudice and stereotypes around self-publishing. Grant providers and contest judges dread the idea of slogging through poorly written material.

Today, a new movement is forming, independent publishing. Sharing many of the aspects of self-publishing, independent publishers take on the same roles practiced by traditional publishers. They assume the risks of hiring professional editors, cover designers, printers and distributors. They market the book or hire people to do so. Like self-publishers, Independents do not pay agent fees. Some independents only publish their own work while others publish the work of many writers as well as their own. The main difference between self-publishers and independent publishers is the degree of commitment and professionalism they exhibit. The books are not released until they pass rigorous quality checks.

Independent publishers heed the advice their editors, cover designers and other professionals they hire. These people know their jobs and bring an objective perspective to the project. My editor doesn’t just check spelling, missing words or wrong words. She performs fact checking and examines the structure and logic. In one scene, a character opened a window. Two paragraphs later the already opened window was opened again. My mind had looked at that scene dozens of times and missed this mistake. My editor caught it and much more. She suggested better ways to say things.

Even though I was the author and the publisher, my editor had the final say as to when the manuscript was complete. That was our agreement, the same as at any traditional press and was absolutely necessary if the book was to meet professional quality standards. This didn’t mean that I automatically accepted every suggestion. We had several discussions where I had to defend a phrase or a scene or a character. An editor's job is not to change the author's themes. Rather, it is to point out how writers can express those themes more effectively.

I also had to contact bookstores (chains, independent and online) and libraries to make the book available. I had to organize book readings and signings and place advertising in newspapers and social media along with blog posts. I was responsible for setting up an author’s page on Amazon and Goods Reads. I established Twitter and Facebook accounts. I put out ads on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

That is what an independent publisher must do in order to produce world class quality. Nothing else will do in the marketplace.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It is a full time job to get a book in print and requires a willingness to be involved in the business end of publishing. Some authors just want to write and let others handle the details. For them, a traditional press is the best solution. Writers who are willing to get fully involved can find greater monetary rewards and satisfaction in making the decisions.