“So,” you ask me, “What’s it like to self-publish? And don’t scant on the gritty details. Make it vivid, put us in your shoes.”
First off, the greatest distinction between an indie writer and a traditionally published one is that, as an indie, you spend oodles of time not writing while still working at being a writer. Take your traditionally published dude. He writes a novel: hurray! After much labor, he acquires an agent: hurray! The agent then goes to work, acquires an editor, who then enlists the help of their marketing team, their cover design folks, their layout people, etc. The author spends this time at home wondering what’s going on, and eventually receives an edited manuscript for them to work on, after which they will receive a galley to approve, and they’re done. Book published!
Now, there are downsides to this approach. The first being that this is an 18 month process. The second being the gnawing curiosity as to what is going on at any time, and fear that their cover and book title will be awful, and that the publishing house will put no money into marketing.
The plus side is that, these worries aside, the author can spend the whole time simply worrying about the writing, and any self-promotion they wish to undertake.
Now, let us move to your average indie writer who is coming fresh to the market. He writes a novel: hurray! Now, he skips trying to find an agent, and instead needs to edit the manuscript himself, or find somebody to do it for him. Much work later, countless rereads and revisions, he pronounces it truly finished. Then he must design the cover, or hire somebody to do it for him. The title, mercifully, he gets to control. That done, it is time to upload the book to Amazon, B&N, Sony, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, etc. Which means converting everything into ePub format, Kindle format, etc. Which means learning the rudiments of HTML, spending endless hours learning about what is required from each format via message boards and forums, eventually discovering such programs as Calibre and MobiCreator to help him with the process, and so creating the final files. Oof! That takes a lot of work.
From there, it’s time to upload the book. Uploaded! Now publish it, and tell all your friends and family. Maybe have a small celebration, and then it’s really time to get to work, because nobody is going to promote your book except yourself. So what do you do? That’s the big question. You ask friends to write reviews and tell their friends. You tell everybody on your Facebook and Twitter about the book, until people start getting annoyed at you and tune you out. You email authors and baldly ask for blurbs. You start researching dozens of book review blows and emailing their owners in the hopes that they’ll review your novel, joining a long line of supplicants literally hundreds in number. You hope, desperately hope, that your novel will sell itself through word of mouth.
During all this time, you’re not writing. You’re playing editor, graphic designer, layout dude, marketer, etc. This takes enormous amounts of time, especially the first time round, and your job is never truly done. Is having three book review blogs write about your novel enough? Twelve? Twenty? Are your sales ever good enough that you can say you’ve finished your marketing?
So, it’s a trade off. What you gain in control while indie publishing you lose in time. The traditional author has his fair share of woes (awful cover! what a stupid title! the editor left the publishing house and now nobody is promoting my novel! the book’s not going to be published for another year! they’ve put zero dollars into promoting its release!) but in turn they get to spend that time writing their next novel, and their book gets to be validated for being old-school published and placed on shelves everywhere from B&N to Costco.
The indie writer however gets a ton more money if their book sells (70% royalties instead of what, like 16%, though no advance), complete control over every aspect of their novel which they can change any time they like until they hit the sweet sales spot (new cover two months in! new description! new price! new edits to the text!), and get to track their sales and receive their payments in real time (go Amazon!). And, of course, they now spend half if not more of their time being an author, and not a writer.
So what’s it like being an indie author? Awesome. Exciting! Frustrating, tiresome. You learn a lot about the business. I totally understand why indie luminary Amanda Hawking went traditional–it’s a tone of work. I also don’t think it’s a huge deal for an established author to go indie, especially when they’re wealthy enough to pass up on a $500,000 advance and still hire a team of professionals to do all the work for them. For the true indie author though, starting fresh and with big dreams, it’s a hell of a leap of faith.