Indie or traditional publishing for me? Part 1 – the question.

Back in February, for my MA Professional Writing industry analysis, I posed the question:

Is self-publishing via the e-publishing route the best option for a writer in the science fiction and fantasy genres?

In this three-part blog I will discuss my findings to date, with the intention of understanding the best way to get my Wearde World fantasy sequence to readers.

Since I came up with the question, I’ve talked to successful authors from both traditional and indie-publishing camps and some with a foot in both. I’ve spent two eye-opening days at the London Book Fair (LBF), attending numerous seminars and talking with authors, agents and publishers. And I’ve googled to distraction in the hunt for the answer to my question.

First, a bit of clarification.

Defining the question’s terms

I’ve realised that the clunky ‘self-publishing via the e-publishing’ term is best replaced by the term ‘indie’ – so ‘indie-published’ and ‘indie-author’ are used throughout.

The phrase ‘best option’, considers three components:

  • Getting my work to the greatest number of readers,
  • Generating a reasonable income for my work
  • Retaining the rights to my work.

The start of the journey

Attending the London Book Fair (14 – 16 April 2014) for the first time was an eye-opener. I rapidly picked up on the tension between the trad-publishing industry and the vocal and increasingly important indie-publishing sector.

On the first day I met Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling ‘Wool’ sci-fi trilogy, and champion of indie-publication. On both days of my visit I quizzed him about his views on both the indie and trad-publishing options. I attended every seminar he gave.

As a sci-fi fan I downloaded and read Wool as an indie-published book. I was aware that Hugh had made waves in the publishing world as a passionate advocate of indie-publishing. He is now traditionally published, having gained what the Wall Street Journal described as ‘an astonishing publishing deal’ from Simon and Schuster.

Hugh eloquently put the case to me for being an indie-author. He argues it is the best way for writers of genre fiction to get to market, to make sales and, importantly, to retain all rights over their work. I came away convinced that, not only was indie an option for me, but that it was the best option.

I also attended a seminar run jointly by Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy, two of the best selling writers in the romantic fiction genre. Following success in traditional publishing, both have turned to self-publishing, strongly advocating its merits at book fairs all over the world. Andre in particular was scathing about the deals she got from the publishers. She astounded the audience when she revealed that both she and Freethy annually earn ‘an eight figure sum’ by self-publishing. She also added contemptuously that her last trad-publisher advance was just $8000.

I put it to Andre that she was a well-known author prior to self-publishing, so surely indie-author success was expected? She said I made an excellent point, then revealed that she also self-publishes under a pseudonym. She has had considerable success doing this – several thousand sales a month – without anyone knowing it was her.

By the end of that first day, I felt like I’d had an epiphany; as an FSF author, indie-publishing was for me. I have now somewhat modified this view, but on 15th April, I had been won over by arguments such as:

  • With dedication you can get your work out there to readers.
  • No kowtow to the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ – agents/ publishers – you go straight to the readership. Your product lives or dies by its quality.
  • Readers are the new gatekeepers.
  • You get a MUCH better deal – 70% royalties (versus about 7%)
  • You retain ALL your rights, rather than signing them away to a publishing house.
  • With print-on-demand it’s seamless and viable to get printed product to readers.

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