Hey, gang! It's time for another Indie Life post, which is basically an opportunity (on the second Wednesday of each month) for independent authors to share what they've learned--or haven't--about being an indie. It's also a chance to connect with other independent authors and build our writing community.
If that sounds like something you'd enjoy being a part of, click the button below for all the details.
Indie Life - The Tradeoff
I believe that all true choices come with a compromise. It's the yin yang of the universe. You don't get to have cake and eat it, too. You pay more for what you really want. You go left or right, up or down, but never truly down the middle.
And that isn't pessimism. It's just grownup reality.
Making a choice about pursuing a writing career as an independent author is no different. It's not the compromise free, soar-with-the-eagles experience many perceive it to be. It is a fantastic opportunity to be sure, but there are concessions, as an author and writer, you must make.
To be clear, this isn't a 'Traditional Vs Indie' post. I've said many times (and will continue to say) that you can--and maybe even should--do both. And others have done a far better job than I ever could of creating the traditional Vs indie pro/con lists.
No, this is a personal list. It's an honest evaluation of what I feel like I've gained and lost by publishing my work independently.
What I've Lost
A Tried & True Plan - Before I published independently, I was zeroed in on the only publication option in my sights. There was one way to get there: write, query, agent, and deal. That's the way it had always been done, and it was the way I'd have to follow, too.
So I made climbing that mountain my only real goal. The result of my focus was that I learned a lot about how that side of the writing business operated.
I understood that agents represented different things, and were attracted to different things, so I cyber-stalked the blogs, etc. of the ones I thought I might fit with. I practiced writing queries when I wasn't writing fiction, and thought about writing queries WHILE I was writing fiction.
I knew very well what I needed to do to accomplish my goals--getting there was a different matter, but I had a plan.
Being an indie is like living in the Wild West. What worked yesterday might get you killed (figuratively speaking... maybe) today. There are certainly best practices to follow when it comes to marketing and such, but it's definitely like the pirate code: they're more guidelines, really. :)
There are many, many different paths to publishing independently, and you get to choose which one to take, and how long to stay on it. As a result, your best "plan" is usually to be flexible and willing to ditch that plan when it doesn't get you to where you're wanting to go.
Pride - It's not easy admitting you're wrong. And it's hard to be proud of doing something most people don't even understand. That's a bit of what I felt when I finally decided to publish something on my own.
I felt like I'd made a mistake by focusing so much on seeing my work published the traditional way. Because when I finally let that go, my writing got better.
It took the process of me deciding to write only for myself and readers to finally understand that I'd been going about the writing--the most important thing in all of this--the wrong way.
I'd been writing in a way I thought would get me published someday at the expense of writing in a way that reflected what was actually going on in my head. I wasn't even aware of how much I was censoring things, but I was.
I also felt weird about telling non-writing people that I was a legit author. Mostly because I'd have to explain that, "No, my book is not physically in a Barnes & Noble store, and no, I do not do book signings in New York City every other weekend. If you have a Kindle I can thumbprint smudge my initials on the screen or something."
My experience is that people who know the writing business extremely well are still trying to figure out what independent publishing is all about, and the average reader doesn't have a clue. They want to know your name, the title of your book, and where they can get it. That's probably true for any kind of author, but it's tricky when you have to explain Smashwords distribution channels to them.
Relationships - This one is short and sweet. There are still many people out there who feel self-publishing isn't legit. You can throw NYT Bestsellers and indie millionaires at them all day long, and they still see it as a shortcut. Some of those people were my blogging and writing colleagues, people I considered friends in some ways. They don't come around anymore, which is... unfortunate.
What I Gained
Purpose - I said there wasn't a real, easily identifiable plan to publishing independently, and that's true. But what there is, is a direct link between you (the author) and the readers. There are no middle people filtering the types of stories you produce. There's no word count limit other than what is best for the story. It's just you producing the best writing you can produce, and readers deciding whether to invest their time and money into what you do.
You'll never find a purer relationship between supplier and consumer in a business. There are tradeoffs to this--like when reviews get a little negative it can feel REALLY personal (it's not... even if it is, it's not... trust me ;)--but mostly it just gives you a supreme sense of purpose.
What you write is going to go directly in front of readers. They are going to judge YOU by it. Not your agent, not your publisher, not your cover designer, not the store that carries your book--just you. And when they judge you positively, you suddenly understand your mission: To write the next story and get it out there so more readers can find you.
Confidence - What I've lost in pride, I've gained in confidence tenfold. All it really takes is one stranger to have paid their hard-earned money for something you've written, and genuinely enjoy it, for all the work, time, and heartache involved in this business to be worth it.
You'll feel validated in your writing like never before. Getting an agent or critique group to say your writing is awesome feels good. Having a reader say it blows your mind.
You'll feel empowered, because if you're publishing independently, you've jumped through most of the hoops yourself.
And you'll feel invested in your work like you never thought you could, because it's all you--well, you and a million beta readers, an editor or two, maybe a cover designer, etc., but you get the idea.
Relationships - Again, whatever I might've lost along the way to where I'm at, I've gained back over and over again. There's a tremendous espirit de corps amongst writers in general, but something about the indie experience magnifies the desire to band together with your peers.
You not only want to commiserate and celebrate with them, but you want to help them. If you learn a trick, you want them to know the trick. If you've found success with a platform, you want to share it with them.
I think it has something to do with the demystification of this writing stuff that happens when you really decide to go it on your own. The formulas aren't so very complex anymore. (see - purpose) Suddenly, you understand that it's really about work ethic, and applying the writing skills you've learned along the way.
It's about using the right tools for the project, and you see that anyone can learn to do the job so long as they know how to use those tools and have the desire.
Those were my tradeoffs. Did you have any with your chosen publication path? Or are you still mulling which way you'd like to go?