Indie Life - The Tradeoff

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?



  1. This is such a great post, EJ. Seriously. You keep it so real on your blog, and that's one of the many things I love about you.

    This was one of my favorites...
    'Because when I finally let that go, my writing got better.'

    So true.

  2. I agree with a lot of the "What I've Gained" section, but I don't feel I had as many negatives. I was not at all attracted to publishing under the traditional system. I found it downright depressing to put so much work into a book, just to know it would be years -- if I got lucky -- before I could get it in front of readers. And pride? What published author is actually left with that intact?

    Have a great month, E.J.!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Preview/edit before hitting publish: that's my insight for the day!

    There is a right choice for everyone, and it is different for everyone. Not everyone who goes traditional can quit the day job either. Which ever choice an author makes - or falls into - I think the author themselves has to have an investment in the author/reader relationship to make any of it work well. Success is still a matter of author satisfaction.

    Thanks for sharing this insight EJ.


  5. For everything you lost you've gained plenty E.J. Congrats on your journey so far and best wishes for what's ahead.

  6. It really made me smile to read about the confidence you've gained, you've certainly earned that and you're such a great writer that you should be confident.

    It surprised me to read that some blogging friends stopped coming around once you decided to go Indie. I don't understand that kind of thing at all. To me it's exciting to support writers who have made the choices that work for them - how can you not be happy for someone who is fulfilling their dream of being a writer?? Whatever road they took to realize that dream is irrelevant.

  7. An awesome post, EJ. It reflects so much of my own experience. I was particularly sad when I read this part:

    '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.'

    If there is one group of people in my life who don't seem to get my writing, I'd say it's my family. To my knowledge not one member of my family have read my book. Now my friends, both online and in real life, are another matter. I could not have asked for more support. I'm always touched when someone I know comes up to me and says I bought your book. I loved it. To them it may only be a small thing. To me it's everything.

    As for the people who don't come around any more, EJ, it's their loss. Not yours.

  8. I was still pursuing the traditional publication route when a fellow writer told me to just go Indie. I haven't looked back since. Sure, there might be some nice things to go along with being traditionally published, but I've always been an independent sort of person even in school. I'm pleased with the route I've taken in, especially since now three of my books are up for grabs online!

  9. Yep. Yep. And yep.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  10. Reading this is a reminder of how far I still have to go. Thanks for this post EJ, because yes the road is long, but we are not traveling alone and that makes it worth the trip. (:

  11. I'd have no problem at all self-publishing in the future, especially if I had something like a collection of short stories or personal essays. For the mystery/suspense novels, however, I'm still hoping to continue getting books out through my smaller traditional publisher (who doesn't require an agent to submit). They focus on getting books into libraries. It saves me from an up-front cash investment and the marketing groundwork is already in place.

  12. I published fourteen books traditionally before finally making the decision to go indie. I have no regrets whatsoever.

    But I know one very talented aspiring author who has a wonderful amateur sleuth mystery written and so has her heart set on traditional publishing that she would rather give up writing than go indie....

  13. Yes, to some folks reacting oddly to my decision to take the indie path. I ignore those things now. Fan mail is the best.

    And I do plan to branch out when I'm ready. I was approached by an agent who wants me to sell her, but no, I want her to sell me. What can she do for me? That's a big shift in my thinking.

    Somedays I feel more confident, but some days I still don't. I love what I do, though. That's all that matters... that and some strangers love what I do.

  14. Uh oh. You said the magic words. Time to bust out the song! ;)

  15. I wonder sometimes if I'm not writing my best because I don't feel like I'm writing wholly for me--I bet things would change if I could get that mindset... This post really resonated with me, EJ. I loved it. Thanks for letting us in. I found it fascinating and inspiring.

  16. THis is an awesome list. Thanks for sharing it, EJ. This is one of my fave things about indies--that you're all so eager and open to share everything. It's a learning curve for all of us and instead of relying on only one way to succeed, we rely on each other to find alternate methods.
    I agree with what you say about being flexible. Nothing wrong with taking advantage of both pub methods, or with getting creative and trying new things. It also helps when writers are willing to take chances and fail, in order to move forward. (I'm getting pretty darn good at that But learning to write for your readers instead of agents and editors is a huge step in the right direction. I realize this more and more everyday, and am coming to appreciate it in a big way.

  17. I agree that it is so important to write for yourself. When I do, I tend to produce better quality work. And being flexible is important in almost everything! Love your post...great reflections :)

  18. Love this post! "It's grownup reality." I'm going to have to use that one.
    Good job in pointing out the things we've gained by going indie. I think sight of those gains get lost in the grind some days.

  19. An awesome and honest post, EJ. I'm still muddling along the traditional path, but that doesn't mean I don't still like the same people I used to, even if they've chosen a different path. I'm sorry you lost friends. Guess they weren't who you thought they were. Good luck on your path!

  20. I must have traded something because I've been in the publishing business for years which should have guaranteed me hundreds of readers not just wonderful friends but they ALL seem to be looking at it as a shortcut and the friendships are strained. The few who have read my book are giving me fabulous reviews but honestly I thought I'd have more readers by now. Great post E.J.

  21. Your blog obvious hit a target.

    My experiences have been similar to yours with perhaps a different emphaaaasis -- like it looks like you've sold more of your books than I've sold of mine. Good job. [No I'm not one of those helicopter parents]

  22. Indie publishing has definitely revolutionized the book world. Kudos for the pioneers and those making it better.

  23. Late to the party, but this is really a wow post. I'm sort of lost in what way I want to go, I'm not exactly traditional, but not exactly indie, either. I haven't a clue about Smashwords or anything like that, but I'm determined to get educated. I have been really burned out on my writing and am working my way back. Thank you so so much for being so honest and sharing this.

  24. Great post. As usual. :) My favorite line: "when I finally let that go, my writing got better" ... isn't that interesting how that works?

    Have a wonderful week.

  25. Excelllent post, EJ.

    I decided early on that the indie route was the one for me... and haven't looked back since.

  26. What a fabulous post! I'm struggling to decide if I should go this route, it's what my IWSG post is about today and the lovely Melissa sent me your way to read your post. It's really helpful to me, thank you. :)

  27. E.J. just saw this on Melissa's post. Sorry haven't been around in a while. Revision City has my hands tied. But, I know someone who may benefit from this group, the Indie group. I'm passing this post along to her. Keeping my fingers crossed she'll pop in here. :)

  28. Candilynn Fite sent me over. I have wanted to see myself published in a traditional way for so long but I haven't found the door. I am looking this way. I'm not sure of the way for me. Not at all. I appreciate your honest here.

  29. I think I had it easy. I hadn't begun on the steps to traditional publishing before deciding to go indie. I'd always intended too, but I hadn't taken the first step. So it was a relatively easy choice for me. Good list though, I think we all have to look at our own choices on our own set of values, not someone else's.

    Rinelle Grey


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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