Being Indie

There are a host of reasons as a writer to pursue traditional publishing or indie publishing (aka self-publishing). Each lists a number of benefits; each lists a number of problems. For me, before I had dove into the task of drafting query letters for my novel, The Good Teacher, I learned of the idea of copyright ownership, of how traditional publishing houses retain all rights to a book. That gave me some pause, enough to eventually learn about the growing accessibility of independent publishing through Amazon, Smashwords, and other venues.

Losing ownership over my own creative works was a big deal for me. I wouldn’t mind some form of temporary licensing, such as granting a novel licensing for a period of maybe five years to some party that would relinquish my rights to it for that period of time in exchange for an agreed compensation. Yet that is not how the majority of contracts work. Given that many of us creative folks are much more interested in the creation aspect than the business aspect of our work, it’s been incredibly easy to hose us. Retaining full ownership of my work was the one feature of indie writing that pushed me into this arena.

But let’s talk about the bad for a moment, the things I have been struggling with. The fact is, that making that choice means that I own 100% of everything. When the cover sucks, the blurb is bland, the writing subpar, the ads unsuccessful – I own that. I have to. My full lack of success is 100% me. It’s not a failed marketing department that reallocated its resources to the latest James Patterson blockbuster instead of my book. It isn’t the cover design team that placed an ugly cover that repelled more readers than it attracted… it’s me. All me. My failure is just that: me.

Now, one might say that I don’t have to do all the work myself, I could contract out the editing, the book design, formatting, etc. These are all things easily managed by other firms based on my say, essentially on how much I am willing to pay. Right now, that number is $0. I cannot (or am not willing to) afford spending money on an editor. Or a designer. Or any other thing. All I can spend is time, with a sprinkling of added effort. This means that I am truly a self-published writer.

Yet, even were I to have the finances to pay for any service to help me along, I will still own the outcomes. In other words, if a cover I choose fails to grab attention, it means I own the outcome, no matter how much I paid for it. I don’t get to blame a department in a large publishing conglomeration to deflect the reasons for lacking sales. I can’t say “well, I know I wrote the book, but I had no say in the cover or anything else…”

To be successful at indie publishing, one also has to become a business owner, not just a creative artist. In fact, the former is probably far more important than the latter. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has made many-a-posts on the topic. You know what? She’s right. More than any other reason, this is where my failings most shine.

And it’s the biggest downfall of being indie.

Because I can get past the editing, the cover design, and the other things. I can change and adjust things at will (more on that later – but this also includes what I am about to say) yet without doing anything about the business end, it is all for naught.

Being indie means that the hustle becomes tantamount to the writing itself. For someone that tends to run introverted, hates sales, and is an idiot in marketing, the idea of running it as a business is intimidating.

Sounds tough. It’s manageable, however. My concentration for this year (besides working back into the routine of daily writing) is to learn the business end of my craft to establish an income from this wonderful endeavor.

That’s also the beauty of being indie. I have that opportunity to work at it, learning more as I go along, improving as I go along. I am free to continue to work through things, change things, and that is a great feature of being indie.

The good thing about being indie is that I own my work… meaning I can do whatever I want, so long as I am willing to deal with the consequences, good or bad, that come along with every decision. If something isn’t working, I can alter course without having to consult an agent, an editor, or a publisher. Want a different cover? Done! Found some mistakes post print? Fixed! Turnaround is much faster than would be experienced in any corporate atmosphere where committees or approval channels all had to be obeyed.

Sure, given the availability of my being able to change things on a whim there were many things, such as lack of support, expertise and the like that limit what I can accomplish even with that quick turnaround. But I’ve already talked about some of the bad, here’s more of why I choose to be indie:

One of the other biggest benefits I enjoys is my ability to write what I please. Any of the newer trends in sensitivity readers or classic trends of editors looking to appease demographics to increase sales mean little. (Of course, the idea behind things like sensitivity readers and writing to a demographic are indeed logical and noteworthy; however, I do believe that in times it can diminish the impact of the art which I believe is supposed to be subversive or counter-culture as much as it is, if not more than, being popular – but that’s for another blog post.) If I want to write about strange alien vampires that come to earth to interbreed with monkeys, not humans, in order to keep their species alive (and their reproductive organs are weirdly shaped and on their elbows), I can. I don’t have an agent telling me anything of how it’ll be an abysmal failure. I want to write it? I can! And I can sell it for the wacky people like me who would read that with recklessness! (Note: that is not an idea I am exploring btw…)

It’s creative freedom…

With all the consequences of such.

The fact is that most writers, whether traditional or indie struggle to make a living. Being that that is the case, my question is: why give up the rights to my work or my creativity to go traditional? Of course, I am ignoring the benefits that are inherent by working with a larger corporation. That’s the point! At least it is my point.

Being indie is being independent; it means being free. Freedom can be ugly, yet being free to create as I see fit, whether I am successful or otherwise, makes my writing worth it. That’s why I am indie. So I can own it.

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