A Realistic Guide to Indie Publishing
By Author Julee Balko
So, you wrote a novel. First, congrats. Seriously, take a moment and breathe in that accomplishment because the path forward is about to get bumpy.
Wait, did you think the path to get to the words “The End” was hard?
Sit back and fasten your seatbelt and I’ll tell you about my ride and why I decided to go with an independent publisher.
Ok, so I’m assuming you have a completed novel in one hand and a kick-ass query letter in the other. That’s how all good journeys start. And for the record, I did reach out to lots of agents. And I got lots of rejections but also some full reads. I even got, wait for it, some encouragement! But no literary agent.
I went on my merry way and I was approached on Twitter by an indie publisher after a #PitMad Event. (For those who don’t know, PitMad is a Twitter pitch event where you can pitch your completed and unpublished manuscript to agents and publishers.) And P.S. It was my main motivation to join Twitter.
The indie publisher seemed like a great way to get published so I sent them my manuscript, which led to a full read and a contract. Exciting, right?
Actually, it was a bit terrifying.
And that’s why I’m writing this article so you know what to expect. Here’s what you should know before you sign:
1. What’s an Indie Publisher?
Indie is short for independent and is basically any publisher not in the big five traditional publishers like Penguin/Random House or Simon and Schuster. I like to think of indie publishers like indie music or films. You know, the art-house stuff that is way cooler than anything mainstream.
2. You should reach out to other writers
My dream of becoming a published author seemed so close but I was nervous to sign. I looked up a few of the publisher’s authors and reached out to them to hear what their experience was. I recommend this.
Hearing that other authors were satisfied with their books made me feel better.
I was in this for product more than profit, so the end result had to be good or I wasn’t going to sign.
I also got a heads-up that I’d be doing a lot of the marketing support. That’s my day job, so I felt prepared. (Insert diabolical laughter here. I was not prepared. But we’ll talk more about that in a bit.)
3. You can and should push back on your contract
The easiest time to get what you want is before you sign. Don’t be afraid to ask. Want more book copies? Tell them how many. Looking for a specific launch period? Tell them.
And before you sign anything have a lawyer look it over.
Please note: You shouldn’t be paying an indie publisher for anything.
Sometimes they will include a clause saying how many books need to be sold before you get your cut.
But if a publisher is asking you to hand over money then you should think that over very carefully, since it means they aren’t an indie press. Instead, they are probably a vanity press and you will be paying to get your book published.
However, I respect everyone’s avenue to publishing and you will find no judgement here if you still forge ahead with it.
4. The editorial experience was amazing
If you’ve read this far, indies might sound small. But you know what isn’t? The people behind them. They are rockstars. And the editorial process for me was amazing.
I really valued their insight and attention to detail. Every editorial round of my book made it better. The questions the editors asked me made me think about my book in ways I hadn’t. It pushed me to develop characters and scenes. And the result is a book I’m very proud of.
5. The marketing support is…me
My day job is as a freelance writer and Creative Director so I knew marketing was something I could help with. But I thought I’d get some guidance. Umm, not much.
Luckily, I’m Type-A so as soon as I signed my contract I started reading everything I could to launch a book and joined support groups with other writers. I made a list of things I should do. People I should contact.
And I kept building my platform – hello Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The marketing part takes a lot of time and energy. And it is never-ending. But it seems like there are lots of opportunities if you keep looking for them.
Hey, it’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article – more exposure for me and my book.
6. I have a book with my name on it
My novel, The Things We Keep, is being published. Today it’s out for the world to read. Or at least for my Aunt Cathy. I know she’ll read it and want it for her book club.
It’s a beautiful book about grief, complex relationships, and the lies that keep us from one another. And it wouldn’t be here if an indie publisher didn’t take a chance on me. And if I didn’t take a chance on them.
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