Traditional, Indie, and Self

Back in June, I was supposed to attend UtopYA 2015. The government, however, owns a large part of my life (read: all of it), and told me to pack up my husband and move from the Keys all the way to Northern Cali. So, I. Kemp and the wonderful Gabriellia Kemp went in my stead.

One of the things I. Kemp brought back was an opinion that we were best off going the self-publishing route. Prior to this decision, I had been torn between which route to continue pursuing. I realize now that my hesitation was formed from the same uneducated opinions that non-writers often hold.

When I was still and college and far too optimistic for my own good, I thought that you sent an idea to an agent and they made a schedule for you to submit your work while pitching it to publishing houses. That was completely wrong. I learned during my first writer’s conference that it’s nearly impossible to get something published without first having it completed. This put my current work on hold and started Windmill Keepers.

When self-publishing was just starting to gain momentum from e-books, I read an article by an old editor who worked for a traditional publishing house. She spent about eight hundred or so words bashing self-published writers as being unprofessional, whining losers who couldn’t stomach the traditional route. I read the comments and saw dozens of people singing her praise. Almost all of them were employed by the Big Five. I was so foolish back then, that I believed them.

Indie publishing crossed my mind briefly, but for some reason I imagined them as being those dollar store romance books. Self-publishers, in my mind, were even worse than that. They were fan fiction with slightly altered names for the characters and places. I thought publishing through those routes was worse than not being published at all.

I was so, so wrong. 

When I completed Windmill Keepers, I started thinking back on all the fan fictions I read as a child. Some of them were so good, they outdid the books on a Barnes and Noble shelf. I started to wonder if I was wrong about publishing routes.

I created a blog the January after I finished Keepers. Through WordPress, I discovered dozens of new authors. Their writing was clever and different. I found some of their ideas and books to be fresh and incredibly creative. Then I discovered that none of these writers were traditionally published. It was in that moment that everything changed.

I started diving into some pretty deep parts of the internet, digging through comments sections and old articles. I found varied opinions everywhere. But beneath all the screaming, capitalized text posts, I discovered a movement.

Traditional publishing is, first and foremost, a business.I don’t fault them for this. Writers, publishers, and editors need money too. And while books might mean something personal to an author or a reader, they are being sold like commercial products to make paychecks. For these companies, trends are a big deal. If a theme is already on shelves, there’s no way someone can write a whole new book for the genre and catch the wave through traditional means. The zombie and vampire ship has sailed. It’s best to move on.

But there is no way a normal writer can know what’s going to be big a year from when they sit down to write a new book. It’s a matter of luck. And when someone gets big, it becomes a matter of their name and brand. This is where some writers get stuck. For example, Cassandra Clare has written many books, but they all fall into the urban fantasy sub-genre. Breaking into something different can be nearly impossible for her without a new pen name. But she experienced great success that many writers never do. Traditional publishing can make you money, but it can limit the market and writers themselves.

Indie publishing is a chance for non-trending books to find a place on shelves. Contracts with Indie houses are only for a few years, so a writer still has some claim to their book (unlike traditional routes where the rights to your book are often purchased outright). It’s less money and a lot of work, but it’s more personal. Indie companies work closely with their writers. However, Indie companies are still heavy on the theme of their company. Some are strictly high fantasy, while others are mostly paranormal romance. Finding the right one can be hard.

Self-publishing is a whole new world compared to the Big Five. The writer has to do everything. They write, edit, design, and even format. In our case, we paid for an editor and a formatter. We got a lucky break with the design, when I. Kemp decided to attend SCAD. It’s a ton of work. But in the end, the book feels like it’s ours. We don’t have to stick to trends. Windmill Keepers didn’t need to have the popular YA love triangle or sexy characters, because I wasn’t trying to appease an agent. I was just trying to write a good book.

It’s a lot of work to self-publish. In the end, I may have spent more money on the book than I’ll actually make. I still have worries that my story will be buried beneath the thousands of books that are self-published on Amazon. I don’t know how it will work out. But to me, my book isn’t about money. Its about art, and emotions, and teaching my YA readers that greatness can live inside all of us – we just need to embrace it.

I’m sorry I ever doubted self-published and Indie writers. You’re all amazing.

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