Four years ago when I finished writing the first book in the Leah Nash Mysteries series, Dangerous Habits, I decided to publish it as an independent “indie” author, rather than with a traditional publishing house. OK, wait a minute. That makes it sound like I had a bidding war for my book going on between major publishers but intrepid soul that I am, I struck out on my own. That’s not exactly how it happened.
I already had some experience with the world of traditional publishing. I had tried to place a nonfiction manuscript with a publishing house several years earlier. That experience taught me a lot about the long and arduous journey an author goes through between typing “The End” and actually seeing a book in print. Before anything else can happen, you have to find an agent. That can take weeks and often months of querying to connect with someone who says she’d like to read your manuscript. Then it takes additional waiting time of weeks to months for her to get back with you, usually to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
But, if the happy day comes when you actually find an agent who wants to represent you, the query process starts all over again, only this time your agent is trying to find a publisher who wants to offer you a contract for your book. That again is a months-long process, which quite often ends not with a contract, but with your agent (if she’s very nice) regretfully telling you that it’s not your book’s fault, but it’s just not a good fit in the current publishing market. By then you’ve spent the better part of a year, or more, trying to get your book published. You can elect to start all over again with a different agent, or you can put your manuscript in the bottom drawer of your desk and move on to the next writing adventure, battered but unbowed.
Which brings me back to the point at which I finished writing my first fiction manuscript and decided to publish it myself as an indie author. I talked to a writer I knew who had taken that route, I read some articles, learned that I could publish both an ebook and a paperback version through Amazon and I thought, “How hard can this be?”
I’m here to tell you, a lot harder than you might think. What you gain in speed to publication from indie publishing is balanced by what you lose in terms of the services a traditional publisher provides, e.g., editing, proofing, formatting, book cover design, and marketing. In other words, it’s all on you, kid. Plus setting up a website, building and learning to manage a mailing list, and way too many technical details to get into here.
There was a huge learning curve for my first book, and I made many, many, many mistakes that cost me most of the profits and a significant portion of my sanity during my first two years as an indie author. And, sadly, because I am a slow learner, and there are always new things to learn about indie publishing, I continue to make mistakes as I stumble my way through my series. Still, the control, the freedom, and the immediacy indie publishing offers offsets—most of the time—the absence of the turnkey services traditional publishing provides. I still haven’t found the magic formula for marketing a series. Despite having a large family of supportive siblings and children who push the books as much as they can, and a husband who has never had a conversation with a friend—or a stranger—wherein he does not try to sell them a book, their reach is still fairly limited.
I’m in the home stretch for book 5, Dangerous Flaws. Editing and revisions are done, manuscript is with the proofer, with only corrections, formatting and a final print proof review to come. But instead of the vacation from all things writing that I like to take between books—wherein I immerse myself in other people’s books—I’ll be spending at least part of the time on the business end of writing. In this case, trying to master the art of building a marketing strategy—which apparently involves advertising plans, social media ads, costs per impression, click-through-rates, return on investment and Lord knows what else. And somewhere in there, developing the plot for book 6. Wish me luck.