Updated: November 16th, 2018
I’ve been a member of the book blogging community since 2012, and everywhere I look I see aspiring authors — they’re networking with bloggers, participating in NaNoWriMo, and sending query letters to The Big Five of the publishing world (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster).
As a book blogging community, we share a common goal: we want to find books that we will love and then share them with others. We want to enjoy quality writing and spread the word about quality authors, and yet we far too often disregard, or, worse still, blatantly dismiss the very industry that is achieving those goals. Now, I know what you’re thinking:
But I promise, you’ll want to hear (read?) this one out.
Mention the words “self-published author” or “indie books” in our community and you’ll get reactions ranging from the thinly veiled disdain of book blog Horn Books in stating why they refuse to accept indie novels for review:
“Just about every adult I ever met has ‘a great idea for a children’s book’ that is always an AWFUL idea for a children’s book, and, thanks to the greater ease of self-publishing, those books are coming to light.” (Sutton)
To the outright disgust of HuffPost writer, Laurie Gough, in stating why she will never self-publish:
“From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.” (Gough)
I do not mean to suggest that all bloggers or readers are like this, only that the industry as a whole, and many prominent figures in it, still react this way to the notion that someone rejected by the all-knowing Big Five of traditional publishing would consider self-publishing their novel. (Also, while we’re at it, anyone painfully reminded of the Big Three of Percy Jackson’s Greek gods?) But here are the facts: the scene is changing. Traditional publishing is losing sales, and self-publishing is topping the best seller lists (we’ll come back to that one in a bit).
Thad McIlroy of BookBusinessMag compiled information from 2016 quarterly financial reports from The Big Five and found that sales and profits are “mostly flat or declining” and that in order to cut costs, there have been layoffs and consolidation, and he concludes that there’s not much more they can do to cut their costs (McIlroy).
So why are we still so hesitant to read, review, or write self-published novels? Since my brother first introduced me to the world of indie books when he self-published his first novel nearly seven years ago, I’ve seen a lot of arguments for and against self-publishing, and I’ve seen the reaction on many a face when they realized my brother had self-published. So let’s start by clearing up three major misconceptions in the TradPub vs. SelfPub world:
Misconception #1: TradPub Will Pick Up The Best Books
This is probably the most common argument when it comes to the world of indie books, and it’s an understandable one. We have this idea in our heads that the big publishing companies are these “gatekeepers” who determine who is or is not permitted to grace the Great Kingdom of Published Authors with their presence. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading voraciously since I was a little girl, it’s this — Everyone loves the unexpected hero.
All Tributes, Initiates, and Browncoats know that it is not possible to answer yes to any of the above questions. Katniss Everdeen defied The Capitol and the system it had established, Tris Prior fought her way into Dauntless despite all of the professional opinions that she shouldn’t, and Malcolm Reynolds lost the Battle of Serenity Valley and spent his life on the run from The Alliance.
We love these characters, not because of who approved of them, but because they proved themselves through their character and heroism. They were each fiercely independent and refused to be held back by other’s rules or expectations for them, and we applaud them for it. So why don’t we feel the same way about authors who create such heroes and the books in which their stories unfold?
Larry Correia, author of the originally self-published (and, might I add, best selling) Monster Hunter International (M.H.I.) series, explains that the fundamental problem with the “gatekeeper” argues that what constitutes ‘the best books’ is subjective, giving the example of Twilight – a book that he would never buy, but millions of people have. He says, “‘Good’ is arbitrary. The real question is whether your product is sellable.” And with the Larry Correia sass his fans have come to expect and appreciate, he adds, “(and yes, it is just a product, get over yourself)” (Correia 2016).
To find an example of the flaws of the gatekeepers, one need look no farther than household name J.K. Rowling, who had her first Harry Potter book rejected twelve times prior to its eventual publication. Years later, when she published her first adult novel, J.K. Rowling, now topping Forbes’ world’s highest paid authors list, having earned $98 million in 2017 (Cuccinello), was rejected twice before being published (Marsden).
Misconception #2: SelfPub is For Those Who Can’t Get Picked up by a Real Company
Translation: Indie novels are the failures that the gatekeepers tried to save you from (see above misconception about gatekeepers). Now, I won’t deny that many authors first go indie when they had no success with TradPub. After all, publishing companies reject 90% of query letters they receive from authors, and that’s just the query letter, not even the manuscript (Shine).
However, I don’t think you can call any author a failure when enough readers want to throw money at them that the author can quit his or her day job to write (and publish) full-time.A fantastic example of that is J.S. Morin, a relatively new discovery of mine and an instant favorite. He recently hit 5 years as a self-published author (traditionally publishing only one series), and, get this, in those five years, he has published thirty five books (Morin).
Yeah, you read that right. Five years, thirty five books. He quit his day job as an engineer to treat writing as a full-time career, and his readers (myself most certainly included) love the pace at which he is able to release books because of that. I listened to his 16.5 book series (long story on that one), The Complete Black Ocean Mobius Missions, over the period of weeks. If listened to at a normal speed, that’s 85 hours of recorded audio, however, I listen at 1.5-2x, so make of that what you will. His quick releases made it possible to keep the momentum of the series and keep getting fans hyped for the next installment.
Let’s be real here, y’all, the age of waiting a year in between books and then throwing midnight release parties are long gone. J.K. Rowling largely had a monopoly on them. They were an amazing time, but face it, they’re over. We live in a binge watching society, and it certainly doesn’t take us a year to read a book, and turns out, it doesn’t take authors a year to write one, either. Most successful self published authors publish about four books a year.
We live in a monopolistically competitive market — and that’s a fantastic thing for us! Because of the rise of self-publishing, authors are able to break into the writing industry more readily, and the ones willing to make it a full-time career, well, they can crank out quantity and quality and make some serious bank (we’re talking a nice six figures, y’all).
As a matter of fact, there are a lot of reasons why even an established TradPub author would want to go indie, and not just as a last resort. Skeptical? Don’t take my word for it, let’s look at another of my favorite authors: Drew Hayes, TradPub author of the Fred, the Vampire Accountant series and SelfPub author of the Super Powereds series, (not to mention the other series of his that I have yet to read). Drew explains to his readers,
“In truth, I only do one traditionally published series because I genuinely love going indie, especially for projects where it’s a better fit.” (Hayes)
He goes on to talk about the three primary reasons he loves indie publishing so much: the money, the control, and the schedule. (Hayes) Quick summary: indie authors keep 70-100% of the royalties (compared to the 15-40% of TradPub), they have complete creative control over their series (meaning they can do new, riskier things without a company pressuring them to adhere to the tried and true), and they can publish as fast as they can write, making sure that they release books at the optimal time to keep the hype, momentum, and revenue.
Misconception #3: Readers Won’t Pick up a Book Unless it’s Marketed by TradPub
Yeah, try telling that one to the Amazon bestsellers list. As I write this, it is 15:44 on November 11th, 2018, and four of the ten best selling fantasy novels on Amazon are indie (Amazon). If self-published books really were the trash that they get stereotyped as, how could they be taking top ten spots away from classics like the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones (all of which are ranked below them)? How is that even possible without the vast marketing campaigns that these big publishers can run?
Let’s go back to Larry Correia of M.H.I. fame, who self-published his first book after getting rejected by publishers for two years. Through hard work and a lot of self-marketing (he explains that all authors have to self promote— indie authors just do it alone), he made it into bookstores, sold the one thousand copies he had printed, garnered a dedicated and loyal fan base, and even made it to #3 on Entertainment Weekly’s bestseller list (Correia 2008).
I’m a huge fan of Correia. M.H.I was simultaneously the first adult novel and the first urban fantasy novel I had ever read, and my review says it all — I was hooked. Even now, years after having accepted a deal with Baen Books, Correia is still an avid supporter of self-publishing, as is evidenced in his many passionate defenses of self publishing on his blog.
‘Okay, okay,’ I hear you say, ‘Correia was a special case. He just worked exceptionally hard and is probably one of the only indie authors to actually sell.’ Well, as an Economics major, it’s taken me a lot of self restraint so far to resist the urge to fill this post with graphs and charts… but now let’s look at some!
In 2017, Author Earnings, the comprehensive yearly analysis of book sales, broke down each country’s e-book sales by publisher type. Of key importance here are two things to be aware of; red and purple represent the percentage of ebook sales that are TradPub. Blue, green, and teal, represent the percentage of ebook sales that are SelfPub.
You know, while we’re at it, how about we take a quick look at 2018?
These are the top ebook publisher types. See that little purple one at the top? That’s the Big Five ebook sales. And the blue, light blue, and green? That’s all indie. Crazy, huh? In my opinion, anyone still refusing the indie market is really just denying themselves the satisfaction of reading some of the best novels of our time. Oh, and…
A common, and undeniably well-founded, concern about SelfPub is the misconception that, without the assistance of a TradPub company and editing team, a novel will not be peer reviewed and edited. However, this is simply not the case. I would be willing to bet that every successful SelfPub author (remember, successful means their product sells) has at least one, if not dozens of beta reading teams. I have been on a number of these teams myself, reading and providing feedback on advanced copies and drafts of SelfPub novels. One could argue that this provides even more opportunities for critiques and editing than a TradPub company can offer.
To Sum It Up: At the end of the day, this incredibly long post comes down to one thing: reader satisfaction. Self-publishing increases the author’s ability to enter the market (both through lack of gatekeepers and by making it possible to actually make a living from writing), gives them the complete creative control necessary to increase the rate at which books can be produced, and, in turn, the rate at which they can be consumed by us, leading to greater reader satisfaction.
Willing to give it a try? Wondering where to get started? Well, aside from the authors I’ve already mentioned above, a few of my favorite indie novels that I’ve reviewed here are: Appaloosa Summer, Persephone, Corporate Husband, The Ugly Stepsister, and The Sailweaver’s Son.
Looking for more?
For the other highly successful indie authors check out the Goodreads pages of: Chris Fox, Annie Bellet, Michael Anderle, Christopher Nuttall, Marco Kloos, T.S. Paul, Lindsay Buroker, Ilona Andrews, Hugh Howey, Sarah K.L. Wilson, M.D. Cooper, and Elana Johnson.