Should You Choose Self-Publishing for Your Novel? Here's what you need to know about the indie publishing journey.
Should You Choose Self-Publishing for Your Novel? Here's what you need to know about the indie publishing journey.
Should You Choose Self-Publishing for Your Novel? Here's what you need to know about the indie publishing journey.

Hi, writer! Welcome to the Indie Publishing Roadmap series.

This new collection of blog posts is going to highlight what you need to consider on your indie publishing journey. 

Topics will include, but will not be limited to:

  • Choosing the Indie path
  • Editing and formatting basics
  • Identifying your ideal reader
  • Pre-publication tasks

Today, we’re talking about why you may (or may not) want to choose the indie publishing path. This is a long post, so grab your notebook and your coffee!

Don’t forget to grab your free self-publishing guide at the end of this post!

What is Indie Publishing?

Phone mockup showing @btleditorial on Instagram. There is a poll asking whether "indie author" and "self-published" author are synonyms. 57% said they're synonyms, and 43% said there is a nuance between the two.

If you’ve started researching self-publishing, you may have also seen the term ‘indie publishing.’ Some people use these terms interchangeably and others draw distinctions between them; it depends on what resource you’re looking at. 

In fact, when I asked my Instagram followers what they thought, 57% said the terms were synonymous.

For our purposes, we’re using the terms interchangeably. Both self-publishing and indie publishing refer to taking up the expense and process of publishing a book yourself. Anyone from an entrepreneur publishing one book to a novelist with a publishing LLC falls under this category.

Another term you may see floating around online is authorpreneur. This more broadly refers to authors who view themselves as entrepreneurs. Spoiler alert: authors definitely are entrepreneurs! This is a business, but we’ll talk about that more later.

Regardless of where you draw a distinction between these terms (if at all), the path is the same: taking control of your own book and the publishing process. 

With indie publishing, you organize everything yourself. You hire an editor, you hire a cover designer, you hire a formatter, etc.

While it may sound overwhelming, don’t worry. You can structure the process to make it both streamlined and fun.

Is Indie Publishing Legit?

Some people still disavow indie publishing, saying self-published books lack quality control and that gatekeepers at major publishers exist for a reason.

Let’s clear this up right now: indie publishing is a valid form of publishing. So is traditional publishing!

There are absolutely some self-published books out there that do not meet quality standards readers expect. But there are also some seriously impressive indie authors hitting bestseller lists and making a substantial salary from their passion and creativity.

Indie publishing also isn’t a last resort. I see so many writers saying, “I’ll do it if I have no other choice.” That attitude does not lend itself to success as an indie author nor does it reflect the value of indie books. Just because it’s not the right choice for you doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice for others.

Here at Between the Lines Editorial, I work with authors who pursue both paths. However, about 70% of my clients are indie authors, and I think the indie publishing process is fun, versatile, and the perfect option for many modern authors.

Beware of Vanity Publishers

If you’re even considering self-publishing your books, you may have run across ‘full-service publishers’ who will do everything for your book for X amount of money. While this might sound great at first glance, these vanity publishers generally require a restrictive contract and may even take royalties from you despite the fact that you’ve paid them to publish your book.

These publishers are not concerned with selling your book. They’re interested in making money off of you for wanting to get it published.

If you’re serious about becoming an indie author and building a career out of it, stay away from vanity publishers. It’s better to organize your team yourself and keep all of your rights and royalties.

Why Choose Indie Publishing?

Even though self-publishing is valid, it may not be the right choice for you. Let’s look at some pros and cons before you decide.

Advantages to Indie Publishing:

  1. You keep creative control. While you do want input from a reputable editor and a few trusted beta readers, you have full creative control of your story. 
  2. You have a hand-picked publishing team. You get to choose your editor, your cover designer, your interior formatter, and any other industry professionals you want to work with. This means you can build a high-quality team who really understands your vision for your novel(s).
  3. You make more in royalties. Yes, you make more money per sale! You get to keep nearly 100% of your sales, with just a small portion going to the distributor to cover printing and other costs.
  4. You receive frequent payouts from distributors. Authors signed with traditional publishers typically receive two royalty checks per year. When you go indie, you get faster payouts from distributors and booksellers. Payouts are typically paid 90 days after the sale month, so once you pass that initial start-up period, you’ll likely be receiving monthly royalty payments. (I do for my self-published books!)
  5. Your books have global distribution with a few clicks. Self-publishing distributors like IngramSpark, Amazon’s KDP, and Draft2Digital publish in and ship to many countries around the world. With just a few clicks, your book can be available in multiple countries and you can access more readers.
  6. You keep all legal rights. You get to keep all of your rights to your book when you go indie. When you sign with a publisher, you sign over some of your rights for the duration of your contract. 
  7. You can publish what you want, as niche as you want. If your novels are centered around a vampire-shifter-fae-mermaid hybrid family and the chaos they bring to their small beach town in Maine, great! Indie publishing lets you tap into niche markets whenever you want. Your ‘quirky’ story definitely has an audience.
  8. You set your own deadlines. If you need to postpone the launch of your book, you can do so more easily with indie publishing. You are your own boss!

Disadvantages to Indie Publishing:

  1. You have to invest up-front in publishing services. As I mentioned above, you hand-pick your indie publishing team. That also means you have to pay these individuals. Traditionally published authors don’t worry about this because the publisher covers costs, but then the author also makes less in royalties.
  2. You have to find the right indie publishing team. There are many talented individuals out there, but finding qualified freelancers can be challenging. You’ll want to spend some time researching your team and talking to them before signing any contracts.
  3. There’s still some stigma around indie publishing. Though fewer people view self-publishing as a negative, there are still plenty of readers who think indie books aren’t high quality. The good news? There are millions of readers who don’t care and just want a good story.
  4. You need to view yourself as a business, not just a writer. When you go indie, you have to think more as a business owner and not just a creative writer. As a small business owner myself, I don’t think of this as a disadvantage. Owning my own business is exciting, flexible, and financially stable. But I know this intimidates some writers. If you want to go indie, you’ll have to get comfortable with this idea!

Traditional publishing has its own pros and cons. There are always trade-offs, and choosing your publishing path is no different. Neither option is better nor worse; they’re simply different.

You may have noticed I don’t include ‘marketing’ as a downside to indie publishing. That’s because all authors have to market their books regardless of how their book is published. You may get some assistance with this if you have a big publishing house and agent behind you, but you still have to do a lot of marketing and promo yourself.

If you don’t like marketing, you need to get comfortable with it whether you choose the indie path or not. It’s part of the journey, especially in 2020. Consider marketing another skill you can learn. Don’t worry–I’ll have a whole post about marketing and branding for authors.

Indie Publishing Costs

You can expect to pay anywhere from $1000 to $5000 USD (and potentially beyond) for end-to-end book production. That includes editing, a cover, formatting, and some marketing budget. 

That range is so wide because what services you need will vary. 

For example, if you’re an exceptionally strong storyteller, you may not need to invest in a story edit for every book. Or, if you have a technically accurate and refined writing voice, you may not need to invest in both line editing and copyediting for every book.

If you have a shorter book, like a novella, you probably won’t be investing $5000. If you have a long novel, you should plan to invest toward the higher end of that range.

If you’re worried about the upfront cost of indie publishing, some freelancers (like myself) do offer payment plans. You can also get quotes from freelancers you want to work with so you can plan your publishing budget accordingly.

At the end of the day, you have to invest money to produce a high-quality book that will compete with traditionally published books.

The hard truth is that readers do care about the cover, and they do care about how well the story flows and grammatical problems. Investing in quality services at the start of the process will make your book stand out and more likely to sell.

If you’re eager to access all of those pros and are ready to invest in your writing career, indie publishing is a great option for you.

What Else Do You Need to Know?

The rest of this blog series will outline the steps in greater detail. But, as a general reference, here’s the indie publishing process:

  1. Write your book! 😜
  2. Self-edit your manuscript to the best of your ability.
  3. Work with a couple of trusted beta readers to get a reader perspective on your draft.
  4. Hire a professional, qualified editor who knows your genre.
  5. Implement the editor’s suggestions and complete your revisions.
  6. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  7. Hire a cover designer and formatter.*
  8. File your copyright and choose your distribution platform.
  9. Upload your book and choose a release date.
  10. Have a launch plan and ARC team.
  11. Celebrate your book being released and start making money!

*Note: I put an asterisk next to hiring a cover designer and formatter because these are hypothetically things you can do yourself. If you know how to lay out a book and format it properly, then you can DIY your formatting. If you’re a skilled artist with design and Photoshop skills, you may be able to design your own cover.  

However, these are very specific (and technical) skills. If you don’t have them, hire out instead! The first thing potential readers judge is your cover, and if the formatting is so wonky that it’s hard to read, they won’t buy another book from you. (I can’t emphasize this enough.)

I didn’t put an asterisk next to hiring an editor because you can’t edit your book yourself. You can self-edit and fix some things, but we lose objectivity when we’re close to a story. Even professional editors hire other editors for help with this step. When I’m ready to publish my novel, I’ll absolutely outsource my editing despite the fact that I’ve edited hundreds of indie books!

It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s not as bad as it seems once you finish the revisions your editor suggests. Thousands of indie authors follow this process for their books and are living their dreams of being successful authors.

Your First Steps

If you’re ready to put in the work, you can become a successful indie author!

So, what are your first steps? If you haven’t already, start writing your book!

Also, keep following this blog series to learn more about the self-publishing process in more detail. And, if you’re ready to learn more about self-publishing right now, don’t forget to grab your free guide, available below.

In the meantime, follow me on Instagram for more writing and publishing tips.

And if you’re ready to jump into this process today, fill out my contact form to schedule your free 15-minute consultation. Whether you need editing or want a pro to guide you through this process, I’m here to help you reach your publishing goals.