While it’s always been my dream to be an author, I can’t say I’ve always wanted to be an indie one. Growing up the only path to publication seemed to be the traditional route. It also seemed like a fairytale, where I would be the lucky girl to get seen by the right agent at the right time. I’d get a good advance and my book would skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It’s every author’s dream, but as you get older and as you become more familiar with the industry you start to realize two things: that becoming an NYT bestseller is hard as fuck (harder still if you’ve got any amount of melanin) and that there is more than one way to be successful as an author.
I didn’t initially think about self-publishing when I started writing To Astera, With Love. I queried the novel but it never felt like the right path. I knew that the typical timetable for a book to go from query to publication with the traditional method is about 18 months. Given everything happening in the world and the themes Astera draws upon, I couldn’t wait that long. So I decided to self publish. It’s been just over seven months now, and I’ve grown as a writer, a marketer, and a person. I’ve learned a lot including the best and worst things about being an indie author. Check them out.
Best: Creative Control
I can’t speak for the traditionally published girls but I do know that as an indie author, you have the final say on everything. From cover to interior layout to how the book is marketed, the buck stops with you! This is a double-edged sword. The freedom to find and work with a designer who truly gets your vision and creates a kick-ass cover (see below) is wonderful. But having to find a team of people to work on your book is time-consuming and costly. Also, if they don’t work out, you don’t have an agent or publisher to back you and help you find a better fit.
Worst: Little to No Marketing Budget
If someone tells you marketing isn’t an important aspect of indie publishing they are lying. Marketing is essential for any book, and even more so for indies since there’s not a lot of word of mouth out about the book before publication. A traditional publisher has the coins to spend on digital ads, guest posts, features, etc. for authors (but again, let’s not overlook the fact that books written by BIPOC still struggle to get the same shine as those written by white authors). When you’re an indie, that marketing budget comes from you and you have to get strategic about how you market your book and what platforms are worth your (limited) funds.
Best: Can Think Outside The Box
Being an indie author allows you to get creative with every aspect of the process. From the writing to the layout to the marketing, there’s a lot of chances to think outside the box. One of my favorite things about my book is the placement of the four elements symbols on the chapter headings. Since the magic in Astera is elemental, it was a great tie-in.
Worst: You’re A Writer and Business Owner
Like I mentioned above, being an indie author means you’re responsible for writing, finding an editor, cover designer, layout designer, adding the book to KDP, marketing, etc. You’re as much of an author as you are a business owner. This again is a double-edged sword. I feel you get to know your target audience because you have to work that much harder to hook them. But this means it can feel like you have a whole other job just handling the business aspects of publication.
Best: Creating A Community of Other Indies
Writing is a solitary practice, but marketing your book isn’t. I started finding groups where other authors gathered to talk shop and give advice, and it changed the game for me. Not only did it help me learn more about the publishing process, but I formed genuine friendships with many of them. Community is important when you’re trying to break into one of the toughest industries, and now I work alongside some of my literary homies to create community and a place for authors and readers to gather.
Worst: People Not Taking Indie Seriously
Unfortunately, indie books are still not seen with the same prestige as those that are traditionally published. Despite several books that started as indie titles and were eventually picked up by publishers (The Martian and Rage of Dragons immediately come to mind), many feel that indie books aren’t as good. This makes it harder to break onto “Best Of” lists, to get your book in front of bookstagrammers, etc. It’s not impossible, but it just means it’ll take more work and more out of the box thinking to get your name out there.
I’ve learned so much in the last seven months as an indie author, and I know by this time next year I’ll have learned a whole lot more. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met along the way and I’m proud to be an indie author.