Or, Why I Decided to Go Full Indie.
The enterprise I have undertaken is, essentially, a grand experiment.
I have wanted to make my living as a writer of fiction since I was in college. I decided about a year ago that I wanted to do it by writing romance. I decided about a month ago that I wanted to do it independent of a traditional publisher.
I began by writing a pair of entwined novellas. This was taking the advice of one of my favorite writers, who has been quoted as saying that short stories are too different a form from novels to be much use to a young writer, where novellas are close enough in form to be good training grounds. The only problem with novellas, she went on to say, is that they are hard to sell—there simply is not as big a market for them as for either short stories or full novels.
I fell in love with the form and knew by the time I finished the first one that romance was the right genre for me to work within. I know that I have a passion, and I believe that I have a talent, for writing in general and for romance in particular. I would not have the courage to put my work out publicly if I did not believe it was worth reading, that other people would genuinely enjoy my words and my stories—I would not make an attempt to do this for money if I did not think that I could be successful.
So, then, why am I approaching it in the way that I am, going completely independent and publishing in digital-only formats instead of trying to take my passion and my skill to a traditional publisher?
Allow me a bit of a ramble to explain how I came to this decision. The threads will all weave together by the end.
Romance, more so than any other genre, is open to new authors and new voices. At least Harlequin Publishing is, and their publications have a large share of the romance market. All the big 6 publishers (MacMillan, Penguin Group, Hatchette Group, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins) have romance imprints, but with perhaps one exception (Random House, if I recall correctly my recent research on this), they are much more difficult to access as a new, un-agented writer. I think in large part that explains Harlequin’s bulk-of-the-market share: they leave themselves open to new authors trying to break in, where the other big publishers are not willing to devote the same resources to sifting through a slush pile. And why should they? Romance is only one or two of their imprints, as opposed to the entirety of Harlequin’s.
Romance was also the first genre to jump into the e-book platform with both feet; indeed, most of the other genres are still only dipping in toes, and in my opinion the publishers are doing everything they can to prevent anything but an incremental move to digital reading by refusing to price e-books significantly cheaper than paper copies—which they have to be if the investment of e-reader equipment is to be recouped before it grows too obsolete to use. Some of my favorite romance authors started as e-book only authors, and Avon Impulse offers the best return on digital sales (50% royalty once you hit 10K copies sold), but it’s still not quite the 70% a Kindle author gets, or the 100% an author selling via their own website gets. And I think this underscores the other mistake (commercial pricing being the first) that I think the traditional publishers are making, which is to expect that authors will not protest the sale of digital rights at the same rate of return as print rights—knowing that there is virtually no cost for either production or distribution of the e-book.
I made the mistake of looking at a discussion on digital rights and why it may not be worth it to an author to go through a traditional publisher—not if the writer is young and can expect to sell digital copies for years after the print run has disappeared.
There is an argument both for and against traditional publishers right now.
For: They can give you wider distribution and legitimacy, and possibly more attention, than going full indie as an e-book only, self-published writer. You will get the pleasure of having your book in stores. You will have the benefit of a professional editing team to make sure your work is the best it can be, and you will have the confidence boost of having a team of industry professionals behind you.
Against: Digital rights sell for a lifetime.
Rebuttals to the for arguments: Unless your book is expected to be the next bestseller, it’s unlikely the publisher pushing 50 other titles the same month will spare a great deal of time and attention for promoting yours. You get less money per copy, so even if you reach a wider audience, it will not necessarily make you more money. And in my particular case, I am a professional editor (not in the industry) at my day job, so what I need is feedback on story and characters, not the actual editing of my prose, and I can get that feedback from a group of first readers I trust to be honest.
Rebuttal to the against:
I can’t find one that mitigates it. The potential earning power of a wider audience is undercut by the fact that every time that audience grows and purchases digital backlog copies, it is essentially a loss of money for me if I’m only getting a 25% royalty instead of, say, 75%.
The low number makes sense when there is a physical product; it makes none when there is nothing for the publisher to pay once the initial expenses of editing, formatting, cover art, and promotion are paid for.
The problem with believing I can be a successful romance writer, is that I believe I can be successful. If my writing is good, and people will come back and read what I write again and again, then they should do it regardless of venue. If I am a good writer, if my work is worth someone’s time, then people will read it whether it is available from a large publisher or only from me. In the age of interconnectivity and the internet, a publisher is no longer needed in order to reach your target audience.
So if I believe in my work, then I have to believe it will be successful self-published. Right now, the economics pull in favor of self-publishing. I might get more money in the immediate sense submitting work to Harlequin or Avon, but what about 20 years from now? I don’t want to sell at a low price something whose value may be exponentially higher—and the way digital royalties sit right now, the more successful I become later, the more money the new writer I am today costs the successful me of the future.
And so we come to my grand experiment: my decision to go full indie as a romance author.
It does not cost me much to put work that is virtually unsalable (novellas) out for sale on my own—essentially the cost of hosting my website—and it does not jeopardize any future opportunities with a traditional publisher, if I reconsider my stance on the future loss in exchange for more security now. I need to be only modestly successful independently in order to write and publish full-time, versus wildly successful via a traditional publisher. And if my definition of success is to be able to quit my day job, then modestly successful independently trumps modestly successful with a publisher every time.