Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is going Indie worth it?

That’s a question I’ve often asked myself in the last year or so since I’ve “gone it alone” as an ebook author. My answer (if you want the really short version) is yes.

The longer version follows. Like many of my Indie comrades I started down the traditional path of submitting short stories to magazines. I met with a fair amount of success, even getting published in a highbrow literary magazine like “Washington Square” (with the likes of Billy Collins no less). It was great. I was on my way. I also knew I wanted to write novels though and so rather eagerly abandoned the short story quest and began my first novel.

Well, I could sense that my first novel wasn’t very good and made no effort at attempting to get an agent to represent it. I wrote if off (no pun intended) to being part of the learning curve. My second novel was better, but again, I knew it wasn’t quite there. Same with the third. But my fourth…

My fourth novel was high art (LOL). I was sure the masses were just waiting to devour it. It was so distinctively different, so bold, so moving. (Yes, I’m kidding now, but back then I believed it.) So I fished around for agents and sent out query letters. I met with what I would call a “fair” response. I got a few partial requests, but then a big New York agent requested the complete manuscript.

Really on my way now, right? I remember calling my girlfriend and telling her the news, and she practically sang “Gregg!” into the phone, extending my name, her voice thrilling.

Well. That was four novels ago. And I slugged through the agent-seeking process with all of them. Again, the short version here: no luck.

I have no chip on my shoulder against agents, but it was hard. One agent really liked one of the novels but suggested a point-of-view change, which I made (a lot of work, mind you). When I got the novel back to her she wrote: “Sorry. Not handling fiction any more. Too hard to get it sold.”

Well all right then.

Now Indie. What’s going Indie been like? Short version: shockingly hard.

The longer version follows. Going Indie has been a whole world of things. I remember when I first started checking around for ebook formatters, Book Baby and places like that, they seemed so expensive, and I planned on writing a lot of books so I looked for alternatives. I found that I could format my own ebooks, do my own covers, etc. Hmm. Maybe I could do that, I thought.

My enthusiasm met with a harsh wake-up call when I looked at what was entailed with formatting for Kindle. It was this gigantic step-by-step procedural with different versions (in no particular order), any misstep sending me directly back to square one. I got chest pains looking at it.

But I stayed after it. (No heart attacks, thank you very much.) And even got to enjoy it after a while.

Hey, wait a minute, I thought this guy said it was “shockingly hard”? Oh yeah.

It was and is shockingly hard. I’ve put out four novels as ebooks, designed three of the covers, formatted them all, poured my heart and soul into these books and sold just a handful of them in over a year. And I know that many of my fellow Indie authors are going through the same heartache. Really, it’s not so much about the money. Anybody who goes Indie isn’t in it for the money. If you’re Indie, though, you do want to be read. Desperately.

So yeah, it is shockingly hard to go Indie…but it is also so rewarding. Why? The short version: control.

The longer version follows. As a writer trying to get an agent and a publishing contract you are constantly jumping through somebody’s hoops. It starts out in your writers’ group maybe. Then proceeds to the agent, then the editor, then the marketing team, then the cover maker, then the bookseller, then…

As an Indie, your art is your art. And that means everything to me. Go the mainstream route and when you’re done you look at your book and say, “There’s my book. Well, actually it’s really a conglomeration of people’s ideas. The agent told me I needed to drop a character (that I loved). The editor told me I had to cut ten percent (which ruined the tone of the book, not to mention making the ending make no sense). The cover guy made me use a cover I despise and doesn’t fit my book at all, and they made me change the title. But yeah, here’s my book.”

Go the Indie route and the book is yours.

And I have met so many great people going Indie. I have learned so much about technology. I have come to value all the people who are so generously giving heart and soul to people’s lives via the Internet (all the “open source” free software is just one example). And I am truly proud to be a part of this tribe of independent outsiders called “Indie.”

Maybe I’ll never have my book in a hardcover or in the window of Barnes and Noble, but I have so much, so much more.


  1. Great blog! I am six months to being indie published and I am happy with my choice, for the very reason you stated; my art is MY art (untainted). I may not be a bestseller, ever, and that is okay. Having my handfuls of readers tell me how much they loved/enjoyed reading my work is the true icing on the writers cake for me.

  2. Thanks, Kelly. And you know what--you MAY be a bestseller too! (Wouldn't that be the best--to have it be YOUR art AND a bestseller!)

  3. Hey, Gregg. Excellent blog. I've started investigating the indie route myself, and I'm very attracted to the level of control it gives, as you say. I have a manuscript "in consideration" at a NY agency, but I keep thinking about the "hoops" traditional publishing forces you to jump through (and procuring an agent does not guarantee finding an interested publisher). I've worked extensively in television, with great success, but finally walked away from it because I grew tired of the "committee." It all comes down to independence. I do believe that with passion, dedication, and a good story to tell, eventually we, the indies, can make a career of it. I will check out your material! Best, Josh Griffith -

  4. Thanks, Josh. Your "committee" experience reminds me of what I've read about screenwriting (I tried that too). 'Move to LA.' 'Network.' 'Collaborate.' 'Compromise.' Man, life is short. Do what YOU want to do. Do you think Beethoven or Tolstoy passed the approval of "gatekeepers" evaluating their work? Un-uh. In fact, Tchaikovsky's music publisher insisted that he change a movement in his 4th symphony! Tchaikovsky was like, 'No way!' The hubris of some of these literary agents is hard to take. You find out really quickly what one agent hates, another loves. And vice- versa. There is so much integrity (in the sense of being whole and undivided) and pleasure and enhanced self-esteem in having your art be your art. I wish you the best of luck trying to get representation. If it were me and they were open to taking a novel significantly as it is, I would accept. But even then, I would insist on the right (and I mean legally) to self-publish as well. Self-publishing is fun!

  5. Great article!

    I am working on my second coffee-table book and I am "selfishly" keeping the process all to myself. I may not make a million but it makes me happy and my book represents what I want it to..

  6. Sounds great to me! It makes you happy. That is so much of the whole process and so easy to overlook. Best of luck with your book and thanks so much for writing.

  7. Gregg, what a great and informative piece! Next time might I suggest one small change?

    Lie to us.

    cheers, EP

  8. Ha ha, EP! And here I thought being Indie I wasn't going to have people suggesting changes anymore!

  9. Thanks Gregg. I'm a little anxious about going through the formatting etc stage but also really excited by the whole process of indie publishing. I'm glad you're happy with your choice!

    1. Hey Linda, It's like that Cranberries CD from some years ago:

      Everybody else is doing it, so why can't we?

      If it was un-doably hard so many people wouldn't be doing it. And once you get into it, that anxiety of yours will be entirely replaced by excitement. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Quite an experience. Thanks for sharing, it was really insightful.

  11. When I hit the PUBLISH button on Amazon and Smashwords, I was so excited. My late husband's first story was finally out there to be read. So I share your excitement. But it is hard getting over the stigma of paper books. Even my own family rarely reads ebooks. I think a lot of paper book readers feel if the stories not in paper format it's not good. If they only knew. Thank you very much for your post. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Sahara. The whole world is going digital. It won't be long till ebooks are the norm. They'll still need to be good to get attention, though. Just like paper books do. But ebooks will get their full due. Good luck to you too!

  12. Great post, thanks Gregg. I'm on the 10 yard line now, a little bruised and battered but excited (and nervous).

    1. Thanks Suzanne. Stay strong! I like the saying: 'Professional writers are only amateur writers that kept on writing."


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