Indie Publishing Q&A

indie publishing

We've got a big Superversive SF live stream coming up on Sunday afternoon. The topic of the day is whether we are currently living in the golden age of publishing. The answer largely depends on whether you see indie publishing's rise to dominance as a good thing or a bad thing.

The distinguished guests include L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright, Jeff Duntemann, Joshua YoungDavid Hallquist, Ben Zwycky, and Chameleon Publishing's Amy Sterling Casil,

I'll be involved, but I expect to spend most of the show furiously taking notes from pros like Jeff, Jagi, and Amy, with perhaps an occasional Dune-related quip. By way of show prep, and in deference to the more experienced co-hosts, I've put together a ten item Q&A. The questions were submitted by the Superversive SF crew. The answers are mine (sources cited as memory permits).

1. How hard is it to be an indie author?
As hard as any job I've had. Dean Wesley Smith--who is traditionally and independently published--points out that indie authors have two jobs: author and publisher; with equally vital yet vastly different responsibilities.

As an artist, I'm responsible for producing works to a professional standard in ways that keep my readers happy. This means researching, drafting, getting feedback, revising, editing, and--as important as any item on the list--reading.

As a publisher, I bear all the responsibilities of running a small business. That means I've got to set my own deadlines, do my own marketing, and keep track of my finances. Self-publishing advocates tend to emphasize the freedom of indie--and they're right; it's nigh absolute--but the price of freedom is self-accountability. No one else is going to keep me on track, and there's no one else to blame when I screw up.

My only trad pub experience is with short story markets, which are easier to produce for but many orders of magnitude harder to break into. In terms of novels, the consensus among pros I trust seems to be that authors have to work equally at both indie and trad publishing, but with the former you get bigger royalties and keep your rights.

2. Is Trad Publishing still a viable mechanism or is it over?
If you define "trad publishing" as "the Big Five New York publishers", then trad publishing is dead. They just don't know it because they're not broke. Yet.

3. What is the right price for an eBook?
There's no hard and fast rule for this. The best price point for an eBook depends on several factors, including fiction or non-fiction, genre, market, the size and makeup of the author's readership, whether it's a standalone book or part of a series, etc.

For example, Big 5 defector turned indie pub millionaire Joe Konrath has said that his pricing sweet spot is $2.99. For godfather of self-pub Hugh Howie, the sweet spot is free. At the other end of the continuum, life coach Mike Cernovich can get away with charging $8.99 and still sell over 10,000 copies in three months.

I regularly experiment with price, and so far my sweet spot looks to be around $3.99.

4. Is the proliferation of books a bonanza for readers or a nightmare of low quality offerings no one can wade through?
This question addresses what Joe calls the "Tsunami of Crap" meme. Some worry that indie's extremely low barriers to entry will result in a flood of literary garbage that readers will find impossible to sift in their quest for entertaining books. Disgusted, they will abandon reading altogether in favor of knitting and video games.

There's little danger of this nightmare scenario coming to pass. First, contrary to dire warnings (mostly from trad pub authors), Amazon reports that readers are buying more eBooks than ever before. It's actually legacy pub that readers and writers are fleeing in droves.

Yes, there are many horribly written and designed self-published books. But even several hundred thousand lousy offerings don't significantly complicate the task of choosing between the millions of already extant books. An unintended benefit of the crap tsunami is that competently written, attractively designed eBooks stand out that much more.

5. How important is an editor?
Editors are indispensable. Here's mine.

One nonnegotiable point of agreement among trad and indie authors alike is the importance of editing. Even if you are a world spelling bee champ and crack grammarian--even if you yourself are a professional editor--your manuscript will include mistakes that, to your eyes, will be totally invisible. Only an impartial third party will be able to spot these errors since your brain will unconsciously read what you want to be there; not necessarily what is.

Luckily (and one of the reasons that this is the golden age of publishing), you don't need to forfeit all rights to your work forever and 85% of the proceeds in exchange for top notch editing services. A legion of professional freelance editors stand ready to assist you for a one-time, highly variable fee.

6. Where do readers find the good books?
Related to question 4 above. Once you consider that books are commodities just like toasters, ear buds, and mp3s, this question is really the same as asking, "how do customers find anything they want to buy?"

Increasingly, with regard to books, the answer is "not from the Big 5."

A number of tools exist to connect readers with authors whose books might strike their fancy, such as Amazon and Goodreads' ranking systems, mailing lists like BookBub, and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

7. Are writers still required to have a web presence to matter...or is word of mouth again king?
Writers must have a web presence because word of mouth is king. Joe Konrath's first principle of marketing is to ask yourself what forms of advertising work on you. I bet "recommendations from family and friends" would top your list of answers. The word of people readers trust is the message that sells books. The web is the most effective medium for delivering that message.

8. What marketing strategies have proven effective and what received knowledge has been found wanting?

eBook Marketing Strategies that Work:
Discredited received wisdom:
9. Is the KU exclusive requirement worth foregoing other publishing sites like the Nook store, Smashwords, etc.?
My experience has been mixed. While my eBook has yet to sell a single copy anywhere besides Amazon, Kindle Unlimited cannibalized my sales in exchange for a much less lucrative share of the KDP Select global fund.

So my approach for now is to go exclusive with Amazon but stay out of KDP Select. This position may change when my second book comes out.

10. What are the best places for writers to connect to potential new readers?
The answer depends on who your target audience is. All of the authors I've cited are pretty much unanimous in saying that you need to identify your audience, learn where they congregate, and join the conversation.

Turning 1,000 of them into hardcore fans will earn you a comfortable living for life.

Those are my informed opinions. Any other questions?

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