What’s the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Indie-Publishing?

Publishing labels are important and using them properly is critical

I often use the terms of self-publishing and indie-publishing interchangeably. I shouldn’t.

They mean different things. So what’s the difference?

That’s a great question. I turned to my friend Google to investigate. It turns out Google doesn’t know. It simply confirmed a lack of consensus. Here are the findings of my research:

  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing are not the same thing. However, the difference is a matter of perspective.
  • Self-publishing and indie-publishing both emerge as alternatives to traditional publishing. And we need those alternatives.
  • Self-publishing may be a subset of indie-publishing.
  • The difference between self-publishing and indie-publishing may boil down to attitude.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Self-Publishing

  • Self-publishing finds its roots in vanity publishing, a pay-to-be-published model. (Though four years ago I asserted that attitudes have changed and traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing, offering a stamp of validation that I, for one, want.)
  • Self-publishing is all about art, and making money from art isn’t the point—or so they say.
  • The motivation of self-publishing is making books available to the public.
  • The hardcore self-publisher does everything, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing. Unfortunately it shows in the final product. And for that reason I hate reading self-published books.
  • Self-publishing finds its place with the writing hobbyist.

Indie-Publishing

  • Indie-publishing finds its roots in the entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Indie-publication is a for-profit endeavor with a clear objective to monetize the value of books as a business.
  • The motivation of indie-publishing is profit from the art of books.
  • The indie publisher assembles a team, tapping others to assist with the publishing process, from cover design, to editing, to interior layout, to marketing.
  • Indie-publishing finds its place with the writing professional.

From all this, I realize that when I say I plan to self-publish some of my books, I really mean indie-publishing. Though I view my writing as art, I also see the results as a business opportunity. And I’ve been an entrepreneur longer than I’ve been a writer—though not by much.

Yes, I still have a goal to traditionally publish some books. I also plan to indie-publish other books. Together they will help me to one day make a living writing full time.

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Should You Go with a Traditional Publisher or Self-Publish?

Be open minded about the options available for book publishing and then pick the best one

Traditional Publishing is the New Vanity PublishingMy goal as an author has always been to be a hybrid author, one who self-publishes some books and goes with a traditional publisher for others. What changes over time, however, is the emphasis I place on one over the other. On this, I waffle frequently. Some days I favor the allure of being traditionally published and on others I lean toward self-publishing.

Though I embrace both as viable options, many people do not. It seems that many writers view one of these two options as the only choice for rational people, while outright dismissing the other for those uninformed. The problem is that some land squarely in the camp of traditional publishing as the only way to go, while others adamantly pursue self-publishing as the only sane choice.

I understand both perspectives.

What I don’t understand are people who are so obstinate toward their point of view and so biased against the alternative. They need to open their eyes: both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their pluses and minuses. Consider them, evaluate them, and then go with what seems best for your particular book at this particular time.

That’s my plan.

Here’s why:

Traditional Publishing: Traditional publishing pays authors to be published. But getting a traditional publishing deal is hard. In most all cases we need an agent first, which takes time. Then our agent needs to find a publisher to publish our book, which takes more time. Then our book goes into their publishing machine for edits, marketing, production, and so forth, which takes even more time. It often takes several years from writing a book to having a traditional publisher make it available to the public—assuming it happens at all.

Once we land a book deal, assuming we can, traditional publishers do most of the work and take all of the financial risk. Yes, they still want us to help market our book, but they do everything else—as we lose most of our control over the product and the outcome.

However, once the only real option for authors, technology has provided a viable alternative: self-publishing.

Self-Publishing: With self-publishing the author becomes a businessperson, investing money into a product in hopes of turning a profit. Success isn’t guaranteed, but the benefits are many. The author maintains control over the product, can get it to market fast, and will make much more per book. There are no gatekeepers to stand in our way, no one judging the size of our platform, and no one turning our baby into something we don’t like.

Self-publishing was once decried as vanity publishing, but now I actually see traditional publishing as the new vanity publishing. Being traditionally published implies a stamp of approval. It says we’ve been accepted, our work has gained approval, and we have jumped high hurdles. This strokes our ego.

I get that. I want that.

Yet the very things that make us attractive to traditional publishers—a stellar book and a huge platform to promote it—are also the very things that make us an ideal fit for self-publishing, where we control the product, take a risk, and make a profit.

I get that, too. I want that.

My leanings, one way or the other, change often. What I do know is that I want to publish books, and I’m taking a hybrid approach to get there.

How I’ll Write My Next Book

NaNoWriMo inspired me on a new way to approach writing a book

How I’ll Write My Next BookI’ve written several books, most of which didn’t have a deadline. Though I would regularly sit down to write and methodically plod through from start to finish, I wasn’t as intentional as I could have been. I would take several months to complete my first draft of these books—and it was arduous.

Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, where the goal is to write the first draft of a novel in one month. I effectively did this, but it didn’t happen as expected. (Check out my post of my first NaNoWriMo experience).

Going forward I plan to write all my books NaNoWriMo style. I’ll hunker down and crank through the first draft in one month. Here are the benefits of taking this approach.

Increased Focus: Writing a book in one month requires making it a priority. It’s not one of many things to dilute focus; it’s the one thing. This gives a hyper-intensive focus. In fact, I was so into my novel, which took place in May, that I actually thought it was spring in real life; I had to keep reminding myself that summer was not about to happen, but eight months out. That’s intense (or crazy). Regardless I had focus and finished writing that book.

Better Continuity: When writing large chunks of a book every day, it’s much easier to keep everything straight. One chapter easily moves into the next. But had time interrupted my writing it would have also caused me to lose my comprehension of the story arc. This would necessitate re-reading large sections, a too-frequent referring to my notes, and missed opportunities to produce a better read. But because I was able to stay in the writing zone, the words flowed forth with greater ease.

Faster Results: For me the difficulty in writing a book isn’t the number of words I need to write, it’s the number of days it takes. When I write a book in one month, there’s no time to bog down in the middle, yet a book that takes several months to complete will always produce a discouraging sag of motivation midway through. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump.

Sense of Accomplishment: It’s a great feeling to finish the first draft of a book. Writing with NaNoWriMo intention rewards me with that feeling of satisfaction faster. Having that great sense of accomplishment encourages me as a writer and motivates me to produce even more.

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I plan to write the first draft of my next book in a month. And I won’t even wait until November to start.

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

When We Should and Shouldn’t Self-Publish

Writers need to balance the considerations of self-publishing and traditional publishing

When We Should and Shouldn’t Self-PublishThere is much debate in the writing community about going with a traditional publisher versus self-publishing. Neither is a panacea. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages. Considerations include career objectives, time investments, speed to publishing, potential revenue, and personal goals. Though I am pursuing a traditional publishing deal, I will also self-publish (indie-publish) other works.

The key is to know when it’s the right time to self-publish.

Here’s When You Shouldn’t Self-Publish:

  • Publishers Reject Your Book: It’s an unwise reaction to self-publish your book just because a couple publishers said “no.” Some well-known books and classics were rejected scores of times, but their authors didn’t give up and kept trying new avenues. And I’m sure they continued to work on improving their book in the process.
  • Agents Won’t Sign You: The same thing applies with agents. Agents only make money when they sell books, so if they don’t think they can sell your book, they won’t take you on as a client. Not being able to land an agent may be the worst reason to self-publish because you’re probably not ready.
  • You’re Tired of Hearing “No”: Rejection is a part of writing. It’s often a sign that you or your book isn’t ready. Self-publishing prematurely will just give more people a reason to reject your book.
  • You’re Weary of Waiting: Traditional publishing takes time and requires patience. Being impatient with long production times is not (usually) a sound reason to self-publish.

Here’s When You Should Consider Self-Publishing:

  • You’ve Written The Best Book Possible: When your book is the best it can be you might want to consider self-publishing it. This means you have carefully edited and proofed it, you’ve received feedback from others, and you’ve hired people to make it shine.
  • Your Book Has Been Professionally Edited: There are three types of editing and you need a different editor for each type. Usually you need to hire these people. If someone gives you free editing, you often get what you pay for. First there’s a development edit (the big picture stuff), copy-editing (sentence structure, flow, and word choice), and proofreading (grammar, punctuation, and typos).
  • You Will Invest In Your Book: In addition to hiring editors, you will need to pay for a front cover design. Since “a book is judged by its cover,” don’t skimp on this. Other considerations include the book jacket, the interior layout, and file conversion. Each one costs and your book will look “off” if you try to do these yourself.
  • You Are Ready to Market Your Book: Successful self-publishing requires marketing. While traditional publishers will also expect you to help promote your book, when you self-publish, it all falls to you.

Consider both of these lists before you self-publish your next book.

What Does It Mean When a Publisher Rejects Our Book?

No one likes to hear “no” but it’s part of writing, and we need to understand it

What Does It Mean When a Publisher Rejects Our Book?We work hard to write a book. We edit, seek feedback, and hire professional help. It’s our baby, and we love it. We cherish each word. We send it into the world with high expectations, but someone shoots it down by rejecting it. We must learn how to deal with rejection and we must learn what rejection means:

The Book Isn’t Ready: Sometimes our book isn’t as mature as we thought. It may require more work, or we may need more time to improve as a writer. If we push our book into the world before it is ready, we’re bound to hear “no.” Yep. I’ve done that.

The Concept Isn’t Good: Other times our writing is great, but the concept behind it isn’t strong. Excellent writing seldom salvages a weak idea. I’ve had my share of bad ideas.

The Execution Falters: Another possibility, despite good writing in support of a great concept, occurs when the implementation falls short of expectations. I’ve had great ideas I wasn’t ready to pull off.

The Platform Isn’t Big Enough: The sad reality of writing is that writing a great book isn’t enough. We also need a means to promote our books. That means we need a following. The publishing industry calls this a platform. Though our book can contain great writing around a unique premise with superb execution, we might still hear a “no” if our platform is deemed inadequate. Yep, I’ve heard that, too.

The Timing is Wrong: Publishers strive to publish books that people will buy. Sometimes readers grow tired of a certain genre or want to move to a different experience. That’s when publishers will stop producing one type of book in favor of another. The book we just finished may be a victim of a changing market. Perhaps in a few years the pendulum will swing back.

They Don’t Know How to Market It: Even when we hit all of the preceding items, the publisher may not know how to market the book. They reject our submission, not because it’s bad, but because they don’t know what to do with it.

It’s a Great Book That Doesn’t Fit Their Vision: Last, everything with our book could align, but it’s not what the publisher wants at this time. There could be a number of reasons for this, and each one falls outside of our control. Just because a publisher won’t publish a book, doesn’t mean it isn’t a quality work. Their rejection doesn’t automatically mean our book is no good. It could suggest something else.

As writers we need to understand the various causes for rejection. Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect all of these have happened to me.

Though we have no influence over some of these reasons for rejection, we need to do all we can to avoid the ones we can control. This starts by submitting our best work and continues as we seek to improve our writing. These are the two keys for success.

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

The journey of writing a novel in one month has much to teach about being a writer

Can You Write a Book in a Month?Many times in this blog, I’ve talked about NaNoWriMo—the effort to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I also announced in October that this was the year I would actually participate. Though I did pursue NaNoWriMo, I almost bailed before I even started, and I would have had I not told you about it.

Here’s what I learned.

Prepare to Write: Though you can’t write prior to November 1, you can plan for your novel. I had an idea bouncing around in my head for several years. I know the characters, the inciting incident, the ending, the story arc, and all the scenes. But in mid-October I realized my tone and vision were wrong, and that I wouldn’t be ready to write come November 1.

On to plan B: write a sequel to my novella, which was on its way to becoming a novel. I already knew the characters and had determined the opening, ending, story arc, and most of the scenes for the second book. The only problem was that I didn’t want to start the sequel until I finished writing the first book. But I couldn’t finish the first book until I received feedback from my developmental editor, which didn’t come soon enough.

Despite many efforts to the contrary, I wasn’t prepared for NaNoWriMo. Strike one.

Schedule Time to Write: I write in the morning. On November 1, I wrote nothing because I had nothing to write. Strike two. On November 2 through 11, I worked on finishing my first book, which was a great feeling of accomplishment, but it didn’t count for NaNoWriMo. I took the twelfth off from fiction writing and started writing my NaNoWriMo book on the thirteenth.

Monday through Saturday I would start writing about 5:30 a.m., with a goal of not stopping until I hit 2,500 words. A few days I worked again in the evening, which I also did on Sundays.

Remove Distractions: I should have scaled back on other activities. I should have stopped reading, cut back on TV, and put my blogs on hold or have written posts a month in advance. I didn’t. Another strike. (If you’re keeping track, I’m allowing myself more than three strikes.)

Be Flexible: I began November flirting with a cold, which took me out of writing mode for a couple of days (another strike), and I had two websites get infected with malware, which took several hours, spread over a week and a half, to fix. (My anti-malware noticed the incursion, but didn’t prevent it. Bummer.) More setbacks and another strike.

Focus on the Goal: If my goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel, which I didn’t start until November 13, than I would have just given up. Instead I set new goals, which was to relish the participation and see how far I could get.

Celebrate the Journey: I enjoyed my writing to finish the first book, which spanned November 2 through 11. And I really enjoyed writing the second book, which started November 13. I liked sitting down to write, the progress invigorated me, and seeing me move closer to the end spurred me on. I had fun!

Rest as Your Reward: When NaNoWriMo is over (and anytime you finish writing a book), you need to rest. For me one or two days are usually enough. But when December 1 rolled around, I couldn’t rest because my book wasn’t quite done. I suspect that will happen around December 5—and I can’t wait.

For the record, I logged 78,600 words in November, which I’m both amazed and shocked at. Of those, 15,700 were to complete my first novel, 12,100 words were for work (yes, I have a day job), 8,300 words were for my blog, and . . . drum roll please . . . I completed 42,500 words on my new novel, which isn’t bad at all for just eighteen days of work. (I’ve continued writing, and it currently stands at 46,400 words with one more scene to write, which should add another 1,000 or so words.)

My low word count day for NaNoWriMo was zero, and I had a couple of them. My high word count day for NaNoWriMo was 3,800 (plus another 1,700 for work, bumping that day’s total word count to 5,500). My writing goal, once I actually started, was 2,500 words a day. Most days I hit it fine and wanted to keep going, but I had to stop for work. A few days were real struggles. I typically wrote at a pace of 500 to 600 words an hour, sometimes a little less and occasionally up to about 1,000.

Over all, the month was exhausting and exhilarating. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy Button

Too many novice writers don’t invest in the craft and expect seasoned authors to give them an easy button to publication

Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy ButtonI post on this blog, send out a writing newsletter, and speak at conferences because I want to give back to the writing community, to share with others what I have learned over the years. By helping others the best that I can, I help myself. As I give, I also grow as a writer.

Though I can’t help everyone who asks and my time is limited, I do give a higher priority to those who are part of my writing community, those who journey with me to become better writers and share our words with others. These are the folks who put in the hard work to improve as writers, study the craft, and learn about the industry. They are worthy of receiving help. Not everyone is.

Recently a friend asked me and some others to review her manuscript. This is a big ask, and I had misgivings. As far as I know, my friend isn’t part of a writing group, doesn’t attend writing conferences, fails to write regularly, and neglects to study writing and the industry. Instead she seeks those who have put in the hard work for help so she can skip doing the hard work herself. She’s hoping for an “easy button” to turn her rough draft into a publishable book.

And I’m not too excited about helping with this. I prefer to invest what time I have into writers who are putting forth effort to improve. Too often I’ve tried to help people who asked for advice but weren’t ready to hear it. They lacked the basic tools to receive, consider, and apply my input.

They wanted an easy button, but in writing there is no easy button.

Good News: Reading Is Here To Stay

As long as there are readers, writers will have work to do

Good News: Reading Is Here To Stay“Reading is here to stay,” wrote Robert M. Sacks in the November/December 2012 issue of Publishing Executive magazine. His astute observation caught my attention, captivating my thoughts, both then and even more so today.

Discussions and speculation about the rapid evolution in the book publishing industry threaten to overwhelm us; considerations abound:

  • Options such as traditional publishing, self-publishing, and assisted publishing
  • More options in the form of indie presses, outsourcing, and support services
  • Help from consultants, coaches, and editors
  • Requirements for platform, promotion, and marketing
  • Social media to blog, tweet, and message
  • Communication through e-newsletters, RSS feeds, and subscriptions
  • Technologies of e-books, e-readers, and e-publishing
  • Changes via consolidation, closures, and layoffs
  • Audio books, foreign rights, translations, screenplays, and movie deals

My brain’s about to explode with all these developments, options, and choices.

Yet one thing remains: reading is here to stay. And with the future of reading secure, the future of authors and publishers is promising – for all of us willing to change, adapt, and dream.

Tomorrow will be interesting, exciting, and exhilarating, because reading is here to stay, and those readers will need authors to write content for them to read.

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Why We Must Understand the Continuum of Book Publishing

Book publishing options are no longer a black and white decision but an array of grays

Why We Must Understand the Continuum of Book PublishingIn past posts, I discussed the benefits of traditional publishing and the benefits of self-publishing, as well as the downsides of traditional publishing and the downsides of self-publishing.

Book publishing, however, does not exist as two sides of a coin, with traditional publishing (often called royalty publishing) on one side and self-publishing (once disparaged as vanity publishing) on the other.

Instead, book-publishing options exist on a continuum. At one end are the major presses who carefully screen, edit, produce, and promote books, much as they have done for years. At the other end are the do-anything-for-a-buck outfits who will print any book, for anyone willing to pay their fees, regardless of its content, quality, or marketability.

In between them lies a vast array of options, from indie presses, to assisted publishing, to outsourcers, to any number of companies with intriguing labels, seeking to find a niche and fill a need. Although a few of these presses care nothing of books and only about money, most possess a sincere desire to help writers become published authors, advancing the cause of book publishing in the process (as well as earning a profit). They just do it in different ways.

These permutations of publishers are too numerous and evolving to delineate with any accuracy. An author should carefully vet each publisher before making a selection.

The key in evaluating them is to realize that each has a business plan and must make money. Comprehending what their plan is (sometimes we needs to dig a bit) and understanding how they make money (even nonprofits must generate income) will provide a basis for determining if their sweet spot matches a writer’s needs.

Book publishing exists on a continuum, as do the needs of the authors they serve. Finding the right match of publisher and author is essential for the success of both.

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