Although I’ve been writing most of my life, school, work, and family often interfered with some of the requirements of becoming an effective writer. One of the main requirements is having a dedicated effort to write, if not every day, at least as often as possible. Life gets in the way of the amateur writer.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Many people achieve great success overcoming all the obstacles I’ve mentioned. But trying to do this and pursue the traditional publishing route means overcoming a barrier that keeps many potential writers from achieving success: traditional publishing houses. This barrier effectively keeps most writers from ever achieving their goal. In the past, there were few ways to overcome this barrier: find an agent, be truly spectacular as a writer, or to be lucky. And, of course, you could pay to publish your book at your own expense. This often resulted in a great many authors sitting at home with boxes of unsold and unread books.
For the average writer, there was little hope of getting one’s work widely published. This was unfortunate because among many, if not most of those average writers was creative work of great value.
Technology has changed all of that. Another way to overcome this barrier is something that has resulted primarily with the growth and development of the internet. A writer can now become a true distributor of their own work by becoming an “Indie Author.”
What is an Indie Author? Quite simply, it is someone who produces fiction, non-fiction, art books, graphic novels, or poetry books; self-publishes those works themselves; and retains control over all the rights of those works.
Being an Indie Author, though, means that you can bypass the traditional route and seek a simpler, more direct route to getting your story to your readers.
Benefits of Being an Indie Author
- As an Indie Author, you own and control the rights to your creative work. You still have to follow basic rules for demonstrating such ownership, such as obtaining copyright protection of your work. This may seem inconsequential, but over the long term, it’s really important. What do you do when some TV producer finds your work and wants to make a TV series out of it? Not owning the rights to your work will really become painful at that moment of truth. (I know, the chances of selling your story to Hollywood are probably low, but most of us writers live in a fantasy land where that dream is overwhelming.)
- You set your own schedule for writing and publishing your work. You don’t have an editor nagging you to finish the next five chapters before the end of the month. You can write when and where you want. Of course, this means you have to write. Many of us are not so self-motivated and driven that we can dedicate our time to pursuing our craft. Learning discipline is one of the hardest skills of becoming a successful writer, Indie or Traditional.
- You write what you want. No editor is going to over-rule your creative genius. You like writing epic fantasy on Monday? Go ahead. You prefer hard-boiled thrillers on Wednesday? Go ahead. What you write is up to you. You won’t have an editor telling you to get to work on the next book in a series you’re tired of.
Pitfalls of Being an Indie Author
- You are responsible for all the errors and mistakes in your creative work. If you misspell a word, you can’t blame your editor or your typesetter or your proofer. You have only yourself to blame. And trust me, your readers will mock you for every error you make. Maybe not all of them, but enough where someone with sensitive skin like me feels the pain. Of course, you may not be as sensitive as I am.
- You have to make sure that all the elements of traditional publishing are taken care of. This includes the cover, the outside back page blurb, the inside blurb, the content, the format of the content, the pricing, the distribution requirements. Every decision is yours, and while many on-line publishing sites make these choices simple, you still have to make them.
- Once you publish your creative work, the hard part begins. You have to market your work, or no one is going to see it. Sure, the internet is great because nothing ever disappears from it. But it’s also The Black Lagoon of Lost Works. It is often impossible for someone to find your work on the internet unless you tell them that it’s there. And trust me, telling people where to find your work is not easy.
- You work alone. This isn’t so bad if you’re an introvert, but if you are an extrovert, the premise of spending hours a day writing, publishing, and marketing can be really depressing.
Why I Became an Indie Author
Given the pros and cons of being an Indie Author, I opted for this route. When I was younger, my goal was to write “the great American novel.” However, after years of writing and writing, I realized that I didn’t actually want to write the great American novel. Yes, you can say that I simply accepted a lower standard, but I actually had other reasons for rejecting that goal.
First, I wanted to write a lot of novels. In many different genres. Science fiction; fantasy, murder mysteries; young adult. I had some interest in writing literary fiction (which is the genre for the great American novel), but it was not a strong enough interest to drive me to success. And one thing I’ve learned as a performance consultant is that if you pursue a goal you’re not interested in or simply do not have the resources to achieve, you are doomed to failure.
What I wanted to do was write entertaining fiction. A story someone could pick up and read, and when the book was finished, say, “That book was fun to read.”
Second, I want control over my work. My father was a highly creative individual, but he always worked for companies and the government, who invariable claimed “ownership” of everything he created. He always complained about this, even though I could see no evidence that it affected his ability to compose music, design electronic circuits, develop obscure theories of the creation of the universe, or design crazy Rube Goldberg machines for making music, measuring electric charges of chemical samples, or grinding out parabolic mirrors. But his constant fear of having Big Brother come in and steal his creation always plagued him. I didn’t inherit his conservatism, but I did inherit his fear of losing control over my ideas.
Third, I am a very independent person. I don’t like other people telling me what to do, and I especially don’t like them telling me when to do it. Thus, I have a “24 hour” rule. If you want me to do something, give me 24 hours to get used to the idea, and then I’ll do it.
With my writing routine, I like to establish my own goals and my own schedule. I was lucky enough to have parents who imbued in me the drive necessary to stick to a project until it was completed. I hate an incomplete project or task. This fatal flaw in my personality has forced me to keep working on tasks that I should long ago have given up on. But still I persevere.
Fourth, I have always been taught that one is responsible for one’s own mistakes, whether these mistakes are in writing or in life itself. My parents gave me two values: one, leave a place in better shape than what you found; second, if you break it, you own it. In practical terms, this meant don’t touch other people’s stuff, but I’ve extended that to my writing. I keep trying to find every error or mistake in my writing, and as an Indie Author, that’s a bit hard. I welcome people pointing out my errors, as long as I can correct them. The nice thing about being an Indie Author is that I can bring out a newer, corrected edition of my book whenever I want.
Fifth, I assume responsibility for making sure that all elements of publishing are taken care of, but that doesn’t mean I try to do everything myself. I get a very talented editor to help design covers and marketing materials for me. I utilize writing programs available on the internet to facilitate the writing process. I depend on established internet giants to handle the publishing and distribution of my e-books, my paperback books, my hard cover books, and eventually my audio books. And trust me, when Hollywood comes knocking on my door, I will depend on hundreds of other experts to help me achieve my dreams.
Sixth, marketing my books depends on more than promotion materials. I have to get involved with social media, advertising campaigns, experts in broadcasting books to a wider audience than I can reach. I regard this phase of the process as onerous, I also regard it as a challenge. I’m not there yet, but I keep working at it. I persevere.
And finally, seventh, I don’t mind working alone. I’m not truly an introvert…I like interacting with people. But as I get older, I find my tolerance for just hanging around other people is wearing thin. On the other hand, the joy of getting a scene just right is quite rewarding. It’s a sad truth, but I often find the people in my stories to be better company than flesh-and-blood people. Yes, I know what that says about me.
Is being an Indie Author the right path for you? Go through my list of pros and cons and see how you would handle these issues. And maybe this might be the right path for you.
But remember: there’s always more than one road to Scotland!