In Defense of Indie Publishing

by Pamela Feinsilber |

Book lovers have no doubt been delighted to see Barbara Lane’s new bimonthly Books column in the Chronicle. Years ago, I attended several of her conversations with authors at the Commonwealth Club and thought her a terrific interviewer. In addition, I’m a freelance book editor—so I found it doubly disappointing that she did such little research for her July 26 column, “Is it worth paying $7,500 to have your book published? Maybe.”

We all understand that it’s ever more difficult to get your work, particularly fiction, accepted by a mainstream publisher. Happily, there’s an ever-growing indie-publishing world out there, one that has nothing to do with the ancient, disparaging term “vanity press.” Even so, Lane—and many others, of course—still seems to think that “if your book is any good,” one of the “reputable publishing houses” will want to publish it. Anything less, she implies, is either intended for family only or the work of a vain and talentless hack. 

That kind of thinking, however, is completely outdated. I’ve worked with dozens of self-publishing authors, from well-known writers to first timers. So it grieves me that people—especially like those in this organization, putting so much time and tears into their writing—aren’t getting good information.

The truth is, more and more published authors are choosing to keep more of the process, and all the royalties, in their own hands. And like any writer, the first-time novelists, memoirists, self-helpers and others feel passionate about what they have to say and want to get it out there. Investing in their own work, perhaps instead of taking a vacation or buying a new car this year, is a way to make that happen. 

Some writers don’t care about earning the money back; they’re glad to have produced their one novel or memoir. And yes, every once in a while, a traditional publisher happens on a “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “The Martian.” That occurs, by the way, with less blockbusting books, too. Just thinking of my clients, Kevin McLean’s memoir “Crossing the River Kabul” was picked up by a university press and received excellent reviews. 

Literary agents are more hesitant to take on mid-list or less-commercial-seeming books these days, but that’s no reason not to persevere. Several of my clients have done just that and never looked back. 

“When It’s Over,” historical fiction by Barbara Ridley, was a finalist for six indie-press awards. Christine Volker’s “Venetian Blood” won the (May) Sarton Women’s Book Award in contemporary fiction, the Independent Press Award for Mystery and First-Time Published Fiction, and a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for International Mystery. You can bet that this recognition, as well as their good reviews, will help both when their second novels are done.

Ego had nothing to do with Therese Crutcher-Marin’s persistence in getting her heart-felt memoir out. While Kirkus gave “Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, a Genetic Disease, and Marrying Into a Family at Risk for Huntington’s” a strong review, she has focused on selling it at HD fundraising and other events. So far, she’s made almost $15,000. Imagine how much she’d earn if she tried to reach a wider audience.

Lane got the figure in her headline from (and gave most of her column to) She Writes Press, a hybrid press in Berkeley. When She Writes, which published the two novelists I’ve mentioned, accepts a manuscript, it does beautiful work for a fee of, yes, $7,500; but if the book requires editing—and what work doesn’t?—that costs extra. 

And She Writes keeps 40 percent of the royalties. That’s much less than the mainstream publishers take, but 40 percent more than if you become your own publisher, as Therese did.

After getting professional editing, many authors work with a graphic designer, who creates the cover, interior design, and print and e-books and—almost as important—gets their book into the IngramSpark catalogue. A longtime, well-known book distributor, Ingram added this excellent print-on-demand feature several years ago. Once bookstores know about your book, they can order copies through Ingram, just as with any other title. Doing your own marketing is key, but that’s true whether you have a traditional publisher or not. 

Lots of companies can help you create your book, but they won’t distribute it. You could work with Amazon’s KDP, but most independent bookstores won’t stock books created through Amazon.

Speaking of bookstores, the Path to Publishing program at Book Passage in Corte Madera will take you through all these steps, from recommending a mentor or an editor like me to suggesting a graphic designer and a publicist to helping you get an ISBN number to getting your book on its shelves.

Honestly, I could go on and on in exasperation that more hardworking potential authors haven’t explored this ever-improving option. I’ve worked with so many happily self-published authors. It’s a new world out there! Why not take a little time to explore it?

After working in the magazine world, most recently as a senior editor at San Francisco magazine, Pamela Feinsilber has for more than a decade been editing books. She’s at www.pamelafeinsilber.com.

Comments

  1. Hi Pamela and thank you so much for this informative and wonderful article. As an indie writer who has felt the sting of insults for not being “traditionally published” it always helps to know there is a real world out there where indies are embraced not because of publisher pedigree, but because their writing speaks to someone, somewhere.

    I will never forget reading an interview with the president of a quite famous writer’s club whom upon being asked, “What is the most important advice you would give to writers,”gave the following disappointing and quite uniformed answer,

    “Don’t ever self-publish!”

    My silent answer to myself was, “Don’t ever renew your membership.”

    Thanks again. I appreciate your message so much.

    Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

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