The indie publishing industry has provided for indie authors a great many of the benefits that were once the province of traditional publishing only.
There is very little these days a traditional publisher can give an indie author that his indie career is not already providing in spades. In many respects, indie publishing imparts even greater advantages—especially when it comes to revenue. There is also the control one has over their career, and longevity, too.
This post is not meant to be a breakdown of the pros and cons of traditional or indie publishing. Instead, I want to focus in on one of the very last remaining advantages of traditional publishing which lingers still, that indie publishing doesn’t provide.
Quite simply, there are still corners of the publishing industry world that consider indie publishing to be inferior, and any product produced under an indie authors imprints to be beyond notice. Indie authors find it difficult, if not impossible, to get professional reviews, to enter some of the prestigious contest, or to get traditional media attention. It is also more difficult to get onto some of the best-seller list, specifically the New York Times bestseller list, where the top slots are decided by a handful of people using murky methods.
All these aspects could be lumped under the heading, “professional recognition.”
In March 2018, David Farland wrote a post entitled “Breaking into the Best-seller Lists—How to do it as an Indie or as a Traditional Author.”
I clipped the post and have had it in my notebook since then. At the time I wrote a note to go with the post that said, “This is the wrong emphasis. You don’t have to get into the best seller list and most authors can’t. But you can make a great deal of money from building your brand, instead.”
Then I promptly forgot all about it, until a few days ago, when Mark Dawson’s keynote speech at the 20BooksTo50K conference in Las Vegas was uploaded to YouTube. I watched the keynote speech with interest. The theme of the post? Why indie publishing is better than traditional publishing.
In his opening remarks, Mark Dawson confessed that even though he is one of the most wildly successful indie published authors in the world, he still has moments when he regrets not being able to earn the sort of recognition that traditionally published authors are handed gratis along with their contract.
He spent the forty-five minute of his keynote speech convincing himself and everyone who listened to him why none of the “glory” matters. It’s a brilliant speech, and worth listening to. You can find it here.
If Mark Dawson can yearn for that sort of recognition, it’s entirely possible that you do, too, even if you know in your gut that indie publishing is the way to go.
As an indie, you can live without it. You are a working writer and as long as you’re bringing in revenue to a level that suits you, then you need nothing else. You have a direct relationship with your readers, complete control of your career, longevity and stability (as long as you don’t do anything really, really stupid).
So why do we occasionally hanker after the type of recognition that traditionally published authors are bestowed by default?
I think it is too simple to say that we crave the legitimacy. In particular, the longer the indie publishing industry thrives, the less legitimate traditional publishing will become. It is already considered vanity publishing by a large section of the publishing world.
The best tactics to deal with this occasional, lingering yearning, is to adjust your perspective.
Most of the time, we indie authors work at the ground level, with our sleeves up, fiercely focused upon getting the next book out.
Shifting your perspective involves lifting yourself up and looking at the 20,000 foot view, where the key player is time.
The thing you must remind yourself–that I keep having to remind myself of on a regular basis– is that we are working within an industry that is still in transition.
Indie publishing has only been around since 2007, when Amazon launched its first Kindle reading devices. The industry is only 12 years old, but still has come a long, long way.
Since that opening salvo by Amazon, we have seen some of the genres, such as romance, move almost 100% over to indie publishing. Traditional publishers are no longer actively seeking romance titles to publish, except for one or two romance only publishers, like Harlequin. But even Harlequin earn most of their money through e-books, not print. This trend will continue, particularly in genre fiction, as more and more of the genres ease away from traditional publishing’s grip.
Since 2007, more mid-list authors who would have scratched for a living in the traditional publishing halls, are now making very nice money and writing full time, because of indie publishing.
Since 2007, there have been a growing number of indie authors picked up by movie companies and TV producers, and their work turned into mainstream television and film. Andy Weir is the perfect example. His novel, The Martian, was developed as a mainstream movie by my favourite director in the world, Ridley Scott.
There have been a lot of barriers broken since 2007.
If it takes approximately twenty years for wholesale cultural shifts to occur (in other words, when the last of the older generation have moved on), then the birthing pains of indie publishing are behind us and if we practice patience, the last of the lingering prejudices should also disappear in the next eight years or so.
In fact, I would almost lay my money on this natural evolution occurring. By 2027, we will have seen our first rock stars of the indie world being fêted by the media, winning prestigious awards and becoming as famous and high profile as any of today’s traditionally published high performers.
Given the very short timeframe—only seven years—it is more than likely those rockstars are already actively publishing and working in indie publishing. (I’m looking at you, Mark Dawson, Michael Anderle, Craig Martelle, Chris Fox, and many more.)
If it really is just a matter of time, then all we need to do is hang in there, earn our very comfortable living, enjoy ourselves writing what we want to write, and directing the course of our own careers without having to deal with the insanity of traditional publishing, or a system that treats us like dirt.
Publishing has always been a long-term game. Even indie publishing, where you can publish at the speed of light, still requires years of work to pay off in any significant way.
Next time you catch yourself thinking “if only…” about the prestige and adulation you might be missing out on, your best tactic is to go back to work and write another book. Enjoy your free-flowing, monthly revenue and your ability to pay your bills.
Out wait the bastards.
In this, too, time will tell.