Sunday, October 9, 2011

How Is the Indie Experience Shaking?

In August, I decided to forgo a publishing contract in favor of trying independent (indie) publishing (blog entry explaining this decision here). So, how have I fared? Am I sobbing into wagonfuls of ice cream every night or am I crowning myself the new, glorious triumphant head of Rome?

Neither, really. Going indie has had its ups and downs, but in general I'm THRILLED I went indie. Without a doubt, I made the right decision. I'll talk about the cons first.

Cons:

** The formatting can be a pain in the arse, especially with Kindle. The Kindle preview device is not too good. In theory, what you see on it is what you're supposed to get on the actual Kindle, but in reality, there doesn't seem to be much of a relationship. For example, take the formatting of "Waiting." The book uploaded fine to Smashwords and to Barnes & Noble. No funny formatting, etc. The same file uploaded so-so to Kindle. Some lines (paragraph indents) did not line up with others, and some paragraphs were wholly indented. Bizarre. Plus the table of contents had one out-of-align chapter and chapter number. I simply couldn't figure out the issue. "Waiting" was my third book for upload, so I wondered if I should just go ahead and approve it. I knew from previous experience that the Kindle preview would show nonexistent problems. I didn't want to take that risk, though. What I ended up doing was uploading an .epub file (from BN) to Kindle. That returned much less errors, and I clicked approve. Once "Waiting" showed up for sale on Kindle, I downloaded a sample. The remaining so-called errors in preview were not there. So... who knows what's going on with that Kindle preview.

**  Cover design has been a scramble. Joy Argento did a lovely cover for "Strange Bedfellows." However, she'd be busy and wouldn't have much time for "The Odd Couple" and "Waiting." I was going to do both myself, and then a friend volunteered to do "Waiting." and I took it upon myself to do "The Odd Couple." Now, I used to be a newspaper designer. I designed front pages for a daily midsize newspaper, and I even won a first-place award for Virginia newspaper design. Despite all that, I don't own a good design program such as Photoshop or InDesign. And the truth is, I'd rather not to have to worry about the covers. I like handing them off to someone, giving a few ideas, and generally letting people work their magic. I like to be surprised. So, with "The Odd Couple," I searched a good few hours for a photo that would capture the essence of the story. I found the photo. That experience went pretty well, but again, I'd rather not do the design myself if possible. A few days before "Waiting" was supposed to come out, the designer dropped out, saying she didn't feel skilled enough to do it. I was shocked. She'd had more than a month and had a great working design that only needed a few tweaks. I was disappointed, I won't lie. But, ya know, it was what it was. She didn't feel comfortable, and I was not going to try to force something.

This did put me back at square one. Because I'd just done "The Odd Couple" cover, I decided on the same approach for "Waiting": find a picture that captures the story. At last, I found something, but it would be somewhat of a risk. This picture showed a face, and that's something many readers don't want. They want to imagine the characters for themselves. The photo really was perfect, though, so I proceeded. A friend helped with the typography, and we were all set. I think this cover worked out great, and I am very happy with it. Okay, maybe the photo wasn't 100 percent perfect. The woman on the photo (who would be Lena, because her appearance generally matches Lena's) wore a green skirt. Lena wears jeans and T-shirts. Why would she be wearing a green skirt on the cover? I went back into the manuscript and adjusted for that in several spots. Turns out Lena has a favorite green skirt she wears a lot, as if it were a pair of jeans. The skirt does look comfy ;-)

For future projects, I might fork over the $100 and hire a cover designer. Who knows. The key here, I think, is to get someone to do a cover as soon as say, the first draft is done. Or maybe the second draft. The book will have a lot of editing left, but the concept is there. The cover elements are there. The lesson here is to start early on the cover.

** The stigma that lingers for self-publishers. Funny story here. Someone contacted me wanting to buy "Strange Bedfellows." She had a Sony Reader and wanted to know if I was going to make it available through Smashwords or some place friendly to Sony Readers. I said yes, but I wasn't sure when. (Now, Smashwords is the first place I upload to and the easiest. I LOVE Smashwords.) She said she wanted to go ahead and buy a copy from me. She said she read lots of fan fic so she didn't mind reading something self-published. Oh boooooy. Equating my book to fan fic...nope ;-) I referred her to my first post on this blog (explaining why I went indie) and reassured her that her money would be well spent. Guess what? She loved "Strange Bedfellows." Gave it five-star reviews and has become a very close friend of mine. She was one of the last-glance readers for "Waiting." I don't fault her original assumption because I know there are plenty of self-published books that leave much to be desired. The stigma is there, but I hope as I build my brand, it will go away, at least for my books.


Pros!! And they DO outweigh the cons.

The people. People. People. Readers, in other words. Independent may mean alone, not dependent, and begin with "I," but I'll be the first to say my work has not been a sole effort. Yes I did the writing and the rewriting and self-editing, as all authors should do. I also had to market myself alone (I would've had to do this with a regular publisher, however), but I found open arms. I found reviewers, podcast and radio hosts, and many people who were happy to give this relative unknown some exposure. The readers who contacted me about how "Strange Bedfellows" impacted them have been great. I've become close with several, and a few served as last-glance, fresh-eyes readers for "Waiting." Plus, as mentioned above, one stepped in to help me after the "Waiting" cover debacle.

The freedom. The flexibility. I love having this. I can set my own prices and write the stories that need to be told.

The money. In one month, I made about three times more than I had in three years with "The Odd Couple" through a regular publisher. Granted, that publisher never put "TOC" out in e-book, and e-books really have changed the landscape. But it was my gain to put "TOC" out in e-book myself, right? I get a much larger payout doing indie than through a publisher.

Is independent publishing for everyone? Of course not. It works for me at this time because of several reasons. The main one is that I'm a freelance writer and editor. I work from home. I have the time and motivation to do this. If I'm teaching next year, who knows.

So anyway that's my first brush with indie publishing! :-)


1 comment:

8bits said...

My whole family laughed at that "fan fic" story.