Monday, July 2, 2012

To Indie or Not to Indie--That is the Question--by Linda P. Kozar

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of the light on the glass."
—Anton Chekov
Chekov was an extraordinary writer. Maybe you are too. It is estimated that over 80% of Americans want to write a book, which means that either you or someone next to you falls into that category.
But wherever you are in your writing journey, you will eventually have a desire to get it published. And that’s a whole different journey.
There are two basic kinds of publishing: traditional and self, also known as “Indie” short for independent publishing.
The difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is simple. Self-publishing, you pay them and traditional, they pay you.
Traditional publishing
In traditional publishing, the author writes a manuscript, then generates a one-page query letter which will be sent most often via email when invited to do so by the editor. Basically a query letter is a hook to capture the interest of a pub house. If the editor likes your hook, they will request to see the proposal, again via email attachment. The proposal is a basic business proposal every aspiring author has to learn to write and perfect. It details why they should buy your book, does market comparisons, includes your bio, experience, social networking info, and includes the first 3 chapters of your book. A non-fiction work does not have to be complete before you begin this process. BUT a fiction work must be complete. 

NOTE: If you are an unpublished author, it is better to offer completed works. I've heard of some editors who awarded contracts to people with promising premises, only to be disappointed when the aspiring author failed to produce a product.

The bad news is, a lot of pub houses no longer accept unsolicited submissions. Instead, they like dealing with literary agents, who screen and send suitable clients to them--clients with products tailored to the needs of their publishing house. However, if you attend writer’s conferences, you are allotted 15 minutes with several editors and agents and if they like your pitch, they will invite you to send your MS to them. They will usually give you a card with their email address. The work of an author who receives that golden ticket is considered “solicited.”

Finding an agent is as difficult as finding a publishing house willing to take a chance on you. I’ve had three agents. I met all three of them at writer's conferences.

The first one shall remain nameless. This individual didn’t really try to sell my work. The emails this agent did send out were filled with errors and misspellings. I opted out of our contract.

I got my first two fiction contracts without benefit of an agent. And believe me, I invested as much time in prayer as I did in writing to get those contracts!

The second agent was like a breath of fresh air after my first experience. This agent sent my work off and copied me on each response, a practice I appreciated as a client. One of the responses was a yes (with a lot of help from God) and we scored a contract. 

But the third agent was always my "dream agent," the one I always wanted. This agent is a career builder with the big picture in mind. I like that. No--I love that.

An agent submits proposals and manuscripts to a publishing house. An editor reads and, considers whether the work is right for the house, and decides either to accept or reject it, leaving the author free to offer it to another publisher. If the house decides to publish the book, the house buys the rights from the writer and pays him or her an advance on future royalties. The house puts up the money to design and package the book, prints as many copies of the book as it thinks will sell, markets the book, and finally distributes the finished product to the public.

The process is a bit different for self-publishing. An author who decides to self-publish basically becomes the publisher. The author must proofread the final text and provide the funds required to publish the book, as well as the camera-ready artwork. The author is responsible for marketing and distributing the book, filling orders, and running advertising campaigns. In the past, the author had to decide on the number of copies to print, sometimes resulting in stacks of unsold books gathering dust in the garage. Fortunately, the Print on Demand (POD) technology now used by some self-publishing companies means that authors can have fewer copies printed—only as many as they need, in fact.

Upsides and Downsides:

*Usually the process to get that first book published is slow as molasses, but many people don’t want to wait that long. They want their book published now. But I can tell you from experience there is purpose in the process. During that waiting period, a good writer will hone their skills and keep learning and most importantly, keep editing their work. They will learn about proper use of tenses, POV changes, and good grammar skills. I know writers who self-published and thought they had a finished work when in fact, their writing still needed work. 

*Money—lots of money average $10,000 for a professional product and then you have to charge $15-20 per book (sometimes less) to try and earn out your investment. But people aren’t used to paying that kind of money for a book—especially when they can go to the bookstore and maybe find a similar book for $7.95.

That said, if you go through a reputable house to self-pub your book, go all the way. Pay for good editing. Pay for an artist to do a fabulous cover and for quality paper too.

If you have a large speaking platform as some people do, then Indie Pubbing might be the way to go. You can sell your books when you speak and on your website and other internet sources.

*Exposure—Many bookstores will not carry your indie book. Why? Most of the books in this country are routed from pub houses through two major distributors to bookstores. That’s where they order them from. And there are return policies. Many books are on the shelves for an average of 2 weeks and then sent back. Book stores do not buy books. They sort of rent them, gambling on the possible success of your book. If it sells and they make a profit, fine. If not, they remove it from the shelf and take a gamble on someone else’s book. Depending on the store, they might not want to take a chance on you.

*Control—the publishing house does have control when you sell them a book but that is mostly a good thing. They know from experience what works and what doesn’t. They know what sells. When they edit your work, when they cut scenes and paragraphs you consider to be important, sometimes that can be heartbreaking. But it's up to you as an author to stand up for the things you consider non-negotiable and let the rest slide.  An author has to develop a tough skin when it comes to editing. In retospect, the dicing and slicing an editor does is more often than not for the best. You wouldn't want to lose a contract because you’re so bull-headed and egotistical that you can’t submit to change. At the same time, you don't want to be so namby-pamby that you'll allow every change without question.

The publishing house wants your book to be a huge success. Keep that in mind. It doesn’t do your editor any good to pick a loser. 

A definite upside of Indie Publishing is uploading your MS as an ebook instead of going the print route. The cost is minimal compared with print. The two things I would say are non-negotiable costs are:
  • Hiring a professional book editor to revise/edit your work
  • Hiring an artist to do a book cover
A book uploaded to Kindle will garner an author 70% profit on each book sold. Not too shabby.

Of course, indie authors also have the option of finding and querying publishing houses that specialize in ebooks. Their financial investment is minimal and, if the book sells, these houses offer POD options as well.

The line is blurring between traditional and indie published works. Many traditionally-published authors who have gained the rights back to some of their earlier works are now self-publishing those works in ebook format, and pocketing the profits.

Whether you decide to stay in it for the long haul and go the traditionally-published route, or go indie, be certain you are informed of the benefits and risks. Going indie has financial risks whereas traditional publishing does not. Going indie can bring in more profit.

And the most tangible benefit? There's something quite affirming about a publishing house admiring your work enough to want to buy it from you. The rush an author gets from receiving a publishing contract is priceless.

Biographical Info

Linda Kozar is the co-author of Babes With A Beatitude—Devotions For Smart, Savvy Women of Faith (Hardcover/Ebook, Howard/Simon & Schuster 2009) and author of Misfortune Cookies (Print, Barbour Publishing 2008), Misfortune Cookies, A Tisket, A Casket, and Dead As A Doornail, (“When The Fat Ladies Sing Series,” Ebooks, Spyglass Lane Mysteries, 2012). She received the ACFW Mentor of the Year Award in 2007, founded and served as president of Writers On The Storm, a local ACFW chapter for three years. In 2003, she co-founded, co-directed and later served as Southwest Texas Director of Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband Michael, married 23 years, have two lovely daughters, Katie and Lauren and a Rat Terrier princess named Patches.

Member of: CAN (Christian Authors Network), RWA (Romance Writers of American), WHRWA (West Houston Romance Writers of America), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), Writers On The Storm, The Woodlands, Texas Chapter of ACFW, Toastmasters (Area 56) The Woodlands, Texas. WoodsEdge Community Church, The Woodlands, TX.


  1. Wow! So much great information here, Linda! The whole process of publishing a book, whether traditional or indie, is daunting. With traditional, you have someone backing you with all the tools you need for success - downside? Getting to one. With indie, you have you and all the tools you need for success - downside? The learning curve. I so agree with what you say - good editing and a great cover are the two most important things your book needs. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    ~Nancy Jill Thames
    The Jillian Bradley Mystery Series

  2. Very informative post Linda.

    Debbie Malone
    "Death in Dahlonega"

  3. Great stuff Linda. I could have used this when I first got started.
    Of course I went the Indie e-book way for one specific reason. My books are short, novella length, which is a challenge if you are an unknown author. Traditional publishers usually want a length of at least 60,000 words. Not that I blame them, they take a lot risk, and they know their market. But it is nice that the e-book route is available for us who don't quite fit the mold so to say.

  4. Thanks for that great run down of the two sides of publishing! I find that a tech savvy control freak author with good connections can get a quality product created for far less than the $10,000 number...which is a good thing! But it takes time to find the right people to work with and it still costs money. IN fact, most indies I know spend less than $500 and have truly professional books when they are finished. For me, at least, my books have paid back the initial investments in the first month. (Or less.) However, my bucket list includes getting my business to the place where I can hire the best of the best to do it all for me. I also like the idea of a diverse portfolio with indy books, like C.L.'s that don't fit the traditional model for whatever reason, small press, and even large press if they are interested. : ) Who doesn't want a little piece of all the action? : )