Justine: My Decision to Go Indie

jackrusselIn my long-ago, faraway dreams (reality check: when I started writing in earnest 5 years ago), I had always intended to be traditionally published. In fact, if you looked at my goal wall displayed prominently in my office, the goal right smack in the middle (after writing a good book and before being a bestselling author) was “traditional publication” with logos of some of the big publishing houses. I was always so certain of it…publication, that is, even knowing much of that decision was out of my hands.

Over time, I became a lot less certain. Things started happening…fellow Eight Lady Jeanne won the Golden Heart (which used to be carte blanche in terms of getting an agent/editor), but no one picked her up (she has since decided to go indie. Yay Jeanne!). Last September, I went on a writer’s cruise and the editor expounded on the genres that she couldn’t buy…historicals being one of them. I was unnerved by that, but didn’t let it deter me.

Then I started hearing stories about publishing houses folding. Writers not getting paid. Royalty statements not going out. Writers who had been with agents forever, only to to be told they needed to write something else (as in completely change genres), rewrite their stories into something that wasn’t the author’s vision, or that the agents “just couldn’t sell it.”

April rolled around and I happened to catch a Facebook post about traditional publishers of romance. The author, Marie Force, stated that, based on data from Publisher’s Weekly over the last several months, traditional publishers were not picking up new romance authors, or if they were, they had to come with lots of followers, an established platform, etc. In other words, they had to already be successful as indie authors. That was discouraging.

Then, on tax day (April 15th), my critique partner forwarded me a screen shot of a Tweet by an agent…the agent was accepting new requests for representation, but these were her requirements:

  • 5 comparative titles from the past 5 years
  • A marketing plan
  • A description of your WIP
  • 5 alternate titles for your current WIP

It was the marketing plan that did me in. I’m a writer, not a marketer! Was I mistaken (or delusional) in thinking that the agent was maybe supposed to help me with some of that? If I have to do a marketing plan, then what the heck am I hiring her for?

While the gentle wave of events over the past couple years had me leaning more and more towards indie publication, it was the tsunami in the form of the agent’s tweet that did me in. Forget traditional publication. If I have to do the work marketing my book, I sure as heck wasn’t going to give someone 15%, particularly when royalty rates for trad are already so low. And I didn’t want to wait around for an editor to pick me up, either. I may end up waiting forever.

And so that day, April 15th, a switch flipped inside me. I became an official, soon-to-be indie author.

Because I’m a creature that requires some sort of dangly carrot before me in order to get my butt in gear, one of the first things I did was form an LLC (with me as a 99% owner and my sister as a 1% owner…my husband was a little pissed, but he’s over it now, LOL). There are certain tax disadvantages to that at present (mostly because I have to file separate business taxes rather than simply filing with my personal return), but I had already been writing off expenses for several years, plus if I ever get to the point of making money hand over fist (channeling positive financial energy here), it will be much easier for me to convert my LLC to an S-corp from a tax perspective.

There is something both enterprising and terrifying about owning a business. I’ve created this legal entity – not just a backyard, home-grown thing to making deducting expenses fly lower under the IRS’s radar, but a state-registered LLC with a separate tax ID and taxes to pay (when I make money) – and I can’t just let the writing thing go if/when I’m having a bad day or think “this is never going to work.” I have to make it work, which is why I set it up the way I did.

In GMC terms, if publication is my goal, then my LLC is the motivation. The dangly carrot.

Deciding to self-publish has definitely pushed me forward fast. In the span of a month, I’ve created a new brand for myself, redesigned my website (adding newsletter sign-up and prepping it for sales of my future books by moving it over to a self-hosted server…however it’s not ready to go live yet), hired an editor and a cover designer, come up with the book names for my series, and created a tentative business plan, complete with a very aggressive publication schedule. Oh, and worked on the book, of course. Not necessarily in that order.

As for my goal wall, it needs to change. Take out the traditional publication part and add in some specific indie-related goals, like getting one sale on every platform, or creating my first audio book, or putting out two+ books a year, or reaching a particular sales volume. If you have suggestions, I’ll take them in the comments below.

My mother recently asked me if I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be traditionally published, and my answer was an unequivocal “No!” My primary reason? It doesn’t have much to do with profits or royalties. It’s about control. It is being able to tell people who ask “are you published yet?” – I think most unpublished writers hate that question – that no, I’m not yet, but my first book will be out in early 2019. Because it’s all in my hands now, for good or bad.

However, I’m channeling the good.

8 thoughts on “Justine: My Decision to Go Indie

  1. Good for you for assessing the available data and changing your mind, Justine! The indie/trad routes don’t have to be either/or, though. If you’re at a conference and an editor is taking pitches, well, why not? Many authors thrive on the hybrid approach.

    I myself would never go indie if any traditional house ever picked me up, which a couple did in small ways but not enough. What I like about writing is the writing, not the marketing, as you point out. But if one wants to get one’s books out there, there’s not much room these days for newcomers, as we’ve all come to learn to our dismay.

    • I’m not sure I have it in me to pitch, but I certainly wouldn’t object to some sort of hybrid scheme. I think what my decision boils down to is that I am not going to pursue/wait on/pitch to the trad world anymore. If they come knocking on my door in a few years’ time, that’s a completely different story.

  2. What Kay said: good for you, Justine! And look forward to hearing about your progress with your LLC, branding, website, newsletter, editor, cover designer, and the books themselves 🙂

    I’m also going indie, at least for now, for two reasons: I don’t think what I write is mainstream enough for trad pub, and I’m not a fast writer. I’m not looking forward to the marketing, but as you saw, that seems to be expected of all authors nowadays, be they trad, indie or hybrid.

    Of course, if I turn out to be a raging success and somebody wants to sign me up, I’d be more than willing to dictate future novels from a cerise satin fainting couch, powered by rose champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries. If the universe is listening, I could totally do that 😉

    • I am sure I’m going through all the same stuff Jeanne is going through. ISBNs, when to pre-sell, KU or wide…all decisions that have to be made/things to be done. She seems to have a much better plan than me (not to mention some finished books, which helps), but I’m working on it.

      I think it’s great that you know your market and your own writing limitations. I can tell you that I am somewhat terrified of putting out multiple books a year, just given the busyness with the kids and my husband’s exhausting travel schedule, but it’s kind of necessary in order to gain market traction, especially at first. Some authors advocate waiting until you have a couple books in the hopper, ready to go, before hitting the publish button, but I’ve dragged this cart for too long and my husband is getting somewhat antsy for me to do SOMETHING. I am, too. I need to get this first book done and laid to rest so I can work on the rest.

      I hope you are so wildly popular that you get to dictate your books. 🙂 That we should all be so fortunate.

  3. What did it for me was when Passive Guy, the lawyer-cum-publishing-industry-watcher, said an author would have to be “innumerate” (the math version of illiterate) to go traditional these days. Publishers don’t have much money to spend on marketing and they have complete control over your cover, your pricing and, to a certain extent, even your story. I’m way too much of a control freak to cede that much control in return for such limited payback.

    As a side note, I am looking at publishing my small town romances traditionally, mostly because I’ve invested a significant amount of money getting the first three demon books to market and I’m trying to manage my up-front costs.

    • I love The Passive Guy. I think he’s right about “innumerate.” He posted something recently about how the publishers got themselves in trouble when the ebook market hit by not embracing it and sticking to paper instead.

      I’m a bit of a control freak…okay, a lot of a control freak. My biggest thing is making sure everything is historically accurate, and that isn’t necessarily something that is of importance on book covers. Content? Yes. But I want my covers to be accurate, as well. I don’t want someone wearing a 20th century prom gown with 20th century hair gracing my covers. Of course, that means I’ll probably be reusing a couple I’ve seen 100 times on other book covers, but oh well. It’s what I can do.

      Good luck getting the small town romances published. Keep us apprised of your success with that. I’m sure it’ll happen.

  4. It’s so nice that we have choices these days! I’ve been looking into the marketing part of writing since college (possibly high school?) — back in those days, one picked up a copy of Writer’s Digest and poured over the fine print in the back, dreaming of the markets that might fit one’s own writing. It’s always been hard to break in, and I think the computer revolution has made it easier for people to dash off a novel and try to make it in. So, the competition might be even fiercer now than it was.

    I’m actually feeling a little bit more optimistic about traditional publishing — I’ve found a couple of magazines that might be good homes for the sort of thing I write. Of course, I’d be extremely lucky if I placed one story a year at a place, but it’s better than looking at Analog and thinking, “Oh, there’s no way they’d want what I write.”

  5. Pingback: Jilly: Taking the Long View – Eight Ladies Writing

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