The State Of Indie Publishing

So there’ve been big doings in the indie publishing world in the last week.  Barry Eisler turned down a half million dollar deal with legacy publishers, choosing to self-publish instead. Another traditionalist defects. And the indie world cheered.

Amanda Hocking accepted a $2 million deal with legacy publishers for a four book series. And the indie publishing world is FLIPPING OUT.  Holy schnikes, Batman, what is UP with all the cries of SELLOUT?  I am really pretty ashamed of the vitriol some members of the indie community have spewed Amanda’s way.

Here’s the thing, people.  Amanda never set out to be the darling of the indie community.  We put her there. She did not set out expecting to make millions.  All she did was write a bunch of books and make the brave step to put them out there, hoping to make some strides toward making a living so that she could quit her crappy job (a job I know full well is crappy because it’s the same one I had when I first got out of college, before grad school).  So the fact that she has to justify taking a $2 million advance (which she does with considerably more grace and poise than most of us could manage) is positively ludicrous.

This backlash against her is a sign of the sordid underbelly of the indie publishing movement. Because out there are a lot of people who are under the misguided impression that the indie publishing movement is some kind of mass rising against The Man (legacy publishing)–as if it’s a formal revolution and anybody who does anything else is a defector to the wrong side.

Is legacy publishing broken? Hell yes.  I’ve said it often enough, and I believe that they are struggling to prop up an antiquated business model with practices that are going to sink a lot of them before things truly change.  That is part of why I, and many others, chose the indie path.

But here’s the thing about the indie publishing movement.  Everybody has different motives for doing it. Some don’t want to deal with the stress of the query system.  Some have work that doesn’t fit the mold of what publishers find acceptable.  Some don’t want to give up creative control over things like cover art.  Some even WANT to BE publishers themselves to have total control over every aspect.  The only guaranteed commonality we all have is that we want to make a living doing what we love–writing.  This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  So to treat it as such and criticize someone for making a choice that’s different from yours is not only rude, it’s stupid (and I challenge anybody to turn down $2 million–that’s more than 99.99% of the population will ever see in their lifetime).

There have been people who’ve been kind enough to say I’m an inspiration and a role model. I can’t tell you how flattered and humbled I am by that.  I would hope that the example I’m setting is one of professionalism, high quality work, and paying it forward.  These are the things I strive for, the things that I believe are really important.  These are the things that helped me land an agent, even though I wasn’t looking.  They are the things that have helped move me along the path closer to my end goal of making a living as a writer.

But I want to make it very clear that I am not eschewing legacy publishing in totality. I have an agent who is very eager to shop my work and use my indie success to nail me a bigger advance and more favorable contract terms.  She is also very supportive of me continuing to pursue indie publishing projects.  In short, I will ultimately be both indie AND traditionally published because I believe that is the best means to achieve my ultimate end of quitting both my evil day jobs and writing professionally.

I don’t want to catch that same backlash when I announce future traditional deals, so I’m stating it plainly now.  My accepting a traditional deal in no way undermines what I’ve done as an indie author. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the indie movement or that I will stop putting out work on my own.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop supporting others who choose the indie path.  It will mean that for some of my work a publisher will do a lot of the stuff I have zero desire to do myself–editing, copy editing, layout, some of the marketing, etc.  That leaves me more time to do what I want: WRITE.  Because I don’t WANT to be a publisher.  I want to be a writer.

We are in the midst of a massive paradigm shift in publishing.  There’s no way to know how things will ultimately turn out, except that I believe it will place the author into a position of greater power.  The best thing for all of us to do is to use good business sense and take the path that gets us closer to our goals.  That path will be different for everyone, and it’s our job as professionals to respect that, congratulate our colleagues on their successes, and continue on our own journey–even if it’s a different one.

35 thoughts on “The State Of Indie Publishing

  1. THANK YOU! Dude. what is wrong with people? I want to smack some people sometimes. Amanda doesn’t have to explain crap to anybody. She doesn’t exist for every indie’s personal validation. And neither do you or I or any other indie out there. We’re all on the path we want to be on for our own personal reasons. For some indie is a “means to an end” for others it IS the goal. I’m not sure why people are acting like this is some genuine “war” where you have to pick and be loyal to a side.

  2. Awesome post, Kait! I cannot agree with you more. Every author works very hard at what they do and they should be able to choose their own path without receiving any flack from others. Kudos to Amanda for doing what she believes is right for her! And congrats to you on finding an agent!

  3. I think it’s great she’s gotten what she wants, and still wants to continue self-publishing some works.

    Best of both worlds.

    Might not be something everyone wants for themselves, but for those who do, Amanda’s deal means that it’s totally possible.

    Just like her success with self-publishing means the same to those of us who don’t want a traditional publishing deal.

    Way to smack the haters down, Kait! =)

  4. Great post! I was as shocked as you at the indie response to Amanda Hocking’s decision. I was cheering for her, yet curious. I wondered what made her take a traditional contract when she was doing so well as an indie. The explanation she gave made sense. It was something that I had considered. I’m self-publishing two novels in the next few months because I think they fit into a indie model better and I hope they support my continued work as a writer.

    However, I think that some work is better suited for traditional publishing. I have another novel that I will shop through traditional routes.

    We are all trying to navigate through unfamiliar waters. For those who are good writers, I think that a mixed model will help us to launch our careers in indie and then take those careers to larger or just different markets through legacy publishers. Publishers should also embrace a model that will let the market decide which authors are doing well enough as an indie to be taken on by the legacy publishers into broader markets.

    It seems to me that we should all be excited at the new opportunities offered by the wider variety of publishing options and not try to pigeon-hole ourselves as just one type.

    1. I think there has been some backlash (not just against her but in general) because many are so frustrated with the broken traditional system that they want to see it fully overturned, rather than adapted.

  5. You are so right! We all want the paradigm to shift, that’s why we’re doing this, but we also just want our stuff out in the world, and need to make enough to support our habit. I consider Amanda a success story, but I think that I understand what is upsetting some; the new York times article on her contract actually said “traditional publishers feel vindicated” when it was quite clear they wanted in on a good thing and Amanda wanted her foot into another market. No vindication, just progress. The biased press coverage kinda puts Indie down, which raises my heckles a bit.

    In any case, go Amanda!

  6. Congratulations to Amanda Hocking first of all, and to you Kait, you are certainly my main source of guidance and inspiration when it comes to my writing and promotions. Along with LM Stull you have been my guiding light and for that I say thank you.

  7. Very interesting post. In the final analysis, it’s what fits for you in the current situation that you find yourself. Lack of flexible thinking kills publishers, authors, distributors, even armies.

  8. I agree with you 100%! I wrote a similar post today – How much does the self vs. traditional publishing debate matter?

    You’re right in that a lot of the “sell out” backlash against Amanda seems to be because of the idea that self publishing is a “movement” – or as I called it in my post, like a religion. But there’s no one right answer for every story and author.

      1. Ah. That clears things up a bit, then. Thanks, Kait.

        …I honestly can’t believe other authors would have the gall to email her to tell her her business decision suck for all of us. WHAT? D: That doesn’t even make sense. Logic: does not compute.

  9. I look at indie publishing as a way to show the trad publishing industry just what an author has and what they can do for themselves, kind of like a “try before you buy” with little risk to them and, actually, little risk–even financially–to the authors.

    Amanda Hocking’s success without trad publishing generated her success in breaking into trad publishing. We’d all do well to make note of that. She’s proof positive that you can boldly walk up to the back door of the industry and bang on it, and gain entrance.

    1. And that’s exactly what it is for a LOT of us (myself included). I think there’s a strong possibility that it will become the more common model…instead of wasting our time querying constantly and getting rejections, we back up our offers with good sales numbers and reviews and have them come to us.

  10. “The only guaranteed commonality we all have is that we want to make a living doing what we love–writing.”

    I’m not even sure THAT’S universally true, to be honest. Some people I’ve read are apparently doing this without much (enough?) financial consideration.

    I saw some of the comments on Amanda’s blog, and they were pretty stupid, but I must have missed the original backlash, because all I see is the backlash against the backlash at Hocking. Does that makes sense? LOL. I saw one post saying that she was making a mistake. I saw another worrying about her going in with both eyes open… but that’s two. Just two. I scrolled through Google Blogs and mostly saw internet marketers looking agog, not bitter self-publishers wishing she’d fail.

    Could someone please link me to the scores of authors crying that she has deserted us? <–This is NOT sarcasm. I'm genuinely bewildered.

    When I looked at her blog posts, she sounded perfectly reasonable, and I hoped everyone could just wish her the best of luck. It's her own damn business what she does. However, I think it's also important to remember that not all of the commenters on Amanda's blog are authors. I'm sure some of them are, but I have no idea how much. Is there a backlash among the Twitterati? the Technorati? the Literati? (I suspect not, considering some of them hate self-publishers…)

    I guess this is another sign that I'm out of the loop – or not on Twitter enough, because I'm one of the few people who are bad at writing and tweeting simultaneously – that I end up seeing only the pushback on the outrage rather than the outrage itself, but it kind of starts to wear on me (not because of you Kait! This is a general trend.) when I see posts claiming that the Internetz Has Said This, and It Is WRONG! StupidCakes!!!!1!1111!1 when it's difficult to find any evidence that the Internetz has ever said such things.

    I'm just…confused? I guess?

    Anyway, I'm surprised if people are reacting that way, because she's detailed on her blog all the previous attempts to be NY published before, and it doesn't seem like such a stretch to want to use some leverage to land a good deal, which is exactly what she did. Good for her!

    1. Much of the backlash I’ve seen was in Twitter convos and in assorted blog comments rather than full posts on the topic, but I’ve been out of town and on the periphery via iPhone for a week.

  11. Thank you, Kait. It’s always nice to hear a smart, level-headed approach to things and you always manage to deliver that in your posts. The fact that people are shaming someone for making her own decision is just ridiculous. Let’s see someone wave two million dollars in front of their noses and see what they say then.

  12. A very interesting post 🙂 I also think it’s a bit silly for people to be attacking Amanda Hocking; I mean, if I were pottering along as an Indie author and then some big publisher waved two mil in front of my nose, I’d be all like “sign me up, biatches”. At the end of the day, SHE wrote the books, so it’s her decision whether she wants to try for traditional publishing or continue going through the Indie route. When I finally manage to finish a book, I’ll be trying to get it published through a traditional publishing house first, but if I can’t, I’ll take the Indie route as well, in the hopes that a traditional publisher may see it and publish my next novel 😀

  13. I completely agree. So many of the things you’ve said here are exactly what I’ve been thinking, especially the idea that this paradigm shift in publishing is bound to make things better for all authors.

  14. Nothing against Amanda Hocking. You are right, she didn’t set herself up as the darling of the Indie world. But, what she went through was what most Indie writers have gone through — submitting to the Big Publishers and getting rejected. Repeatedly.

    Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Amanda Hocking went on to great success using the Indie route. She put in a lot of work and I really admire her for that. It wasn’t just some overnight success story, even if it seems that way. So, the Indie world created her success and lauded her triumphs of writing.

    Now, the Big Publishers want her because of … yep, her Indie success. They rejected her unknown status and now only want her because she is a “known” seller of books.

    And *that* is the sellout to the Indie world. It could be any Indie-created bestselling author, but for now, it just so happens that Amanda Hocking has stepped into that trap. The Big Publishers want in on the success that is Indie Amanda Hocking. They want to feed off of the wellspring of Indie made success. Do you see where the Indie world is upset over that? Is it right? Is it justified? What do you think?

    Personally, I think all Amanda Hocking wanted to do was write books and she used the only venue available to her — Self Publishing. Good for her. She sold lots of books. Again, good for her. I hope she sells lots more. But, I don’t think the Big Publishers have changed their business model at all. They’re still only looking for what they think sells, which means they are missing out on the entire Self Publishing world and all the money that goes with it. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have changed their business model, accepted self publishing, and are raking in millions from it.

    Not only that, but the Old Guard that is the Big Publishers aren’t there for writers. They are only there to make money as a business. On the flip side, the Indie Self Publishing world is made up of writers focusing on writers and writing. They are there for each other. And if you’re a successful writer by the Self Publishing Indie world, then when you accept a deal from the Old Guard Big Publishers that turned you down in the first place … it can be viewed like you are turning your back on those that made you a success for greedy corporate shareholders.

    So, in a sense, yeah, I think the backlash is justified.


    1. At the end of the day publishing, whether self or traditional, is a business. Businesses must make profit or they fail. End of story. I certainly think that traditional publishing’s business model is antiquated, but at the end of the day, they still have to be able to make money to run said business, pay employees, overhead, etc. Certainly their Manhattan headquarters are a costly form of overhead that could be avoided with relocation, but either way it’s ridiculous to criticize a company for wanting to make a profit and to take the route with the lowest risk to get there. And if you really want to get technical, it was not the indie world that made Amanda a success–it was READERS. There are far more of THOSE than indie authors, and I wager most of them don’t give a damn whether she is indie or traditional. So Amanda is not turning her back on the people who made her a success. She is making a business decision that will expand her distribution and enable more of those who DID make her successful (READERS) access to her books.

  15. Mark, it seems like you’re saying because Amanda succeeded as an indie, that she owes something to the indie movement, as it were. And I just don’t get that. She wrote some books that readers really enjoyed, talked about, bought more. She wrote a lot of them. She did the work. Amanda’s success wasn’t made by her fellow indies, she made it herself.

    Now, I don’t pretend to know her well at all or to follow everything she does, so perhaps I’m missing things. I, personally, haven’t seen her ask a whole of others. When Kait says she didn’t ask to be made the darling of the indie world, I think part of what she means is that Amanda didn’t ask for the free promo she got as every indie and their brother held her up as proof of their own legitimacy. If that helped her along, she doesn’t owe anyone for that any more than Angelina Jolie owes the tabloids a right to meddle in her decisions.

    So no, I don’t think it’s justified to talk smack about her and throw the name sell-out at her. I think it’s ugly and doesn’t show the indie community in a favorable light at all.

    Amanda wanted to be a paid author. She is. If your goal is revolutionize publishing, great. Good luck with that. But don’t put that on her. That’s not fair.

  16. Personally, I like the self-publishing route. It gives us, writers, more options. Amanda Hocking had gone traditional? Good for her! The thing is, Indie publishing gave her another option that she never have before. Now that it’s easy to self-publish and to reach out millions of people, we have more options than ever.

    We shouldn’t think traditional vs. indie. We think of both as options 1 and 2.

  17. I’m just now reading this because of all the crazy stuff that’s happened in the last week, but I wanted to comment on such an awesome post. I wish you luck however you choose to publish. Forget about all the naysayers. I think we should just be authors, whether traditionally published or indie published. I like the stance Zoe has taken lately. She wants to be an author. Period. And it sounds like you feel the same way.

    One of the things I do like about being indie is that it’s MY business. I get to do spreadsheets and figure out expenses and income, etc. I love that. LOL. And I do my own taxes. :0)

  18. I wish you good luck and success in whatever path you choose. The ultimate goal is to write, irregardless of how it gets out there. I applaud you on this post. We should not be taking down any of our fellow writers…traditionally published / indie published / self-published…we are all writers and the only thing that should count is The Story and The Characters.
    Great Post.

  19. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to let you know I enjoyed it, and it’s a good outlook on what all is happening, and continues to happen. There is no one-size-fits-all, and everyone should make their own path without being condemned by anyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.