There was a report recently spearheaded by an author named Hugh Howey that caused quite a stir amongst the publishing community. The report can be found at AuthorEarnings.com (if it doesn't work, try again later. The server has been crashing so many people have been looking at it.) It is meant to be a tool for authors to be able to make an informed decision about their publishing career.
I am a proudly hybrid author with titles both traditionally and independently published. Both directions have done very, very well for me. Michael Bunker, one of the authors I was privileged to share the insides of a cover with in From the Indie Side, wrote a fabulous blog post about the realities of what new authors are up against in the traditionally published world and how the "choice" between trad pub or indie pub is a bit of an illusion.
I was living in Hollywood during the YouTube revolution. I had friends who were making projects that the studios were gobbling up. Options and deals and money were thrown their way. Some of these projects went on to create the fabric of nerd culture. And some faded into obscurity. But you know what? None of these projects would have been made if the creators had waited for the traditional studio system to anoint them with The Green Light.
I find my journey in the publishing world to be very similar to that YouTube revolution, except for the first time in my life I just happened to be at the right place at the right time instead of two years behind the curve.
I started writing my first book, The Woodcutter, in 2004. This was before Grimm or Once Upon a Time or Red Riding Hood or Snow White and the Huntsman. Horror was the genre de jour and I couldn't get a single agent or publisher interested in my book. I submitted it for five years and no one would touch it. I hired an editor to whip it into shape and she loved it so much, she personally recommended it to her friends and editors at some of the Big Six publishing houses... and my manuscript couldn't get past the slush pile.
What killed me was that this was a really great story. I knew it in my bones. I would see the file sitting on my hard drive and it physically hurt to think that this book would die on my computer, that no one would meet this hero who had presented himself to me on the page.
And then one day, a fateful email arrived in my mailbox saying that if I wanted to be a published author, all I had to do was upload my manuscript.
I sat there looking at that page. It had been nine months since I had submitted my book to The Big Six, but what if I published and then they called? (btw, they never did) What if I was destroying my chances? What if? What if? What if?
But sometimes it is important to look at the reality around you and stop waiting for someone to tell you that you are good enough. Sometimes you have to just make that decision for yourself.
So I published my book. And the beginning was rough. The first month, I sold 24 copies. The next month, I sold eight. This is normal. Please, if you are considering going into indie publishing, know that it is normal to sell less than a book a day at the beginning.
But I kept at it. I started hanging out in the Writers Cafe on Kboards. I started researching and advertising. But most importantly, I started writing another book. And when I released that second book, my sales on both projects doubled. When I released my third book, sales on all projects tripled. I participated in some golden promotions that brought my Woodcutter book to the attention of my wonderful publishers at 47North (Amazon's Sci-Fi/Fantasy imprint, which is a publisher that treats its authors with great respect and care). They approached me, which was unheard of in my view of the world. That opportunity leapfrogged my career and took it to a whole new level with new opportunities. And I would not be where I am today without them.
On the indie side, my Maggie series gained the attention of a producer who, again, approached me and the series was optioned for film and television development. I was invited to participate in a boxed set with other indie authors that hit the USA Today bestseller list and outsold my entire publishing career in three months.
My first year, I sold about 350 copies of all of my books over 12 months. This is my third year and I sold over 135,000 copies.
But what it all comes down to is that one decision. Would I spend another six months to submit The Woodcutter to an agent or would I self publish it through this little known technology called a Kindle or a Nook?
If the best case scenario would have happened, I would have submitted to an agent (six months), who would have submitted it to a publisher (six months), who would have presented a contract (three months), and gone through the editing and publishing process (one year), and nearly two and a half years later, I would have had my book published. Best case scenario, I would have been published early 2013 instead of when I did in the fall of 2010. There would have been no Maggie. No Mab. No O'Hare. No 47North. No Dead Man. No Krampus. I would not have been invited to participate with Indie royalty in From the Indie Side. I would not have learned the lesson that I needed to write more to succeed. I would have placed all my hopes and dreams on the success of one book. I would probably be sitting in my cubicle still. I would have missed the revolution.
But because of one decision, I have a career.
I don't submit to traditional publishers anymore. I don't submit to studios. I don't do anything anymore except focus on creating the best stories I can possibly tell, and for whatever reason, this seems to resonate with people. And I think perhaps because I try not to be a jerk, folks usually don't mind inviting me to join them on awesomeness.
So as the broohaha continues over traditionally publishing vs. indie publishing, I just thought I would share my experience. Your mileage may vary. Is indie publishing a risk? Sure. But you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Please know that you can be both indie and traditionally published. One does not exclude the other. Both are great. Just, please, stop waiting for someone else to fix your life. This is yours. It is the only one you have got. Take a chance.