September 6, 2012

Diary of an Indie Writer - Step 1

Me, an Indie Writer?  It wasn’t something I had even considered before last year. In fact, if anyone had told me just twelve months ago that I would independently publish my novel The Universe is a Very Big Place, I would have shook my head, laughed, and dismissed them as one pepperoni shy of a full pizza. Self-publishing, at least in my head, was still stigmatized, regulated to those who weren’t good enough to be paid for their work; an army of untalented keyboard peckers who produced pages of nothing but typos and gibberish. Even the term ‘self-publishing’ sounded dirty, like those who participated in this particular activity would go blind or come down with some disease they’d have to treat with online pharmaceuticals.  A real writer, like me, would rather starve to death in some shack waiting for her ‘big break’ than to risk the public humiliation of ‘self-publishing’. I had an ego to maintain. I couldn’t be caught doing something like that. Not in public anyway. Not under my real name. At least that’s what I thought anyways. Back then.

I can’t recall the exact moment when my view on self-publishing changed. I do know that it wasn’t a quick lightning strike to the psyche that awakened me, but a gradual slide in my decade-long publishing consciousness. It began when a good friend of mine – who had been trying to land a publishing deal for years – finally got fed up with the whole system. She was a great writer but her books were too different from what was currently being published. They weren’t quite sci-fi enough, romancey enough,  vampirey enough. They were too…unique, and therefore, too risky.

She didn’t let this get her down and I watched, sometimes with one hand over my eyes, as she took the self-publishing leap. She placed her books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  I marveled that somehow, the wheels that move the literary world kept turning. She wasn’t mocked, teased, or forced to testify on Judge Judy. In fact, in the vast internet universe she found her audience and they not only accepted her uniqueness, they appreciated it. She’s a cult hero now, at least in some segments of the world. And I hear they have erected some three-headed idol of her somewhere in the South Pacific.

My second paradigm shift occurred at a writer’s conference last summer. It is an annual event and just two years ago I had pitched my manuscript to several agents who were in attendance. I had some success and several of the agents agreed to represent me, contingent upon a few, small, necessary changes in the novel. Deepen the characters. Remove twenty thousand words. Add thirty thousand words. Take all the pages, throw them up in the air, see how they land, and leave them in that order. Every suggestion differed from the last, and though I tried to incorporate many of them (and admittedly some did improve my book) I started to feel like the main theme– finding love twice in one lifetime – had been lost.

It took a good deal of time and distance to find my way back to my original story, and when I felt like I had, I presented it to the agent who had been my biggest supporter. “I don’t take on clients anymore,” she said, as I shoved my sparkling new manuscript in her direction, “I only advise people on how to independently publish now.” She let me know that ‘everybody is doing it’ and left me staring open-mouthed as she sauntered down the corridor to present to a standing room only audience on the joys of formatting mobi files.

What finally sold me on self-publishing, however, was that as I continued to search for agents and publishers  I began to notice that they expected the authors they represented, especially new authors, to do a majority of the work themselves. While they may take my manuscript, turn it into a beautiful book, and get it into book stores, they expected me to do most of the PR alone. Many even have a form you fill out on their website prior to submitting:  Do you tweet? Facebook? Have a website? Can you pimp yourself out to the media? No? Well, move along, nothing to publish here.

Heck, I thought.  Finding someone to represent my work was a lot like looking for someone to have a one night stand with: too much work for something I could just as easily do myself (at home). I had a revelation. I didn’t need anyone. I could publish the type of book I wanted to publish, the way I wanted to publish it, find it an audience, and a home. If everybody really was doing it, why not me?

And so I made the decision to do it alone. But as I discovered, I wasn’t alone. There were whole communities out there, talented people who were making a go of it themselves, and I met some amazing people who helped me every step of the way.

I forgot to mention one other reason I did it, and it may be the biggest reason of all. Why? Because it appeals to my big, writer’s ego. It’s not called self-publishing anymore. It’s called Indie publishing. How cool is that? It makes me want to put on a leather jacket, some dark glasses, and go find a coffee house somewhere I can churn out more novels. Yeah. I’m cool. I’m an Indie Writer. You got a problem with that?

originally published at

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