Sacrifices Indie Authors Make (and why they’re worth it)

This is another one of those “things I wish I’d been told earlier” posts, so buckle up.

First, a bit of backstory. Yes, I queried traditionally before deciding to self-publish. No, indie was not a “last resort”.

I only queried briefly before taking a step back, reviewing the feedback I was receiving, and deciding my book didn’t fit a traditional marketing niche. I’ve heard of bestselling books that racked up 50 or even 100 rejections before connecting with an agent.

I could have kept trying. So why did I stop querying?

After rejection #20 or so, I took a really hard look at my manuscript and the option of self-publishing. I was just beginning to realize all the intricacies involved in traditional publishing such as going out on submission, the lengthiness of the process, and the possibility of getting saddled with a cover I disliked. I wanted to explore all my options.

In the end, I decided that even though self-publishing would be an extraordinarily hard path, the benefits appealed to me. But there were a few things I wasn’t fully prepared for, and that’s what I’ll discuss today. Starting with…

1. You need to become a businessperson.

You will need to decide things like:

  • Can I create a publishing imprint in my state (sorry, my experience is limited to the US) without creating an LLC or filing extra tax paperwork?
  • How do I file said taxes? Will I need to hire an accountant to file for me instead of using a free online program?
  • What counts as a business expense, and how do I keep track of those?

It’s a lot to handle if you’re not a logistics or numbers-minded person.

2. You will also become your own marketing agency.

You’ll have to promo your book like crazy just to carve out a tiny niche in the market. This includes:

  • Making marketing graphics. Companies like BookBrush can help streamline the process, but it’s still a lot of work.
  • Building a platform on Twitter, Instagram, or similar social media. You will spend a LOT of time networking.
  • Researching ads, keywords, and search engine optimization (SEO)
  • And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

3. $$$

This is the ugly truth no one wants to talk about. While you absolutely can self-publish well with minimal financial investment on platforms like Amazon KDP, it takes a very wide skill set and an awful lot of research to do it yourself. Cover design? Better take some courses, or read up on design principles and study covers in your genre. Marketing? You’ll need to bust your butt building that platform like I mentioned above.

I’m lucky enough to have some disposable income. Not a lot, but enough that I was previously able to travel and attend one big fandom convention a year, as well as making a cosplay or two for it.

In 2019, I’m not attending any cons nor making any costumes. That entire budget is funneled into my book. My nail polish habit? No new purchases. I ceased buying video games. Everything went into the book. Cover art. Buying my own ISBNs. Promo swag. Boxes and shipping for ARCs. The ARC printing.

I’ll be extraordinarily lucky to break even on my first novel, but that’s okay. I’m playing a long game, and it was also more important to have my book out in the world.

4. You might have to give up on seeing your book in brick-and-mortar stores.

This is the one that still stings. My book will never be in a Barnes and Noble, or even a local indie bookstore. And it hurts.

Why? Money and math.

Bear with me, this is gonna get nerdy.

Nearly all bookstores (even indies, and definitely Barnes and Noble) require a 55% wholesale discount. Distributors like IngramSpark allow you to set your own discount within a certain range, which means you can choose 55%.

However, this means your book will need to have a higher retail price in order for you to break even, much less make a profit. Due to the number of pages, my book costs $6.23 in printing cost for a paperback. If I give the retailer 55%, that means my book needs to be at least $13.84 just for me to make $0.00 on the sale. If I want any profit at all, I have to go even higher than that.

It’s a risk. Pricing a debut novel at $15 for a paperback is a tricky proposition.

However, online retailers will take a cut as low as 30%. That means I can lower my book’s price to $11.95 and still make a small profit margin, if I’m willing to limit myself to online sales. That’s a more palatable price.

And another factor: brick-and-mortar stores require your books to be returnable. That means if they order books that don’t sell, those books will be destroyed or sent back to you, and you’re left responsible for paying the printing cost to the distributor. Unless you have the padding in your bank account to pay for an unknown quantity of unsaleable books, you’re stuck high and dry.

Both of these factors meant that I had to kiss my dreams of spotting my book “in the wild” goodbye. And that’s a hefty blow. It’s many an author’s dream to see their book resting on a store shelf next to their fave writers.

5. Your personal life may suffer.

I’ll admit, some of my friendships have fallen by the wayside as I focused entirely on my book this past year. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive husband. We’ll spend time on the couch together while I work on marketing strategies or the logistics of file setup for IngramSpark cover files, and he’ll play video games.

Not everyone is so lucky. And sometimes those relationships might take a hit.

The big question… are these sacrifices worth it?

That depends on the author. Self-publishing–especially if you want it to be a true business and career–is an awful lot of work. It’s HARD. Every step of the way is going to be a struggle, and it will consume your free time and much of your budget.

For me, the answer is yes. I got the cover of my dreams, I get to do my own interior layout (my day job is in graphic design), and I am my own boss. I set my schedule and my goals. I like the feeling of knowing my destiny is in my own hands, as scary as that can be.

Self-publishing and traditional publishing are both paths to the same destination, and you’ll have to decide which one works for you. I don’t regret my choice, but I wish I’d known some of these things going in, instead of learning the hard way.

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