In the last several posts I talked about what it takes to be a writer and what success means to each of us. To some of us success means earning boatloads of money. To others it means being widely read. It can be said that if your work is widely read you should be earning boatloads of money, but that isn’t always true. We’ll leave that discussion to another time.
Today I want to talk about the double edged sword every writer has to consider at some point or another. In the past, there was only one real way to get your work published. A writer had to work with a publishing house, large or small, to get the work published, distributed and marketed. Today every writer has another option, and it’s becoming more widely used and accepted; indie publishing.
Indie publishing is short for Independent Publishing. An indie publisher is an author who created his/her own book, does all the marketing, creates the readable images and receives the lion’s share of the royalties. Publishing houses usually do all of the back breaking work of editing, cover design, marketing, distribution and many other tasks a writer is usually unfamiliar with. They also serve as a clearing house, rejecting work that just shouldn’t make it to market. Indie publishers use services from companies like Amazon, Smashwords, and a growing number of others, to get their work to market, record the sales and distribute royalties. It takes away the need for query letters, interminably long waits, the volumes of rejection letters and the horror stories some writers have experienced with publishing houses and editing services. It also allows junk to be published in ebook format. This makes it difficult for readers to determine authors who write high quality work from those that write junk.
As appealing as indie publishing appears, it has to be looked at as a double (triple?) edged sword. Many aspiring writers have submitted their work to magazines or publishing houses for publication. After waiting months, with no acknowledgement, they self publish. After going through the work of creating your own ebook on Amazon or elsewhere the writer is notified the work has been accepted by the magazine. “Ruh-Roh, Shaggy!” Many magazines require a work that’s not been published in any format. That would include self publishing. Amazon’s KDP Select program also requires that works published through them are not to be found electronically elsewhere. They even periodically check to determine if that’s the case. From their Terms of Service contract:
1 Exclusivity. When you include a Digital Book in KDP Select, you give us the exclusive right to sell and distribute your Digital Book in digital format while your book is in KDP Select. During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or a book that is substantially similar), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.
If the magazine you’re being published in creates an electronic format, and many do, you will find yourself in violation of your Amazon contract. It works the other way around too. Many magazines where you can submit your work to become more widely known, also require exclusivity. If your work also happens to be published by Smashwords, you’re out of luck. For example, take a look at the fiction submission guidelines of Strange Horizons. This is not uncommon. This gets even more sticky if you write short stories. If you submit a short story to Strange Horizons and it’s accepted and published, then publish an anthology of your stories on Amazon containing that published story, does that violate your terms of service? Probably.
So what’s a writer to do? The safest course is not to put yourself in that situation. If you’re publishing with Amazon, use material you’ve never used anywhere else. If you’ve submitted material to publishing houses or magazines, don’t publish on Amazon until the material had been rejected.
There are pitfalls to whatever decision you make. If you go with traditional publishing it’s easier on you, but you frequently are giving up your soul. If you decide to go the indie route, you have to, in most cases, make sure your material has not been published anywhere else. This completely ignores the need for you to find a way to create an attractive cover, learn the ins and outs of the ebook generating software, market your book, and other considerations.
Decide what you want to do first, then stick to it. Yes, you can decide to start out in traditional publishing then go indie, or vice versa. Many writers have. Like in everything in life, there are pros and cons to your decisions. Decide which options provide you with the most pros, then pursue it with a vengeance.
Next time we’ll talk about designing a book cover for an ebook and how you might go about it.