I am an independent, self-publishing author and extremely proud to be so. Once upon a time, self-publishing held a bit of a stigma, but with modern technology enabling authors to DIY, why wouldn’t we seek to take complete control of our art? Apart from a few short stories and articles that I have had published in magazines, I have always self-published. My publishing labels have gone through a few names, but I have recently relaunched under the Peggy-Dot Books label, which I hope to be publishing under for a very long time now. I am an independent author completely through choice, I have had interest from traditional publishers over the years, but before signatures have been put on dotted lines I have always taken the decision I prefer the freedom being an indie brings me. I like to have full control of the complete process of producing my novels — from initial inception to published novel. It is extremely hard work at times, especially in the editing stages, but I love being involved in every aspect of producing a novel, even when it leaves me in floods of tears and tearing my hair out! I am incredibly lucky that my husband acts as my editor and proofreader (and head cheerleader), even putting himself through a proofreading course just so he can perform this role thoroughly for me. I also have an invaluable team of alpha readers who eagerly help ensure that the books are as perfect as they can be when they reach publication – to be honest, many indie authors’ books are of a much higher standard than commercial publishers as proofreading is often extremely poor in their novels today, infuriatingly so at times.
I am in very good company being an indie author, when you dig around in biographies, there are some very surprising authors who self-published, either through necessity or choice. In the eighteenth century, and into the nineteenth century, publishing by subscription was common practice, the original crowd funding really. Some names surprise though, Frank Baum, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, William Strunk Jr, Mark Twain, e.e. cummings, Marcel Proust, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Anais Nins … this list is almost endless. In this modern era some of my favourite authors are indie/self-publishers and increasing numbers of big established names are doing it for themselves as the technology is all in place to allow the author to have complete artistic control, and see maximum profits from their work — as royalties have been squeezed hard because of discount selling, and like the farmers with the supermarkets it is always the author who absorbs this cut.
If you choose to go down the traditional publishing route you have to run the gauntlet of submission which is a roller coaster nightmare for any author, and if you are accepted you will have to kowtow to the changes they want to make – and these changes can be major, whole changes of characters, settings etc. to make your novel more commercial in their eyes, not necessarily to improve it. Accountants run the industry now, and they are only interested in things they know are safe bets to sell — which is why celebrity written novels — which are more often than not written by a ghost writer and just given the celebrities name — swamp the market. Advances are a rare if not extinct now, and you will be lucky to see 20 pence from each book sale once the publisher has taken their cut, single figure royalties are common even for the biggest names. They do little to market your book, and you might not even see it on the shelves of bookshops — many publishers simply print on demand like indie authors do to save money. It is growing more and more common that a commercial publisher will only put you into eBook version now, to see how you sell, and take a huge cut of your earnings for the privilege of them doing something you can do so easily yourself. Traditional publishers will not promote your book, you will still have to go out and sell your product and yourself just like any indie — so why would anyone bother with an established publisher? The mental kudos of your book being given the nod by an established publishing house accepting it still lingers within most writers, it was always the top of the hill we were all striving for, but this is such an outmoded way of thinking in 2019. In my youth, I always preferred indie bands to those who had record companies behind them — it is exactly the same now in publishing — the fun, dynamic, radical, exciting books being published today are indie, as are the more traditional reads that commercial publishers don’t want, as their twenty-something assistants don’t think it is what people want to read – few publishing assistants who work through the slush piles are over 50, the market that read more than any other age group.
After three years out of the game I have returned to find services for indie authors have advanced hugely. You can do some or all of the process yourself, depending on your abilities, there are editors, cover artists and upload services aplenty to help you get your book online and into print. For myself I am happiest taking the whole process on board myself, enabled by some great free at point of use services, like Draft 2 Digital, I can’t sing the praises of this service enough, and Canva enables the production of a really good book cover (both these I will go more in-depth on in a future post) KDP and Smashwords equally offer great platforms to get online, and the routes into print-on-demand to get your book into paperback are growing in number and ease of use. All the services mentioned above are free to use initially, they take a small percentage cut if you sell a book — I personally have very little money so I never pay in advance to produce a book, I always look for commission services. I learned very early on that whether you are conventionally published or fly solo, you are very unlikely to make a living wage from your work in this day and age, far too few of the population read for pleasure nowadays. My four books have been on sale for 6 years now, and I have made less than £500 from their sales, at times only making 25p a book. Admittedly, I haven’t been marketing them very much, but I know a few indie author friends who work their socks off marketing, but haven’t seen much more income, to be honest.
So, why spend months, if not years, writing to see little financial return? Let’s face it, writers throughout time have starved in garrets and generally haven’t seen much from their efforts, not even fame in their own lifetime. When writing is in your blood, when your head fills with tales at every turn, you simply can’t help being a writer. The need to share these stories with others is what drives us writers on. Yes, of course we all have a deep hidden hope that we will be the next surprise big thing and our story snapped up to be turned into a movie, but it is very unlikely. Story is everything, it is the passion that drives and the art of language, constructing your tale using just the right words to convey exactly what is in your head onto the page so the reader can translate those words back into a picture in their head is absolute magic to me, and timeless. You can read words written hundreds of years ago and still see what the author wanted you to see.
Through the years I have wrestled long and hard with spending endless days tapping away at a keyboard, to make £10 a month, in a good month, that is! I have walked away from my art, and made good money elsewhere doing other stuff, but the muse didn’t stop calling me, and in the end I could resist no more, I have returned to my desk and picked up my pen, which is a great relief to all those characters trapped in my head who want their tales told. I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who believes so strongly in my writing skills, and loves my stories so much, that he happily supports me so I can stay home and write. His belief in me far exceeds my own, but I have finally relented and stopped stressing that I will never raise our standard of living by my literary efforts. We live simply and within our budget, to allow me the luxury of writing, and technology enables me to live my dream. All I want in life is to write…publish…write, as simple as that – being an indie author allows me to live that dream, with just the press of a few buttons. Then, hopefully, my very lovely loyal fans, and word of mouth will do the rest. So, when people ask me why I am an indie author, I always reply ‘Why wouldn’t you be?’