Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Ghost Domino

Like many indie novelists, I found my way into independent publishing after my umpteenth legacy rejection and realized that I was better off hanging out my own shingle. In my case, it wasn't so much about trying to make a buck - although the bucks are nice - as it was about taking control of my professional destiny.

In the legacy world, there are so many moving parts that simply keeping up with them can be a full-time job: authors, editors, agents, sales personnel, graphic artists, booksellers, buyers for major chains, and... who am I forgetting here?... ah, yes: the readers. Out of that entire list, the readers are the only ones sending money our way. I like readers. I like them A LOT. So do legacy publishers, whose PR arms can theoretically reach out and tap any of them on the shoulder with the spine of a printed book. It's not a perfect system but it's served us well so far and, besides, nothing says "erudition" than a home full of groaning bookshelves.

And yet, legacy publishing is struggling while indie publishing is thriving. The problem is the domino ghost. For a legacy book to succeed, all the dominos - the editors, artists, et al - have to be lined up perfectly. If any one of them doesn't fall when it should, the book fails. The more dominos, the greater the chance of failure. And then there's the ghost: even if they all fall as they should, a book can still fail for no apparent reason. And it's all out of the author's control.

Indie publishing removes most of the dominos from the line, leaving behind the only two that matter: the author and the reader. I won't discount the importance of a good cover - Joe has discussed this at length in previous posts - or the need for solid editing. In many ways, they're more important than ever. But the author now has far more control over the editing and cover design process than... no, that's not right. The author ACTUALLY HAS CONTROL over the editing and cover design process. Want to hire a freelance? Go ahead. Want to go it alone? Knock yourself out. It's entirely your decision.

Of course, a book can also fail if the writing sucks. (Note that I didn't say it ALWAYS fails when the writing sucks.) Traditionally, though, the writing was the only part of the process that the author could control. Indie publishing changes that. The author runs the show. With fewer dominos standing between the author and the reader, and with the ghost running out of ways to wreak havoc, there are fewer things to fix if something goes wrong and those fixes can be implemented much, much faster.

I love indie publishing. I published my first novel last June and plan to have my second out by the end of the year. Will they sell well? I have no idea. I'm doing what I can to promote my writing without being obnoxious about it. And it hasn't been easy - sales are modest and my dream of supporting my family through my writing seems a far, distant dream. But, for now, I'm okay with that.

If the dominos don't fall because of a legacy publisher's error, I'm left frustrated and helpless. If the dominos don't fall because I made a mistake, I can live with it. Better yet, I can fix it. This is good. I want to succeed or fail on my own terms. When I do succeed - and make no mistake, I WILL succeed - I want to make sure the fruits of that success go to my family and not to a legacy publisher's mortgage.

And I don't believe in ghosts.

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