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Indie Publishing Today - The 2017 Version

For many years, I've been writing about indie publishing at Book Publishers Northwest's site. The following is drawn from talks I've given on independent publishing at Norwescon, Mystery Writers of America, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade shows, and, in 2017, SpoCon. What I have been saying for the last 6 years and it's still true:

What is obvious is that the world of publishing hasn't changed so fast since a guy named Gutenberg figured out how to mass produce books. And we are not done yet.

Working With An Indie Press As A Writer


There are a number of enthusiastic souls launching publishing ventures. They used to be called "small press" but more and more are adopting the "indie publishing" label to cover everything from a one-time-only Kickstarter project to multi-author, multi-book projects. The advantages (for me) of working with a small press is that they are generally a bit more nimble in their schedules, more enthusiastic about promoting their authors, and often more informed about social media marketing. However, they are also less well-financed than New York. It's generally a "pay-as-you-sell" royalty model rather than upfront advances.

On the large size of "indie" are the bigger established Northwest publishing houses that have been around for ten years or more. They often pay advances. They do work with agents. They are just like "real New York publishers" (as one East Coast agent once said to me). At one point, Wizards of the Coast was publishing almost as many science fiction and fantasy titles as Tor -- but they are in the process of reassessing their approach to fiction. At the same time, Paizo, also located in Washington, has been busy publishing fiction related to their games and have 85 novels now being distributed by Tor. Sasquatch, Parenting Press, and University of Washington Press in Seattle have deep backlists for nonfiction and are constantly adding to their catalogs. Working with these folks can land you on the New York Times bestseller list. Like all publishers everywhere, take time to read their websites and learn about their submission process.

Most independent publishers are willing to work with unagented writers, but many have very small windows for blind submissions.

These days, even when the author is not the publisher, they're going to be expected to help with marketing. For many authors, it seems more reasonable to cut out the middle person and just take on all the tasks of the publisher.

Starting Your Own Indie Publishing Venture


Every publisher in the Northwest started with some wild-eyed soul saying "Hey, I can do that!" What follows were are resources for those souls brave enough to Do It Yourself (DIY).

Here’s some of the resources that I’m recommending that you check out before you launch your own publishing venture. Even if you’re already publishing books, these might be helpful. If nothing else, you will meet like-minded folks navigating the choppy waters of small press and independent publishing.

Book Publishers Northwest

This is a friendly meet-up group of very small, small, medium-sized, and large publishers working in Washington state. The group meets once a month September through June, usually in the Seattle area. They also do joint displays at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Fall Trade Show. The group is Northwest affiliate of the Independent Booksellers Association.

Independent Book Publishers Association

IBPA is a national organization that offers marketing, education, and other help to members. Here’s their mission statement: “IBPA serves book, audio, and video, multi-media and ePublishers worldwide. With a mission to advance the professional interests of independent publishers the Association's programs and information benefit all member publishers, regardless of their size or experience.” Their big annual education event, Publishing University, moves around the country. 

Pacific Northwest Book Booksellers Association

This is the Northwest trade association that serves independent bookstores. They stage one trade show per year (closed to the public, open to bookstore and library staff as well as publishers). If you are looking to market to the Northwest independent bookstore market, this is the place to meet people. PNBA also has a Holiday Catalog and other marketing opportunities for publishers and authors to reach their constituency.  The day before their tradeshow, they have an "education day" with a track for indie publishers and how they can work with indie bookstores.

BookExpo America

The largest trade show in the United States devoted to publishing, bookselling, and all things related. This is where booksellers go to find out what the big New York publishing houses are bringing out. This is not a cheap event for any publisher, but it is still seen as the place to make national, high profile book launches. For anyone serious about publishing, go to a BEA to get a taste of what a very big business this is. The "indie" section of the BEA is usually a bit off the main aisles and there's much debate about how worthwhile it is.

Bowker: the agency for the ISBN

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products (including e-books). Without an ISBN, bookstores cannot find your title, let alone sell it. While a number of groups will let you buy into their ISBN for publishing, you can also go directly to Bowker to purchase your unique numbers. If you are publishing a print book that you want to sell through bookstores, you will need a barcode with your ISBN for your cover. This can also be purchased from Bowker or other third-party providers. If you are interested in only selling online, such as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.com, you can probably skip the ISBN.

E-Publishing Is Your First Step In Indie Publishing

Launch your ebooks before your print books to test the waters and see if book publishing is what you want to do. Understanding how to produce print books that look professional takes time and patience and some willingness to trash bad results. It can take years to recover the cost of a large print run and even a small run of 100 to 500 books can set you back several hundred dollars.

Publish with Kindle first and then figure out what else is worth the time and effort. 

Accept that as a small publisher, especially a small publisher of genre fiction, 80% or more of your sales will probably be Kindle. Although anything can change overnight in ebook publishing, odds look good that Kindle will continue to dominate as the device that most readers are using to consume content. Make a splash there and you can afford to expand later.

Kindle Direct

The most sales for ebooks are on Amazon. Hands down. No arguments. Embrace the beast. Amazon also has CreateSpace for print-on-demand projects and the quality/price make this a good option if you just need a few dozen copies for hand-selling.

Smashwords

Smashwords converts your book into formats that can be sold through the majority of e-book sites as well as their own affiliates. Most people use this for the smaller sites as sales are generally minimal because who wants to track a half dozen reports? Don't use this for Amazon. Take advantage of all the Amazon offers by going through Kindle Direct.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital came along and offered much the same service as Smashwords. Many indie publishers shifted over here due to ease of use. 

Pubit!

Barnes & Noble jumped into the DIY market for the Nook. Sadly, this competitor to Kindle seems to be dwindling. It might be easier just to publish through Kindle and Draft2Digital or Smashwords.

iBooks

Urgh is the response most indies have to iBooks. Apple should be a serious competitor to Amazon but iBooks have never reached the popularity of podcasts and other material offered through iTunes store. Most indies find iBooks difficult just to get formatted and online. For some reason, Apple just adds layers of bureaucracy to publishing books. Sales also are often small. You can do-it-yourself but most folks find a third party to handle iBooks for them.

copyright 2017 Rosemary Jones - feel free to share but credit the author!