The Word: Traditional Publishing to Indie By KJ Taylor
My name is Katie, and I’ve been an author my entire adult life. I published my first novel in 2006 with a large mainstream publisher. In 2009 my second came out with another. Five more followed, and everything seemed set.
But by 2015, everything had changed. eBooks had been a thing for some time, and book sales were down across the board – even for bestsellers. The big publishing companies had chosen to invest heavily in the eBook market, a move which did not pay off as well as they likely hoped it would, as many readers decided the format did not suit them and for some “electronic books” appeared to have been nothing but a passing fad. On top of that Amazon had cornered the eBook market and few other platforms survived for long. By now hemorrhaging money, the “Big Five” stopped renewing contracts with many of their mid-level authors and many editors and other publishing professionals lost their jobs.
I was one of the many people to lose out. In 2015 both of my publishers told me they weren’t going to publish the next installment in the series I had begun in 2009. I was effectively out on the street with a half-published series, fans asking when the next book would be out and an agent shrugging helplessly as every other mainstream possibility turned us down on the grounds that they did not want to pick up a series halfway through (or in one case, went into receivership before they’d even read the manuscript).
I had no idea what to do, so I turned to my friends. Their advice – go indie.
There has long been something of a class system in the publishing world, which to my regret I must confess I once ascribed to myself. “Real” authors got their books out through big shiny corporate publishing companies and that’s it. Self-publishing was for untalented losers who couldn’t take no for an answer. Indie publishing was for cults and conspiracy theorists. Certainly, when I became an indie author several people I had thought were friends suddenly began acting as if I didn’t exist, or began making passive-aggressive remarks about my “failed” career.
But the landscape has changed and is still changing. If those stereotypes were ever so they no longer are. I entered the independent publishing world hopelessly naïve and unsure of what I was getting into, and as it is in any business I learned a few painful lessons along the way. What I found was a world where many others are still finding their feet, but were, for the most part, everything was less impersonal, and there was far more creative freedom. The companies I’ve begun working with are not owned by faceless bean counters, but by other artists, for artists. There’s less money invested, of course, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. Too much money on the line makes any company overly conservative and averse to taking risks, which is why so much mainstream fiction tends to be rather samey – blockbuster movies even more so. Diversity is encouraged and there is far less preferential treatment shown toward white male authors, which was an issue I had to deal with many times as a mainstream author. The experience is more collaborative, and as the author, you feel less like a supplicant and more like a partner.
Some people are now declaring that independent publishing is the way of the future, and perhaps it is. Time, as always, will tell. I for one am optimistic.
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