Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Indie Publishing Right Now

The week before last, I had the pleasure of attending the RT Booklover’s Convention in Dallas, Texas. And while this is primarily a reader event for Romance lovers, there were quite a few workshops and networking opportunities for writers. I’d never been to this conference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had a fantastic time, though, and more importantly, I learned a lot about what’s going on in the industry for indie writers right now, today.

Me gearing up for the book signing at RT Dallas

The short answer to “What’s the state of indie publishing today?” is that things are constantly in flux. But then again, the same goes for the traditional publishing industry. One of the workshops I attended was presented by a panel of agents and editors from the big five publishers, all of whom agreed that trends are flipping and shifting faster than they ever have before. Where once any given sub-genre would stick around for a couple of years at the top of the popularity pile, now sub-genres are cycling through in a matter of months. So if you write Paranormal Romance or if you write Political Science Fiction or Psychological Thrillers and they aren’t selling now? Wait a few months.

That was nice to hear, but this same panel—professionals at the very top of traditional publishing, mind you—disturbed me and the entire rest of their audience by demonstrating that they had an utter lack of understanding of what indie publishing actually is and what it’s capable of. I mean, they did not get it. Furthermore, they inadvertently advocated FOR indie publishing over submitting traditionally—without even realizing what they were saying. In a nutshell, the question of royalty rates came up. Indie publishers are paid roughly 70% of the book’s list price. The panel stated that traditional publishing pays 25% (which, frankly, is a gross exaggeration, as the usual rate is much, much less than that).

When a member of the audience asked what it would take for a traditional publisher to sign an indie author, after much guffawing and frowning, the panel agreed that that author would have to routinely sell 10,000 copies of a new release in its first week and 100,000 in its first month. To which the audience responded “But if we make 70% off of those sales and you’re telling us you’ll only give 25%, why would any indie author want to give up their earnings when they’re already a bestseller?”

The moral of that particular story and the reality of publishing today is that once you go indie, you can’t go back…and why would you? In conversations with authors at the conference, I found that more and more indie authors are making a comfortable living off of their writing with no regrets at all. Amongst authors who have already made the choice, there was a sense that traditional publishing is irrelevant. It has no impact on what we’re doing or our ability to do it. They do their thing (and good for them!) and we all do ours, and everyone is okay with that.

The other thing that stood out to me was a tiny part of one of four workshops that Mark Coker of Smashwords presented about indie publishing. The advent of indie publishing used to be seen as a tsunami of crap. And that attitude still persists: that the vast majority of indie-published books are crap. That’s just not the case anymore. Indie-published books routinely make up huge percentages of the bestseller lists. They have been nominated for and won prestigious industry awards. We’ve long, long passed the days when anyone has the right to say that indie authors only do what they do because they couldn’t get a book deal with a “real” publisher. Bury that notion right now (if you’re still holding onto it).

No, as Mark said, the problem these days is that there is a tsunami of great books being published. In fact, there are so many really good books being published every day that discoverability is harder than ever. Not because readers have to sort through trash to find the treasure, but because there’s so much treasure that they don’t need to dig and work and search to find it. Favorite indie authors are rising to the top, and newer indies have to work harder than ever to make a blip. The supply of great books is almost greater than the demand.

Not exactly cheerful news for individual writers, even if it’s great news for indies in general. Mark is more of a statistics guy than a “Here’s the solution to the problem” guy, but I did take away that persistence is key in launching and maintaining a career these days. Persistence and professionalism. And treating your writing as a small business, which means investing both time and money in it.

So that’s the state of indie publishing according to workshops and buzz in the bar during RT Dallas. I’ve got several more conferences lined up this summer, so I’ll report anything new I hear as the months go on.
Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. I'm sure most aspiring writers covet that golden ticket from the big 5; but some of us are willing to settle for the platinum one from fans. Traditional or non, the name of the game for every writer is turning it into a business and learning how to successfully promote. The conference you attended is a great way to network with fans. Also, from what I've observed, group promos work better than single efforts. So being a member of a genre-based group is a frequently overlooked opportunity.

  2. Thanks for the update, Merry ... they sure aren't about to hold one of those conferences in my basement, so I depend on you folks to keep me up to date on the chaos that is indie publishing.

  3. I'm a heavy reader, and I can testify to the truth of the enormous number of excellent indie published books out there these days. Many of my friends are now self-publishing or using new, local publishers to get their work out faster. I can't keep up.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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