HELP! I’m a Self-Published Author

Time and time again, self-published authors come to me asking for help. They self-published or published with a very small press and found that doing all of their own marketing and promotion resulted in sales in the three-figure range. Some authors are able to achieve the low four figures but that’s not much better as far as impressing a traditional publisher. A cumulative total of several thousand won’t help if these sales occurred over several titles.

If you’re a brand new author with no back list or platform and you eventually want to publish with a legacy publisher, think before self-publishing.  True, you could be the rare author who hits the 20,000 or more mark on your own. But very few new authors sell enough books on their own to garner the attention of a traditional publisher. For most authors, it’s better to impress a traditional publisher and gain that contract first, then work toward becoming a hybrid author.

If you have already self-published to poor sales, I believe you have three options:

1.) Stay on the path. Take joy in the success you do have, and  know you are still touching a loyal and devoted core audience.

2.) Increase your speaking ministry and build enough platform so that you can sell enough books to impress a traditional publisher.

3.) Start over with a pen name. This will put you in the ranks of a debut author, but you won’t have to fight against poor sales figures.

Whatever your decision, it’s your career and self-publishing can be right for you. Just be judicious about your path, especially if you feel you want to approach legacy publishers in the future.

Your turn:

What is the best self-published book you have ever read?

Are you thinking of self-publishing? Why?

Tell us about your self-publishing experience.


48 Responses to HELP! I’m a Self-Published Author

  1. Avatar
    betsy October 16, 2014 at 5:21 am #

    This was so timely and helpful. Thank you so much! If you read the blog I posted a few days ago, you’ll understand why. (Insert smile). Im embracing the process and enjoying the journey. I am confident that in Gods perfect time, he will use the words he’s given me to share with the world. In the mean time, I am letting him refine me…my writing…my purpose…my voice…all of it. I appreciate you all @stevelaube!

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    Fay Lamb October 16, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    I’m not self-published, but I am published by a small “Christian” publisher. I made the decision to work with them purposefully because of the buyouts of the large Christian publishers. I edited for one (and by most standards that publisher is considered larger–but still Christian owned). The editor of my small press is awesome. We have developed a writer’s marketing department (where the writers work together) to promote one another and not self-promote. From what I see in the large publishing houses, only the large fish in a very vast ocean get the advertising dollars. I do know some very talented self-published authors who don’t have the sales, but I also know some self-pubbed writers who have not studied the craft of writing, and they just want to get published without a thought for what it means to those of us who study the craft and worked hard for a contract. However, on the traditional side, I have picked up some poorly written books by large and small publishers, and the impact on the industry is the same.
    I have nothing against agencies. I have nothing against self-published authors. I do have something against small publishers linked to self-publishing, though. I think it is very wrong to do so when I have seen a trend in agencies understanding the benefits of small press. Not every writer will become a large fish in a vast ocean, but that’s not the goal of all of the authors in the sea, and if it is, starting out with a goal of becoming a large fish in a large tributary is a great way to swim to the ocean, growing as you swim toward the sea.

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    Pam October 16, 2014 at 5:45 am #

    Thanks so much for this blog post! I have two non-fiction Christian books published with a small press which is going out of business and didn’t keep good (or honest?) track of my sales. 🙁 I know I myself have sold close to 2000 books personally, which netted me in those low figures you were talking about. (yikes!) I’ve done a lot of speaking, so have a great platform and have a website and do social media. I just finished a Christian contemorary fiction novel, which I’m quite happy with and was looking for an agent….so you think I should use a different name? Just start out fresh? Or do you think the speaking engagements will show I can “sell”? I also work as a book editor and teach writing workshops, so I am hoping that helps, which is why I was reluctant to change my name. Help! 🙂

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      Tamela Hancock Murray October 16, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      Pam, I’m reluctant to give career advice on a blog, but what I would do for now is to submit to agents with your current information. You may want to mention that you are willing to use a pen name for your fiction if that seems appropriate. Then let the agent you choose to work with make the final call with you. May God bless you on your journey!

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        Pam October 17, 2014 at 5:06 am #

        Thanks so much!

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    Judith Robl October 16, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I have read a number of indie published books. A few were stellar.

    But most of them disappointed. They needed another round of editing or a critique reader who could catch the “auto-correct” errors.

    The last one used “passed” instead of “past” in multiple locations. A minor annoyance, but my ninth-grade English students knew the difference.

    Beyond that, most of them are perfect examples of your thesis here. They were “pulp fiction” — useful to keep you occupied in a waiting room or on a flight. They were eminently forgettable.

    As a beta reader, I’ve had the privilege of reading some that were wonderful and unforgettable. They had a high concept. I keep rooting to see those stories in print.

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    Peter Missing October 16, 2014 at 6:48 am #

    Despite so much advice to the contrary, I have firmly held to the view that formal publishing is best. If we are stewarding God’s word we certainly need to do such justice to the work, but to me the search difference between a 1 in million ebook can never compare to the refined search or brand pull of books endorsed by publishers. They know their markets and have established distribution channels that work better than any self-help venture ever could. As such, I have adamantly held the view that I will do what I can for as long as I can and leave the when and how to God, because timing can be so definitive to God’s kingdom. Oh, enough of the spirituality – I tried ebooks, I physically published a few books on my own, I maintain various social media networks, I tried publishers, agents and others – so have not just sat back, but I cling to promises like “cast your bread on the waters” and “sow and water, then let God add the increase.”

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    Deborah Gambrel October 16, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    It’s a lot to think about. writing in itself can be such a personal journey it’s difficult to adhere to the rules of well written pieces. I’m intimidated when I think of presenting my work maybe the reason editing my book has taken me so long. It seems a daring and almost impossible task to impress an agent or editor when so many have tried. Though it is still my goal to be traditionally published, I can’t say that it won’t be a trembling effort on my end to even start the path. It’s my prayer to keep pressing even when it seems impossible.

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    Heidi Main October 16, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I’ll confess, when purchasing kindle books, if it is self-published, I don’t consider it . . . Guess I feel it is too easy to self-publish these days and there is so much out there 🙂 But, I was wondering about something, of course I was or I wouldn’t have commented! Sometimes I will see a self-published fiction book on Amazon ~ it has tons of reviews (close to 100 or 200) and the overall rating is between 4 & 5. What to make of a novel like that??? Do I assume all the reviewers have read the book? Has it had great sales? Is the self-published author a breakout novelist?

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      Sally Bradley October 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      Heidi, yes, you should assume that those reviewers have read that book. Amazon does a fairly good job of preventing false reviews, even to the detriment now of eliminating true reviews just because they’re being extra cautious.

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    Shadia Hrichi October 16, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    Like most authors, my aspiration is to land an agent who will then find a traditional publisher for my books. However, there are times when self-publishing makes sense, as I was advised by several agents when plugging my last book at Mount Hermon a couple of years ago. The book is a story-driven bible study for post-abortion healing based on my personal story of seeing a vision of my daughter in Heaven (I am a pro-life speaker, seminary graduate, and serve on the Board at my local pregnancy center). Despite stellar editorial endorsements, including Foreword by President of Online for Life-a ministry reaching over 1/2 million; President of the respectable biblical website; President of Anglicans for Life, licensed biblical counselors, seminary professors, pastors and more…the market is simply far too niche for a traditional publisher to want to pick it up. Also, the audience and market are different. The market is primarily non-profit pregnancy centers and the audience is the women they serve. As one agent advised, “You have a far greater chance of reaching those markets than any traditional publisher.” However, that being said, the greatest challenge I now face is plugging my new bible study, which is geared for a wider Christian audience. Despite the quality of my prior work (holding 5-stars on Amazon with over 30 reviews), if traditional publishers evaluate my work based on prior sales of the niche book, I have virtually no hope of going the traditional route. Also, as a public speaker, I would not want to embrace a pen name. Consequently, I recognize I will be facing an uphill battle in submitting my next proposal for the new study. However, I do not regret my decision to self-publish for God is using the study to cultivate healing and hope into the hearts of many women wounded by abortion’s heartbreak and for that, I am deeply grateful. To God be the glory!

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      Karen Ingle November 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      Shadia, Thank you for your fine book, Worthy of Love. I work at one of the pregnancy help centers who is offering a Bible study to our clients and other women of the community based on your book. You have made a great resource available to women in pain. Praise God for the healing He is working through your words! I’m so glad you didn’t hang around waiting for a larger publisher.

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        Shadia Hrichi November 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

        Hi Karen. I am so thrilled to learn God is using my book in more and more pregnancy centers. Thank you so much for your encouraging words! Of course, it is still my hope that one day it would land in the Christian book stores where there are so few resources on this topic. I’d love to connect with you (are you on FaceBook/LinkedIn?). Blessings!

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          Karen Ingle November 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

          I’m on Facebook. So is Choices Pregnancy Center of Redwood Falls, MN. Hope we can connect!

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    Rachel Leigh Smith October 16, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    I’m self-published. I write in a niche romance sub-genre that traditional publishers, even small e-presses, have trouble knowing how to market it and find readers. It’s science fiction romance. Most SFR readers have come to expect the majority of books to be self-pubbed.

    I only have one book out, for just over a month, and it’s a long, slow climb. But I expected it and am prepared for it. I have a plan in place to expand my reach with the next release in January. And I’m having the time of my life. It’s so much fun!

    But it’s definitely not for everyone. I have the skills to do formatting and uploading myself, which does save some money. I pay the most for a good cover, and the second biggest budget item is editing.

    My advice to anyone considering it: Look at your genre. Then look at your own skill set and what you’re willing to pay for the skills you don’t have. It’s far more economical for me to pay someone to do what I don’t know how to do, rather than learning how to do it. I have no eye for graphic design, and I know I’d never come up with covers as good as what my cover designer does.

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    Athena Dean Holtz October 16, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    You’ve made some very valid points, Tamela. But from my own personal experience, I do know that there are times when waiting for a traditional publisher isn’t best. One of those reasons is when the resource is needed in ministry and the niche market seems too small to garner a publisher’s interest.

    My first experience with self-publishing was a perfect example of creating a track record and expanding a platform to get a publisher’s attention. Even though it wasn’t our strategy, that’s what happened. Ten thousand books sold in two years and Multnomah Press was impressed enough to buy the rights. That book has now sold over 150,000 copies since 1987.

    However, self-publishing poorly, which happens all too often, is like shooting yourself in the foot. If authors are serious about producing content that will truly make a difference, it should be done with excellence, thoughtfully, intentionally—to meet a need, not just make us feel important because our names are on book covers.

    I think it’s important to realize that not every author, no matter how long he or she waits, improves his or her craft, and builds a platform, is going to be picked up by a traditional house. In today’s marketplace, independent publishing well with professional coaching, editing, cover design, layout, etc., etc., is a viable option. It can create a product that will meet the current needs of an audience with excellence and help open doors to build or expand a platform for the future. But, it’s a jungle out there and great wisdom and discernment is needed to navigate it.

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    heather October 16, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I have been getting very helpful Steve Laube posts and can’t tell ya how much I appreciate it. I heard about him through an editor who viewed a part of my book and she gave me some helpful ideas.
    I am not published yet. Been accepted by a self publishing company. As long as I pay extra, they’ll help with the marketing of it. So I’ve been saving to publish my first book.
    I’ve called some traditional publishing companies and have been told that they won’t see a proposal from anyone but an agent. Is this true?
    The one thing that attracted me to the self publishing company was, because I’ll be paying for everything that is done to, with and for my book, I’ll own all the rights. Also, they viewed and accepted my proposal before I had to make a payment. A lot of self publishing companies won’t even review your book without payment.
    So, I guess i’m curious what the benefits are with going with a traditional publisher. And would it be worth finding an agent? What would the benefits be with in having an agent? Would the expense be the same? And, being so new to this, how does one look for an agent?
    Anyway, thank you for all the helpful posts.

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    Randy Ingermanson October 16, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    The working assumption here is that most writers want to be trad-published. I’m not certain that’s true any longer. I met with my critique group the other night and most of them are now looking to go indie, for various reasons. Five of us have already indie-published, and three of us are earning five figures per year. And I have indie friends at the six-figure and seven-figure level.

    At least within my critique group, trad-publishing is considered a bad deal at the moment. Yes, it’s remotely possible to earn 8 figures per year like James Patterson, but the most likely income for a trad-published author is vastly lower. It’s hard to get accurate numbers, but my best guess is that most trad authors are earning four figures per year. (To put this mathematically, the median trad-published author is almost certainly earning less than $10k per year.)

    As I look at my author friends, what I see is that many of the trad-published authors are interested in indie publishing, but relatively few of the indie authors want to go traditional. This might change if trad-publishers were to begin offering more favorable contracts–fair e-book royalties, reasonable limits on the life of a contract, and abolition of no-compete clauses and option clauses. But I don’t see trad-publishers changing their terms any time soon, at least not for the great majority of authors. (The A-list authors tend to get better contract terms, from all that I hear.)

    It seems very likely that the median indie author is earning three figures per year, as you suggest. But that needs to be put into context. Most of these are authors who would not be published traditionally for another five years or so, if ever. For these authors, if they pursued trad-publishing, their income would be ZERO for those five years. In fact, they’d be spending three or four figures per year in going to writing conferences in the hope of someday getting a contract and earning that money back. But we all know that many of them won’t ever get published. That’s the sad fact of publishing–most writers NEVER get traditionally published. Which means that the median income for the full set of writers on the trad-publishing route is zero.

    I’m not trying to put down trad-publishing. I published 8 books with traditional publishers and most people would say I’ve had a pretty good career. But in the current climate, trad-publishing just doesn’t look as good to me as the indie road. That may change in the future, and it’ll be wonderful if it does. But for the moment, I’m loving being indie. And I’m earning more money as an indie than I ever did in trad-publishing.

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      Samantha Fury October 16, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      I agree with Randy I don’t think most Indies want a trade deal. I think that a few do and that some want to be hybrids. But I think most just want to make it on their own two feet. I’ve never wanted to go the Trade route. I love being a Christian Indie Author and I love being my own boss.

      I’m sure that some do get discouraged in the low numbers that Indies make the first few years. It’s true that a lot of us are only making 50 to 300 dollars a month, but I look at it this way. Would I rather be sitting around gaining fans and making a little money or would I rather be sitting around waiting by the mail box and writing query letters.

      I consider this my seed years. I’m working on a fan base I’m working on becoming a house hold name. It won’t happen over night and I think that’s what most Indies need to realize. I’ll bet Sue Grafton or Mr. King didn’t pull down 10 to 20K in their first few years of writing either.

      I understand that some want to be a Trade Authors. We all have our own path and our own calling. I’m sure some Indies don’t like all the work that comes with being your own boss. They want to write not market.

      As for me as I suppose I’ll chose number one though I don’t consider 50 or 200 poor sales. I get paid in other ways. I’m doing what God called me to do, I’m enjoying being a blessing to others, and though it may be small in some eyes, I’m getting paid for doing something that I love to do . . . write.

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      sally apokedak October 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

      Interesting discussion and great comment, Randy. I read Tamela’s post from a different viewpoint. It’s interesting how we bring our own baggage to the article we’re reading. You know a lot of traditionally pubbed authors who want to go indie. But Tamela wouldn’t necessarily hear from them. They aren’t talking to her. They are talking to you–someone who can help them learn how to go indie.

      She started her post with this line: Time and time again, self-published authors come to me asking for help. And I said to myself, “You and me both, sister.” 🙂 My inbox is full of people asking me for help. They have gone indie and they have “gotten great reviews,” which means five of their friends raved about them on Amazon. And now they want a publisher to help them reach a wider audience then the 127 people they’ve sold to in the first year. They are sure they can sell if they can just get some distribution.

      So when I read this post, I read it as an agent talking to the many people who have tried indie publishing who now want to go traditional. She’s offering advice to them. She’s not really addressing the traditionally published people who want to go indie, I don’t think. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

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        Randy Ingermanson October 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

        Sally, I mostly agree with you on this. It’s clear that Tamela is talking about a non-representative sample of writers. The ones she talks to are those who want to go traditional and who’ve been unsuccessful at “self-publishing”.

        It’s unclear from the context whether these “self-published” authors are indie authors or vanity-published authors. These are two different groups and I strongly suspect they have different levels of satisfaction.

        My own opinion is that vanity publishing is not a good road for authors who want to eventually be published by traditional publishers. The success rate is just too low.

        Tamela thinks that writers who want to be trad-published should start by getting a contract with a trad publisher.

        Here’s where I don’t agree. I think a writer will probably get a traditional contract faster by going indie from the start, earning some money, learning from her mistakes, and improving.

        I can’t prove this. My only evidence is the numerous indie authors I know who are doing well right now and could go trad at any time if they wanted. Rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars every year, they are earning hundreds or thousands (or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions) of dollars per year.

        I am mentally comparing them to the numerous trad authors I’ve known over the years (including me) who spent years learning to write, going to conferences, meeting with editors and agents, submitting queries and proposals, and hitting endless frustration.

        Based on what I’ve seen, I’d say the indie road to trad looks better than the trad way to trad.

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          sally apokedak October 16, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

          Mmm. Maybe. My guess would be that whether an author goes indie or trad first doesn’t matter as much as 1) how good the writing is, and 2) how good the marketing is.

          But I also think if we’re talking about the fastest way to a traditional contract we should think in terms of units sold not dollars made.

          Author A may sell 40,000 traditional books and only make 20,000 dollars–depending on discounts and whatnot. And author B may make the same amount of money by selling 6,000 books. I think a publisher will offer author A another contract before he offers author B a contract.

          I often have authors contact me and tell me they made 3000 dollars in one year. This is great. I know a lot of small press people who make less than 500 a year. So these authors who have made 3000 are proud of their work. And they should be. But when you get into how many books they sold, it’s not enough to get them a traditional contract on their next book.

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      Lewis Jenkins May 11, 2019 at 12:53 pm #

      Reply to Randy Ingermanson October 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm # Hi, Randy. It’s been nearly five years since you posted. What is your thinking now?

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        Randy Ingermanson May 11, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

        Hi Lewis: Wow, this is a blast from the past!

        I read through the comments above that I participated in back in 2014, and I don’t see anything I’d say differently. The markets have changed. It looks tougher now to break into traditional publishing. It’s easier than ever to go indie, because the tools for formatting e-books and p-books have become simpler and more powerful, and because there are now even more excellent graphic designers who will create an indie cover at a reasonable price.

        The market is even more competitive now than in 2014. It’s become even harder to make significant money as either a trad-pubbed author or an indie author.

        And yet it can be done. 2014 was a good year for me financially. I made more that year as an indie author than I ever had in my writing career. 2018 was an even better year for me. So I remain bullish on my own financial prospects as an indie author.

        I think a lot depends on the writer. My personal observation is that a writer with an entrepreneurial spirit will generally do better as an indie author. But not everybody has that entrepreneurial spirit, and some of my close friends do better by going trad. I’m glad for all of us that there are two possible roads to success. Both roads are narrow and hard to climb, but two shots at glory are always better than one.

        It is still that case that virtually all authors must take on the lion’s share of the marketing. An author unwilling to market their work is going to find a cold reception with trad-publishers.

        But there is a problem with that scenario, which is that marketing a trad-pubbed book often has negative ROI for the author. What I mean by that is that a large number of traditionally-published books never earn out their advance. So any marketing that an author does for such a book will put dollars into the publisher’s pocket, but will not put a single penny into the author’s account. Yet that marketing may well cost the author large amounts of time, energy, and money.

        That may sound unfair, but it’s reality. It’s true that the author may well earn some gratitude from the publisher and may well get another contract. But the actual short-term ROI is negative, and that doesn’t sit well with some authors.

        It’s only fair to add that a book that doesn’t earn out its advance has one advantage to the author–the effective royalty is higher than the royalty specified in the contract. And this is a good thing for an author. If the book only earns half its advance, for example, then the effective royalty paid to the author for an e-book sale would be 50%, rather than 25%, of the net proceeds of the book. But let’s be clear–this is still less than the actual royalties paid to the indie author, which remain 100% of the net proceeds of the book.

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          Lewis Jenkins May 11, 2019 at 9:10 pm #

          Thanks for the update, Randy Ingermanson May 11, 2019 at 1:25 pm. I published my first book (Diary of a Robot) on Dec 1, 2014, and decided well before that to do it self-published because, first, the book is literary fiction not genre fiction and trad-pub doesn’t like literary despite what many of them say. Would you agree? And second, my first published version was a good story but had a lot of craft flaws. Since then I’ve edited it about 30 full passes with conferences and craft study between passes. Using, I can get a beautifully printed 376 page paperback book as my author proof for $8.89 plus $3.99 USPS shipping. I mark it up with the latest revisions. Inexpensive proofs are one of the great attractions of Print-On-Demand self-publishing. …Anyway, I also decided back then to use PR (public relations) instead of traditional marketing. I was persuaded to go that route by a book called The Fall of Advertising And The Rise of PR, by the father-daughter PR team of Al and Laura Ries. PR is very slow, but it is not nearly as expensive, and if the writing is good with an interesting subject, it should get results. My plan is to use most of my budget on making me a better writer, and just a little of it on a few books to give away to my advisors and reviewers. So far I’ve got a couple of notable fans besides the dozen or so people who served as technical advisors. Doc Hensley is one. Tim Rudell (a recently retired journalist from WKSU) is another. I’m waiting for feedback from a columnist at the Washington Post who agreed to read it. I’m working on the sequel now, and Doc Hensley likes its first chapters so far. I’m okay with the PR route, but I hope for more influential fans and income before I kick the bucket. Thanks again for taking time to answer me.

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            Randy Ingermanson May 11, 2019 at 9:54 pm #

            Hi Lewis: I’m not understanding why you’re working with Lulu, rather than publishing straight to Amazon. It looks like your book is listed on Amazon as out of print. If that’s the case, that’s a problem, because Amazon is where the action is.

            I know nothing about Lulu from my own experience, but all the successful indie authors I know work directly with Amazon and the major retailers.

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              Lewis Jenkins May 12, 2019 at 6:52 am #

              Hi, Randy. You probably know that Lulu is not a publishing company; it is a software company. Authors use Lulu book-creating software free, but can pay for services such as editing or marketing. When we want to publish, Lulu’s software combines any separate files we upload, making them into print-ready files and, if we select the Amazon option, Lulu sends the interior and cover there. I used to sell on Amazon, but would attend a conference or read a book and realize I had to edit my story. Amazon would not let me update the interior text. I emailed. I complained to Lulu. I went to the local Amazon store. They always refused. But more than that, on Amazon my ten dollar book (it had more pages then) doubled in cost to 21 dollars, and If I wanted to make any money it had to go to, say, 23 dollars. If by “where the action is” you mean where the sales are, then yes, Amazon is the way to go. But I’m crazy. I don’t want to double the price of the book for my customers while halving my cut. Anyone can buy it from Lulu’s bookstore and I get about four dollars at a retail price of $13.95. It is unfortunate that Amazon lists the book as out-of-print. It is also a lie, but Amazon won’t change the text or even remove it from their site. You can go to Bowker and see that the book is still in print. Oh, well…

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      Lewis Jenkins May 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm #

      OOPS. I meant to reference Randy Ingermanson October 16, 2014 at 10:53 am # instead of the 6.21 posting. Sorry. Randy, have your thoughts changed in nearly five years?

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    sara baysinger October 16, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Very good to know that if we want to pursue the hybrid track, we should seek out traditional publishing first. Thanks so much for sharing!!

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    Kimberly Rae Jordan October 16, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Many years ago when I first started writing, I went the route of submitting to agents and publishing companies. I wrote manuscript after manuscript and collected rejection after rejection even though I had positive responses from the editors rejecting my work. I went to the conferences. I had the critique group. I took courses and read books on how to improve my writing. As far as I could see, I did all the right things and yet each rejection came with something along the lines of “Not right for us.”

    I set aside my writing for several years, but then a friend began to prod me to dig out those manuscripts and publish them through KDP. I brushed her off at first, but finally accepted that anything they earned being indie published was more than they were earning sitting in a file on my computer. I polished them up and hit publish on my first one in February 2013. Well, here I am, almost 20 months later with 12 books published and the ability to quit my day job.

    Those books that weren’t “right” for the agents and editors who rejected me found PLENTY of readers. And my early books–I’ll be the first to admit–were not the best edited. I didn’t have the money to devote to editing but I did the best I could to polish them up. Thankfully people saw past that to the stories that I had to share with them.

    I know that I am probably an anomaly in some respects. I don’t do a lot of marketing. I do very soft launches when I put out a new book. And yet my books continue to sell. My readership is growing. And yes, the money is coming in at higher amounts than I ever thought possible! I can almost guarantee that had I been traditionally published for the past year and a half, I wouldn’t be where I am financially at the moment. I would most likely still have to work the day job to provide for my family. Instead my husband and I can now both quit our jobs and still be able to maintain our current standard of living. That is what indie publishing has done for me.

    If, by some strange twist of fate, an agent or editor approached me about a traditional publishing deal, I’d have to think very long and very hard about it. Having control over when I publish, what I publish and how much I make on my books is very appealing and I’m not sure I could easily give that up. There are limited spots at traditional publishing houses for new authors, and there can be a limited shelf life for their books if they’re an unknown name and don’t have a blockbuster hit on their hands. As an indie published author, if a reader stumbles on one of my books, reads it and wants more, within a few clicks, they can have all my books downloaded and ready to read.

    I knocked on the traditional door for a lot of years. Finally I turned around and saw another door standing open, and I walked through it. Does it work this way for everyone? Obviously not as Randy pointed out with his facts and numbers, but I believe this is the path God wants me on. And having faced all those rejections has just made this incredible journey that much sweeter. 🙂

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      SusetteWilliams (@SusetteWilliams) October 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

      I agree with Kimberly and Randy. I had an agent, a published book with a traditional publisher, and an offer on another book by a traditional publisher when I decided to go indie. At the time, my agency agreement stated I would have to give a percentage of royalties to them, even if I sold/published the work myself. My book that was published with a traditional publisher was making less than $.07 per copy sold for me, and the publisher didn’t expect it to earn out the advance (and was okay with that) which meant I would never see any more royalties from that book. I wasn’t okay with that. We needed the income to get by and I knew other traditionally published authors who earned awards and still couldn’t put food on their table. I did NOT want to be like them–let someone else control my destiny. Whether or not I succeed or fail is up to me, and I have always trusted God to provide. Indie publishing was a true blessing, and was definitely worth giving up the $5K advance on another book. Within 4 months of self-publishing, I was making four figures a month, and the last two years I have had five figure incomes. I hope to be making six figures in the next five years. I would never have seen that potential with traditional publishing! I know of more than a dozen indie authors who are all making five figures. Several friends I helped to get started in self-publishing made as much as $650 or more their first month they published their first book. Some are now making four and five figures a month! Most of those friends also desperately needed an income and I am glad that I was there to help them get started!

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        SusetteWilliams (@SusetteWilliams) October 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

        Another thing to keep in mind is, that what may be hot right now, waiting on a contract and book to be published may cause authors to miss out because that genre may not be hot by the time the book comes out! That was kind of what happened with chick lit! Indie authors can meet the demands now and don’t have to jump through hoops and committees to get there!

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    Mark October 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    You say:
    “If you’re a brand new author with no back list or platform and you eventually want to publish with a legacy publisher, think before self-publishing. For most authors, it’s better to impress a traditional publisher and gain that contract first…”

    This sounds nice, but improbable. How exactly does a new author with no platform, fan base, or proven market for their work “impress” a traditional publisher?

    I think Indie and self-published authors are finding more and more success and some even using that platform to become successful traditionally published authors. Hugh Howey, for example, self-published “Wool” on Kindle, which led to a two million dollar deal with Simon and Schuster. He is now a NYT best selling author.

    The same goes for William Young and “The Shack” and Lisa Genova and “Still Alice.” Or take Penelope Ward who is a NYTs and USA Today best selling author and still only self publishes her books through Createspace and Kindle.

    What if these authors, and hundreds more like them, never took the bold step to self-publish hoping one day a traditional publisher would look past their lack of platforms? I applaud them and all the ones who have yet to see this kind of success for not simply sitting back on their kiesters and praying.

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    Randy Ingermanson October 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    It is helpful to distinguish between being an indie author and an author who works with a vanity publisher.

    A vanity publisher is usually defined to be a publisher who requires the author to pay for the publishing process. The publisher then provides the editing, graphic design, formatting, typesetting, production, distribution, and sales. Most people in the publishing industry consider this a bad deal, and it appears to me that it usually is a bad deal. I rarely recommend vanity publishing.

    An indie author is one who acts as his own publisher. The indie author either does all the publishing tasks himself or hires out some of them to specialists, normally as a work-for-hire. This is the road that Kimberly and Susette and I and many others have taken, and it can yield high rewards to an author who writes well enough to delight some target audience.

    In rereading Tamela’s post, it’s unclear to me whether she’s talking about vanity publishing or indie authoring or both (the term “self-publishing” can refer to either of these). So I thought a little clarification would be helpful here.

    In general, I prefer not to use the term “self-publishing” because it’s ambiguous. Whereas “vanity publishing” and “indie authoring” are both clear terms that each refer to only one thing.

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      Mark October 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

      I don’t agree with your assessment. I think “Indie Publishing” is the broad term which covers every author not traditionally published. That goes for authors who publish with large Indie publishers, like Algonquin for example, to small Indie publishers, to fee-based publishers, to Createspace and Kindle, to stapling the pages together in your basement.

      “Self-Publishing” is those authors who use Kindle, Createspace or Lulu, or any other method where they take care of everything.

      “Vanity Publishing” is a vulgar derogatory slur that has no more business in this industry than the “N” word has in society. People do not utilize fee-based publishers because of excessive pride (Webster’s).

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    Tamela Hancock Murray October 16, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    Hi all: I’m really glad to see a lively discussion on the blog, and I do appreciate all of you! However, I never thought publishing my post would be like hitting a hornets’ nest with a stick.

    Truly I was not intending to create a debate on the merits or lack thereof of self-publishing versus traditional publishing or hybrid publishing. My goal was and is to address many of the questions I get via email and at conferences for those who are at wits end when choosing ANY of these three options. Today’s was for those who chose the indie or small press route. The next three weeks will see my modest attempts to address some of the other avenues.

    This agency’s blog has attempted to address some of these issues before and we very openly support all forms of publishing. But everyone’s mileage may vary. Some go traditional and reap enormous success. Other fail spectacularly. Some go indie and reap enormous success. Others fail spectacularly. And others go with a small press and reap enormous success. Others fail spectacularly. And yet others use the hybrid method and reap enormous success. Others fail spectacularly.

    So rather than debate the issue and claim success for your situation let’s address those who have followed one method or the other and hit the wall. Then we aren’t telling those who are traditionally published that they made a poor choice or that those who went indie made a poor choice.

    Thank you all again for reading our blog and weighing in!

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    Heather Day Gilbert October 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Okay…you asked about our self-publishing experiences, so I will chime in. Mine has been completely satisfactory from my first book launch last November. I am one of those authors Heidi mentions above who has over 100 reviews on a book and a 4.5 star rating. Did I pay anyone to review this? Is this all friends and family? No way. I have made my book free to the general (read: often unsaved) public) and will often get low stars simply due to Christian content. In other words, there are READERS for my book that was deemed unmarketable (due to time period) in CBA circles.

    But Christian indie authors today are savvy. Many of us are committed to publishing books that can compete in a tradpub market. There are Christian indies who have been selling for YEARS and have built huge followings: Hallee Bridgeman, Kimberley Rae Jordan, Traci Hilton, and so many more. I would just urge readers of this blog to READ current indie offerings. You can read up on them and find out more about them on various sites, such as CIA (Christian Indie Authors) Pinterest boards and Indie Christian Fiction Search site.

    Many Christian authors are choosing to launch their careers with indie books. It’s easy to talk about building platform, and I worked for years to do that, but once I finally had a published book in hand, the READERS knew what I was doing and followed (thankfully!). The indies I know are getting quality cover art, quality edits, and getting interesting/unusual stories into the world at large.

    And your other question: What is the best indie book you have ever read…I have read so many and indie authors are becoming my fave authors. CJ Darlington’s Jupiter Winds is excellent YA. Kept by Sally Bradley. Waters Fall by Becky Doughty. At the Edge of a Dark Forest by Connie Almony. Karin Kaufman’s mystery series. Wendy Paine Miller’s women’s fiction. I’m also reading Chasing the Lion by Nancy Kimball. The list could go on and on. But again, if you haven’t read Christian indies lately, I encourage you to do so. You might just find a new author to love.

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      Neal Wooten October 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      Way to go, Heather. God’s Daughter appears to be doing awesome. Kudos to you.

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        Heather Day Gilbert October 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

        Thank you Neal…it should be noted that indie publishing is NOT an easy task and not for everyone. You have to know what to outsource (and have funds to do it, or learn how to do it): cover art, edits, formatting, uploading to various platforms, and marketing. Much research needs to be done before jumping in, but thankfully the Christian indie community is strong and happy to share information on what works/doesn’t. I’m thankful God sent me on this route I didn’t know I’d choose. 🙂 I think an option for indies who have tried/felt they failed that Tamela mentioned is to go in and re-think everything–your genre, your cover art, etc. Get your books out to critiquers who will be honest and tell you what didn’t work the first time.

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          Neal October 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

          Oh, I agree, Heather. It takes more than just a financial stability to be a successful Indie author, but a mental and emotional stability as well. And you better have extremely thick skin because of the stigma that refuses to go away. All that plus being a writer, proofreader, editor, artist, and above all else – a salesperson, then you got the makings of an Indie author.

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      Iola October 17, 2014 at 3:06 am #

      Tamela asked what was the best indie published book we’ve ever read. I can’t pick a ‘best’, but God’s Daughter is certainly in my top three fiction titles.

      Non fiction? Anything by Randy Ingermanson or James Scott Bell.

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        heather day Gilbert October 17, 2014 at 6:03 am #

        Thank you, Iola. I value your opinion and enjoy reading your reviews!

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    Shadia Hrichi October 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Thank you, Randy, for the clarification, which I was not aware of. As an indie author, I am grateful for the option to publish via this route. Whereas most in the industry view platform as necessary to be established first (I am a non-fiction writer), I found the opposite to be true. My book has actually served to launch my platform. When I am invited to speak or onto radio programs, my credibility as a bible teacher (a seminary graduate who writes bible studies) is what they highlight about me as their guest. I was also recently approached by a well-known Christian radio station to host a radio program, which was never even on my radar. By establishing myself as an expert on my topic, publishing my first book (using professional editors/cover designer, etc) was a wise move because without it, I may not have the platform I have now. In turn, I hope my platform will one day attract an agent for my future studies primarily because buyers for this kind of book are still found in the Christian bookstores, which I cannot access as an indie author.

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    Sally Bradley October 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Tamela, you have three things listed that a self-pubbed author who isn’t doing well could do, but there’s a huge fourth one that’s been missed.

    #4: Improve your craft.

    This is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Do some novelists jump the gun and self-pub before that book’s ready? Absolutely.

    Traci Hilton is one who will tell you that her book wasn’t ready. But she listened to the feedback of her readers, took the book down, and fixed it. And kept publishing. She’s now one of top Christian novelists (indie or trad pub) on Amazon.

    The key thing I think many in trad publishing truly don’t understand about indie publishing is that you can put up a stinker… and not have your career sunk. Now all of us will say, “Don’t do it!!!!” to someone who is about to make that mistake. But putting up a less than stellar book as an indie is much more forgiving than doing the same as a trad pubbed novelist. (And we all know that does happen!)

    If your book stinks, you can take it down, study, practice, edit, and put that book up when it’s finally ready. And new readers will comment on how they don’t get what all the one stars were about. 🙂

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      Nancy Kimball October 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

      Best self-published book I have ever read:

      Making Faces by Amy Harmon. Amy is a phenomenal author, who reached (easily) both the NYT and the USA Today best-seller lists, all as an Indie author. She shared with her readers this year she turned down a NY contract not so much over the money but over concerns they would dictate her writing (which genres, how much faith-based content she could have, etc.) And Heidi, it has a 4.8 Amazon review rating with over 1,700 reviews and most show as a verified purchase. I’m one of them. =)

      Am I thinking of self-publishing? Why?:
      I already did in April of this year, because a very respected agent I was blessed enough to have a conversation with in January of this year, 😉 told me in a supportive way that if I wanted to write what I wanted, release it when I wanted, with the title and the cover that I wanted, self-publishing was right for me. She couldn’t have been more right. =)

      My self-publishing experience:
      I took all the contest entry fees and conference and travel budget for 2014 and put it into releasing my debut historical. The book that just wasn’t right for traditional publishing but was the story of my soul I was too passionate to let sit on a hard drive while I wrote more mass market friendly work.
      I hired a fantastic but affordable cover designer, the best free-lance editor within my budget, paid for professional formatting, and treated my release exactly like a traditional release. With endorsements, a launch team, and a solid marketing plan that included a small advertising budget in various e-book promotional venues.

      Four months after release I’d recouped all my production costs. But most of all it has been the reviews and letters from readers that made it worth it. Seven months after release, with the release of my audiobook in late July, achieving Qualified Independent Author status for ACFW is a real possibility. If it looks like it’s going to be too close, the best part of being an Indie is being able to go in and adjust the price point of the books, run an ad in tandem with the sale, and see how the sales respond immediately.

      I didn’t think you’d stirred any hornet nests, Tamela. Indies tend to be supportive and outspoken about our experiences to be sure authors and aspiring authors, whether considering Indie, Trad, or what order they want to pursue it in, have the best information possible. And while we are seeing more and more agents who recognize the validity of self-publishing being a successful and in cases such as mine a more desirable career path, most don’t have a strong working knowledge of the actual processes and options simply because they are not actively involved in them in any meaningful way. There’s much to be said for info from boots on the ground as opposed to the bird’s eye view from the sky, though both are important.

      I think if there were any Indie feathers ruffled that ended up sounding like hornets to anyone, it was probably at the title of this article, not the content. =)

      I appreciate you, Karen, Steve and all you do for the Christian fiction community.

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    Peter DeHaan October 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Regardless of how I publish, I’m going to be marketing my book. And even though I will likely sell fewer books if I self-publish, I will make more per book and could actually earn more than if I went the traditional publishing route.

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    Linda Rodante October 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Tamela, thank you for the article and receiving all the comments. I, too, have been writing for years, doing everything the traditional publishers have asked, spent lots of money on conferences and how-to write books, joined critique groups, etc. And am discouraged! I’ve been told by at least 3 editors that my writing is “excellent.” That sounds like bragging and that’s not what I mean to do. I just want to show that you can do everything and still get the “no’s.” My agent has suggested that she help me go Indie! She is as frustrated as i am about the slow, slow process of traditional publishing. I think the trad publishers are about to shoot themselves in their antique typewriters if they don’t get on the with the new ways things are going in publishing. No one wants to work so hard and wait so long for results these days. I’ve held off Indie because I felt trad publishing had more prestige (shame on me) and better writers (but I read two books in the last week from well known Christian fiction writers and was very disappointed in the type of writing represented. Contracts to write so many books in short time can rob the creative juices from anyone). And although my mind is not completely made up, I will be having that “Indie” talk with my agent again. And, on that note, I thank you again for allowing the discussion. I also thank Randy and Kim and the others for their input.

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