After October’s inaugural, myth-busting post “What Does it Mean to Be an ‘Indie’?”, the comments section exploded with proud indie authors stepping forward and sharing their experiences. At first, I was surprised by the number of comments that rolled in—I knew I wasn’t the only indie hanging around these parts, but I had no idea there were so many kindred spirits out there. As I read their comments and stories, I spent some time visiting their links, where I discovered beautiful author websites, exquisite book covers, and an incredible range of work—from nonfiction to thriller to gay romance and everything in between. It was the ultimate demonstration of what it means to be an indie author. And it made me curious about what inspires some writers to choose this path.
For me, independent publishing felt like a natural next step in my career. I’d spent a decade working in marketing, advertising, and sales and was looking for something more entrepreneurial. When my first novel, Empty Arms, was complete, the indie movement was just beginning to pick up steam, and the idea of starting my own publishing company seemed like an exciting opportunity to merge my passion for writing with my professional experience. While the favorable royalty splits and payment terms were appealing and the disadvantages seemed like a fun challenge to tackle, what I wanted most as a writer and business owner was autonomy. I decided not to seek representation or pursue a traditional book deal, in favor of independence.
But what about other indie authors? How did they end up on this path? I decided to find out. I reached out to a handful of indie authors and asked them how their publishing journeys came to be. Not surprisingly, they were happy to share their stories. Here’s what I learned:
Entrepreneurial Spirit & Love of Learning
For New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Joanna Penn, the decision to publish her own work was a natural extension of her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for learning. “I’ve been running my own businesses for years,” said Penn, “so when I wrote my first book back in 2008 in Australia, I looked at how long the publishing industry would take to get it out there and decided I’d give it a go myself. I love to learn new things, and even though I made mistakes along the way, 2009 turned out to be a big year for ebooks and the beginnings of the indie movement.”
Today, Penn has written more than 20 books and sold over 450,000 copies of her books in 74 countries and five languages. “I love the creative freedom, the control and speed of professionally publishing my own books, and my business has gone from making less than $10 in that first month to a multi-six-figure, international publishing company.”
Book Deal Gone Bad
For nonfiction author Mary Shafer, the decision to go indie was born out of necessity. “I didn’t have a choice,” Shafer explained. “I had a book contract with a small publisher for my book, Devastation on the Delaware, a narrative nonfiction account of the record-setting Delaware flood of August 1955. We were going to release it in August 2005, just in time for the flood’s 50th anniversary. But two months before we were supposed to go to press, the publishing company went under.
“Keep in mind, this was back before Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), CreateSpace, Lightning Source, and many of the other tools that make it relatively easy to self-publish. I knew I wouldn’t have a prayer of selling my finished manuscript to another publisher in time to get it out for the flood’s 50th anniversary, which was an important publicity hook for the launch, and I wasn’t about to let the three years I’d spent researching and writing it go down the drain. I realized that, other than sales and distribution, I knew everything about how to produce and market a book from my years working at NorthWord Press and Lost River Press in northern Wisconsin. I figured I could learn the rest, and I had a good track record with my first two books. So, I bought back my rights, started Word Forge Books, and took the plunge.”