As Thanksgiving rolls around (and the end of the year!), I am taking some time to reflect on the state of indie publishing. We all have a lot for which we can be thankful. The barriers to publishing have all but been eliminated. Authors enjoy increased creative control over their books and indeed the entire publishing process. There’s a business case to be made for indie publishing, with authors abandoning the traditional royalty model and realizing 100% of their net revenue instead. Access to information enables authors to produce quality books and avoid scams.
Yes, indie publishing is having a moment.
Here’s my review of why indie publishing is easier than ever.
Self-publishing Is 100% Legit
The number of self-published books grew by 40% from 2017 to 2018. This upward trend is expected to continue as beautifully designed and well-edited indie-published books go head to head with traditionally published books—and win. With innovative marketing techniques and word-of-mouth, readers are realizing that a good book is a good book, no matter how it’s published. Gone are the days of traditional publishers being the gatekeepers to information, rejecting books that they didn’t feel would sell. Authors who self-publish books for those niche markets typically ignored by traditional publishers can rejoice.
Let’s Hear It for Control Freaks
The ability to maintain creative control continues to be one of the main attractions to indie publishing. By self-publishing, authors have direct input into book cover design, interior page layout, editorial style, and more.
With all that control comes responsibility. Authors should hire design and editing talent they can trust; referrals and customer testimonials are the best ways to find designers and editors who have their best interests at heart and who will work as hard as they do to ensure their book’s success. Authors should also be open to suggestions from these professionals and rely on their industry knowledge for book design that competes with the best sellers.
Indie publishers also control the project. With in-depth knowledge of their field of expertise, nonfiction authors, in particular, know when the right time is to publish a book (e.g., to support a business marketing effort, a career change, a time when the market for this type of knowledge is hot). With the flexibility that comes with indie publishing, authors can “strike while the iron is hot,” so to speak, and publish when the time suits them and not when it suits the publisher.
Keep 100% of Net Revenue
When authors set up their own POD accounts at IngramSpark and KDP, they will receive the net revenue from book sales after the retailer’s cut and printing costs have been deducted. This amount is almost always larger than the “royalties” paid by self-publishing companies or hybrid publishers, who often take an additional cut of the author’s revenue for themselves, even when they promise “100% royalties.”
Use the calculators on the KDP and IngramSpark websites to compare the net revenue you should receive by opening POD accounts yourself to the net revenue promised by self-publishing companies. (Read our comparison here.) If you will receive additional services from these publishers in return for their cut, you can determine if you’re getting sufficient value. If the publishing company is merely uploading files to their own POD account instead of yours, the question becomes, “What entitles them to a portion of my profits?”
Increased Access to Knowledge
As self-publishing comes into its own, access to quality information about the industry has exploded. Indie publishers are using this information to produce superior products, which in turn assures the combined success of all indie publishers as the level of quality of self-published books now rivals that of traditional publishers.
Here are a few resources for indie publishers:
- The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Self-publishing Advice Centre includes podcasts, blogs, ratings, guidebooks and conferences.
- The Book Designer’s own blog, plus their monthly Carnival of the Indies, which draws upon the best of articles published by industry experts.
- IngramSpark’s Publisher Education area of their website features articles, self-publishing courses and a podcast.
- The courses available on the Book Selling University website help authors plan, produce, price, distribute and promote books more effectively and efficiently.
You can also subscribe to our bi-weekly Publish Like the Pros newsletter, which brings the latest industry news and tips to your inbox. When you subscribe, you’ll receive a free download of our book, Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-publishing.
Easier to Avoid Scams
Authors are wising up to self-publishing scams. Red flags for scams can include companies that:
- Ask authors to apply to have their books accepted and then demand money to “publish” them
- Promise to publish a book for cheap
- Assure authors of instant success or “3 easy steps”
- Charge a low price in return for taking an absurd percentage of the author’s revenue.
Fortunately, authors have several resources to help them identify scams before it’s too late:
- Simply “google” the name of the company and add the word “scam” or “reviews”
- Refer to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Self-publishing Services Watchdog
- The tracks and rates companies that provide publishing services
- This article from Publisher’s Weekly is an excellent resource to help authors recognize red flags and find reputable companies.
We recommend authors obtain proposals from three publishing service companies (or from three freelancers should they decide to go that route). Make sure to understand what services you are receiving for the price and how revisions are handled (e.g., an hourly fee for revisions over a certain number).
Yes, these are heady times for indie-publishing. By taking advantage of increased revenue and better information, authors now have the ability to maintain creative and editorial control, avoid the gatekeepers, get their books published, and earn some money while doing so. I could add that, with the popularity of audiobooks and podcasts, authors have more options than ever for providing books in the formats their readers want. Indie publishers are smaller and more flexible than the big publishing houses and more easily able to keep ahead of the times—if not set the trends—in the way books are marketed and sold. Traditional publishers recognize this and have been trying to keep up. It will be interesting to review this list again in another year and then in five years to see what’s changed!