• Victoria Mixon
  • COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: Let's Say 41 Days---Indie Publishing
COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: Let's Say 41 Days---Indie Publishing
Written by
Victoria Mixon
February 2010
Written by
Victoria Mixon
February 2010
I spent yesterday morning in a fascinating conversation, a twenty-minute interview that ballooned into an hour and a half. I was talking to She Writes member Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of the independently-published Silent Sorority. I've begun interviewing indie-published authors for my blog, as I work my way through the research on independent publishers for my book. (My interview with Pamela will go up next week.) Why did you choose this particular publisher? I'm asking them all. What influenced your decisions? How did it work out? Indie publishing is at an extraordinary crossroads. Right now---today, this minute---it's evolving out of the old vanity press model, through a veritable tsunami of slush that couldn't get accepted by traditional publishers, into a radical new paradigm in which excellent authors deliberately choose indie over traditional publishing. They're carving out a new publishing world, and as the stigma of self-publishing slowly disintegrates, authors can now publicly admit to their excitement over the flexibility and creative possibilities in going independent. The truth is I've always kind of hankered after publishing my own work. I've been writing for so long, and I have so much background in the actual mechanics of publication from my years in the composing departments of newspapers, that I've never been able to totally convince myself traditional publishing was worth all the effort. You pursue agents, so they can pursue acquisitions editors, so they can pursue their colleagues, so they can pursue distributors' reps, so they can pursue booksellers, and maybe, somewhere down the line, you can sell a book to a stranger. And, besides, I've been traditionally published. I know perfectly well how little an author makes. I'd gotten used to nice, fat writing paychecks in the technical industry, and it never made any sense to pin my hopes on a career path that obviously couldn't compare. And now publishing houses are laying off editors in droves, agents are scrambling to make up the difference, and even award-winning publishing authors are losing their publishers. Coincidentally, the technology of ebooks and ereaders has suddenly become mainstream, along with POD and self-publishing. Six years ago, when I wrote my first annual chapter book for my son, my husband and I had to find a local bookbinder to hand bind a single copy. Now we can get it done professionally for a matter of a few bucks. In only the last year, the independent publishing industry has exploded into an incredible primordial soup. I began researching and blogging on this phenomenon a year ago, when I first began professionally editing fiction writers in the online community. At that time, serious professional writers were hiring independent editors, but not very many of them and not right out in front of everyone. Even six months ago agents were still telling aspiring writers, "You don't need a editor." (Some of them still do.) And I was blogging about the similarity between that moment in history and another moment, not so many decades ago, when publishers told aspiring writers, "You don't need an agent." "The smart agents," I said, "are going to start sending clients to independent editors." And now agents routinely send us aspiring writers. "The market's very, very tough," they're saying. "Get all the help you can." In the same vein, a year ago traditional publishers were telling aspiring writers, "Don't self-publish. No matter what your actual motivation, we will take it as incontrovertible proof that no other publishers would take you, and we won't touch you with a ten-foot pole." Six months later I was hearing from top acquisitions editors they were buying self-published books. "They're proving through sales they're really good!" Now, this morning, I heard about an author who turned to indie publishing after he'd not only been accepted by an agent and one of the big-name traditional publishers, but assigned an editor, for whom he waited quite awhile before discovering she'd been laid off. His traditionally-publishable book was dead in the water, and rather than waste any more time and energy he went with Smashwords. Any author can now hire an editor and designer, get their own ISBN and copyright, and collect all their own royalties. I can make my book anything I like. I have complete control over my title, my cover, my design, and my words. (That's my hand-built desk in the cover photo! That's my irascible cat!) My book doesn't have to fit the standard model of a likely best seller by which traditional publishers make their decisions. I can promote it however I like. I can say whatever I like. I can go renegade. This is one of those wild-cat moments in the history of an industry you can't plan for, you can't deliberately create, you can't even always recognize when you find yourself right smack in the middle. But you can look back on it later and wish you'd been a part of it. Indie publishing.

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  • Janet Elaine Smith

    I'd love to do an interview with you. My 20th independently published book, Rebel With a Cause, just came out. I have turned down a couple of pretty good contracts from some pretty high-class traditional publishers. I've had some of the worst indie publishers, and hopefully I've got it right this time. And my books are selling well enough that Star Publish LLC (my current publisher) has even hired me as their Marketing Director. I have even hit the No. 1 spot of all books on Scotland (out of over 8000 other titles) on Amazon.com .
    Janet Elaine Smith, multi-genre author

  • Victoria Mixon

    It's true, Pauline. And I'll tell you sometimes it's the rank newbies who are the most gracious about accepting direction and the hardest-working toward learning the craft. I get more push-back sometimes from amateurs who've been amateurs so long they've forgotten that's what they are.

    That's why I wrote my book---the early posts on craft that I originally wrote for my blog---and why I'm putting it out there for clients. Because there are such important basics. I explain them over and over and over again. And it's absurd for my clients to have to pay me by the hour for that, when it's focusing each individual work carefully for that author's vision that's the real work of editing. The other stuff. . .writers should be able know about that going into it.

    I tell them, "You're wrestling the angel of the craft. And you might as well accept it now: that angel is going to throw you."

  • Thanks for the thanks, Victoria. I feel quite passionately about this because I've been a literary and screenplay consultant for quite a few years now, and without exception, no MS or film script submitted to me has ever been ready for market.

    I recently mentored an established novelist for her latest work and several major rewrites were needed based on a whole number of elements that needed work. Fortunately, the author was grown-up enough to accept my advice and suggestions.

    And I have to say less experienced and aspiring writers have been gracious enough to acknowledge their work isn't ready yet.

    As I'm sure the literary consultants in our groups here will agree, creative mentoring and critiqueing is about so much more than the technicals. It's about supporting the writer to develop her unique vision in the most compelling way possible, and often the writer herself has not been able to identify what that vision is. Without this, all the technical advice in the world won't help them to realise it. It's this which makes a caring, supportive directional editor so important for a MS to blossom into fruition. As I say to my website visitors, the only critique that really helps a writer is the one that focuses on your individual vision.

  • Victoria Mixon

    Brenda, that's a good question. No, I'm not. Self-publishing was the term being used when these services became widely available, based on the old vanity press model. So the stigma of being an amateur who couldn't get accepted by a traditional publisher---which grew up very quickly in the lag between the availability of publishing services and the lack of availability of traditional publishers---is attached to that term. Calling it independent is a way of leading the conversation away from the amateur vanity press and toward an indie movement.

    A lot of terrible self-made movies appeared when the technology made it possible and the big movie studios made it attractive. But the indie film industry is about talented, hardworking professionals creating quality work.

  • Victoria Mixon

    Pauline, thanks for making the point about designing. Yes, it is essential to hire an editor and, unless you already are a designer, to hire a designer as well. I wrote a blog post about this on my own site last week, ranting about how it gives indie publishing a bad name for writers to throw their stuff out there the minute the first draft is done without realizing how much work really goes into a book. even while serious writers do their homework and hire their professionals. You are absolutely right about the reputation of indie publishing.

    I also want to make the point that there's more to editing than just copy-editing. Every published book should have gone through the hands of an experienced developmental and line editor.

    There is so much developmental stuff to writing a book that its author is too deep in the work to see. (Is the pacing moving along at the proper speed? does the progress of chapters make sense? is the reader surprised when they're meant to be surprised and soothed when they're meant to be soothed? do the twists and turns work? does the reader reach the end in the proper state of mind? It goes on and on and on.)

    And the author has an even worse time polishing the line editing. I find that really serious, talented writers sometimes have the worst trouble because they get so deep into choosing each word they lose sight of the overall flow of the language. I do it myself. You can no longer see the forest for the trees.

    All of this is stuff that a really good editor should be able to fix for you. Remember: that's your name on that cover.

    Think about how seriously you want to be taken as an author, and treat writing and publishing just that seriously.

  • Brenda Jenkins Kleager

    Are you making a distinction between self-published and independently published? I have set up my own publishing company. There are plenty of free online how-tos. It was somewhat time-consuming, but not difficult. The biggest thing you have to do is to register to get the ISBN numbers and bar codes. You will probably want a PO box; a local/state business license is iffy. In Missouri, I was told that they didn't care what I did from my home, as long as people weren't driving to my house to purchase products.

  • Just to add to Victoria's post - I'm getting more and more traditionally-published authors requesting my editing service because publishers aren't doing it now, and also many more self-publishing authors too, so that's another proof of how the whole landscape is changing.
    But I do think there's still a long way to go before writers really understand that getting a brilliant book designer is crucial as well. Too many covers, for example, look amateurish and lack any dynamic impact (not yours, Victoria - it's great!) I've got a designer working on my first self-published book who has a real gift for exactly expressing the tone and content, and really cares about getting it how I want it, instead of imposing his own ideas. My advice is to do the homework - a lot of these so-called designers have done a 3-month class on graphic design and have little idea of how editorial and book design works.
    There's another factor in all this. If we self-publishers show how ultra-professional we are so that our books are impeccably copy-edited and brilliantly designed, the more we will enhance the reputation of self-publishing!

  • Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

    I found the conversation equally fascinating! I look forward to following your progress...wishing you much success. Cheers, Pamela

  • Terrific post Victoria. Having gone the mainstream route with three traditional publishers, had an agent who messed up deals I'd cultivated myself, I'm now going the self-publishing route, although not looking forward to learning how!
    Thanks again for such an intelligent appraisal of the current publishing climate.
    All good wishes