Friday, 11 September 2015

So You've written A book - Trade or Indie?

Hi guys,


First up, apologies as usual for not having posted for so long. Unfortunately my muse kidnapped me – it does that sometimes – and said “head down, bum up, you've got a book to write boy!” Oh to be a plotter and not a pantster! One day I'll make that switch. Not this month though.


The upshot is that on the fifth of August having finally got The Arcanist published and thinking I should enjoy a bit of a break, I started Spaced. And last night just before the witching hour I sent the completed first draft of the space opera off. 157K in a month and six days! Maybe this year I finally should enter Nanowrimo!


Anyway, that's been my life for the last month or so, which is why I haven't done a hell of a lot else. But now that I've regained my freedom and the use of my poor, overworked fingers, I thought I'd turn my attention to other things. And first up, before I start editing the third Wizard at Law book which returned from my editor last month as well and got pushed to one side, I thought I'd answer a question that keeps coming up among new writers. So you've written your book – do you go Indie or Trade?


This is obviously not an easy question to answer. In fact there is no right answer. It's going to depend completely on who you are as a writer and who you want to be as an author. And strangely even the premise – that you've written a book – is going to change depending on the answer. So to begin.


First you've written a book. This means I assume that you've done everything you possibly can to get that book in the best possible shape. You've drafted and redrafted it. Hunted for mistakes and plot holes. It is as close to error free as you can possibly get it. But the one thing that you haven't done is send it away to an editor.


This is actually the next step in your journey – if you go indie. If you instead try to get a trade deal – it isn't. The guts of it is simple, and it comes down to that most base of all motivations – filthy lucre. If you decide to try and pursue a trade deal with an agent or a publisher then your work should not be edited. The reason is that most new authors getting signed get very small advances – less than five thousand dollars and then at least half of them never earn out their advance. (Sorry to shatter any dreams of wealth you may have but writers are by and large very poorly paid whichever route they take.)


(Which brings up another pet peeve – pirates. Grief I get sick of hearing from those who support piracy that all books should be free. It is practically a mantra for the criminally insane. These people believe they are doing some sort of Robin Hood type thing. They aren't. In fact they are doing the exact opposite. They're stealing from the poor and giving to those who have more than enough money to spend on a book. So well done guys!)


Anyway I've wandered down that path enough for the moment. Back to the main thread and the point I was making. If you submit to agents and get a trade deal, the chances of striking gold – which really you've already struck by getting your deal – are small. But the one thing every agent / publisher will provide for free to their writers – is writing services. That means editing and book covering etc. So the last thing you want to be doing is paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for an edit which you'll get for free if you get a deal.


If on the other hand you decide to go indie – bad luck guys. Every book needs to be edited and the bill is yours. So your first guideline in making this decision is a simple one – do you have the money to pay for editing and cover design etc? If yes then you can go either route. If no, then trade is your only option.


Okay, so next up in your decision tree as you sit there with your book should be your skills in other areas. Do you understand things like cover design, marketing, formatting and how to do publishing? If not are you willing to learn? Because make no mistake, going indie is a decision that will necessitate you knowing all of these things. Anyone as they say can self-publish. But doing it well is far harder. To be a successfully indie involves a very steep learning curve.


So here comes your next question in your decision tree. Do you have these skills? Are you willing to learn them? If yes, then you can take either route. If no, then again trade is your only possible route.


Next on our list, you need to consider commercialism – yes I know – more filthy lucre. But here it's not actually about the money. It's about the selling. And you need to consider this one question before you make your decision – will people buy it?


Yeah I know, it's a difficult thing to guess. But there are some things that will help guide you. First think of the genre. There are some genres that sell better than others – paranormal romance for example is hot these days. Bead work from the 1900's is not. There's also the question of how original it is. Yes everyone says they're looking for the next fresh idea. But they aren't. If you want your best chance to sell you want to stick closely to something that's already out there with just a few tweaks. So maybe your sparkly vampires have a silver sheen instead of gold? But they aren't born literally legless and forced to spend their lives in wheelchairs!


So take a step back from your work and ask yourself, how original is it? And how important is it to you that it's original? If this is something that's wildly new – and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the five people who bought The Man Who Wasn't Anders Voss!!! – indie is really your only option. Almost no agents and no publishers are going to pick it up. They're there to make money and that means selling.


Yes I know – you're all going to yell Fifty Shades at me, and it is true. There are a few exceptions to this rule. But they are just that – exceptions.


Next on the decision tree is what Hollywood likes to call creative control. You've written a book. You're proud of it. It's your baby. Are you willing to let other people mangle it? Yes I know they won't actually mangle it – mostly. But what I consider mangling and what you consider mangling are likely to be very different things. And what I can accept in terms of changes and what you can accept are equally likely to be very different.


There's an old story – not sure if it's true – that Disney once hired a consultant to advise them on Donald's nephews. And the consultants came back and said well you can save money by removing a button on their shirts which will be quicker to draw. Disney said yes. Then the consultants said – does he really need three nephews? Two would be easier to draw. At which point they were sacked.


That in a nut shell is the question you need to ask. How much can you compromise on your artistic vision? If the answer is no more than a few typo's corrected, indie is your choice. If on the other hand it's “hell yes, let it rip – I didn't need to have that character anyway”, then trade may well be a better option for you. I'm not saying that that's what they will do, just that compromise is far more important for someone going the trade route than it is for an indie.


Last of course on our decision tree, we come back to that age old conundrum – filthy lucre. You've written your book. You're proud of it. You want to sell it and make some money. (Let's leave the dreams of castles and jets to one side here and think about things like paying the rent.) Which option is more likely to achieve your objective of keeping a roof over your head?


The truth of the matter is that no one really knows. The surveys of author income all show that trade published authors do better on annual income – though no one really does well. But the surveys are also wrong because they compare apples to oranges. They forget that people don't choose to go trade. They choose to try and go trade. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to make an agent or a publisher pick up your book. For every author who submits to agents and publishers and gets a trade deal there are probably hundreds who submit and get nothing – not even a reply. When you factor that into your calculations suddenly the likely income favours the indie in a big way.


But then comes the next big shovel in the face – and this ones for indies. Surveys all show that the vast majority of self published books don't sell. They get released, no one buys them and they fall to the bottom of the slush pile. There are any number of reasons for this – I've discussed a few here – but the biggest one by far is that an incredible number of writers simply get to the end of their book – think to themselves “this is genius” – slap a cover photo on it and think they're done. They don't do the hard yards of editing and format, cover design, blurb work, beta reading and marketing. And then they no doubt wonder why their book doesn't sell. Obviously the world just wasn't ready for their brilliance!


Yeah right!!!


Anyway, to get back to the point. If you aren't willing to do all those hard yards – indie is not for you. I don't know that any agent would pick up your work either but you are fairly much guaranteed to fail as an indie.


And to the other point – filthy lucre and keeping your roof over your head – my own thought is that for the average author who is willing to put in all that extra effort to get their books beyond the standard poorly written self published novel indie is the better financial option these days.


Having said that, both are viable options and you should carefully consider all the pros and cons before deciding what's right for you.


But one last thing. For those who decide to try and get a trade deal – set yourself a cut off. So many unsuccessful submissions sent. So many months or “shudder!” years spent on the agent-go-round. Then go indie.


You're a writer. Writing is a communicative art. If you're not communicating, you're failing yourself. You actually need to publish however you can, to complete your journey as a writer.


Anyway, enough from me. I need sleep!


Cheers, Greg.

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