In my last post, I started off by saying October was going to be crazy. WAS IT EVER. (And we still have another week. Let the week-long sugar high begin!) But it was crazy in a good way, and crazy in all the right ways. All the events went well, up to and including the publication of my second book. I admit I was terrified of shipping the book myself, but it turned out to be super easy and really fun because I was able to sign the books as they went out.
Me at MN ITEM- a conference full of school librarians and writers. MY PEOPLE.
Book festivals and literary conferences attract all kinds of bookworms, and this month I found myself connecting with a lot of aspiring writers. Lots of them asked the same questions, so I thought I’d recap with my responses here.
- What’s the difference between self-publishing and independent publishing?
For a lot of people, these words are interchangeable. For me, they aren’t. Blogging is self-publishing. Putting your manuscript, hastily or cheaply edited, up on Amazon for download is self-publishing. Financing a book yourself, without any sort of help or guidance, is self-publishing. I don’t knock this form of publishing at all– for some people, it’s great. For others, it’s disappointing. But that is true of any type of artistic endeavor (more on that later). I consider myself “independent” in that I financed the books myself, without any backing of an agent or publishing house, but with the ENORMOUS help of my publishers, Wise Ink. What they do is take my brand, my book, and my vision, and help me bring it to life. So I’m doing it on my own in the way that a baker might start their own business– with a ton of help from people who know the larger picture better than I.
2. Money. Give it to me straight.
I don’t mind talking about the financial piece of indie publishing with people who are truly curious about it. Here’s what I’ll say, without mincing words: Figure out a budget that works for you. Then sit down with someone to see if you can make that budget happen. Each project is different. If you’re writing a full-color cookbook, your printing costs are going to be astronomically higher than mine. If you design your own cover, you’ll avoid the fee I paid to have a full time artist design my cover. If you’re PDF savvy, maybe you can format your own interior. Maybe not. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of doing it yourself is figuring out these pieces along the way.
3. Fine, fine. Give it to me more straight. I want numbers.
Okay, fine. (Can you tell I had some candid conversations?) But I can only say this from my experience writing novels. I promise you’ll find plenty of other idie authors with different stories to tell. My first book cost about $8k. That includes a publicist, coordinating logistics, a well-known interior formatter, my incredible illustrator, and the printing of 1000 copies of The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High. $8k seems like a lot of money. It is. I know people who’ve spent far more than that, and I know people who’ve spent far less. My second book, Edge the Bare Garden, was published for a fraction of that cost, partially because I did a much smaller print run but mostly because I was much smarter the second time around, and made some smarter financial decisions (ie, maximizing my direct sales opportunities.
4. Are you profitable?
Sheesh, enough with the money talk. The answer is no, not yet. But soon. Hopefully super, super soon. Two books in two years is pretty aggressive… and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But I do see a finish line fast approaching.
5. Wouldn’t a big publisher give you more opportunities than you’d find independently? (In other words, aren’t you worried about the stigma of self-publishing?)
The answer to both questions is no. While it would be wonderful to get a huge advance from a publisher, sit back with a cup of tea, and write while my royalty checks accrue magically, that is simply not the case for writers in general, no matter how they’re published. For every John Green or Stephanie Meyer, there are hundreds– thousands– more authors like me, who are growing their audiences one positive review at a time. My school visits are pure joy for me, and the kids reading my book couldn’t care less who or how the book was published. They care if it’s good.
6. Is it worth it?
This was a broad question, asked many times in many forms. Aren’t you exhausted with all those school visits? How do you find time with two small children to write books? What about rejection, negative reviews, etc? I’ll summarize by repeating what I said at an author panel at the beginning of the month: If you’re a creative person and you aren’t creating, then what are you doing? Yes, the money is important, the investment is huge(ish), and the risk is high. Crazy high. But what of it? Life is short, and if you are motivated to create, then do it. And if you do it smartly, you won’t be sorry.