What Happened To Indie?

The sand under the publishing landscape is constantly shifting under our feet. In 2008, we were told traditional publishing was in a freefall. In 2010, JA Konrath was loudly leading the charge to a self-publishing wonderland. Soon, we had people like Andy Weir and Hugh Howey knocking it out of the park without a publisher. Howey even told his traditional publisher that print was a subsidiary right, and he would be keeping the rights to his ebooks. You didn’t need a publisher anymore. They had no clue.


The past two years, it’s been harder to sell your indie work than it is to sell ice in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Unfortunately for me, I started my science fiction experiment right as this transition began. Not good. I had trouble with covers, which I couldn’t really do on my own. I didn’t master formatting print books until two years into the process. At that point, the downward spiral for indie had already begun.

So what’s a poor boy to do?

I had the opportunity to send my last crime novel, Holland Bay, to New York. Acceptance will most definitely precipitate getting an agent. Rejection will mean shopping for one. I had a large house editor and a rather well-known writer both tell me this needed to go over the transom. So one way or the other, this book needs to be shopped around.

I went indie because I was sick of the process. I sold one novel to a micropress in 2004 that promptly collapsed. It poisoned the well with my original agent. My second agent couldn’t sell my Elmore Leonardesque novel Road Rules. I put everything I had up on Createspace and Kindle and just forgot about it. A third agent decided she was not the right person to shop Holland Bay. Frustrated, I shut down the Jim Winter pen name and took down all the books. But…

I also had all those arguments for going indie that have completely tanked like Donald Trump’s approval ratings. They are…

You keep more of the royalties.

From a percentage perspective, that’s true. But 70% of nothing is still 0. Real publishers give you checks with multiple zeroes. The smaller ones might pay you fewer zeroes, but they pay. The tiny ones? Run, don’t walk, away. Money flows to the writer. If i have to pay for editing and covers and marketing, well, I’m already doing that. Then you have a point about keeping the profits.

You’ll get a small advance that won’t earn out, then you’ll disappear.

See above. The $6000 advance often tossed at me is still more than I’ve made in four years of putting out The Compact Universe. And a traditionally published has-been sells more indie books than a traditionally published never-was. To put this in perspective, Danny Bonaduce and Dustin Diamond can always appear on shows featuring people who were once famous. The lead singer of that band you had in college or the head cheerleader who got the lead in the high school musical will never be paid to do Celebrity Fit Club. Why? No one’s ever heard of them. There’s more money in flaming out than in never trying.

Agents are useless and largely unethical. Use a lawyer instead.

Agents spend their days negotiating with publishers. Most of them used to be editors. I’m a software developer. You think the acquisitions editor at Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins wants to negotiate terms with me? He or she might want my book, but they want someone who feels their pain in terms of crafting a contract to negotiate with them. But if you want proof that you need an agent in the trad realm, I will point out that Andy Weir has an agent. So does Hugh Howey. And Lee Child always had one. When your paychecks match theirs, I’ll pay attention.

Traditional publishing is dead.

Not really. It’s harder to sell an indie book now than a traditional one. And try getting it into bookstores. All I have to do to tell Joseph-Beth Booksellers here in Cincy to get the door slammed in my face is “You have to order it through CreateSpace.” Which is an Amazon company. Which they don’t like. On the other hand, slap, say, Hachette’s logo on the book, and I’ll have every Barnes & Noble employee in the world at my disposal. Yes, BN has been hurting lo these past few years. But they’re still in business.

But they publish guys like Sean Penn for name recognition only.

I’m not really competing with Sean Penn. (And apparently, according to the reviews, neither is anyone else capable of writing a grocery list.)

But millennials want ebooks!

OK, I got in a huge argument with a writer I used to know on this very topic. He loudly proclaimed that print was dead because every teen listened to music on his phone, and they wanted their books that way, too. I pointed out that my stepson – then about 18 or so – and most of his friends hated ebooks. They’ve gotten away from that, but they still prefer the printed word over a computer screen. If they’re on a computer, they want a video game up or PornHu- er, um, Facebook.

So will I shutter my science fiction if I become a successful crime novelist? Hardly. I’ll have a name by then. And names sell books. I’ll finish what I started and put it out there as its own body of work. It may end up going traditional. It may end up simply paying off some credit cards.

Or it can just lay there like it does now. The beauty of this is I control the creative process. That doesn’t pay the mortgage, but it sure lets me do what I want.