Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alan Baxter Blog Tour Day Nine

Today, I'm turning the wonder that is the Musings Of An Aussie Writer over to Alan Baxter. He's promised me he'll be gentle and keep things ultra informative.
We've all been reading about the impact ebooks and self-publishing is going to have on the world of traditional publishing. Alan has setup his own independent publishing company, Blade Red Press, which has released Alan's own novels RealmShift and MageSign.
When I did the reviews for these titles, I was curious as to how someone goes about doing the publishing thing independently, the pitfalls, and what one who travels within these occasionally murky depths believes the future holds.

Indie authors and the future

As part of my blog book tour promoting RealmShift and MageSign, Brenton asked me to write a post about indie authors for his day of the tour. I thought I’d give a brief outline of how I see indie authorship as it is today and where I see it heading in the future.

Firstly, some clarifications. Indie authors are essentially self-publishers, but there’s a lot more to the concept than that. There was a time when a self-publisher was someone that paid a fortune to have a few hundred copies of their book printed and then tried to get those copies sold wherever they could. More often than not those people were left with boxes of unsold books and a burned experience of being a writer.

Indie writers these days are so much more and have so much on offer. In the first place there is technology now that removes the need for expensive advance print runs. Print On Demand, or POD, technology means that a writer can upload their book to a site dedicated to self-publishing and that site will then work with a printer to make that book available. When someone buys a copy of the title from the POD site (or Amazon and other online retailers) that printer produces one copy of the book and sends it out. Only copies that are bought get printed. Companies exist now that are purely there to facilitate this function for authors. A lot of small and independent presses, my own included, use this technology to keep production costs down.

Then there’s the current rise of ebooks. Electronic books and electronic readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, are starting to become mainstream. Before long ebooks will be a normal part of reading. Already my books are selling better in Kindle editions than any other format. And self-publishing ebooks is even easier than using POD.

Naturally, the advent of easier self-publishing has led to more people taking advantage of the opportunity and the market has become flooded with a large amount of crap. Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached and it is well deserved. The vast majority of self-published books are truly awful. Not only are the stories bad, but the production, the editing, even the type-setting is just terrible.

Here’s another place that the indie authors try to separate themselves. Indie authors like myself recognise that we need to compete with the trad houses on every level. POD companies can produce a book indistinguishable from anything else on the shelf, but it’s up to us to use that technology properly. Good indies will get someone in to design a quality cover if they’re not much cop at graphic design. They’ll have their book proof-read and edited by someone other than their mum. They’ll rewrite, edit and polish until their story is really worth publishing. And they’ll pay people (editors, etc.) to do it if necessary because that’s the right thing to do to produce a competitive product.

Obviously the nature of indie publishing means that you’re trying to keep setup costs down, but two things that should really fill your budget are cover design and editing. Often you’ll find other indie that have skills you can use. Perhaps you can trade your graphic design skills for someone’s editing skills. Join a writers’ group, in real life or online, and help each other out. Otherwise, spend the money. There are a lot of author service companies out there these days and they’re often good value. Shop around, compare prices, negotiate. And do as much editing and proofing on your own as you can to give them less to do. The less they have to do, the less they’ll charge for their work. If there’s one thing I try to drill into indie authors it’s this: If we’re going to shake off the self-publishing stigma, we must produce good looking, well edited books. Indie doesn’t mean doing everything on your own.

However, one point I should make very clear – there are a lot of nasty people out there running scams that prey on desperate writers. Be careful who you give your money to when it comes to getting help with your production. Research a lot, inform yourself, talk to other indies. A great place to start is publetariat.com, which is jam-packed with information.

And then there’s the marketing. The biggest hurdle of all. Writing a book is the easy part. Producing a quality product isn’t so hard any more and there are a lot of people out there that can help you. But marketing it is the real difficulty. Again, technology comes to our aid.

Just making your book available won’t encourage people to buy it. They won’t even know it exists. There are literally millions of books available on Amazon. What makes yours so special? Well, with the use of social networks like Twitter and Facebook and with a well designed, quality website as an online hub, an author can begin to build a profile for themselves that will draw the attention of readers and get the author’s work noticed. It takes an incredible amount of work and time, but it can be done.

If you do want to be traditionally published, then best of luck to you. It can happen. But it’s not necessarily based on how good you are as a writer. It’s a lot to do with luck, timing and the current writing zeitgeist. Going the indie route is not easy, takes a huge amount of time and effort and you’re unlikely to ever be considered a bestseller by anyone’s standards. But it can be done and it can be fun. I’m having a great time producing my own work and selling it, and it’s starting to sell quite well comparatively. I still seek traditional publishing, particularly in short fiction, and I’ve had a fair amount of success there. I love that too. I’m a writer, an author, and this is what I do. I’m slowly getting my small independent press up and running and I hope to offer the indie author opportunity to other writers, taking some of the hard work out of the game for them.

This article is really just an overview, scratching the surface of what’s out there in the way of opportunities for today’s authors. But just as the music industry and the film industry saw a small number of indie artists rise to prominence and become mainstream in their own right, I see indie authorship as doing the same thing over the next few years. It’s going to be a fun ride.


  1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about indie publishing. I had no idea about POD and being about to produce one book at a time. And that the books could be of equal quality to books on the shelf.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I'm happy to say I know more about Indie publishing now.

  3. That was a really cool inside look at what it means to be an indie pub today. Thanks for that, Alan, and have fun with the rest of the tour! I'll follow you around :D

  4. Alan - if you looked at my books and a variety of trade paperbacks from big publishing houses, you'd be hard pressed to know which was which. The technology is there - it's up to us to design and produce books with as much professionalism in the design as the big houses do.

    Danielle - Great, always happy to spread the word.

    katey - Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Check back on my site for the days of the tour that have gone before. Lots of interesting stuff has been happening.

    Also, for those interested, as well as paperback and Kindle at Amazon, you can get both of my novels in ebook format from Smashwords for just US$1 each at the moment. All the details here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2009/07/27/blog-book-tour-day-9.html and here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/

  5. I've enjoyed following your tour, Alan. I sort of fall in a gray zone. I'm not self-published, nor am I traditionally published. My publisher is a new player, and so I have to promote my book as if I were self-published, which is a daunting task. At least I have some breadcrumbs that people like you have dropped, so perhaps I'll find my way to . . . success?

  6. Pat - you'll get there. Perseverance is the key!

  7. Glad to see everyone getting something out this experiment.

    Thanks Alan for providing an excellent insight into the indie side of things and for inviting me to take part in your tour.

    Now, if you haven't read my review of Alan's books - go do so - for those of you that already have - go buy them while they're cheaper than a cup of coffee (although I would suggest buying them in print as the covers truly are wonderful).

  8. Thanks BT. And thanks for the compliment on the covers. They do look good, don't they! :)

    If people are interested in buying the print editions, check your local Amazon. However, if you're in Australia and reading this, drop me an email to alan@alanbaxteronline.com and I'll do you a special deal on both books if you buy them together (cheaper than the shops and no postage!)

  9. It's quite astonishing what's happening in publishing right now, especially with indie authors. The parallel to indie musicians is not inconsiderable, and certainly indie authors are offering literature legacy or trad publishers are unwilling to market.
    Sure, there's a lot of drek being published by legacy, vanity and indies, but there is also a lot of quite remarkable literature coming out of the indie movement.
    And in the end I believe both the indie author and the reader looking for fresh voices benefit.
    Personally, although this journey has been not without frustration, I have to say I guard jealously the artistic freedom indie publishing has given me, and I'm not sure I'd leap at the chance to be herded into a legacy publisher's stable.

  10. I'm really getting into discussing indie publishing since your comments on my blog and some of your other posts around the Blogosphere.

    There's still some apprehension about publishing before I'm ready though. I guess I'd have to be pretty sure it could sell.

  11. Five Rivers - I really enjoy the freedom as well. It would have to be a really good offer for me to cross to a trad publisher, but I wouldn't write off the possibility.

    Benjamin - In some ways, you'll never know if it will sell or not. It's certainly easier to take the trad route even now, but that's still not going to guarantee you sales. A lot of trad authors end up on the remains tables and are never heard from again. You have to go into indie publishing with your eyes open and you'll never know really if it will sell or not. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of work with no sure result. But if you trust your work and others (without bias) have told you it's a good shot, then you can have a lot of fun trying.

  12. I think even if you succeed in getting trad publishing, you still have to work as if you're doing it indie.

    The benefits are: an advance, some help with the editing, an art department for those of us who can't design a decent cover (yes Alan, they are very nice), and some help with marketing - none of which will guarantee sales.

    Unless your trad pub allows a big print run, and you get placement in book clubs and schools and big department stores, there's a big chance either method won't avail you of big money.

    And then there's luck...

  13. Luck is by far the biggest factor. RealmShift was almost published traditionally by a big trad house back in 2005. I had the agent, the editor at the publisher wanted to go with it, but the head of fiction knocked it back as it wouldn't fit with the other stuff they were currently working with. Pure timing luck (or bad luck, in my case). Once they've knocked something back once they move on.

    Interestingly, check out this post by a good friend of mine, David B Coe. He's trad published through Tor and has a bunch of books out and a solid following. See what he has to say in this guest post he did for me: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2009/04/02/friday-guest-blog-david-coe.html

    Also, read David's post here (and read the comments too): http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/06/23/hard-times-come-again-no-more/

    Lots of food for thought, eh?