Hi, I’m Jenny B. Jones, and I’m an indie author. It feels weird to say. Even weirder to say it on a literary agent’s blog. Chip (who is the literary agent who helped me land my traditional publishing deals) asked me to stop by and share a bit of my story. I asked him if I could share my Worst Date Ever Story, but he convinced me this one was more relevant. Before I jump into a discussion about why I went rogue, let me say this is just my story. For every point I make, you can find an author who can disprove it with her own experience. Traditional publishing has done a lot of things right by me, and I’m grateful for most of that season, cow book covers notwithstanding.
WHY DID I CHOOSE TO GO INDIE?
I wrote nine books in traditional publishing. It’s humbling to admit, but I was not the queen of the bestsellers. I was more like the lady’s maid who helps the queen get into her corset and says things like, “No, that bustle does not make your butt look big.” I once heard Debbie Macomber say something to the effect of, “I’m not called to preach. I’m called to write.” Amen and testify. My gift is not in delivering spiritual messages, but in creating a story often about Christian characters and always from a Christian world view. I was always too secular for CBA and too sweet for secular. I heard this so often, I thought about working it into my next tattoo.
Almost four years ago I left publishing. I thought at first I would take a year’s absence, then that year turned into “probably forever.” I had a full-time day job, and years of doing both gigs just wore me out. The last few years of traditional publishing wore me out. The return just wasn’t enough, and I was swimming in the wrong pool.
My “forever break” ended when I got the rights back to my very first series. Not only did this mean I had instant indie income if I wanted, but it coincided with the indie information boom. There has never been more information out there for indies like now. Being a total nerd, this info was all I needed to motivate me and inspire some hope. It was the perfect time to jump in.
WHAT DOES INDIE PUBLISHING DO FOR ME THAT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING CAN’T?
1. Indie allows me to write like me, while finding my ideal reader. My writing style does not really reach out and grab the typical female shopper in a Lifeway store. Traditional publishing had told me for years the problem was me. That I needed to change my brand, my characters, my voice. These are lovely things to ponder when you’re putting in seventy hours a week, just gained ten pounds from binge M&M consumption, and you cannot remember the last time you mowed the cat or fed the yard. With indie, the lower price point gets the reader’s attention, while the content will hopefully make them come back for more. After re-releasing my first series, the review and email comment I heard the most was “Where have you been?” What brought these new readers to me? Setting my first book in a series free, which gives readers a gentle push into purchasing your other books. If you’ve heard permafree has lost its luster, you are listening to the wrong people. Permafree works for series, and it works very, very well (whether indie or traditional).
2. I’m in control. What am I in control of? Cover design. Release date. Who edits. Pricing options. Pricing promos. Metadata. Distribution channels. Content. I want someone with an eye on my metadata FOREVER. (Do you think traditional publishing has the man-power to do that for every book they own the rights to?) I want a cover that is relevant to its reader and genre and doesn’t make me want to cry. For my personality type, I want an editor who is kind and encouraging, yet will not let me write crap no matter how tough she has to get. I want books priced competitively so they move and don’t sit and gather dust, no matter their age.
3. I own the rights forever. In traditional publishing, your book is pretty much dead after three to six months, and that’s being generous. (Again, this is my experience and might not be yours.) Nobody gains when a publisher hangs onto old books, keeps ugly or dated covers on them, and they’re priced the same as a new release from Stephen King. In the indie world, my book, much like Edward Cullen, lives forever. Dated references? I’ll revamp the content. Is the cover three years old? I’ll give it a new one. Is the price stalling the book? I’ll run a promotion. Does the metadata need to be changed? I’ll add some new descriptors. If taken care of, indie books can live forever, and even do so profitably. And nobody is performing Last Rites at the six month mark and chalking it up to a lame book/author/season of El Nino.
4. I get data. I have two masters degrees, but let me confess that I have no flipping idea how to read a royalty report. There is one publisher who sends a report I don’t even bother opening because it involves too many pages, too many numbers, too many abbreviations, and what I think is subliminal code that makes me want to listen to Beetles records backwards. The data is not only old by the time I get it, but it’s limited in the picture it shows. E-tailers like Amazon give me the closest thing to real time data. I can watch my stats by the hour or by the day. If I release a book this week, I can watch the sales, and that gives me information I need to make decisions about that book for next week or decisions for the next release. I can watch sales during the summer, sales on Sundays, sales on holidays, sales on the YA, sales on the women’s fiction, the new titles, the book that just got retitled, and so on. As an author (or book seller), you need data, and you need it now. And not only do I get all that, but folks like Amazon put it in a format I can actually read and understand. It’s like they know I’m Royalty Report Challenged and love me anyway. In all seriousness, this access to data is a GAME CHANGER.
5. It’s more conducive to risk taking. The book I just released is a New Adult romance that picks up seven years after a previous YA series fictionally ended. I would have never sold this in traditional publishing. I would have never wanted to because you don’t beat an old, dead series horse, and New Adult is not a hot genre in CBA. But now that I’ve introduced tens of thousands of new folks to my YA book In Between, the conditions are perfect to resurrect these old characters and give them to new readers. And New Adult is hot in the general market, and now I can go find those readers. Indie folks are utilizing the novella, serialization, book bundling, writing in new-to-them genres, bending rules, genre-morphing, and finding success in areas we’d previously been told to leave alone.
6. I can sell foreign rights. Foreigners buy books, guys. And you can actually get paid for that. Like a lot. (Traditional folks, don’t give up those rights in contracts!)
7. There is information available. Another reason I like the indie life is because there is a huge trend of transparency. It might be like this forever, but I kind of doubt it, so take advantage of it now. Indie folks are big on sharing information, offering help, and occasionally even talking sales numbers. Some resources you might include: www.ThePassiveVoice.com, www.hughhowey.com, The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing (an ebook), The Indie Author Survival Guide (an ebook), The Creative Pen podcasts, and all the indie and marketing sessions from RWA 2014.
I have always held the day job tightly and the writing gig loosely. I’m not sure where I’ll be five years from now in terms of publishing, and five years ago, I would’ve laughed if you had told me I’d be self-publishing. But running my own business has kind of changed my life. It’s made writing (almost) fun, and it’s given me a hope and optimism I haven’t felt since I got my very first contract. Though I still eat way too many M&Ms.
Indie is not for everyone, and that’s okay. But this wave of self-publishing does offer some much-needed changes in the industry and lessons we can all learn from no matter who you’re writing for. Writers can now choose their own adventure, and that’s an exciting thing.
Jenny B. Jones is the award-winning author of the Katie Parker Production series, including the newly released romance Can’t Let You Go. She loves making people laugh, reading a good love story, and does not deny watching General Hospital. You can find her at Jennybjones.com and on Twitter at @JenBJones.