My name is Jenny, and I'm an indie author (a guest blog)
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.
Looks like I’m late to the discussion. But better late than never, right?
Jenny, I love your books. I loved meeting you at conferences even more, you make going to the classes so much fun and I actually learned something about YA along the way.
I have entered lots of contests on both sides of the market. The CBA side was always, always, always split right down the center with one zinging high score, one mediocre score, and one score that had me wondering if it was me or the judge that was seeing cockeyed. Regular contests scored me high, but the funny thing was it was too sweet and they wanted me to put romantically link my protagonist and the demon-guy. So not going to happen. I get comments like–you’re so close. It’s going to happen-I’ll be the first in line to buy your book when it gets published. And then the requests wither and die.
I’ve been scared to indie publish. So much to learn. And I’m in charge. Let me repeat that–I’m in charge. I have trouble chairing a church committee. How can I take charge of a something that could make or break my career? Well, like those shoes in the store window, I keep getting drawn back to indie publishing. I’m so glad Chip had you on to talk about it. I’m going to look at the links you shared and figure this indie thing out. (Thanks, Jenny!)
I love being a hybrid author. I love writing, I love keeping busy. Indie publishing allows all the freedoms Jenny alluded to, new readership (which has crossed over to my traditional stories and vice versa) and plain old good fun. What I love about traditional publishing is that it builds my platform for reaching multiple audiences exponentially, and with help and encouragement from Natasha Kern, I’m delighted with those contracts too.
When I teach children about building a “base” of goodness, building a base for business, is similar. You want it broad enough to sustain the upward growth. I don’t have magic answers for success ratios, but between the cross-endeavors I’m able to go to full-time writing this year, and that’s been my goal. So for me, it’s a total win. Huge congrats to you, Jenny! Glad you jumped in. The water’s fine!
While I can’t know everything that happened behind the scenes, I feel like Thomas Nelson really dropped the ball with Jenny B. Jones. Her writing is on par with top women’s fiction writers (Emily Giffin and Suzanne Elizabeth Phililps are two I often compare her to). She’s top-author material, and yet, for whatever reason, I get the vibe they didn’t support her as a top author. What Thomas Nelson failed to realize is that there are many, many women who crave Jenny’s kind of writing – smart, romantic, gutsy, great. I rarely saw her books advertised, and more often than not, I saw them jacketed with pulpy, crappy covers. Especially the cow and pig covers for the Bella series. Whoever gave the thumbs up on those (traditional authors have no control over covers) obviously had NO CLUE about the YA market. A big loss for Thomas Nelson. But indie publishing is a huge gain for those of us who adore her books, and have been eagerly awaiting her return to writing. Sucks to be you, Thomas Nelson. But it’s awesome to be us. So excited for whatever happens next for this talented author.
Jenny B. Jones, you rock! Thanks to you and to Chip for this post! Indie is not for everyone, but you certainly hit on some wonderful points.
I might have gotten neck strain from nodding along with everything you said Jenny. Everything you’ve heard and felt is everything that I’ve been processing lately (and I’m already a hybrid – but am trying to map out the future and plan what to focus on). Now pardon me as I wander over to Amazon to buy your latest release.
I have always enjoyed Jenny’s books. But I did have to convince my teen age granddaughter to give the cow and pig books a try. Now she is willing to read anything Jenny B. Jones writes.
Jenny, waytago! (That’s a Brandilynism, not a typo.) Welcome to indieship. I agree with your points. And Chip, kudos to you for hosting this post on your agency blog.
Jenny, thank you so much for talking about this. I write YA and MG and finally picked up one of your books a few weeks ago. Know why? Because it was free. Now I’m a fan and want more. I love your line about being too secular for the CBA and too sweet for secular. My books seem to slip into that literary DMZ as well. I really believe there are teens who like a good story without preaching and without the token sex scene. I’d still like to trad publish, but now I see it as a way to build an audience who will eventually buy my self-pubbed books. Best of luck to you, Jenny. I’m sure you’ll be an indie rockstar in no time.
Me, too! I only decided to open the link because it was recommended by a very savvy hybrid author and I thought, “huh, maybe there’s something for me on that blog after all.”
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? No seriously, I laughed and nodded my way through this post. A little in love with Jennie B. Jones right now. I would say I could have written this post myself but you’re obviously much funnier than I am.
Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Also thanks to Chip for letting me have the podium for a bit. When I asked him why he, as an agent, would want me to chime in, he said his goal here is to help authors, and that includes looking at the indie picture. So hats off to him.
Would I have indie pubbed if I had never traditionally published? Probably not.
But I’ve read a handful of accounts of folks who went straight into self-pubbing and are doing very well. Writing series is often the key there, I think. Will you have a harder time gaining traction if you don’t have at least a small built-in audience? Yes. Liliana Hart is a good one to read up on for encouragement and specific strategy there. If you decide to go indie, especially if you’ve never worked in the trad’l market, make sure you have a top notch editor or two, some honest beta readers, know how to format or know someone you can hire, and a killer cover that could sit with any display book at Barnes and Noble.
Jenny, your post is a breath of fresh air (sorry to use a cliche). Thank you!
I’m also a big fan of YA and just downloaded In Between. I’m going to go start it tonight and hopefully won’t stay up too late reading it!
Thanks for sharing, Jenny! It was cool to go behind the scenes and to learn more about indie publishing. I have enjoyed all of your books! Thanks so much for writing. You truly have a gift for it. I love your sense of humor. I also really enjoy your Facebook statuses. They always make me laugh. I am really interested in your answer to Laura Droege’s question: 1) If you hadn’t already been traditionally published, do you think you would still go indie, or keep trying for a traditional publisher? Do you think indie publishing is a good route for a first-time writer?
Great post, Jen. I am in your court in all kinds of ways. Nice to see you back in the trenches, this time as a field general…
Sharing this with all my clients. 🙂 Go girl.
Great post–definitely several things to consider.
By the way, love all of your books and really enjoyed seeing Katie all grown up in Can’t Let You Go. 🙂 I think a book about Maxine as a young woman (20s-30s) would be a ton of fun. She’s my favorite character in the series.
Great post, Jenny. I like how you’ve laid out the benefits of indie publishing. Two questions:
1) If you hadn’t already been traditionally published, do you think you would still go indie, or keep trying for a traditional publisher? (Theoretical, I know. But I’m curious.)
2) You have me curious: What WAS your worst date ever? That sounds like a post-worthy story, even if it has nothing to do with publishing!
Jenny, when I met you, it was at a reception held by a high-power publisher in the CBA world. I knew you were on writing hiatus, but said to myself, “Surely she’ll be back. She’s published with this house before, so she’s set forever.” Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the publishing industry, and apparently you have as well. Congratulations on this new phase. I’ll be watching closely. Meanwhile, thanks for sharing (and, Chip, thanks for letting her share it here).
Jenny, after completing 13 books traditionally, I just this week uploaded my first indie novel. I’m nodding my head with almost everything you said (except the girlie things). The final 2 books aren’t out yet. They’re coming out in 2015. Oddly enough, my indie is Book 14 and it will be ready Nov 1st (less than 2 months after finishing and editing it).
I also can relate to what you said about the freedom to write somewhat out-of-the-box of what is “allowed.” I love the Nicholas Sparks kind of books I’ve been writing, but I also love suspense. So…that’s what I wrote.
I’m in the Valley of Decision about whether I’m a hybrid author or full indie. Haven’t resigned with anyone, not sure I’m going to. One of the main reasons is what you said about the rights. Unlike you, I may never get the rights back to my earlier novels. I came in with The Unfinished Gift in 2009. Like you said, the print books are dead (in terms of the brick and mortar stores) 6 months later. But the ebooks seem to live on forever. They are still making enough money to stay alive and avoid the out-of-print clause, especially the Christmas books (and I only get a fraction of the dollars being made).
I’m not angry with my publisher. Not at all. Worked with some really nice people. And I did sign the contracts voluntarily. Although, I had no idea about these kinds of details then. I’ve had some great success in terms of books sales, but because of the oh-so-small slice of that pie I get per book, you have to sell a ton of books to make it.
We’ll see how this new venture goes. I’ve discovered I love the process, and the freedom. Like you said, lots of indie people willing to lend a hand and share what they’ve learned.
Thanks for being one of them.
I read your story recently, Dan, and now Jenny says much the same thing. I’ve been dragging my feet, but now that I’ve found a top-notch editor besides my top-notch crit partners (waving up at Robin), I’m thinking of taking the plunge with at least one of my WIPs. Oh, and I follow Joel Friedlander’s blog (www.thebookdesigner.com), which led me to an incredible cover-design program, so having fun with that, too!
Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing your journey.
Wonderful article. Thank you both.
Great post! So many Christian authors are going indie because their books don’t QUITE fit mainstream CBA for one reason or another. One benefit I’d add is that the indie community is very strong, supportive, and helpful. We exchange ideas and build each other up. We can talk money, marketing successes and fails, cover designers, and everything else quite openly. It is a lot of work, but it is very rewarding. So glad you are getting your books out there, Jenny!
Love hearing this, Jenny! And just stunned that this was your experience in CBA. Sure didn’t look that way to those of us on the outside. Who’d of thunk the grass wasn’t greener?
As a debut indie novelist, I agree completely with everything you said. The story-telling freedom, the camaraderie with other indie novelists, the real-time stats that tell you if your marketing is working or not–I don’t know that I’ll ever publish without that.
Now, can you share your Worst Date Ever story here in the comments?
Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenny. I’m in a similar boat–too edgy for the CBA and too Christian for the general market. I don’t want to change what I write, because I think it’s pretty good just like it is. I love hearing your story and learning about your success. I was already on the fence, but you make it sound like so much fun, I’m ready to jump in.
Good for you, Robin! We’ll find out how cold–or warm–the water is!
Well said, Jenny B!
So excited indie is working out for you! Loved buying your books when I was a high school librarian! They were clean and funny. The girls enjoyed them, and it was nice to have some options between the super sweet and the raunchy. I left last year to try to write fiction, and I appreciate your insights!
I have been wondering why I have this blog in my feed reader, because I usually start reading, sigh, and close the window. I was actually planning to delete it, once I got around to it.
This post has made me decide to give the feed another chance and to make sure I read your next few posts all the way through.
Because this post is showing a way that an author can succeed without the agency.
It catches my attention when a company or contractor is willing to say, “Okay, here’s when/why/how you might want to do without me.” Because every business, etc., has those situations.
(I practice that myself, by the way—I’m a freelancer, and it isn’t unusual for me to say, “Sure, I can do that, but if you want to do it yourself, you can do a decent job with X. All you have to do is Y.” Usually the response is along the lines of, “Oh, thank you! But I want you to do it.”)
I have an even greater appreciation for this post because it doesn’t even directly point out that some of those reasons are, in fact, things that will encourage some folks to stick with publishers. Not everyone is willing to be the only one standing, when they’re targeting success but risking failure. That I wear bold pink/purple, dark gray, and black business casual and cocktail dresses for my daily wear and am about to dye my hair berry pink says something about my personal willingness to stand out and be given the side eye. That a lot of people give me that side eye says something about how many people have the mentality that better suits a publisher than going indie.