Posted by: getolife | August 24, 2011

What Does it Mean to be “Indie”

I’m an independent author and publisher. The buck stops here. There are some who still say that writers should write and turn over the other tasks to the experts. That sounds like a wonderful idea, but even if I hire dozens of contractors, I’m still responsible for the final product–me, the independent author and publisher.

So whether I design my own cover art or have a friend design it or hire someone who does cover art for a living, I need to know everything possible about cover art in order to know whether I’m getting a good design and in order to communicate to a graphic artist exactly what I want my cover to say about my book and how I want to say it. I can’t just pick someone out of the Yellowpages and leave my name and the title of the book and expect artwork that really represents my book. I can’t do that with a friend who offers to design something. I need everything but the talent to put it all together into something that looks professional before I even consider who to ask or how much to spend because if I get a great cover that doesn’t work or doesn’t really fit what’s in the book, that’s on me because I’m the publisher. If I get lousy artwork that makes the book look like something put together in an afternoon, that’s on me, too.  Either way it will hurt sales and my reputation as a writer and publisher.

The same goes for editing and proof-reading. I could do it myself: ok, so it would be worse than doing my own cover art and I can’t even draw stick people. I could find people to read it who can find the worst spelling and grammar errors and maybe put it past several people to get as many problems as possible pinpointed, then decide whether I want to pay a professional editor. This gets tricky because, although I might have trouble coming up with the money up front, a good editor can really make a difference and increase sales in the future.  Exchanging editing chores with other writers may be a reasonable option. I just need to rememeber that no matter how well I edit someone else’s books, I will never have the objectivity to edit my own. No matter who does the editing and proof-reading, if I have spelling or grammar issues or formatting problems or graphic boxes that end up on top of text–that’s my responsibility. Major publishers can hire someone and blame them if things don’t turn out right, but it’s up to me to double check the people who double-check and make absolutely sure that everything is right. If it isn’t that’s on me.

If the book doesn’t look good, if the fonts change on different pages, if the chapter titles are hard to read, if there are blank pages without a good reason, if the paragraphs run together, if the book is formatted for an ereader, but the pictures are too big for the screen, if the pages are numbered with page one on the back of a page, if there are bold print or italics where they don’t make sense, if there is any problem at all with the way the book is formatted, that’s my responsibility. I can either learn the formatting software and keep going over the files and proof-reading for problems until I’ve fixed everything or I  can pay someone to do the formatting and keep going over the files for problems and make sure everything has been fixed before the files are printed or go live at any of the bookstores.

If the book is perfect but doesn’t sell because nobody knows it’s available–whose fault is that? Yep, the indie publisher is also a marketer and distributor.  It is my responsibility to make sure that the book is delivered in appropriate formats to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and as many other bookstores as possible. I need to find the people who might be interested in my book and direct them to those bookstores or to my own website where they can buy the book. I need to get the book into the hands of reviewers who will like it and write good things about it. I need to get the readers who like it to leave ratings and reviews at the store where they bought it. It’s not the job of some marketing guru–unless I hire one. Even if I do hire out marketing, I need to make sure that the marketing plan is appropriate to the book I wrote, that we agree on the target audience I had in mind when I wrote the book, and maybe others, that I hadn’t  considered.  I need to make sure that the marketing message is consistent with the message in the book. I need to make sure that everything is true and correct. If nobody buys it, that’s my problem. If people buy it and complain that it’s not what they expected, that’s my problem. If nobody comments and no reviews are written, that’s my problem , too because I’m an independent publisher and the whole business is my business.

I am also responsible for creating and maintaining all of the public relations materials, for a blog that covers the topic of the book, for a website with information about the book and why people should buy it, for discussion groups that talk about the material in the book,  for interviews and speeches and seminars and newsletters and tweets and anything else that might help to introduce me as an expert on my subject, someone to be trusted to write an accurate and honest book. It’s all part of my job and there will always be one more thing I could be doing, and one more after that. But it’s my book, my responsibility. The independent author and publisher does it all.

The only job I’ve ever had that’s been like this was the job of wife and mother–all the responsibility and scarcely any recognition. Sound familiar?  They’re still the best jobs I’ve ever had. While there’s not much fame and fortune for the average independent author and publisher, there is a lot of power in being able to write a good book, put together a package to present that book to the public in the way that YOU decide, making direct contact with potential readers to tell them about it, and living with the consequences of your actions whether that means being laughed at by the critics or seeing your book on a best-seller list.

That’s what it means to be “Indie”.

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