Friday, 12 October 2012

In defense of my "indie" brothers and sisters

The book market has radically changed in the past few years, and I am not going to rehash all the amazing stats and how people don't need to get a publisher anymore. That was so last week.

This has led to an amazing flurry of "indie" authors going out and publishing their own work. After all, if you don't have a big name and are just a little guy, even if you somehow manage to snag a publisher, they will do little more than provide editing support and the hard costs of putting the book out. Really, it comes down to improving production value, and this is what I want to talk about.

In a CNN article this week on indie publishing, they did a survey of 1007 indie writers randomly and found they made, on average, $10,000 a year, with the majority (more than half) making less than $500 a year. To get a full, professional edit of a book the size of Atopia would cost about $14,000 (about $3 a page) we have to cut corners. 

For Atopia, I hired two just-graduated (and unemployed) English lit majors to review mine at a cost of $1500...and I edited it at least two dozen times myself, but it is almost impossible to catch small errors in review when you write yourself, they become invisible somehow :) on top of that, I invested at least another few thousand in marketing. Even then, Atopia still has some mistakes in it, which bothers me, but at a certain point we need to move on to the next project.

My point in all this is that the average indie can't afford professional-grade editing, and on average they are already losing huge amounts of money...

With Atopia, my expectation was that this was going to be a money-losing venture. I mean, I had my hopes, but I am also realistic. In the end, Atopia has exceeded my wildest hopes and been in the top 5 of sci-fi on Amazon for 8 weeks, but it certainly hasn't made me rich :) Even with Atopia being a big home run (for an indie), exceeding my wildest expectations, I estimate I have earned about $8 an hour for all my efforts. Not a great way to make money, so this is very much a labor of love.

(BTW It took me two years of nights and weekends (and almost my relationship!) to write Atopia, and in fact an average 100,000 word novel takes about one year of full-time work for an author to write - Atopia was 150,000, so about 1.5 years of full-time work)

So, when you're picking up a full length novel for $1 or $3, and not the $10-$15 range, I would argue that you need to set your expectation that there will be some editing mistakes and errors, and accept a certain baseline expectation as part-and-parcel of reading indie work. If it is obvious that they just weren't careful or put in effort at all, then point this out in a review. But, be gentle. This is a labor of love, and if you find something you like for $1 or $3, give them some praise and write a review.

OK all for now, just wanted to "represent" for all my brothers and sisters out there burning the midnight oil :) !!

What do you think?


  1. Hi Matthew,

    I couldn't agree more. The cost of a full scale professional edit can often be crushing, especially for a book that might only sell a few dozen or hundred copies in its entire lifetime.

    Sometimes it seems as though readers expect perfection even for a $0 price tag and it can be hard to find a middle point in there.

    I do believe that one shouldn't dig themselves into huge financial debt to release their work. Ideally, when the money starts rolling in, something off the top should be put aside to pay for someone to go over the work and ensure it's in tip top shape.

    Griffin Hayes

  2. Thanks for presenting the indie point of view on this.

    One thing beginning authors can do for free is keep growing their inventory of writings (and keep honing their writing skills!) for a future day when they can get more bang for their buck when something they do really takes off.

    Like me, I think many will have to choose a better paying job and won't get back to their dream until years later.

    Michael McCloskey

  3. I'm sorry Matthew, but I entirely disagree and for a number of different reasons.

    First, ebooks published by self-pubbed authors are being sold and marketed through the professional market. They therefore should step up to the same level of quality that the market expects.

    Second, cutting corners in pursuit of saving a few dollars suggests a lack of belief in the property itself...the work wasn't worth the investment to make it "professional".

    Third, if the book isn't going to earn out after the expenses for proofing and copyediting and cover design and layout are incurred, either the book is not worth publishing, needs to be worked on more or has not found and been marketed to the proper audience.

    Avoiding these necessary expenses does nothing but play into the stereotype of self-pubbed work not being professional work - despite the ballyhoo surrounding the few (very few) successes it has enjoyed over the past few years.