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Sep 20, 2010

Examples of Indie Publishers Who Inspire Me

Domey responded to my Growing Up in Public post with a blog post of his own. Appropriately, in public. I'm going to respond to his post with another one. He's struggling with the same questions about self-publishing as I am.

Last week, Tara Maya had a great post on Growing Up In Public. It hit on some ideas that I've been thinking about as well over the last few months. I've been so scared to publish my books because of the dreaded "record" in which bad sales of one book supposedly destroys all of your chances of ever publishing anything else. I'm wondering, what if that actually isn't true? What if I can get away with publishing my little runt Rooster just for the sake of bringing to life the results of seven year's hard work?

I guess you could call this, mulling over decisions in public... (which, I have to admit, as a historian, I can only commend).

Today I'd like to compare two very different indie publishers who make indie publishing look pretty damn good. In very different ways. One is Amanda Hocking. She writes YA vampire romances, so I think of her as an example of someone succeeding self-publishing with popular, genre novels.

The other is writer is Wanda Shapiro. She writes literary fiction that's strange and deep and indescribable. So I think of her as an example of someone succeeding at self-publishing who puts craft before commercialism and creates sophisticated literature.

It's often said that -- and I've always believed -- that if a writer is good, and persistent, eventually some agent somewhere, and then some editor, will recognize this and sign on. But how long is that going to take and is it really worth the wait when what the writer wants to do is write, not query year after frickin' year? Is the fact that the query process takes so long a reflection that the work is "not good enough" yet? These two examples suggest otherwise.

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Go to Yahoo

So here I was. February 2010. I'd been determined to make 2009 the year I would get published. And I hadn't. I said to my roommate, "I don't think it's going to happen. I don't think I'm ever going to get published. I don't know what more I can do. I've worked like a factory putting out the best books I possibly can. I've studied trends, the industry, business models."


So I had no money, and I said to my roommate, "I'm going to sell books on Amazon through Kindle, and I bet I can make at least a couple hundred bucks by the end of the summer to go to Chicago." My roommate (who has heard my make lots of plans that I never follow-through with) said, "Yeah. Okay. I'll see that when it happens. Have you finished the Carrie book yet?"

In March, I made My Blood Approves available in paperback on Amazon through Lulu. In April, I published it to Kindle. About a week or so later, I published the second book in the series Fate.

Here's where the story picks up. The two books combined, I sold 45 books in about 2 weeks. I thought to myself, "Not too shabby. Let's add another book to the mix."

I put out Flutter at the end of May. I distinctly remember one day in May before it came out, I sold 38 books in one day. I took a screen shot. I emailed my mom and my roommate, and I knew there was no way I was ever gonna do that. I mean, I was just a me, publishing books on the internet. There's no way I could ever really be successful with this.

In May, I sold 624 books and made $362.

Then in June, something truly magical happened. I discovered book bloggers. I had no idea such people existed. They just read books and write about them. And I don't mean "just." These people take times out of their busy lives to talk about books and have contests and connect with followers and writers and other readers.

These guys are honestly my heroes. I'm a little in love with all of them.

I asked several if they would be interested in reviewing my books, and most of them said yes, even if they didn't generally review self-published work.

Then something surreal started happening. My books were selling. Like, really selling.

So, thanks in large part to book bloggers, June turned into a very good month. I sold 4258 copes of all three books combined, and I made a total of $3180.

...Also in July, I finally found an editor and sent her my books. I contacted a cover artist about doing the covers for future books. And I put in notice at my dayjob.

For those of you reading this, you'll realize that leaving my job seems a bit premature. Probably. I am still on-call at work, but I wanted to really focus on writing. I wanted the chance to be a full-time author for awhile, even if it only ended up being a few weeks.

In July, I sold 3532 books and made $6527.

In the beginning of August, a publishing house in Hungary approached me about foreign rights for their book. I emailed 5 agents then, telling them about my book, my sales (I'd just sold over 10,000 books at the time), and that I had people asking about foreign rights.

Two agents asked me to email them a manuscript almost right away, and I sent it out, but I haven't heard back from them. On Monday, a third agent emailed me asking for the book, and he emailed me Thursday, asking me to call to talk about things.

Also on Monday, I released the fourth book in my vampire series. It peaked #25 in the entire Kindle store. If you''re wondering how many sales it took the book to get that high: 150 in a two hour period. Also on Monday - in one 24-hour period - I made $1200. Working at my day job full time, the most I'd ever made in a month is $1000. I just made more in a day than I used to make in a month.

Um, I read this and kinda fell off of my chair. Granted, my husband will still tell me I could have earned more as an engineer, but face it, that ain't gonna happen, honey.

What's truly amazing about this story is not that she could sell vampire books. Vampire romance is hot right now, YA is hot, so what's the mystery? But notice that she was still turned down. And if she had waited and waited for a yes, maybe vampire YA wouldn't have been so hot, or she would have outgrown the books and felt too impatient with them to even want them published anymore.

However, we don't all write super-popular topic of YA paranormal romance. Is success still possible?

Here's what Wanda Shapiro has to say:

I’m Wanda Shapiro. I write literary fiction and I’m going indie. Musicians and film makers went indie a long time ago and it’s time for writers to follow suit. With a quality manuscript, a lot of hard work, and the technology available today – I believe fiction writers can also break free from the industry that binds them.

According to this interview, she spent a year and a half and $2000 publishing her book. What really shines though, is the writing itself. I find it impossible to believe this book couldn't have found a traditional publisher. Eventually. But that's the catch, isn't it?

Since February, has had almost 2000 unique visitors and people are calling me a one-woman Random House. I’ve had four events in three cities and I’ve had people look at me and say, “Right, why don’t we have indie literature…?” I have 850 followers on twitter and Chicken has its own fan created facebook group. People are passionate about indie literature, even though many of them have never heard those two words used together, and my grassroots publicity campaign has gotten great traction.

I’ve had two newspaper articles written about me and one very insightful newspaper review of Chicken. I’ve been interviewed on lots of blogs, had two online articles published about my startup experiences, and I’ve gotten numerous mentions in blog posts and event calendars. I even had a live interview on an award winning radio show. But none of the publicity listed in my newsroom compares to the feedback I’ve received from readers.

Remember, my plan for selling Chicken without a publisher was all about readers, like you, and all your friends.

Chicken has seven five-star reviews on Amazon and on my site there are twenty-three reviews left by readers, twenty-two of which are positive. One reader said, “Sometimes That Happens With Chicken…blazes beyond what we have come to expect from modern fiction,” and at one of my events this summer a fan told me Chicken has cult-classic potential. Since February I have been compared to Hemingway, Salinger, Burroughs, Hitchcock, Calvino, and Marquez (which is a bit surreal) but, it’s this kind of feedback from readers that now bolsters my faith and keeps me tirelessly walking down the indie literature path.

And I don’t just have readers. I actually have fans. Talk about surreal!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Tara. And thanks for introducing me to Amanda whom I'd like to congratulate on all her success.

As for whether or not I could have found an agent or publisher...I honestly never tried. A small publisher found me shortly after I finished Sometimes That Happens With Chicken and I immediately signed a contract. Unfortunately, that small publisher (along with many others) was unable to remain in business due to economic concerns. After a very serendipitous feeling few months, I was released from my contract and operations were suspended.

After a few months of research, I decided indie was the way to go. My novel has never been rejected by a publisher and you're seeing more and more indie authors in the same boat.

For me, it was purely a business decision, pure and simple - one I'll never regret.

Thanks again and best regards.

Tara Maya said...

Thanks for stopping by, Wanda! Any time you want to guest blog, just let me know.

I wasn't suggesting you SHOULD have gone the agent route. I just wanted to make it clear that this wasn't a case of Not Good Enough for New York syndrome. It was more a metter of Screw New York, Let's Publish This Baby!

I love your comparison to indie music and film, and how on your website you just say, "Here's what I'm doing."