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Why I’m Going Indie

I’ve dropped hints here and there for almost a year, but it’s time to come clean: I’m going to give up trying to get the attention of New York publishers, and begin publishing my fiction independently. One of my longest-unfulfilled dreams is having a novel from a major publisher shelved face-out in Kroch’s & Brentano’s. Ummm, no. Borders? Whoops. Barnes & Noble, then. Well, look quick.

You can see my problem here. I wrote my first SF story when I was 8, sold my first story when I was 21, was on the final Hugo ballot at 29, gave it all up for almost 20 years, and finally sold a novel at 52 after five years of shopping it. The novel was promoted very competently by the (small) publisher, and garnered a rave in Analog and a favorable mention on Instapundit, in addition to a number of other reviews in other places. However, it was a $28 hardcover, sold in the high three figures, and as best I know was never shelved in any major bookstore.

So the dream is still alive. Or it was, at least, until I took a length of black iron pipe and beat its damfool brains out. Enough dreaming. It’s time to get freaking real. I’m going to publish my SF myself. I’m going to make money doing it. I’m not going to get rich at it…but that was never part of the dream. The new dream is about spinning yarns and making myself a name for it. As I see it, the best way there is to take the process into my own hands and do it all myself.

I wrote this post to answer the obvious question, Why? Perforce:

  1. I am already a publisher. I jumped from programming into publishing in 1985 and remained there to this day. I attended courses and seminars and learned from the best. I know in great gory detail how the print book business works (and doesn’t work) and I’ve followed the emergence of ebooks since the ’90s. I’ve had a few ebooks on the market for five years, though most of what I’ve published through my Copperwood Press imprint has been print.
  2. Manhattan SF publishing has made its preferences known to me. Some houses were encouraging and polite even when rejecting a manuscript (Betsy Mitchell, you’re an ace!) and some never even answered my emails, much less returned the manuscript. (If He’s reading this, He Knows Who He Is.) A couple of houses strongly and inexplicably believe that humor can’t sell because nobody can beat Douglas Adams. (Huh?) Well, go in peace and try not to become extinct. It worked for the coelacanth, after all.
  3. I don’t have all damned day. I’m 63 years old. I can’t wait for five years to see if one of my books will ever appear.
  4. Traditional publishing contracts have gotten nightmarish. Much has been written about this. (I sure hope you aspiring authors follow Konrath, at very least.) I’m not that desperate.
  5. The tools are now acceptable. They’re not great, and certainly not what I think they should be. But I’ve used Jutoh enough to be comfortable with it. (Tip to aspiring software developers: There is still money on that table.)
  6. Everybody has an ebook reader. Everybody. Some are even called “ebook readers.” Most of them are phones. Many are tablets. A few are laptops and desktops. Anybody who wants to read ebooks can. The market for ebook genre fiction is staggeringly large.
  7. Amazon has pretty much figured it out. The original Kindle Unlimited payment algorithm seemed kind of gonzo: The same amount for 1,000 words as 100,000 words? As of July 1, it’s now about pages read. We can quibble about the per-page payment, but my spreadsheets tell me that at current rates, an indie author gets more per sale from Amazon than authors get per sale from tradpub imprints.
  8. Authors are making money with indie ebooks. I’ve been told one-on-one that a fair number of people are making a good living off their indie ebooks, and a few are making more than I made as co-owner of a $30M publishing firm. I may have to learn to be prolific, but I’ve learned harder things, like contra dancing (natch!) and dealing with online tribalists.
  9. I already have a fanbase. Admittedly, it’s a fanbase for technical nonfiction, but anybody who says that computer guys don’t read SF (as several people in SF publishing have tried to tell me) is blowing steam. There are just short of 500,000 technical books in the world with my name on them. If two tenths of a percent of those readers buy my SF, I can probably live on it.
  10. I can control the whole damned thing. This is key. I’ve seen some of the most incredible self-destructive behavior among traditional publishing firms. If I weld my future to a boat like that, I’ll go down with it when (not if) it sinks. I want the freedom not to do stupid shit. (Alas, if your publisher does stupid shit, in effect you’re doing stupid shit.) I want to be able to try new things to see what works, and stop using techniques that don’t work. Bottom line, if I fail I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

Wouldn’t I sell more books if I went the tradpub route? Possibly. Would I make more money? Almost certainly not. The tradpub houses are suffering. They’re squeezing everything in sight to save pennies, especially authors. They’ll do anything possible to cut their costs except move from Manhattan to Middle America. To me, this means that they’re doomed, granting that sooner or later we’re all doomed. I’ve personally outlived vacuum tubes, glass-screen TVs, disco, wingtip shoes, Radio Shack, and several biggish bookstore chains, among many other things. I may well outlive traditional genre fiction publishing.

I’m certainly going to try. And I’m going to have a fine, fine time doing it!


  1. Juan Castro says:

    The movie you are thinking is ‘The Langoliers’ only made for TV. It is based on a short story of the same name by Stephen King.

    1. Yup. That’s the one. I googled it just now and they’re a little more angular than I remember them, and I also recall that they had eyes. That was, however, twenty years ago, and in truth it wasn’t a great story. Thanks for being my memory on this one!

  2. Erbo says:

    I kind of figured having Sarah Hoyt talk to you there would be good for your soul. I’ll just repeat what I said: You can do this. You might even be able to show other people how, too. (Sabrina, take note…)

    1. It’s not so much a question of Can I do this? (I damned well can.) It’s more a question of, Can this be real? I’m reminded of the summer I turned 15, when several of us rode our bikes around the forest preserves in Chicago. There was a girl along whom I didn’t know, and damned if she didn’t stay right beside me all afternoon. I’d never had a girlfriend and didn’t know the protocols, so when we got back to the neighborhood I just said good-bye to her and that was that. By all objective evidence she liked me, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe that it was real.

      Same deal in SF: I’ve hit so many walls in the last 25 years that I can’t quite believe it could be this easy–or even possible. So the pep talk was a very good thing. (Note to onlookers: author Sarah Hoyt came to our Nerd Party Saturday night, and basically told me to quit stalling and get serious about publishing my SF.)

      I had hoped to get The Cunning Blood posted on KU before the end of July. May take a few more days than that (I Just Bought A House, after all…) but I have a hard deadline of August 14. Should be able to do it. The cover is done. I’m pretty much out of excuses, and Sarah warned me about these pointy boots she has and uses on balky authors…

      1. Erbo says:

        Something tells me she won’t have to use the boots on you. Or, at least, not much. 🙂

  3. Larry Nelson says:

    I’m at with my finger poised over my mouse ready to buy. Good luck.

    1. Ok. Don’t want to give you finger cramps. Should be done by August 1. Stay tuned.

  4. Don Doerres says:

    I think I can hold my breath that long…

  5. TRX says:

    My crystal ball tells me there’s going to be at least one major shakeout in the traditional publishing industry.

    I expect they’ll quit accepting submissions at all.

    Instead, they’ll pick through the indie list and offer a contract if it looks like someone has enough sales already. And we’ll see a big expansion of packagers and house names like James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Franklin W. Dixon, Ken Robeson… everything tidy and in-house, under full control.

    I figure agents-as-we-know-them will become packagers themselves or go out and find real jobs. Agents are a relic of the retail system anyway, vampires embedded in the system eating from the author’s meager percentage.

    1. Michael Brazier says:

      Offering a typical trad publisher contract to an indie author who’s making decent sales already is bound to fail, and fail hard. The terms of those contracts are so unfavorable to the author that no one with an alternative would sign them, and a proven indie author has an alternative (if they didn’t, the trad publisher wouldn’t be interested in their works!)

      The Manhattan publishers may try it, but it won’t save them, or even help them much. With the lock on booksellers broken, publishers have to offer real services to authors and charge fair value for them to stay in business at all, and the Manhattan houses have forgotten how to do that.

      1. I’m already seeing various freelancers offering baskets of services to indie authors, services that were once the stock in trade of traditional print publishers. Editing, cover design, layout, promotion. With unbundled services of that sort available, indie authors really don’t need publishers.

        Tradpub will remain viable for nonfiction for awhile yet (I know that realm better than I know fiction on the publishing side), but for genre fiction the sun is indeed setting on the Manhattan imprints.

        Not sure if you’ve been following me long enough to have seen this:

        which takes up this topic at some length.

        If at some point in the future a tradpub imprint offers me an insane contract, I’ll counter-offer with terms I consider sane and reasonable. They’ll have to say no, of course, but that’s the idea: to make them rub their own noses in the forces causing their downfall.

  6. Richard Clark says:

    KU is such a painless way to try a new author. It feels like a good deal to me the reader (probably because it is autopay), but if it works for authors to actually make some money it is win-win.

    You post them, I’ll try them.

    1. From what I hear (from sources I cannot quote by name) KU’s new machinery is going to be a much more effective way to make money on writing, especially at novel length. The Cunning Blood is long–145,000 words–which is probably why I couldn’t sell it originally. So in terms of word count alone, you’re getting a bargain.

      My plan is to post it on August 1 or 2. Needless to say, you’ll hear about it right here!

  7. Woodrow Stool says:

    I hope you document the whole experience here so we can all read about it as it unfolds. Good luck.

    1. That’s certainly my intent. As they say, Watch This Space.

  8. Bob Fegert says:

    This is cool! I must try it. I found this in the FAQ for Jutoh.

    What platforms are supported by Jutoh?

    –Raspberry Pi 2 running Raspbian or other Linux. Jutoh is free on Raspberry Pi.

    1. Ha! I hadn’t heard about that–thanks for letting me know. I have a Pi 2 here that could use something to do, though lord knows I don’t need another project right now, even a small one.

  9. Thomas Bridgeland says:

    I put a novel up on Amazon about two years ago. First novel. I did everything, designed the cover (art purchased for a nominal sum), editing, proofreading. It actually sold a fair number of copies. Hard at work on a second novel. Jump in. The water’s great!

    1. Please tell us the title and perhaps a little bit about it. I’d also be curious as to how you found your artist, editor(s), and proofer(s). If you have an author website, feel free to post a link here.

      Good luck on the second novel. As best I know, I’ll be posting The Cunning Blood either tomorrow or the day after, and the adventure begins.

  10. Jason Kaczor says:

    Looking forward to seeing you do this – but, you have done it before – just in a different medium.

  11. “…if I fail I’ll have no one to blame but myself.”

    And if you’d ceded control to a legacy publisher and they failed, they’d still find a way to blame you.

    “They’ll do anything possible to cut their costs except move from Manhattan to Middle America.”

    Or even, heaven forfend, Jersey.

    1. Jersey? You think it’s cheap in Jersey? I was thinking Omaha.

  12. […] professionals far wiser than I am have given sound reasons why, except for a small minority of authors, the future of publishing is […]

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