Writing Tip: Indie Publishing—When is it Right?

In 2010 I won a Best Fiction Award and had three agents ask for my full manuscript.

Typewriter KeysI was attending the SCWC (Southern California Writers Conference) and had submitted pages as an Advanced Read. One of those agents was based in New York and asked me to give him first read of the entire manuscript. Two weeks later he asked to represent me. Happy Happy Joy Joy! To say it was a high point in my writing life is an understatement.

Talk about excitement—I was sure I was on the road to success. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d been working on that first novel for more years than I wanted to admit…and had been steadily going to conferences for three years.

Six years later, I have three completed manuscripts, but no book deals from NY.

It certainly isn’t through a lack of trying. To set the stage: My novels, Tracker and Pursuit are the first two books in the Fox Walker Novels. Over the course of years, my agent created great query letters and got requests to read the full manuscripts from Random House, Penguin, Crown, St. Martin’s Press, Little Brown, Harper Collins, Tor, Kensington…to name a few. This process, by the way, takes forever (or so it seems to the writer), as the editors at the houses are so overwhelmed and an agent has to be diligent about follow-ups. Weeks pass, then months…

When the rejection letters began to trickle in, they all had a common theme. See if you can spot it:

Tracker
“We’ve now had three in-house reads on it, all of which were respectable. Bob and I, along with another editor, have all looked at it and we did like the story and think Indy Quillen has a really promising voice. Her expertise in wilderness survival and Native American culture really do add to the book and distinguish it from a lot of other thrillers. We’re just not sure how big the market is for such a niche kind of a story. We put our heads together and tried to think about how to make it work, but with the market tough as it is, and our thriller list already a bit crowded, it’s harder to roll the dice. I’m sorry that we’re going to have to pass this time.”

Pursuit
“As you know, I think Walker is a great invention and there’s a lot of fun to be had in reading about his adventures. Indy Quillen is a smart, sharp writer and I found the book really took off when Walker and Logan are outsmarting each other in the wilderness (I always love a good cat-and-mouse). I read it quickly, eager to see how it all resolved. There’s something here (and I can see why Tracker, which I enjoyed as well, has already gotten some accolades), but perhaps it’s also just a little outside my wheelhouse…”

Tracker
Love the Fox Walker character and the premise…see it as a series. I really want to publish this book, but ultimately have to pass because I just don’t think it’s going to be big enough for me, considering the main character is Native American.

It goes on and on—so painfully close—but no luck! And here is the most recent:

Tracker
Love the Fox Walker character…nice twists and turns…writing is good. Honestly, ten years ago we would have easily published this book…but not in today’s market.

So what have I taken away from this experience?

Once Upon a Time - TypedFor me, the dream of being traditionally published has always meant validation for my writing. Even as many of my author friends have encouraged me to indie publish, I’ve resisted. But when I objectively read these rejections, I see that it isn’t about the writing so much as about the marketing. It appears I’ve found some niche market that no one wants to take on.

As my agent remarked, they are only taking on about 1% of new authors and only books they believe will be huge. I think that sometimes they don’t even recognize huge when they see it. Example: Andy Weir, author of The Martian. He couldn’t get an agent or New York’s interest. It was only after he self-published and his sales took off that he got the attention of an agent. The rest is history. I’m not saying I’m the next Andy Weir, but it does give me pause…

My agent and I put our heads together and decided that at this point I should go ahead and Indie Publish my Fox Walker novels. We both love the stories and want to see them in book form. I want to share them with readers. Thank goodness we have the opportunities that we do today!

So I’m announcing today: I’m pursuing Indie Publishing for Tracker and Pursuit.

Dream BookYes, I’m excited and scared at the same time! Once a month I’ll share my journey with you here on my blog…all the trials, tribulations, victories and insights…as I take on this new adventure. I hope you will feel free to ask me questions along the way. I may not have the answers, but we can explore this new territory together. It sure beats hacking away at this all alone!

This is my first month of the adventure—so here’s where I am:

Victory: My manuscript has, of course, been professionally edited (multiple times) and edited by my agent. But, I’ll do a final read-through before sending it out for formatting.
Insight: It takes months to get through this process—for the editor, and for you to make the revisions. Take the time to do it right! Don’t rush this step!

Trial: I’ll need to ask for book endorsements from my author friends who write in a similar genre.
Insight: This is the toughest one for me. How difficult it is to reach out and ask this favor! But it has to be done, so I have to do it. The worst they can say is ‘no’. And who knows, they might just say ‘yes’! Again give this process plenty of time.

Victory: I am happy to announce that this week I was able to procure the cover designer I want to use (he is booked up for months!) and the timing works for me – excited! Of course I’ll be sharing the cover designs with all of you for your feedback.
Insight: I almost blew this one! When I finally found the designer I wanted, turns out he is booked up the first half of the year. Fortunately someone had to cancel and he was able to work me in for this summer. Wow – that was a close call! And I thought I was waaaay ahead of the game on this one. NOT! Take heed.

Tribulation: I’ll also be doing research on creating ARC’s and how to send them out as a request for reviews—or if I even need to do this. Brand new territory for me! UGH!!!
Insight: I’ll do some reading, but also reach out to my author friends and indie bookstores on this one. Have NO idea what I’m doing at this point. Lots to learn. I promise to share what I learn as I go! BTW – ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy.

That’s it for now. I’ll update you in April. In the meantime, my agent has requested that I send him my next manuscript when I’m half way through the revisions (which is a Romantic Suspense called Reputation), so we will still be pursuing the traditional publishing avenue as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to embrace both worlds for different reasons.

 

How do you feel about Indie Publishing vs. Traditional?

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34 Comments

  1. Leslie Johansen Nack

    Indy, I feel your pain and admire your courage. Check out She Writes Press for sure! My experience is that marketing is the bigger task so best of luck to you! Can’t wait to read your books!

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks for your support and encouragement, Leslie – it means a lot to me! :0) I’ve decided to Indie Publish with my own company vs a small press, but appreciate the recommendation. I know they have worked well for you! The downside to having a website and social media business is that I know full well how true your statement is about marketing being the bigger task. This is where being naive might be better! I wouldn’t already know what I’m facing! Ha! I watch you and other successful authors and try to learn what to do correctly. Continued best wishes to you as well! :0)

      Reply
    • Leslie Johansen Nack

      Indy, Don’t forget about the very important component of distribution. Just selling through Amazon is very limiting. There are so many closed doors to just indie publishers who don’t have a dedicated sales team going out to bookstores. Ingram Publisher Services is a key reason why I signed with She Writes Press. Having national and international distribution is key. Good luck.

      Reply
      • indy

        Thanks Leslie – I appreciate you taking the time to share your caring thoughts. I’ve sent you a private message regarding this.

        Reply
  2. Judy Reeves

    The best part of this, Indy: Your terrific books will finally, finally be out in the world for readers to grab hold of and hang on for the ride. Congratulations on making this tough decision and thanks for keeping us along for the journey from here to there.

    Reply
    • indy

      Thank you so very much, Judy! I’m so excited to know my stories will finally find their way into the world…even if it’s different than I imagined. I so appreciate your ongoing support!

      Reply
  3. Laura Hout

    Thank you for writing this. Having been requested and rejected as most writers have (enough times to truly wonder…am I really any good at this, etc. etc.?) this first-person account is entirely encouraging. AND. You didn’t give up! Yay!!! Bravo!!! Keep us posted!

    Reply
    • indy

      And thank YOU, Laura for reaching out to me – this is what it is all about, isn’t it? :0) We writers may toil in solitude, but my experience has been that we are a wonderful group of people to know and associate with – and so supportive! I want to encourage you as well, and hope something in my travels will help you as well ~ Write on!

      Reply
  4. suad campbell

    Damn fools, those publishers! I’m happy to hear you’re self-publishing. It’s a rocky road but one that you need to travel, IMO. You’ve worked hard on your novels and gotten validation from people in the know; and the stories are wonderful. I can’t wait to see them in print! Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I know I will find it instructive. Couragio!

    Reply
    • indy

      You’ve been there cheering me on for years, Suad – and I sooo appreciate your ongoing faith in me! we writers have to stick together, don’t we? Best wishes on your path as well, and I hope I can shed some light on this new venture for friends like you!

      Reply
  5. Laura Taylor

    Could not be more proud of you!
    🙂 Hugs, LT

    Reply
    • indy

      Laura, you have been such a wonderful adviser, teacher, listener, and most of all, friend. I can’t believe you are on here commenting after the day you’ve had today! Many bows of gratitude to you for being there for me ~ now rest and take care my dear.

      Reply
  6. Carol

    I appreciate that you are sharing your experienes and insights as you make this journey. “How to publish,” has become a bit like rocket science. Complex, hard to understand, navigate. And the landscape is constantly changing – as you try to become familiar with it…

    THANK YOU.

    Reply
    • indy

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here – it’s reassuring to know I’m not traveling this scary landscape alone! I realize everyone’s path will be a bit different, but it’s nice to know we can learn from others, and in turn hopefully help others coming along behind us. Thanks again, Carol!

      Reply
  7. Liz Crowe

    GOOD LUCK!
    I’m small published and self published 32 books in right now. I’m working on getting rights back from some of the small pubs and am constantly querying out a thriller that gets rejection after rejection. My problem is that since the bottom fell out of my robust sales last year (along with a lot of others) I don’t have the money that MUST be dedicated to promoting when you’re in a position like mine (a.k.a. “buying a lot of meaningful advertising in order to reach a bigger audience”) to try any more self published (Indy) books. I do wish you the very best. I’m still trying to find an agent in hopes of snagging one who’s eager, creative and willing to help me find a bigger publisher. It’s such a vicious circle though–if I had the spare dough I’d promote me the way I know I have to but alas, I do not, so in the meantime I am working on getting better at “the writing,” giving away a new entire series to my loyal newsletter subscribers and continuing to query. Best of luck to you! Let me know if I can help. I have a decent following both for my books and my reviews.
    Cheers,
    Liz

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks for the well-wishes, Liz! You certainly have some experience under your belt! I read about what happened to so many authors out there when Amazon set up Kindle Unlimited – many lost 75% of their income! There is so much to learn and then the rules change overnight. Since you have such a great revenue of books, have you used BookBub? I have some author friends who have had great luck with it – but I will have to wait until I have multiple books out there. I understand the desire for an agent. I am so very fortunate to have one who believes in my writing and says he’s with me for life! Ha! So even though I’ll be putting out my Fox Walker series myself, he still wants to see other manuscripts. I think that may be the best of both worlds for us writers. C J Lyons has done that game quite well. For me the best way to find an agent was going to conferences and paying for Advance Reads. It puts you face to face with the agent – and there is nothing else to compare to being able to talk directly with the agent, IMHO. I dread the whole promotion cycle, but have been doing it for my blog to get some ‘sea legs’ under me. 10 months ago I started blogging weekly to help build an audience (I had been blogging only periodically) – in hopes that readers who enjoy my blog about Self-Reliance might also enjoy my novels (set outdoors with lots of survival info). I’m so glad I did that, but wish I could’ve started years ago! I keep reading blogs on the topic, meeting with other writers, and going to workshops in conferences to educate myself. The two big things I’ve learned is that there is no one right way to do this (everyone seems to have different opinions for what worked for them)and the best way to sell lots of books is to have lots of books for sale (you’ve got that one covered!). I’m fortunate that my agent kept telling me to “write the next book”, so now as I’m getting ready to launch, I have three finished books that can go out in a steady stream…at my own pace…when I want them to. I’m liking the independence of that factor! Best Wishes to you and I hope you will keep in touch! Thank you again for taking time out to comment here – I appreciate it so much!!

      Reply
  8. Lynne Kennedy

    Indy, I understand your pain. I, too, had a similar experience with my agent not being able to sell my manuscript. I, too, have a stack of letters from publishers who “loved” the work but couldn’t figure out how to sell it. So I went independent and am not sorry. Life is too short to spend it waiting, and now I have four books behind me and two in the works. Go for it, Lady!

    Reply
    • indy

      Lynne – thank you so much for sharing your story here for other readers. You indeed had all the right players in place, but couldn’t get anyone to play the game. It’s such a frustrating situation to find yourself in. On one hand it’s nice to know your writing is of the quality to get an agent and reads at big houses, yet no one can figure out how to market it. I have New York Best Selling authors sharing horror stories of what they have to go through to get one of their ideas past the marketing group at the publishing houses – even with their great track records and with the editor on their side! And I agree about the age thing. If I was younger I would take a different course, but as my agent said, “It’s time to get TRACKER out there to the readers so you can move on.” :0) Write on!

      Reply
  9. Linda Thomas-Sundstrom

    Good luck, Indy. Since I am traditionally published and indie published, I have to say that it’s a really great thrill to have your work out in the world, no matter how it gets there!

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks so much, Linda! I agree—that would be the best of both worlds. I’m fortunate that my agent says he’s with me for life and wants to look at any other future manuscripts, including one I’m revising right now. Keeping my fingers crossed!

      Reply
  10. Mike Sirota

    Indy, you KNOW I’m pulling for you. Mainstream publishing has frustrated the crap out of me for lo these many decades. I’m always here for you.

    Reply
    • indy

      Yep! I know you’re in my corner, Mike. And it means the world to me! Thanks for your ongoing support! :0)

      Reply
  11. Jill G. Hall

    Indy, What fabulous news! It’s great that there are many options out there for us writers now. The validation comes when people read our books and tell us that they like them. Whether it’s self, hybrid or traditional publishing we each need to find the right path, at the right time. It’s your time now, girl! I’m so excited that I’ll finally get to celebrate with you and read your stories. With all of your tech and marketing expertise, you will certainly be successful at finding readers and getting your books out into the world!

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks for your support and belief in me, Jill! It means a lot to get such encouragement from other writers and published authors. We all have such diversified stories to tell along the way to publication, and it’s nice to have some company in my travels. :0)

      Reply
    • indy

      Hearing that from you, Robert, makes my day! And thank you for taking the time to comment here- it is mucho appreciated! :0)

      Reply
  12. Juanita Rice

    Indy, it wasn’t hard to see the common theme and I certainly don’t agree with it. I will be following your efforts.

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks, Juanita! I can sure use all the encouragement and support! I very much appreciate you reading my blog and sharing your thoughts.

      Reply
  13. Lori Hartman Gervasi

    Congratulations on your decision and publication. Your book series sounds wonderful. I wish you the best with sales Indy. With the business being what it is these days, it’s so important to keep writing and creating and getting it out there. I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and she advises writers not to worry or think so much about the outcome, but to share our art and offer it to the world. This is what I’m trying to do right now. 🙂

    Reply
    • indy

      Thank you for the kind comments, Lori! I completely agree with you about getting our art out to the world as first priority. Of course I hope for recognition and monetary success to eventually come along – but it isn’t my reason for writing. Sharing my stories and hoping readers enjoy them and feel enriched in reading them is my #1 goal. And to keep writing! I think the challenge is to do the marketing, but not let it take over all your time. And I’ve seen most of my author friends struggle until they hit that fourth or fifth book – then sales take off. So my goal is to write the best books I know how and get them out there for my audience. Then we’ll see where the chips fall. Thank you so much for commenting here. I’ll be checking out your website – sounds interesting! :0)

      Reply
  14. Alicia Bien

    Hi Indy,
    What an exciting step for you and your writing! I wish you enormous amounts of success and can’t wait to read your books!

    Reply
    • indy

      Hi Alicia! So good to hear from you! Sorry for the late response, we’ve been camping in Death Valley with no phone connection – off the grid! :0) Thank you ever so much for your kind words and encouragement – it means a lot to me! Take Care ~

      Reply
  15. Kathy

    Love that you’re doing this Indy – I’m guessing you’ll look back at this and be so happy things worked out the way they did. There is an audience out there for you – a big one. Can’t wait until Fox Walker hits the world!

    Reply
    • indy

      Thanks so much for your kind words, support and encouragement, Kathy — it means the world to me. A big adventure for sure! :0)

      Reply

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