My guest today is an award-winning Scottish novelist who has been championing the indie author for a good number of years.
Chris Longmuir won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2009 with her debut crime thriller Dead Wood which was traditionally published by Polygon. Since then, she has gone on to successfully self-publish four full-length novels, two short story collections and a non-fiction guide to independently-published crime thrillers of note.
As the title suggests, Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution aims to introduce indie crime fiction to discerning readers. The book was born from a series of posts Chris worked on for last year’s Edinburgh ebook festival. ‘I thought it a shame to waste the work that had gone into them,’ she said.
Chris’ book is a testament to her commitment and dedication to turning a once maligned and misunderstood side of the publishing industry into a well-respected, fresh and innovative model.
This is what she has to say:
The indie explosion
Do indies have anything to contribute to publishing?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Indie, it is short for independent, and has been accepted as the most useful way to describe authors who publish independently, as well as small independent publishers.
Unfortunately, in publishing, the name was originally linked to vanity publishing, and some people still believe in that interpretation. However, the name Indie was not coined by writers, or indeed publishers, but has been in use for a long time within the music and film industries. And neither the music nor film industry has been stigmatised in the way that indie publishing was initially. In fact indie music and films are highly regarded, as is indie publishing in various quarters. It would seem that indie publishing is catching up, although there are still those who are prone to turn their noses up at it. The odd thing is, that there are quite a few traditionally published authors who have followed the indie model. The other peculiar thing is that traditional publishers are climbing on the bandwagon and mimicking some of the promotional tactics the indies are using. I still find it odd when I find traditionally published books on indie promotional sites and newsletters, such as Indie Book Bargains.
It is easy to think that an indie author is just someone who self-publishes, but it is far wider than that. The indie author is someone who writes the book, outsources editorial input and book covers, negotiates with printers, publishes the book, manages their own promotion and marketing, as well as distribution of paperbacks. They are responsible for the whole process from the initial writing to the sale of the finished product. The indie author, by default, becomes an indie publisher. There are also indie publishers, who operate similarly to small publishers and usually publish only a few authors.
New authors, of course, aspire to a publishing deal with a mainstream publisher. However, the opportunities to acquire such a deal are growing smaller and, of course, the rewards are less for the author. A traditional publisher will offer between 8% to 10% royalties for a paperback deal and 20% for an epublishing deal, although there are one or two publishing houses who offer 25%. In comparison, an indie author can expect a return of 20% royalties for paperbacks and 70% for ebooks. The main attraction of a traditional deal, however, is the validation it provides for the author.
There are some misconceptions associated with traditional publishing which may not be immediately obvious. One of those is that, once the book is accepted, the publisher will promote it and there won’t be all the hassle that the indie has to go through to get their name known. Now, this may have been true at some point, although not for quite a long time now. The traditionally published author is expected to promote themselves, and I believe part of the pitching to a publisher includes the author’s marketing plan.
The other common misconception is that, once the deal has been made, the author has a publisher for as long as they churn out the books. Again, this is something that is not a given, otherwise how explainable is it that many mid-list authors are being thrown on the scrap heap? Publishers, after all, are in business to make money and if the book does not turn a profit they cut their losses. On balance, small publishers are less ruthless and fit the mould of what a publisher used to be far better than the big boys in the publishing industry.
When considering the publishing industry it is easy to get caught up in the actual process of how a book is published, but I think we need to look wider, to see who or what the industry services. Publishing is there to provide books for readers, and readers may get these books in various ways: across the counter in their specialist book store, at the supermarket along with their shopping, or by ordering from one of the online retailers, or they download to their ereader from an online store. So, the industry is providing a service, just as the indie author or indie publisher does.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to publishing, but this affects the traditional model just as much as the indie model. The downside for the traditional model is the vanity publisher who is unconcerned with quality, and is selling services to the author, rather than providing a service to the reader. Likewise, self-publishing has become so easy, that some authors miss out the steps required to publish a book, such as, the editing process and the professional cover, they do everything themselves and outsource nothing. Likewise, they are operating like the vanity publishers and are not providing an adequate service to the reader.
The true professional indie author and publisher are in business, just like the traditional publishers, to provide a service to readers. As such, I think they have a lot to offer to the publishing industry in general. They also have a greater opportunity to provide a more varied selection of books and not just the ones that publishers consider are commercially viable. Likewise, if a reader is a fan of an author who has been dropped by their publisher, they can continue to enjoy that author’s work.
In conclusion, I have been published traditionally and independently, and I much prefer the indie model because of the control it gives me over the finished product: a control I did not have with traditional publishing. However, it has to be recognised that the indie model is a business model that requires to be run as a business and, if authors are uncomfortable with this, the traditional model might be best for them, although opportunities in this area of the business are far less than they have ever been.
Further information on Chris can be found here: