Who else wants to be an indie author?
Ask writers how they came to writing, and many of them will tell you it’s a ‘vocation’; something they can’t but do. In his book The Art of Work, Jeff Goins makes a kind of call to arms, asking people to listen to the voice telling them to write, give up on purposeless living and do what they are ‘made’ for.
All good and well.
I get very pumped about these exhortations, don’t you? “Yes!” I find myself saying, “Yes, I will join you comrades – at all costs – I will join you.”
Then I remember I have three children to provide for; emotionally, materially and intellectually. So that exuberance for my vocation? Oh, it’s still there. Just it needs some details. A plan.
You see, what I’ve observed is that frequently people can recognise what they want to get or be. But few develop the ability to make detailed, realistic and sustainable strategies for achieving their aims.
Enter Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
In the early 1900s a young army cadet named Franz Kappus corresponded with poet Rainer Maria Rilke, asking him questions about life and purpose. The two wrote to one another for five years and Rilke’s responses to the young man are published in a collection called Letters To A Young Poet. In the first letter, Rilke reflects on the topic of the vocational ‘calling’ of the writer:
Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer.”
We’re all – all of us writers – nodding our heads in assent when we read this. I’m not diminishing the importance of this part of what Rilke says about finding your calling.
But I am questioning why it’s this part of the letter is the most often cited and referred to.
Because it’s the next part for me that resonates most loudly:
And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”
…then build your life in accordance with that necessity.
I’m captivated by this line. It is an important – and often overlooked – statement. Because while few of us called to write doubt the necessity of getting ‘black on white’, most are confused by the ‘how’ of achieving it.
Purpose and calling – tick…but then what?
Many writers I know rely on boring day jobs to get by – or, in many more cases, they have the privilege of being supported by partners. The contribution partners make to the economic and emotional welfare of many creatives is enormous and unaccounted for. But that’s for another post.
So, IF your calling is to be a writer, what are the ways of working so it is sustainable, so that you can take care of the others you’re responsible for? And significantly – so that you can live a life that is independent of reliance on others?
Following the path of the indie author may be the solution.
The Definition of an Indie Author
Indie authors are the creative directors of their books, from conceptualisation to writing to book production, marketing and distribution.
1. Indie Authorship is not the same as vanity publishing
Nope, nope nope. No it’s not.
Vanity presses are generally maligned in the writing community. And this is not only for the poor quality of books they produce. Frequently vanity presses charge incredibly large sums of money (it’s been reported, sometimes as high as $12,000) to publish your book. Do the sums on this and you’ll figure out pretty quickly that you have to sell an awful lot of books to break even.
Thing is, indie authors work autonomously of publishing houses. They pay the bills and organise the distribution and payment channels of their own work, whether that’s through Amazon, Smashwords, some other external platform, or their own platform. Some indie authors set up their own micro-press so the publication is not in their personal name but in the name of an entity they have a part in.
2. Indie authors use traditional publishing routes
Indie authors do still publish with traditional publishing routes. There are many examples of authors starting out alone and then agreeing to contracts with traditional publishing houses: Lisa Genova, EL James and Amanda Hocking names that ring a bell?
3. Indie authors are entrepreneurial and business-like
I don’t write to make money. But I want to write – every day. It’s my existence and purpose. So…that being the case, I have had to learn to make money. Many authors refuse to talk about money and business in the same breath as their writing. But in my mind, as soon as you put your book forward to be published, you ARE entered into the world of business.
Problem is, you’re just having someone else take care of the business for you. And calling the shots their way.
To my way of thinking, if you really care about your work, and value and respect what you make, you will take charge of how it is placed in the world, where and for how long. You’re also the one entitled to receive the reward if people buy what you make. So, for me, running my business is not as much an act of selling out for money, but rather, simply care for my work.
4. Indie authors maintain the rights over their work
Whenever I think about writing, I think about it in terms of intellectual property. This means, I view what I make in the same way as I might view a piece of land I own. It belongs to me and continues to belong to me unless I decide it’s in my, the work’s or my family’s best interest for it not to belong to me.
Too many authors give up entire rights to their work, internationally and in perpetuity. Or worse, some don’t even completely know or understand exactly what rights they’ve given up. Often the egotism that accompanies the validation received when one is ‘published’ overrides any logical, business-like long-term view of the work.
5. Indie authors make decisions about pricing structures of their books
As an indie author, you get to decide (within certain broad parameters, depending on the platform you choose) what price you sell your book for. Now, this leads to all sorts of possibilities for experiment in terms of bundle packaging and discounts for (say) charities close to your heart.
6. Indie authors recognise they can’t do it alone, so they employ professionals
Indie authors work with lawyers, designers and editors because those professionals make writers’ businesses stronger and more sustainable. Period. Just because indie authors are independent, doesn’t mean they don’t need to collaborate.
What this amounts to is that our work can be of equivalent quality to the work produced by the traditional publishing route.
Taking it home
It’s not my intention to try to persuade you to become an indie author. But I would like to ask you to question what you do, how you are rewarded for it and the level of control and care you are able to show for your writing once you send it off into the world.
If you are independently minded; if you identify with rejecting traditional paradigms and seizing the opportunities to operate outside of the ‘institution’; if, like me, you reject the notion that to be an ‘artist’ you need to be poor and starving…then approaching writing as an indie author could be for you.
Follow me as, in this series of articles, I’ll unfold the knowledge and skills that allow you to own, control and care for what your write.