I sort of fell into independent publishing sideways. I decided I’d give it a try a few years ago and then ended up getting more and more into the idea. There is something about it that really appeals to me, going it alone, doing everything my way (for better or worse), answering to no one about the decisions I make. But the more involved in it I get the more I see it as a truly viable option for writers. Especially writers who don’t necessarily fit in anywhere else. Indie publishing has a stigma attached to it that it is populated by books that weren’t good enough to succeed along the traditional routes. I have no doubt there is a lot of that out there, but I want to think that there are also weird, quirky, offbeat writers using it as a platform for their work. This is how I am trying to use it, not as a last resort, but as a home for my books. A home in which they can be unashamedly what they are.
If you don’t mind such grandiose terms, this is my manifesto for indie publishing. The things that I have discovered are important to me over the last few years of dipping my toe into these strange waters.
1, Write your book
The emphasis here is on the word your. For years now people have said to me things like, ‘Dan Brown/JK Rowling/EL James is popular. Have you considered writing books like those?’ And the truth is I have considered it and, thankfully, so far have always come to my senses and continued to write the stuff that is important to me. The desire to write comes from a love of reading, and writing a good book means writing the book that you have inside you. Not the book that someone else has inside them. Shifting to one genre or subject in order to ride a wave of someone else’s success in order to drive sales seems like a very bad idea to me. If the goal is to make a lot of money then, first of all, don’t write books. The odds of making a lot of money are low and you could probably do better putting your time and energy into something else. But second of all, artistic success comes from passion. It comes from taking the thing you feel so deeply and articulating it in a way that excites other people. I’m not saying don’t write techno thrillers or vampire fiction for young adults, but do it for the right reasons. Do it because that is the only book you truly give a damn about.
2, Be as indistinguishable from traditional publishing as possible
Someone who knows what they are looking for can tell the difference between an indie book and a trad book, but if you take care to present your work well it shouldn’t be a problem. Independent publishing is, and likely always will be, a poor second class citizen to traditional, but the gap is closing. Between ebooks and the now-excellent quality of print-on-demand we have the means to make our product to a very high standard. But this means independents need to hold themselves to that standard. I’m not just talking about typo’s, I’m talking about the full presentation of a book which, if you have not spent some time discovering its nuances, might well contain elements that you never even considered. Typefaces, line spacing, margin setting, point size, blank pages. Get these things wrong and the book will feel amateur, even if no one is able to explain why. Get them right and no one will even notice, which is fine, because they will be too busy reading the book.
3, Have fun making mistakes
They are going to happen, and if my experience is anything to go, by they are going to happen a lot. Making mistakes always feels terrible. It can feel cataclysmic. It can lead to spiraling self-doubt and a kind of artistic woe that almost no one feels any empathy toward. But the obvious and hard-to-accept truth is that those mistakes are the most valuable things that can happen, if you notice them and learn from them. I was so down when the first proof copy of my novel arrived in the post and the cover was about 50% too dark because I hadn’t corrected screen colours for print colours and the margins were set wrong so the text ran into the binding and made it unreadable. I felt pretty low about it (and this was only a proof, see above point about pointless artistic woe,) but these are two things that will never catch me out again.
4, Make reaching readers a priority over profit
When I was a kid we had day where we all brought food to school to make a big buffet for everyone to share. The teacher told us to bring something that we enjoy, and not what we thought everyone else would enjoy, because that way there will definitely be something we like and, chances are, some of the other kids would like it too. If you have written the book that you really wanted to write, and made it as good as you possibly can, there will probably be some one else out there that will enjoy it as well. How you find those people is a problem I have yet to solve, but attempting to make as many sales as possible by pushing your book to all the wrong readers doesn’t seem right to me. I would rather give away books to people that actually want to read them than sell them to people who don’t.
5, Get to the end with your integrity intact
I have never and will never write fake reviews for my books or solicit positive reviews from friends and family. My integrity is important to me. More important than selling a handful of books to people who have been lured in with dishonest reviews. Honesty is important to point 1 in this list too, recognising precisely what it is you need to write by looking inside yourself and truly accepting what you find. Write a book because you love books, and treat them with that same love.
6, Take yourself seriously
To misquote Howard Jacobson (because I can’t find the passage I want to quote) ‘serious is more fun than not serious’. Now, when my wife asks me what I am doing, I say ‘working’. I used to say ‘oh you know, just banging out another crappy book that no one will read’. That self-effacing negativity that comes so naturally to writers doesn’t do much good. I’m not saying to go the other way. ‘I’m working on my magnum opus, iron me a shirt! The award ceremony Looms!’ Just working.
There you go, the points that I jotted down in my notebook when I was trying to think about what it is that is important to me in my attempts to make indie-publishing work for me.