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Being an Indie Author and Dealing with “When are you going to get an actual publisher?”

February 12, 2019


I respect and love my fellow authors, no matter how they got published. Traditional publishing is something I respect, and it's an experience I am open to, even though I love being able to fully unleash my creativity as a book and cover designer. Having others to support you professionally is important, and while you definitely get this in self-publishing, traditional publishing offers invaluable and hard-to-access resources.


My experience being an indie author has been overwhelmingly positive. The support I’ve received was more than I ever imagined, especially during a year where I had felt like a failure who was too afraid to accomplish anything; I’d been told by a professional writer in a position of authority that my writing made them cringe. I was thinking of taking a long break to recoup because I thought my writing wasn’t where it should be, and I didn’t know how to conquer that obstacle.


Months later, I’ve been told my writing has helped others and has been a source of empathy. My mantra for writing has always been to help others feel less alone, since written words always afforded that to me. Sure, Dove Keeper, which occupies an obscure niche, isn’t a bestseller soaring on every list, but it’s done well and has impacted the audience I knew existed—women who have survived life while having a mental illness or enduring terrible trauma.


Dove Keeperan amazing voice actor isn’t the only thing I’ve published—I’ve had poems and short stories published through literary magazines—but for a first novel from an unestablished author (who struggles to connect with others because of anxiety), it has surpassed my expectations. The reception has meant so much, and the feedback from both people I know and people I’ve met on this journey has blown me away. I did things I didn’t think I could do. I hosted a book launch party (!) and did a six-hour bookstore signing (!!). I still can’t believe I have  recording an audiobook for something I wrote (!!!). Fifteen-year-old me would be freaking out. It sounds like I'm bragging, but it's been hard telling myself that, no, I'm not an impostor and that I've worked hard for this.


Still, I’ve encountered in conversations statements that have reminded me that indie publishing, new and always in flux, has had an uphill battle it’s still fighting in terms of reputation.


“Don’t worry. Some agents/publishers will accept previously published work.”


“Why aren’t you trying to pitch Dove Keeper to agents at conferences? Isn’t that the next step after self-publishing?”


“You need to start submitting your other work to contests and publishers so you might get a traditional deal.”


“When are you going to get an actual publisher?”


While these words are always said with good intent, there is the insinuation that my current status as an indie author isn’t enough, that I haven’t taken the next step to being taken seriously.


That, sure, this indie phase is a good experience and all, but when are you going to really commit to being an author?


Let’s be clear: I did not “settle” for self-publishing. Self-publishing isn’t just a thing you settle into, something an amateur does before they’ve evolved like a Digimon. At least, not if you’re working hard at it. It is an entire process—a process I love, even the marketing aspects, but one that can be frustrating and disappointing at times.


That being said, I’ve always wanted to try self-publishing because I love designing and formatting my work, and even if you plan to primarily traditionally publish, managing all aspects of publishing, designing, marketing, and editing lets you in on a wealth of knowledge. The skills you learn on the way are invaluable no matter what you do with your future books. Also, I get an excuse to use a spreadsheet to track my writing and publication process, as well as establishing my own publishing schedule. (I really like spreadsheets and schedules. It’s a problem.)


Self-publishing isn’t a copout. It’s not an easy way out. It can be faster than traditional publishing, but that doesn’t mean the process is simple. Spend innumerable hours trying to get the manuscript’s gutter right because even when you follow KDP’s guidelines it still says the gutter is insufficient and then get back to me about self-publishing being easy. And that’s only one aspect of formatting. I can write a book and two to three months, but when I publish biannually, I have a gap of at least five months to give myself time to give all the other aspects of readying the manuscript the attention they deserve.


I work hard planning, writing, and publishing, and I love it. But it’s work, just like pitching your novel, working on revisions by a deadline, and marketing your own work as a new author are hard. I don’t want to mislead anyone that this has been a perfect ride where everything is seamless. While many writers acknowledge they are unsure if they could manage self-publishing, I feel that there is an image where some traditional authors longingly sigh and say, “I wish I could be indie so I could publish with the click of a button and make a bunch of royalties. It must be so nice!”


With all that said, I have a plan about where I want to go with many of my completed manuscripts. I’m open to changes along the way, but I don’t see my ambitions as me going stagnant because I haven’t been actively querying new works (for now). With every book, I’m trying something different in terms of storytelling and design work.


For Dove Keeper, it being self-published isn’t a stain in need of being washed away. I don’t think the story needs elevation; it speaks for itself. Because agents and publishers don’t tend to accept previously published work, which I understand, I don’t see the need on spending time I could be writing or preparing other works and chasing a vision for one book. I’m not going to rest on one book and spend years working on it. I also want to be clear that even if the majority of agents and publishers accepted previously published work, that doesn't necessarily mean I would be actively querying.


Dove Keeper is done. I went over it again and again (and I’ll never never never read it again because I’ll just keep changing something), and now it’s out in the world. That doesn’t mean new developments won’t happen (it’s okay Netflix, I’ll accept the mini-series deal). But I need to worry about future books and lifting them up, not on continuing to try to get representation or a deal for works (or the one work) on my backlist. I don’t need a dream of a traditional publication of a consolation, as if I settled and need comfort that I can still get what I don’t have now. If it happens, it happens. Longevity and serving my readers will ultimately come from not pining on one project.


Dove Keeper is great, at least as much as an author can say their work is great. It’s not my favorite thing I’ve written, which isn’t meant to damn it with faint praise. I’m proud I took an idea I thought was too complicated (and I was inexperienced in structuring stories when I first conceived it) and made what I have. It’s a solid foundation, a good novel to debut what I’d like to think I’m capable of. The emotional core has clearly resonated with others. The fact that it isn’t my favorite thing I’ve written only makes me more excited to move on and share what I’ve done and hope they make a lasting impact. I want to continue changing and maturing as a writer, and that means going forward. I love the book, obviously, but it’s not That One Work that is an absolute masterpiece and I’m going to rest my name on it. I want a body of work, and while validation is nice, I feel that I’ve done well and don’t need to dwell on what-ifs.


So while I appreciate the advice I receive, I am very happy with where I am now, and going forward, I’m excited with what I have planned.

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