Monday, 7 February 2011

Interview with author and blogger Joanna Penn on 'indie' publishing

Why is self-publishing being called ‘indie publishing' by some now?

There has been a stigma around the word self-publishing for many years, and although that is lessening, it's still out there. Indie or independent publishing is the kind of self-publishing where you organize everything yourself. You might engage freelancers but you don't use any of the assisted models that are out there. It's almost a badge of pride for authors who are treating publishing as an entrepreneurial business and making a success out of their books without using the more traditional models. Indie publishers will publish on the Kindle and ebook readers like the Nook and iPad. They will also use print on demand services for their print books and will sell and distribute online. is the biggest bookstore in the world and we can all publish there ourselves.

Can books published this way really compete with those from traditional publishers in today’s market?

Clearly indie publishers can't compete with the brand name authors like Stephen King or Lee Child. These are mainstream, big budget superstar writers. But indies are doing very well. Check out the top Kindle 100 and you'll find most of the books priced $2.99 or under are indie authors. Amanda Hocking currently has 6 in the top 100 and check out this article for the thousands of books authors like this are selling. If you could sell 10,000 or 100,000 books per month at that price - why would you want a publisher? Clearly not all indies are selling this well but you might be surprised how many are. The main aspects of success in ebook sales seems to be a good cover, lots of books, a great book so people want more and a low price i.e. under $2.99. Follow JA Konrath's blog for more of these success stories.
I'm counting on an author platform to get my sales kickstarted and then the Kindle sales seem to pick up anyway. So the competition is all online these days. Clearly indies are not competing in physical bookstores.

What are the advantages for authors to go the indie route?

Control and speed to market are two big reasons. As an indie you control how much the book will cost and that makes a huge difference to sales. You also control how you market, who you give the book away to. You can also have your book published on Kindle within 24 hours and as a print on demand book in under 3 weeks. Traditional publishing takes 18 months even after you have a book deal. As above, some indie authors are also making a lot more money going indie. It won't happen for all but ebooks are now 11% of the market and growing so it is now a viable business model.

Any advice on common mistakes and pitfalls, and how to avoid them?

It definitely suits a personality that likes to multi-task as well as write! So make sure you understand how you like to work. You also need to treat it like a business, so budget for professional editing and cover design. You receive income from sales, not an advance with this model. Really look at what you need to spend money on. You don't need all the packages that some vendors will sell you. You can publish on Kindle for free, and although you need to pay some setup costs for print on demand physical books, it shouldn't be too expensive. I think people shouldn't have stock of more than 15 books in their house for anything that comes up locally. Why hold stock when you can use print on demand!

Finally, tell us a bit about the road to publishing Pentecost...

I should say after the above that I still want a print book deal with a big name publisher! But I'd rather attract a deal with great sales and a fantastic author platform. I can't stand the negative energy of rejection and waiting. I like to act. So I'm going to write, indie publish, sell my books and make money and if a deal comes along, then I'll have a look at it. But for now, indie is great for me!
For Pentecost, I engaged a professional editor as well as a book designer in order to create a professional product so I worked with them through the process of cover design, interior layout and several rounds of editing. I only finished the book just before new year so it's brilliant to be launching it 7 Feb and then start the next one in the series. I'm very proud of the finished product.

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel, out now on Joanna is also a blogger at : Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn


Caroline Green said...

Thanks so much for this interesting interview, Joanna, and happy launch day!

Rosy T said...

Very interesting post. But I must say that I know quite a few people in small, mainstream independent publishers who get very irked at this 'claiming' of the term 'indie' for self-publishing. They are proud of being independent of the Big Five publishing groups, and have always referred to themselves as the 'indies'.

I can quite see why the self-publishing movement wants to use the term - because it all too often gets lumped in with vanity publishing, for a start. But you can equally see why the mainstream indie publishers do get annoyed when self-publishers 'steal' their tag!

Language is confusing stuff...

Caroline Green said...

That's a really interesting point, Rosy...I'm also being published by an independent publisher and hadn't thought about it in that way. Interesting. Hope Joanna gets a chance to come over and comment...

Anonymous said...

I'm with Rosy - self-publishing isn't Indie Publishing. Also it's a mis-use of stats to point to sales of ebooks in the $2.99-and-less bracket and call it successful self-publishing because most of those books are by self-published authors. The price of ebooks of traditionally published authors is set via an agreement between their publishers and Amazon, and is a percentage of RRP - most cases it is much higher than $2.99. That is a whole other discussion, but suffice to say, at present it is proving to be highly detrimental to the mid-list author.

- NaomiM

Anonymous said...

The article was interesting, but the constant reference to 'indie' (independent) publishing was irksome.

Joanna Penn said...

Thanks for having me Caroline. To address the criticism of the term 'indie', I'm not sure why there's an issue. Indie means independent in music, film and other industries and applies to individuals doing their thing as much as to small houses. If an individual runs a small press, which essentially I do (4 books now) then why isn't that independent? I have a company, I run a business. I may not have as many books as an indie press but it is the same deal.
Either way, I am a firm believer in publishing in any form so I wish everyone success in whichever avenue they try.
Thanks again for having me, Joanna

Anonymous said...

I think self-publishing is a brave and bold step for a writer to take. A self-published writer should be honest, and not try to hide behind a term that means 'traditionally published by a small independent publishing house'.
If the writer is still trying to get the attention of a traditional publisher, then calling it 'indie publishing' is not going to fool an agent or commissioning editor. It'll just make them look embarassed and defensive about their decision to self-publish.

- NaomiM

Stu said...

I found this article both inspiring and soothing.

I've been thinking about how to publish my first, niche novel for a while now and more and more I'm thinking of going the self-publishing route.

I recently finished The Demon Girl by Penelope Fletcher and I must admit that I only started reading it because a bargain-hunter friend of mine got it on her Kindle for free and raved about it. Prior to that I'd always dismissed self-publishing as a statement by the author that they're not good enough to get a deal.

I'm changing my mind...

Kate said...

The use of the term 'indie publishing' in this case does appear to me muddying the waters. I appreciate that many vanity published authors try to claim to be self published and true self published autors might want to disassociate themselves from that term, but this example appears to be true self publishing rather than indie publsihing.