Sunday, July 24, 2011

Major Writing Decision: I'm Going Indie--Here's Why

I've been submitting my MG/YA manuscript Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb (SZJMB) to agents for a while now. I've queried some 100 agents and I've had about 10 requests for full or partials. However, no takers.

So yes, I have to admit that I'm going indie because I can't find an agent, plain and simple. However, even if I did find an agent, I was apprehensive about my chances of finding a publisher, simply because I wasn't willing to accept a less than 5k advance or sign a contract with 17.5% eBook royalties (25% of net). 

Even before querying SZJMB I considered self-publishing. Which is why I started publishing my shorts on Amazon and Smashwords. At the time, I decided that the market for kids eBooks simply wasn't ready for prime time. 

I admit that I did give some consideration to doing one more round of queries before moving on, but I've decided against it for three reasons: First, publishers are still offering a measly 17.5% on eBook sales (and once you sign, you are locked in for at least 35 years). Second, in recent months, I've known three agented authors whose agent's were not able to sell their books (two of which I've read and were very good). So, increasingly having an agent is no guarantee of finding a publisher.

Most importantly, I'm approaching 200 eBook sales this month. Now 200 may not seem like a lot. But when you consider that's 2,400 books a year, enough to sell through the equivalent of a first print run in two years and one month (figuring a 5,000 print for a first time kidlit author), it doesn't look so bad.

Add to that the fact that my current eBook offerings are mostly just short stories (and one novellete) it becomes clear that, with good writing and some hard work promoting (which I'd still have to do if I published through one of the Big 6) it's possible to sell a significant number of eBooks, even kids books.

You may be thinking, sure, but the key here is 'good writing.' If you can't even get an agent, then your writing simply isn't good enough; you should spend more time honing your craft.

I can't deny that you my be correct; my writing may not be good enough to be traditionally published (though I believe it is). However, you can't argue with my reviews on Amazon, B&\N, Smashwords, and Apple.

What the reader thinks is far more important than what an agent or some editor sitting in a New York high-rise thinks. Unfortunately, most authors don't seem to get that (I've been guilty of making changes just to appease an agent myself). We all started writing for our readers, not for an editor or even an agent.

I'm going to peer into my reader's mind and answer some of the questions I think might be popping up:

But you'll sell far fewer books by self-publishing.
- I may sell less books, but I'll make more from each one. For a $3.99 eBook I'll make about $2.75 each. With a Big 6 publisher, I wouldn't even have a $3.99 price point--I'd be stuck at $9.99. I can sell my eBooks for $2.99 and make more commission than I would if my publisher sold them for $9.99.

I know several kidlit authors whose Big 6 published eBooks are all $9.99 (except for one at $9.34) and I'm beating the pants off them on Amazon's rankings. Is it because my books are better? No, they aren't. But it's alot easier to spend $2.99 than it is $9.99.

Sure, but aren't most of your books 99 cents?
-Yes, but that's 99¢ for 8-10 thousand words. My short story ominibus is 20k words and sells for $2.99 (it's currently on sale via Amazon for $1.79) and it is outselling all of the traditionally published kidlit authors I personally know.

You'll never get rich selling eBooks yourself.
- I'm not writing to get rich. I'd love to be able to quit my day job and write full-time--that's my long-term goal. But beyond paying the mortgage, I just want kids to read (and hopefully love) my books.
Plus, I only have to sell about 70 copies a month (at $2.99) to make the same amount in 3 years that I would from a 5k advance.

Yes, but you are not counting the cost of formatting, editing, proofreading, etc. Heck, a decent cover costs at least $5k.
-No it doesn't, and I didn't count the 15% agent's commission, the fact that a lot of first time novelists get advances less than 5k, or the other costs that author's have to absorb themselves (like creating your author webpage).
The truth is a decent cover doesn't cost $5k, not even close. The covers below all cost less than $100 (most were in the $50 range).


Even the Big 6 don't pay $5k for most covers. I recently had a cover made by an artist who does covers for Simon & Schuster. It cost less than $500. Now, I'm sure she charges the Big 6 more, but the point is great covers don't have to cost a lot.

Editing is the most expensive part of self-publishing. An experienced editor costs $2 a page maybe less, proofreading is even less. As for formatting, I do my own and it looks better than most of the formatting I see in $9.99 titles.

So you are giving up on agents? After you self-publish no agent will touch you.
-This might have been true once, not anymore. I know 6 writers who have either gotten agents after self-publishing (5 of the 6), or their agents told them to self-publish.

I'm not going to waste any more time searching for an agent. When (okay, if) my books sell well enough, a good agent will find me. And I'll probably jump to sign-up; having an agent is important. There are tons of foreign rights to sell, maybe even mass market paperback and film right--who knows. Plus, feedback and career guidance are just some of the services they provide.

Best of luck, MJ. I'll be watching the site to see how it goes.
-Thank you. I'll try to periodically update the blog with my progress (I've included this as a question, because I know most people reading this post really feel this way).

Truth is, eBooks are creating a great opportunity for struggling (and established) authors. eBook penetration has finally reached the point where you can sell a significant number of  kids books. When Amazon or B&N finally lower eReaders to the magic $99 price-point adaptation will skyrocket.

Disagree with my decision? Considering going 'indie' yourself? Post a comment with your thoughts.


  1. I know one of my bloggie buddies - the very talented Lexi Revellian - went the indie publishing way and has made a brilliant success of it with her debut novel and continues with her second novel. She did her homework as meticulously (as her blog testifies) and being such a perfectionist - did some more! I have her first book and it's brill! I guess all I'm saying is that she did great because she really used the best resources she could find from editing, typesetting, formatting, book design etc. So go for it - use the best and only the best for your book!!!!! Good luck!! Take care

  2. wishing you the best. i'm kinda feeling that if my next novel doesn't get an agent, I will STRONGLY consider the indie route. i am definitely frustrated not only at how hard it is to get an agent (even after being told by other agented beta readers that my writing is strong and my story unique), but at how LOOOOOOOOOOONG it takes to actually get published even if your book is sold. And of course, as you say, there's no guarantee that an agent can sell your book. Everything just takes too long and there's no guarantee that your book will have success even after it's published. Not mention that many agents are getting more and more into the online publishing part of the industry ANYWAY. it's the wave of the future.

    Your post definitely makes me feel more confident about the idea of it and I will continue to research it. I'm bookmarking this post so I can come back to it for all the great things you've pointed out. Thanks so much and best of luck to you!!

  3. Oh, and just wanted to add that you made an EXCELLENT point about wanting to just get the books published so kids will read. That is so, so important!

  4. Thanks Kitty and Melanie for your support!

    I agree with you Melanie that going the indie route is a tough choice and one to be made after you've been writing a few years, gotten positive feedback from betas, agents, etc. It's just so hard to judge your own writing and 99.9% of first novels are just rubbish (especially mine).

  5. Good luck with the self-publishing route. I've not be tempted to try it, yet, but then again I haven't tried 100 agents yet, either. It is competitive out there, and all writers have different goals. If you can meet them with self publishing, then why not? We are all watching this madly changing industry closely, and trying to predict the best way to get the words read is pretty impossible. I'm still looking for the new 'review' mechanism that is stepping in to help me choose independent ebooks, since the old routes don't generally address that publishing segment.
    One Writer's Mind