In this episode, I talk about why I chose to indie publish my books, and some of the obstacles I’ve faced along the way. 🙂
The links mentioned:
Nerine Dorman, author and editor: https://nerinedorman.wordpress.com/editing/
My Patreon (LuminLore): https://www.patreon.com/luminlore
And just in case you’d prefer to read the episode:
Hello, and welcome to Book Talk with Yolandie.
This is the place where we’ll chat about my books, discuss my writing process, and many other bookish topics.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my podcast.
I added a new beta reader to my team for A Curse of Venom & Scales. She’s also a writer, and is currently putting the finishing touches on her debut novel. So, throughout the beta process, we’ve had long discussions about my writing process, we’ve talked about tips and tricks to make writing easier, and she’s also sent me a few questions to talk about here, on the podcast.
Two of these involved publishing. Since one’s answer flows into the other’s, I thought I’d combine them for today’s episode, which is all about my publishing journey.
In case you’d like to hear the specific questions, here they are:
- Talk about your experience in trying to get the series traditionally published. Which companies did you look at, how did you prep yourself for that process, and what led you to the decision to indie publish?
- With indie publishing, similar questions. How did you approach the marketing side of it?
Okay, so the main reason I want to combine these two answers is that I’ve never actually tried to become a traditionally published author. Until now, at least, but we’ll get to that.
I’m lucky enough to be a part of a really fantastic community of writers. The group consists of many newcomers, but there are also some veterans who are always willing to share their knowledge. Many of these vets are hybridly published–meaning they have independently published and have experience with traditional publishers.
Now, I’ve spoken about this a tiny bit, but A Study of Ash & Smoke wasn’t actually my first complete novel. I wrote a trilogy a few years before Ash & Smoke was published–a series I’m currently reworking, by the way–and I self published those as well.
This all happened in the days before self publishing had really become such a big thing, and honestly, before I knew what I was doing as a writer. You see, I published those books without ever having them professionally edited. I mean, I had people proofread them for me, but nobody with real industry experience.
I chose to self publish that first trilogy because back then, and this was around 10 years ago, most of the publishing houses in South Africa weren’t accepting speculative fiction works, and as a South African citizen, tax laws made it difficult to be published abroad. I have to be honest, though, I didn’t look all that hard.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a creative, but I’ve always been more of a diy lady. If I can do something myself, you can bet your last cent that I will. So the idea of being in total control of the entire publishing process appealed to me on multiple levels. I designed my own covers, did the typesetting myself, drew the maps, and everything was groovy.
I never even imagined querying agents or publishers, I was a happy little indie on my happy little way.
But for my second series, I wanted to step up my game, and bring in the help of professionals. Specifically, an editor, and later, a cover designer. After a horrible first experience with an editor, I found Nerine Dorman, and I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today if that hadn’t happened.
She went above and beyond what is expected of any editor, and with endless patience, taught me the basics of the craft. While I was soaking up knowledge from her, I realised my first three books needed a lot of work, and I unpublished them. The story is good, I stand by that, but I’ve since learned volumes about grammar and style, and I cannot wait to release them into the world with the love and care they deserve.
The process of writing, rewriting, and polishing Ash & Smoke lasted a few years. During this time, a lot changed. My daughter was born, my husband switched jobs, and we moved to Germany. So, when the time came to publish the book, I was in a different position, and opportunities glittered from previously unexplored places. I guess this is why traditional publishing started to intrigue me again. Just not enough to actually enter the querying process. You see, the veterans in the group I’d mentioned earlier, had been sharing their knowledge and experiences, and through their history, I’d concluded that traditional publishing wasn’t for me.
I’m kind of stubborn. Okay, fine, I’m a lot stubborn. It’s a family thing. But once I’ve made up my mind about something, it won’t easily change. For this reason, I tend to be an all in or all out kind of person. I don’t do half measures. In terms of writing, this translates to being an all in indie publisher.
There are reasons for this, of course. Many people view being traditionally published as a massive achievement. And I don’t mean to take away from anyone’s views here, but I’ve just never felt that way about the whole thing. For me, the achievement is in a complete body of work. The achievement is in having something I made out there, even if it just reaches the smallest of niche audiences. And I don’t need a traditional publisher for that.
Also, and this is a personal thing, but I sincerely don’t need the overnight smash success and instant fame. I didn’t start writing books to become a household name. I’m well aware that what I’ve written so far is extremely niche, and my books won’t necessarily appeal to everyone in the mainstream. So, I’ve always written with the idea that I’d connect with a small group of people who like the same weird and off the beaten track stuff as I do.
But I’ll also admit fear has been holding me back. And I think this is something that many indie authors have in common.
Basically, querying an agent amounts to sending your book baby to people who are paid to be extremely picky. They’re flooded with so much content every day that they can’t even look at most of the documents, and the ones they do spend time considering have to stand out from the first paragraph.
Which is a really high standard. And I mean, what stands out in a book? My answer will probably be vastly different from yours because we have different tastes. I’ve also read many articles or tweets from agents who really like certain books, but can’t accept the query because the market is oversaturated in that genre, or maybe their agency just accepted a similar work from a different author, or maybe they’re looking for the same story but told from the perspective of a purple elf pirate in space. And this makes the process of querying very subjective.
So, chances are, you’re going to receive a nicely worded rejection letter. If you’re lucky, and you don’t get chirping crickets in reply.
And obviously, the idea of facing rejection after rejection is more than a little scary. Buddy authors, who are much more accomplished writers than me, query and query and query, and only land a book deal one in a dozen times. If they’re lucky. And if they have to struggle so much, what odds do newer authors like myself really have?
I published Ash & Smoke with that in mind. All in indie author, right?
And in doing that, I effectively nullified the chances of ever having Fall of the Mantle traditionally published. I didn’t know this at the time, but very few agents will actually accept a previously independently published series for traditional presses. And the chances of anyone representing an incomplete series are even slimmer. Except, of course, in extreme circumstances. Like, if the series were to go viral overnight, then the agents might query the author, but that kind of thing only happens one in a million times.
Still, I was happy as an indie author. The only thing that well and truly gets me down is the second part of my answer. The marketing.
People are usually stunned to learn this fact about me, as I’m a generally chatty person and I’ve been blogging for most of my adult life, but I’m an introvert with social anxiety. I hide it well, but only because of the–and I hate this label, but it explains what I mean–high functioning aspect of my anxiety. For me, high functioning only means you won’t see how much I’m freaking out, because I can mimic being normal pretty well. Neurodivergence, am I right?
But being introverted means marketing does not come easily to me. Like, at all.
When I’d started this indie author thing, being in charge of the entire process appealed to me, as I mentioned a bit earlier. I still enjoy many of the aspects of indie publishing, but the entire process? Yeah, no. I can now say with no uncertainty that I was wrong. I’m not great with the marketing. Asking people to buy my work feels unnatural and I find myself all sweaty and low key dreadful whenever a friend or family member actually supports my business. More often than not, I’ll ask them not to read my book out of fear of their judgement. Because that makes sense.
I’ve also learned that my introvertedness extends to social media. And I don’t count blogging in this–blogging is different. It feels like I’m writing an article, something people will read and interpret in whichever way they want to. And though every blog post is written in my distinct voice, almost exactly the way I talk, the majority of my readers have never heard me talk (until now, at least) and won’t be able to conjure up a mental image of me while reading.
Social media posts have my face connected to each of them, so it feels like a more direct extension of myself.
And because I’m shy, I find that I’m rarely willing to comment on friends’ posts, and I don’t chat with strangers. The exception is when someone comments on my post, in which case I’ll always reply with a thank you, because I was raised to be extremely polite. But the idea of randomly commenting on someone else’s post makes me break out in hives.
I’m that person who types and backspaces for minutes before giving up on commenting and scrolling on. Which, as you can imagine, really doesn’t help when it comes to selling books or my art.
So, after years of trying and failing to market the stuff I make, after courses and webinars and all the bells and whistles, I’ve finally decided to outsource.
I’m currently working with a young and tenacious social media manager, Ashe, who has been running all my social accounts except my blog, my personal Facebook, and my author Instagram. They have reintroduced me to Pinterest, where I pin images inspired by my books, but they do the interacting. And it’s been amazing.
The first few months were tough, as we had to create or recreate content for my art business, LuminLore, and my author business. There was a lot of drawing in that initial stage. My hand still cramps just thinking about it! But the bustle has finally quieted down somewhat, and I’ve had more time to do what authors are supposed to do–write.
Which brings me to the last part of the answer. I don’t need to be traditionally published to feel like I’ve made it, and that stands. But of course, as things go with every creative, there are always people in our lives who will believe we’re wasting our time no matter how many other successes we achieve. Both my books have been nominated for awards, but that isn’t enough for everyone.
So, to shush the naysayers, I’ve decided to write a standalone novel with the sole purpose of querying an agent. I’ve planned this one out to include story elements that are specifically marketable, as I know the stuff I tend to write otherwise is more niche-oriented. This book has to fall in the golden word count range, which means it can’t be as long as the books I’ve indie published.
And since this is a side project, it won’t break my heart if the book isn’t accepted immediately (at least, I hope not). But I’ll still have the main hustle dedicated to the all in indie author side of me.
Honestly, I’m really happy with the decisions I’ve made to bring me to this place in my writing career. I might have brought in the social media manager sooner, had I known back then what I know now, but I think the failures along the way are just as important as the successes. I might not have learned certain things about myself if I’d have done things differently.
So, if I had to advise the next wave of new authors out there, listen to the advice of experienced writers, but ultimately, trust your gut. If you need the validation of traditional publishing, chase that dream. If you’re on the fence about it, try going the hybrid or solely indie route. But keep an open mind and allow yourself to explore all the possibilities. And maybe you’ll find the road that is suited exactly to what you need.
And that’s a wrap on this topic. I hope you enjoyed this one!
If you have any comments or requests for future podcasts, please do let me know. I love hearing from you, and I’d love to answer your questions. Also, just a friendly reminder that my wonderful Patreon family receives an additional podcast episode every month. Past topics have included how I choose character and place names, how I work with alpha and beta readers, there was an in depth conversation about Cara, the protagonist of Fall of the Mantle, and the patrons have also met Ashe in an interview. If that sounds like the kind of thing you might enjoy, please consider subscribing! You can get a bunch of cool stuff for as little as $2 per month. I’ll place the link in the description.
That’s it from me. Thank you for listening.
Thank you for listening to Book Talk with Yolandie! If you’d like to connect, I’m on Facebook and Instagram, and you can also find me on my website, www.yolandiehorak.com.
The music is River Meditation by Jason Shaw.