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Opinion: The Importance Of Informed Independence

Opinion: The Importance of Informed Independence

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Debbie Young – indie author and proud of it!

Enjoy your independence, but make sure your decisions are well informed, cautions ALLi Author Advice Center editor Debbie Young. 

As the self-publishing sector continues to evolve, it's heartening to see more indie authors self-publishing their books to ever higher standards. When indies have questions, they're more likely to consult more experienced self-publishing authors and respected advisors within the indie community than to ask what traditional publishers would do. And with good reason – in some respects, indies often break new ground, particularly in marketing practices, leaving traditional publishing houses to follow our lead.

But that doesn't mean we should disregard trade publishers. We may no longer consider them gatekeepers. Thankfully that word no longer haunts discussions of self-publishing as it did a few years ago. But that doesn't invalidate the historical publishing practices that they developed. Most publishing conventions were established for good reason, though some of those reasons may now be obsolete.

Photo of gate opening into a beautiful garden

The gate is open, come on in… (Photo by Bobby of Morguefile.com)

Daring to be Different

Here are three examples that I've come across of indie authors deciding to be different without necessarily thinking through the consequences of departing from convention:

  • Wanting to make a book cover look like no other books in its genre (to stand out from the crowd)
    making it harder for dedicated readers of that genre to recognise the book as something they'll enjoy
  • Wanting to use a sans serif font for the body copy (because it's a font the author's fond of)
    making the content harder to read and thus making the experience less enjoyable for the reader
  • Leaving the author's name off the cover (for fear of spoiling the design)
    making it harder for the reader to know who has written it, especially when viewing online

On the other hand, if they're happy with those consequences, that's fine – being different is the indie's prerogative.

When It's Best to Defy Convention

Although trade publishing conventions exist for a reason, some of those reasons may not be valid for the modern indie author. Here's a couple that spring to mind:

  • Reluctance to publish books in different genres under the same author name
    many indie authors opt to diversify, writing both fiction and non-fiction to boost their income streams
  • Pricing ebooks at the same price, or close to the price of print books
    indies generally opt for lower ebook prices, knowing that they may make more money by selling more copies at a lower price
  • Publishing hardbacks before launching paperback editions
    it's very hard for indies to recoup the required investment

How to Get Informed

So if you're itching to do something that a traditional publishing company would never do, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Then savour your independence and enjoy the journey, because one thing's for sure: there's never been a better time to be an author!

If you'd like advice about any aspect of self-publishing, you can consult ALLi at any time.

  • Our blog archive, accessible for free, has over 1,300 posts – just input the relevant keywords in the search box, top right, for more information – and you can get a new post in your inbox almost every day by completing the form top right of this page
  • ALLi's growing range of guidebooks addresses key issues in a methodical, easy-to-follow, compact format
  • Paid-up members of ALLi also have access 24/7 to our live, private Facebook forum, whether indie authors all over the world ask questions and share answers about best practice in confidence among friends (you'll receive instructions on how to access it when you join ALLi)
  • Members may also pose questions to our monthly live Q&A session with industry leaders Orna Ross and Joanna Penn, available afterwards as a free podcast

ALLi-Logo-symbol-only-bgIf you'd like to find out more about joining ALLi, click here. We'd love to have you as part of our generous and supportive community!




Should indie authors defy publishing conventions just because they can? asks @DebbieYoungBN Click To Tweet



This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. We’re doing a short preorder period for an upcoming anthology (digital only), but not on Amazon. They spread out the sales ranking, rather than dumping all sales on release day like other vendors, and I’ve heard too many horror stories about glitches killing a launch.

  2. Wise words, Debbie. When I used to edit books I would often get into wrangles with authors who wanted to do things the way they wanted to … which usually meant defying usual publishing practices and, for example, using sans serif fonts (especially in print books) or having unsightly formatting (for example extended sections – I mean lots of chapters, not paragraphs – in italics). The worst, to my eyes, was formatting books like blog posts, with gaps between paragraphs and every paragraph ranged left. I would sometimes think that these writers had never actually read a book. But I’m just old-fashioned like that.

    1. Those things bug me too, Keith! And here’s a fresh one – I’ve just been reading a review copy of a non-fiction book with lots of footnotes on every page which would actually flow much better as part of the body copy. I feel like I’m watching a tennis match with my eyes darting up and down the page – it’s exhausting! These days I don’t necessarily expect to change an author’s mind but just to state my case and let them make of it what they will. Toughest one to walk away from yet: the author who didn’t want his name on the cover of their book for fear of spoiling the cover design!

    2. I’ve gone back and forth a lot over left or full justified. Books tend to be full justified, but as my wife constantly points out, most designers say left justified is better, because consistent gaps between words avoids “rivers” of white space flowing down a page.

      Notably, organisations like the RNIB recommend left justification for large print books because they’re easier to read.

  3. Great advice as ever Debbie. The most common practice I believe disadvantages indies is not putting their books on pre-order, using that time to market the book, write blogs, give talks etc (3 to 6 months is optimal). Traditional publishers follow this model but this isn’t why I recommend doing it (because as soon as the book is published, most traditional publishers consider the book ‘back list’, certainly after 12 months). I recommend it because it supports the buying cycle of how retailers order stock. For example – if you have a Christmas book coming out, setting the book up in the next month would allow time for it to be considered by the buying community that buys a season ahead of time (so typically during August/September for titles being stocked in December). So often I see such books coming out the second week of December, thinking the market will respond when they are already focused on the Spring. I have not evidenced based this yet, but I would bet the pre-order titles are more successful than those published only at the time the book is ready to order.

    Just my pet hate 🙂

    1. Andy, presumably that refers mostly to print-based books. I sell hardly any paperbacks so it’s not really relevant to me (sadly!). On the other hand, I think readers might like a short window for pre-orders because it means when they place their pre-order they don’t have to wait long for the book, and when they’re notified of its availability they’re more likely to remember what it was they ordered! I have no evidence for this other than my own experience …

      1. I must admit I never do pre-orders on my books because I’m never that organised or confident that I’ll hit my target deadline! I think this may turn into a New Year’s Resolution for 2017… And yes, Andy’s point makes perfect sense for print books to be sold through shops where booksellers are actively curating stock and choosing seasonal titles way in advance. Their customers, like Amazon’s, will be making their own buying decisions more in the relevant season.

      2. Agree Keith, if your business model is direct to reader than pre-orders is irrelevant. I just find that many authors who focus on print ask about getting into bookstores but miss the selling cycle due the gap between their publication date and the dates the bookseller is considering. That’s not to say bookstores won’t stock post-publication of course.

    2. That’s a really interesting point, Andy, and highlights the importance of thinking in terms of the bookshop’s buying year rather than the online reader buying on impulse. I do a regular monthly broadcast for local radio with Caroline Sanderson, who previws books and writes features for “The Bookseller” trade press magazine for British booksellers, and it always strikes me that her job is similar to the fashion industry, where you have to be thinking about the next season’s clothes. Really helpful input, thank you.

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