There are three kinds of self-publishing author, distinguished by their reasons for self-publishing and their attitude to readers and the business of author-publishing. At ALLi, we give them different names, so we know who we are talking about, and how to best serve them. ALLi director Orna Ross is here to tell us about the three different types of self-publishing author.
Three Kinds of Self-publishing Author 1. The One-Book Self-Publisher
This kind of writer is not interested in writing for a living or in publishing lots of books. They want to make a particular book out of their own need, or the needs of a group of people—their grandchildren, their pressure group, their local historians, their client base. Whether they are publishing for family or friends, for posterity or empowerment, to boost their business or fulfil a long-held dream, the term self-publishing is appropriate for this group.
For the family, friends, and community writers, it’s about personal storytelling, as an act of self-expression. For the non-fiction author making a book to boost their brand, or business, or expertise, it’s about self-promotion. These one-book publishers will, like every author, need the support of professionals to create a good book, but the focus behind the writing and publishing is as much about author as reader, and more production than sales driven.
For a writer, and a self-publisher, a less-than-perfect book is often the way to a better one and the snobbery that has traditionally been meted out to these writers’ efforts is ill-judged, as snobbery always is.
Self-publishing is giving voice to many previously unheard writers and themes and democratizing access to book publication. This should delight anyone who claims to care about writing and writers.
Three Kinds of Self-publishing Author 2: The Indie Authors
Indie authors self-publish commercially. As well as the intrinsic creative rewards of publishing, they also want the extrinsic rewards of income and influence. This is not “vanity publishing,” paying an inflated sum to a service that flatters and deceives the author while posing as a publisher. Neither is it skipping the work of honing writing and publishing craft. This is taking charge of your own team and becoming the creative director of your own writing and publishing business.
In some ways, self-publishing and indie authorship are misnomers for this group. A commercially successful book is always a collaborative process and indie authors must put their books through the same processes as any other publisher. They must have production and profit plans, they must work with editors, designers, marketers, aggregators, agents, assistants, sales platforms and more to see their books achieve their potential.
Independence is a heady word, conjuring up values like freedom, rebellion, and self-reliance. Compared to authors who sign exclusive deals with a single trade publisher or a single self-publishing service, indie authors are relatively independent, yes, but only when they embrace that empowerment.
At ALLi, we spot when a self-publisher goes indie. The defining difference is that they start thinking beyond the first book, and exploring their publishing options, setting creative intentions for book production and marketing as well as writing. Soon they are finishing more books and reaching more readers, learning from their mistakes and successes, and taking the lessons learned into the next book.
It takes the writer on the creative ride of their life and most need a good deal of help and support at the start to understand what it is to be an indie author, and meet the new ideas and challenges. If they come to self-publishing thinking it's second-best, they can go through a tough time at first, and are more likely to fall away, defeated not so much by the work inherent in good publishing, as the attitude they brought to it.
Those who stay the course begin to engage with the work: taking advice from good beta readers and editors; understanding where their books fit in the wider publishing ecosystem and in relation to comparable authors; learning what genres and formats and categories fit their projects; discovering what they have to say; finding their voice.
Indie authors are the core of ALLi’s membership, “indie”, not because it allows writers to borrow some secondhand cool from the worlds of film and music but because an independent growth mindset is core: our most defining feature, our most essential tool.
At ALLi, we define an indie (independent) author as follows:
• You have self-published at least one book.
• You see yourself as the creative director of your books and your own publishing business.
• You expect your status as rights holder and creative director to be acknowledged in payment, terms and conditions.
• You are proud of your indie status and carry that self-respect into all your ventures, negotiations, and collaborations, for the sake of other authors, as well as yourself.
• You see your service to your readers as your primary publishing relationship.
Becoming an indie author is not just about learning and doing the day-to-day labor of editorial and design and social media and author business, or finding the tools and techniques and platforms that allow them to publish their book(s) well.
Success in this challenging field usually calls for personal growth and a change of mindset. (more on this here).
Three Kinds of Self-publishing Author 3. The Authorpreneurs
Authorpreneur is a made-up word (author + entrepreneur), a new word for a new kind of job. Some dislike it, thinking it faddy or forced, but it is gaining traction in the self-publishing sector because there is no other word that so well describes this kind of author.
Authorpreneurs are succeeding in author business. They have adopted an independent, creative growth mindset and embrace the idea that marketing and business, as well as writing, can be creative. They have mastered three different sets of skills: writing good books, publishing them well, and running an author business–a significant creative and commercial achievement.
And they are consciously applying entrepreneurial skills and mindset and digital tools to making a sustainable and ongoing living as an author.
They know how to promote, market, sell and profit from their writing, not as a once-off, but through the dedicated application of one of five possible business models for indie authors .
Authorpreneurs have always been there. Charles Dickens, for example, ran business model number three, incorporating lucrative performances of his books into a regular writing routine that generated millions of words. Dickens understood the value of his copyright, running lengthy legal battles over infringement of his work in the US. Today digital tools and tech are seeing entrepreneurial authors emerging in far greater number.
In 2019, ALLi changed the name of its top author membership tier from Professional Member to Authorpreneur Member to reflect that shift in the author community from career to business. Not every author likes this new, hybrid word, “authorpreneur.” One member felt so strongly about the move that she left the organisation, saying, “I really dislike ‘entrepreneur' linked to ‘author' in any way, shape, or form.” We went ahead nonetheless, not just because so many other members felt positive or neutral but because no other term seemed as accurate.
It may be a young word but it perfectly describes the new breed of author who blends books and business, authorship and entrepreneurship. A new word for our new times.
When you publish your own books, you become part of a contemporary disruption to the world of work that is much wider than our own sector of writing and publishing. Over the past decade, an abundance of new innovations—social, personal, sexual, spiritual—have arrived into the marketplace, all updating and upgrading at speed, transforming how we work and live together.
A rural farmer in Africa today has more computing power in her pocket than the entire NASA facility had when it launched Apollo 11 in 1969. People now connect through social media groups and digital dating, electronic assistants and voice technology, text messages and memes. Many have job titles that didn’t even exist ten years ago: data scientist, app developer, green-building consultant, internet coach. And yes, indie author and authorpreneur.
Until recently, received wisdom assumed that writers “just want to write,” but the self-publishing revolution has revealed a band of authors who also very much want to publish their own books, their own way. It was important for our organization to name the entrepreneurial attitude that distinguishes these authors from others.
At time of writing, authorpreneur members make up almost 10% of ALLi’s membership. These authors have sold 50,000 books or equivalent in the two years prior to joining. We look forward to seeing that percentage grow as more authors acquire the creative publishing and creative business skills that bring success.
Not all self-publishers want to be indie authors and not all indie authors want to be authorpreneurs. So back to the core question: which of the three are you, or do you aim to be? A one-book self-publisher? An indie author, aiming to earn a living from your writing? A fully fledged authorpreneur, creating a high-earning publishing business, perhaps publishing other authors too?
OVER TO YOU
Which of the three kinds of self-publishing author are you? Do you think there are other types of self-publishing authors?