Holiday special

First, I don’t consider myself an “indie author.” That’s what a lot of self-published and self-e-published writers call themselves, and it’s a great term. But I would feel like an imposter if I called myself one. I’m still working on my “real” novels, and searching for an agent, and aiming for the traditional editor/publishing house route.

That said, I have technically self-published. I put both my short story “The Eraser” and my web serial Twenty-Somewhere for sale online. To me it was a harmless experiment (not an attempt to find a shortcut to success or to circumvent the publishing system, like some people assume).

But will agents and editors see it that way? I don’t know. Honestly, I sometimes worry that my experiment may have “ruined” me. Despite a few standout success stories, self-publishing still carries a stigma, and I might have dipped my toe into that pond by accident. (I really hope I’m wrong, though, because I can’t exactly undo it now…)

Rather than let that little uncertainty snowball into true fear or anxiety, I’d like to make sure something positive comes out of this. So, for the month of December, I’m going to donate all proceeds from my online sales to the It Gets Better Project. That means 100% of the money that would normally go to me? Will go to suicide prevention services and anti-bullying efforts instead.

Why? Because hearing about teens (foreign, gay, awkward, whatever) who have fallen — no, who have been pushed — so low that they think it would be better to give up and get out of this world than to live? It breaks my heart and brings me to tears just typing that.

The issue hurts and compels me so much that I’ve already started planning a new novel to address it. But even if I could magically finish and sell that book tomorrow, it wouldn’t get to shelves for a year or more. This is something I can do now. This is something I can do because I’m (sort of) an indie author. Maybe my experiment gave me a black mark, maybe it didn’t — but it definitely does give me the flexibility to decide where my (modest) profits go this holiday season. And that, I think, is something to treasure.

Twenty-Somewhere is available via Amazon, the iTunes bookstore, and Smashwords
“The Eraser” is available via Amazon

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  1. That’s such a nice thing to do! Good luck with your new novel too. :)

  2. That’s an awesome way to focus on the positive. :)

  3. Okay, as an official semi-pro in that industry (again, semi….) I have to say that self-publishing hasn’t killed your chances of editors or publishers being interested in your work. Look at Christopher Paolini. He self-published and was freaking home schooled. Self-publishing is how you get your work noticed and I think it’s very brave of you. That being said, my hat is off to you for donating to that cause. Very big of you!

  4. What a wonderful idea! It’s a special, caring thing you’re doing, no doubt about it :)

  5. That’s a very nice thing to do.

  6. Les

    Good luck! You picked a very worthy cause! I don’t think I’ll ever venture into self-publishing but I do know that in some cases it’s a good way to go. Keep looking forward; if that becomes an “excuse” it wasn’t the right fit anyway.

  7. You’re a hard worker. I don’t see how self-publishing would get in your way at all. At least not in the way of someone who absolutely loves what you have to offer, and how couldn’t they?!

    LOVE what you’re doing with your proceeds, it’s going to a very worthy cause. :)

  8. Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate y’all’s support. If only every person (and kid especially) had a group cheering them on like I do. :)

    Thanks for the reassurance. It’s funny how “indie” endeavors are totally fine — and maybe even expected — in other arts (music, painting, etc.) but not in writing.

    I totally didn’t mean to, lol. But you’re right, if I write a great book, someone will want it; and if they don’t just b/c of my “self-publishing history,” then it wasn’t going to work out regardless.

    From your lips to the universe’s ear!

  9. That’s a terrific cause to donate your profits to, Kristan! And, for the record, I can’t see how this “experiment” would damage you in the world of traditional publishing. You’re not bad-mouthing publishing or saying it’s corrupt and unfair…instead you’re showing initiative and the ability to build a following. good qualities, I’d say.

  10. I wouldn’t worry at all about whether self-pubbing on the scale you describe will have a negative impact on your agent search (nor on the “traditional” publishing route you hope to take). It’s kind of like a garage band making and selling its own CDs before getting a record deal. Really, it makes you sound much cooler. :)

  11. Elissa and Kristen-
    Thanks for the reassurance. It’s nice to hear, from people who are a few steps closer than I am, that I probably didn’t screw myself over. :)

  12. Jon

    If anything, making profits (and putting them to good use!) makes you an author. And with everything online anyway, who needs publishers anymore? Honestly, you’re taking the logical route.

  13. I don’t think you’ve “ruined” yourself by self-publishing. Hey, some agent or publisher might read you, like your voice and offer you a contract!
    The other option is using a(nother) pseudonym for the traditional publishing… I know I’ll come up with another if when I submit my historical novel the agent/publisher tells me he/she doesn’t think I should keep Barbara G.Tarn (which is a pseudonym anyway) – so I’m already considering alternatives, just in case…
    Hopping off to Smashwords to download your book, even if I probably don’t have time to read it in December – but I have to buy it now for the donation, right?

  14. Yeah, I’ve got a couple pseudonyms in mind… But I’d *rather* use my own name, if at all possible. :)

    Barb, thank you so much!! I hope you enjoy the story. Either way, though, your contribution to the cause is greatly appreciated!

  15. Great idea Kristan for a really good cause, so I went off and bought Twenty-Somewhere. I’d been meaning to for ages but finally you pushed me to it! I’ll enjoy reading it in my leisure time … or on my iPhone in the middle of the night when my little boy wakes up! (by the way you should charge more I think!)

  16. Thanks so much, Amanda!

  17. Hi Kristan; let me applaud you for your support of a wonderful cause. I’m doing something similar for Christmas; all proceeds of my ebook at Smashwords, B&N and are going to animal rescue and UNICEF. Info will be on my website and FB page tonite.

    That said, I want to also say that your comments about indie publishing really cut to the quick and I must say I disagree with them most vociferously. First of all, I’m an award winning writer in academic history and although I’m a debut fiction writer my early reviews are in agreement that I’m bringing a great deal of talent to the indie table. Sadly, it seems to come as a shock to some people and I have no idea why. All I can say is that as a professional historian I’m well aware of the power of outdated and incorrect information to hold sway over the minds of people, often gripping them in a fear that is no longer grounded in the reality of the moment. Indie publishing is an example of this: concrete empirical data does not support subjective perception that indies produce an inferior product or there is a stigma attached to their work.

    The fact is that there is a tremendous amount of talent in indie publishing and some authors who have been commercial successes and published traditionally are now coming over to the Sane Side of Publishing. But this alone is no affirmation for independent publishing. The proof, as my grandmother always said, “is in the pudding.” There are some wonderful works being published by a fresh breeze of new talent and they’re blowing a hearty gale of new life into an otherwise stagnant and some say dying industry. Think of it as new blood into a dying patient. As a historian, I see it as a natural outcome of the sea change in communications created by the digital age.

    Let me speak to you about my own experience. First of all, when I first began to research the matter, I was appalled at the condition of the traditional print industry. Clearly, the way it operates more than proves that traditional publishing is absolutely no guarantor of quality. Honest agents will tell you that; less honest agents have a vested interest in persuading you otherwise. An agent who wanted to work with me confided in me that she probably couldn’t get Steinbeck published today. Yes: Steinbeck.

    Did you catch the fullness of what I just said? Yes, an agent wanted to work with me. In fact, my first (and only) queries (52 to be exact) generated responses from 6 agents and serious discussions with two. You know what? I walked away.

    I looked around and made the deliberate decision to go my own way rather than conform my work to their whims or fritter away precious years of my life waiting for another agent or agents to affirm my gifts.

    ‘Nuff said here; I’ve blogged these and other opinions elsewhere and as I already said I welcome feedback and can be contacted at my website (

    Kristan, I believe you are a wonderfully talented person in your own right (write too!) and I admire your blog and want to read your work and support you and everyone else who hangs their heart out there and takes it on the chin to live their dream to be an author. I’d just ask you to not sell the indies short. I believe most strongly it’s a mistake.

    My best to you in all your endeavors; maureen gill

  18. Maureen-
    Wow, thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment!

    First, I apologize that my words caused offense to you. That was absolutely not the intention. *I* have nothing but respect for people, like yourself, who have weighed the options and chosen to go the indie publishing route. Hence why I said I would feel like an imposter if I adopted that title.

    However, I must respectfully disagree with one point: I have definitely seen a stigma against indie/self-publishing, among both the publishing community and readers. Now, do I think that stigma is diminishing? Absolutely, and I’m glad for it!

  19. Thank for the nice reply, Kristan! Oh yes, I know there’s still a stigma but I pay it no mind. It’s really in the mind of authors and not the publishers. They’re not publishing new writers by any volume anyway and some established writers aren’t being published either (Konrath had a good post on that last summer).

    And ultimately the vast majority of writers don’t care; you couldn’t walk into a bookstore and find one person out of 50 who could tell you who actually publishes their favorite authors. Fans follow authors, not publishing houses and agents and more and more fans are discovering the economy of indie books, as well as the increase in talent.

    In my opinion, here’s what’s really happening: we all know commercial publishing is in serious financial straits; it’s been talked about for years. There are many reasons why but the point is it’s a fact. I fully understand why publishing new authors is a huge financial risk; even the established writers are a risk in this economic climate and the rapid rise of ebooks.

    Smart publishers are going to choose fewer and fewer newbies, almost deliberately forcing them into the great crucible of indie publishing (I know I would if I were in their shoes). It’s a win:win for them; they can sit back without incurring any risk and watch who rises to the top. We’re seeing that already; they’re offering contracts once the writer has developed a platform and can produce proven sales records etc. So, in that regard, there is no stigma; those publishers are not going to ignore a proven commodity. Look at the case with Karen McQuestion; that’s exactly what happened. She proved herself in the world as an indie and was then courted. So, again, there’s no stigma — indie publishing is to some extent like hedging contracts in commodity trading in that it spreads out the risk. If I were a publisher I’d sit back and watch the indies and then go in and find the gems.

    I repeat: I’d never bankroll a new author today; I’d just go after the winners in the indie world.

    Agents are caught in an uncomfortable middle. Their roles are being rewritten and not all of them see the writing on the wall and, of course, they have a vested interest in keeping a following of wannabees salivating at their feet. Even if they never publish them, they assure passive revenue with their blog sites and seminars and guarantee a readership for their own books. So, of course, they hint at the stain of perpetual stigma but I say it’s a lot of bull.

    I’m a historian but I’ve also had 25 yrs in business and know a business move when I see it and I know there’s no way in hell a publisher is going to stigmatize a proven winner. Any stigma will evaporate in the face of potential revenue and when indies bring the money home the house will be eager to talk.

    But this begs the question about why an author who’s successful as an indie would want to go under contract with an agent or house (you’ll see they’ll end run the agents and deal with the house directly because by then they’ll be strong enough to do so). There may be compelling reasons to do so, especially when it comes to negotiating international rights (which could be way beyond an indie’s expertise) but I also suspect as the indies learn to manage their careers and become more professional about operating themselves as a business you’ll see they bring a higher level of shrewd to the discussion and they’ll be working out very specific carefully crafted contracts with the publishers; no more blind gratitude and turning over one’s life to a publisher.

    The times they are a changing, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for reading my rant; hope it helped some people see the matter in a new light.

    Peace; m.

  20. I too take issue with comments about indie publishing vs. self-publishing. This is an issue that has been frequently discussed by those of us who are committed to transforming the perception of indie publishing by committing ourselves to high-quality writing, scrupulous editing and high-level book design. In my lexicon I differentiate between indie publishing and “author house” publishing, the latter has a deservedly bad reputation because the author houses (such as iUniverse, Xlibris, Lulu, etc.) have no standards whatsoever and anyone with a manuscript and a credit card can make a book. The eBook revolution has compounded this by making it possible to upload dreck to any of many outlets.

    Independent publishers are striving to create a high quality product and to maintain standards of quality. It is hard work but we are at the beginning of a revolution. Also, indie publishing can be an excellent way to draw attention to your work. Many large publishing houses simply do not have the resources to take a chance on an unknown writer but if a writer can establish a following and a track record independently they become much more marketable and, thus, attractive to conventional publishers. I currently have five books published independently and one of them was on Amazon’s best seller list in its category for much of last year. Right now I can make more money from that book by staying independent.

    It takes time to build a reputation and a following but the rewards are worth it when that check comes every month. It would be nice to be “discovered” by a big name publishing house but, in the meantime, I get to write, publish, and be compensated for that both financially and in a modest fan-following.

    Best wishes to you in your efforts!

  21. Maureen-
    You make a lot of good points. (Particularly, that the self-pubbed/indie stigma can be overcome by success.) And yes, like you, I hope that people — whether they are readers, writers, agents, or editors — will intelligently consider this information. We are facing a myriad of new opportunities, and only through meaningful discussions like this can we figure out the right way to optimize them.

    Again, I’m sorry if I offended you. As I said to Maureen, I would feel like an imposter if I called myself an indie author, for the very reasons you state: as an ebook author, I was beholden to no standards but my own.

    I greatly admire your dedication to indie publishing, and your ability to tackle all of the elements of publishing on your own (writing, editing, marketing, finances, etc.). That’s something I truly do not feel equipped to handle at this time, which is one of my reasons for continuing to pursue a “traditional” route. Maybe that will change… if so, at least I know one person I can look to for inspiration. ;)

  22. One laast word here, if you don’t mind, Kristan (you really are a most gracious blog hostess!) and that is if you believe you have talent and your work deserves to be read, then please don’t let fears that you can’t manage yourself/product without the help of an agent or publisher. In fact, that may be the worst possible reason to not go out and publish independently.

    I sincerely believe it is a huge mistake on many levels.

    First, I would suggest it’s very unwise to think you can relinquish something as important as your career to a third party. In any event, publishers put a lot of demands on writers today; authors are required to work very hard with their own publicity and marketing and in similar overlapping areas. So there’s no fairy dust sprinkled on your work by people behind curtains making it all happen.

    If you’re planning on becoming a professional in today’s highly competitive publishing world there’s no substitute for being in the trenches and seeing every aspect of the process unfold — and actually driving those processes yourself. Every author should develop an expertise in all phases of their own career, brand, and platform development. If he/she chooses to go with a publisher in the future, that author will be far better equipped to make appropriate business and career decisions. I say get this stuff under your belt and get it there early. Writing is a career like any other and needs to managed shrewdly.

    Finally, while you wait and pray and court agents, the quickly evolving world of indie publishing is passing you by and you’re losing some advatanges. You’re also squandering precious time in your own life — think of it as standing at a railroad depot waiting for a train that only stops at that station once every in a blue moon and in the most capricious manner. Doncha’ think it’s time to hail a cab or rent a car or even borrow a horse? Or are you going to stand there, bags packed, waiting for a train that’s statistically in all likelihood not going to stop at your station?

    What I find most amazing about your position, Kristan, is that you’re already where you need to be to self-publish. You already have it all in place: you have a platform and creds in writing, you have your social networking in place with a blog presence and website and you’ve created a brand. What don’t you have? You could launch yourself from a very solid position. No agent is going to give you anything you couldn’t get for yourself. You’ve already done so much of the hardest work.

    Finances? What are you talking about? Publishers don’t manage your finances. They send you money just like Smashwords or Amazon would send you money. You still have to manage your own finances. And you already are since it’s obvious as I already said you’ve already created a writing career for yourself.

    So, anyway, my advice to you and to anyone else who believes in themselves is to just get on with it… get on with your career and shape it yourself.

    Don’t hold your breath for the train. You don’t need it anyway.

    All my best to you; I hope to see your works published all over the place — under your own name — very soon!!

    Peace; ~m.

  23. Maureen-
    Thanks for your vote of confidence!!

    Truthfully, it’s not *fear* of having to manage things on my own, so much as a desire not to. Obviously, I have this website, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — and I DID experiment with e-publishing — so I have some idea of what is involved. As you said, I feel it’s important that all writers get a feel for this side of the business.

    But ultimately, this is just not what I want to spend my time on. (Not anymore than I already do, that is.) My type may be losing out to evolution, but I really would prefer to let an agent handle the details (contracts, royalty payments, world rights, etc.) while I focus on my writing. To me an agent would be a partner in my career, not someone I was relinquishing control to.

    But of course not everyone sees it that way, and I can totally respect that. Just as I would hope others could respect my views and choices for my own career. (Views and choices that I am not too proud to admit could change as the publishing landscape changes. Only time will tell.)

  24. Oh my dear Kristan, I think your idea about what an agent is and what they will do for you is very,very idealistic! Having been through a couple agents myself I can tell you that I’d like to have an agent who does those things too but so far it hasn’t happened! I think once you are an established writer then, perhaps, the publishing house will handle things like that for you but for the first few books you are going to be doing a LOT of the work yourself.

    It is true that the publisher will handle contracts, royalties and world rights but at a high cost to you. The average author receives less than a dollar per book sold. What you have to remember that everyone who does work for you via your publisher gets a slice of your pie — agents, publicists, lawyers, designers, etc. All of that comes out of your profits before you see any profit.

    I certainly respect your choices — I felt like that myself 15 years ago — but reality got in the way.

    Lucky for me I found several like minded authors and we have helped one another out by proofing, critiquing and giving feedback on one anothers’ manuscripts. I do a lot of manuscript design for myself and for others but, of course, I charge for that. I know I am a lot less expensive than the author houses but I do require payment.

    I have as acquaintances several successful writers who are signed to big publishing houses and they have been complaining more and more lately about how much more they are expected to do! Especially when it comes to doing their own PR and Marketing. It’s a symptom of the new age we live in.

    You certainly do not offend me and if you choose to continue shopping for an agent I wish you well but indie publishing is an increasingly respectable and reasonable alternative for those of us who would rather write books than endless letters!

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