Crowdpublishing

by Diane Morrison

Everyone says that indie publishing is the wave of the future. Avoiding gatekeepers, who are often prejudiced against particular ideas or demographics, and putting your work out there to see if it will sink or swim on its own, puts the power (and the money) back in the hands of the writers. I had an unusual idea and format that I realized would have difficulty finding a home because of its experimental nature, so I though I would give it a try.

Here’s the problem: It’s not free.

Amazon and others try to make you believe it’s free, but only if you want to give away a significant royalty chunk, and only if you don’t hire an editor (bad,) don’t hire a cover designer (worse,) don’t hire a formatter (fine if you have lots of time on your hands and are handy with computer programs; awful if not,) and don’t do any marketing or ever buy a copy to sell to your friends or at cons. If you do decide to go for it without any resources, people will dismiss your cover as tacky, your prose as terrible, and no one is ever going to see it in the sea of newly available titles anyway.

Not to mention there’s still the whiff of vanity publishing about it, so no matter how good you are, or how well you do, some people will never take you seriously.

If you want to succeed at indie publishing, you have to be seen in the vast herd of new titles appearing every day. It takes money. That’s fine if you can afford it, but I found it daunting. So I asked myself, “How can I publish a book without defeating the purpose? How can I find capital that doesn’t eliminate my bottom line?”

I launched a Kickstarter to bring my Wyrd West stories to print. I budgeted for cover design, formatting, editing, marketing and stock purchase. And I asked my readers to contribute.

The response was better than I could have hoped. The Kickstarter was successful. The end result was a beautiful, professional book I had every right to be proud of, many of which were going directly to the readers that funded them.

But can this said to be truly self-published? I don’t think it can. This is a new way of doing things, in which readers choose to fund what they want to read. It puts the power directly in their hands. As it should be.

Even the backing of the Big 5 doesn’t guarantee a book’s success. It has to find an audience. It has to have resonance with the people who read it. Readers aren’t going to fund bad ideas, and if you’re a bad writer, they’re not going to support you more than once. So rather than being vetted by small groups of people on the top of a big pyramid of status and business acumen, Crowdpublished projects are vetted directly by the public.

As a writer, here’s a look at the differences I’ve found between being traditionally, independently, or Crowdpublished:

Traditional Publishing

Indie Publishing

Crowdpublishing

Getting the Book Published in the First Place

You may not be able to get a publisher interested. Chances are you will have a long wait. If you try something that’s too far outside of the mainstream in subject or presentation, don’t count on it. The publisher covers all publishing expenses and pays you a royalty.

You can get the book published whenever you want. You are entirely responsible for expenses & getting people to read it. On the other hand, you get to keep a larger share of the royalty.

If your audience will sustain your idea, you can publish the book whenever you want, and you know they, at least, will read it. Chances are they’ll get their friends to read it too, because they wouldn’t have invested if they didn’t think it was a good idea. If you’ve budgeted correctly, the expenses of printing some of your books, at any rate, will be covered. You receive indie royalties.

Editing

A professional editor who works for the publishing house will be provided to edit for you. Sometimes this leads to personality conflicts, but ultimately, it is the editor’s job to make your book into a marketable product, and that’s what they’re going to try to do.

There are good editors and bad editors out there in the indie world, and you have to pay one. Some charge very good rates, others higher ones. Unless you’re dealing with a professional service with multiple editors, rate doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. However, most writers have no idea what makes a good editor, and it’s not just whether they can copyedit your spelling mistakes. A good editor will also be trying to make your book into a marketable product. That means they have to know what that looks like, and  in my experience, the vast majority of indie editors haven’t a clue.

You have all the innate disadvantages of indie editing, except that you can budget for that in your crowdfunder, so you can spring for the professional firm or someone you trust right away.

Cover Design

Your publisher decides on the cover, but will pay artists & designers to make it for you.

You have the final say over the cover, but either you have to figure out Cover Design  101 or pay someone to do it well.

You have the final say over the cover, but your readers cover the expense of creating it.

Creative Control

Your publisher has the final word on what will & will not go in the book.

You have complete creative control.

You have creative control – provided your readers will support your idea.

Marketing & Promotion

Your publisher expects you to do more of this than they used to, but they will still do a lot of it for you. They’ll market to bookstores and contact radio shows and podcasts. You will still be expected to use your own platform (especially online) to market, and you’ll probably still have to pay for your own book tour. They will decide much of how you and your book should be presented to the public.

You are entirely responsible for the way you market yourself and your book. You’re also entirely responsible for the expenses. You probably don’t know as much about doing it as a professional publicist does, so there will be a lot of trial and error. Often, some of the places you’d like to promote to won’t talk to you because you don’t have a publisher’s clout.

You still have many of the inherent problems of indie marketing. The exceptions are a) you are NOT entirely responsible for expenses (you can budget for that,) and b) a crowdfunding outlet is already a marketing platform. If you succeed at your goal, some shows who wouldn’t have talked to you as an indie will, because it’s a heartwarming success story and it’s apparent you do have an audience.

I realize that Crowdpublishing is a bit like being PBS instead of MSNBC. You know that you have an audience. Although it might not be as easy for you to reach them as it is for corporations, that audience is dedicated enough to supporting your work that they are willing to ante up, sight-unseen. It’s “Funded in part by readers like you.”

It’s a godsend for SFF story markets. Many respected pro- and semi-pro markets use the Crowdpublishing model, including Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, the entire EscapePod family, Third Flatiron, and more. And most SFF writers I know use the Crowdpublishing model, at least as far as setting up a Patreon, whether they’re just starting out or just shy of the New York Times bestseller list. I think this should be a point of pride.

I don’t believe that indie-publishing deserves its “lesser” reputation, because garbage gets published in all fields, and a big imprint is by no means a guarantee of quality. But I think when we’re asked if our project was self-published, we should smile and say, “No, it was Crowdpublished.” I think it’s a selling point.

I believe that any path a writer takes to success is a good one. Some people are really successful in the traditional or indie-publishing models, and regardless of which path they’ve taken, it’s hard. These are accomplishments worth taking pride in. But I think we should start thinking of Crowdpublishing as a third path within the literary market. There’s traditional publishing, and indie-publishing, and Crowdpublishing.

If you’re a writer who produces your own books, or a magazine editor, and you have a Kickstarter, GoFundMe or Patreon for the purpose, your work isn’t indie-published; it’s Crowdpublished. It’s not self-funded, or funded by shareholders; it’s funded by the public. And I think we should start talking about it that way.

•••

Diane Morrison in an emerging neo-pro writer who successfully ran a Kickstarter to publish her book, Once Upon a Time in the Wyrd West. Under her pen name Sable Aradia, she is a traditionally-published non-fiction author and blogger. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada and she manages the SFWA YouTube channel. You can catch her on Twitter as @SableAradia, which means she’s not writing when she should be.

6 Responses

  1. Mike Stop Continues

    I wouldn’t worry so much about avoiding stigma as an indie. Bullies only bully harder if they see weakness.

    Own the fact that not only are you a talented author, but that you’re also smart enough to run your own business. Be proud of your 70% royalty rate and your artistic freedom and your ability to pivot with the changing times. They’re why you’ll still be read in 30 years and most of your naysayers won’t.

    Readers respond to good work, not the name of your publishing house. So why worry about what people who won’t read you think?

  2. Paul Jessup

    “Everyone says that indie publishing is the wave of the future”

    ?????

    Who says this? The only people I hear saying this are people who self publish…

  3. Amber Cross

    This is a really helpful and interesting breakdown of the different types of publishing options. I know when I am buying books, I do sometimes look to see if it was self-published or put out by a publishing house simply because I have bought too many books on my kindle that clearly haven’t been edited. If anything gives indie publishing a bad reputation it is the drafts that people try to pass as books. I want to support all authors, and at the same time, I don’t want to read a poorly edited book.

    Sometimes, all of the options seem entirely overwhelming with impossible odds. In the end though, hopefully, a quality story with quality writing will find its audience one way or another.

  4. trjc

    I would never consider indie publishing… but, to be honest, the big name publishers are about as useless as “tits on a boar hog” (pardon the old expression).

    If your name has notoriety (you’re a political animal with no integrity, an axe-murderer, or a rapist) or you’re a TV personality on a 24/7 news channel with your own show such that you can promote your own book, we’re almost at the point where you need not even bother writing a book no matter how great an idea or plot sits in your mind. It could be the next great classic, but the consolidation within the publishing industry is such that greed precludes even considering reviewing a novel unless it’s predetermined that it will make a quick buck. Publishers do not want to bother with the costs of promotion… and agents are no help whatsoever. They are akin to leeches…

    How many times have I picked up a book on the NY Times best seller list only to find out it was “junk”?

    Every time… the quality of the writing wasn’t a consideration at all. Only the name of the author mattered.

    Notoriety and the ability to self-promote guarantee that a publisher will provide ghost-writers, researchers, and an advance. The industry, quite frankly, is in the integrity-toilet.

    I’ve gone with a hybrid-publisher (one SFWA previously crapped on) who provided a superb coordinator, good editors, and excellent artwork. My only gripe has been the lack of promotion… but I expected that when I selected them. They have been more respectful, more courteous, and more cooperative BY FAR than any major publisher I’ve ever dealt with.

    While indie publishing is not an option I’d ever consider, major publishers are (in my opinion) even LESS of an option. They have no business ethics at all… only greed.

  5. Susan Forest

    I’m publishing with a small press, which is very flexible and supportive, and willing to consult with me regarding covers and so forth. So, though this technically falls into the “trad” column, I’m finding a lot of independent-column advantages as well.

    Great article, by the way–I love the way you break down your analysis.

  6. Matthew Reardon

    Thanks for the article, Diane! My experience has been exactly the same as Susan’s, with an excellent small press that technically falls under the “traditional” column in terms of editorial, advance and services, but is also more in the “indie” or “crowd-funded” column when it comes to royalties, creative/cover control, and marketing. Maybe that should be a fourth column, for “small press”?