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How to define your self publishing goals?

Elvis Elvis

Not everybody who self publishes or “goes indie” does it with the same ultimate goals. That should be obvious from the start, but I think a problem of communication comes in when indies with different end goals start slamming each other, instead of understanding that not everybody wants the same thing out of this. And since going indie really is an individual and independent experience I thought I would outline three different basic “types” of indies.

All three types can use a lot of the information on this site, though for certain types, not all pages will be applicable to your situation.

Type 1: Hobby Self Publisher

The hobbyist gets a lot of flack because sometimes what is put out by the hobbyist is deemed “amateur” (when it’s really not supposed to be anything more) and is somehow seen as dragging down the image of “true self publishing.”

Often the hobbyist publishes on lulu.com or a similar service, in order to make his/her book available to family and friends, and just to have it in a book form. The hobbyist isn’t really interested in writing as a business, or a career, but may not realize it’s perfectly valid NOT to want a writing career. It’s okay to share your work for free or create a print-on-demand book for yourself and your friends. You don’t have to take a book out into the general marketplace.

You don’t have to become a sales person, or chase the “writing dream.” Not everybody has the same dream anyway, and you aren’t obligated to validate yourself via other people’s dreams.

Plenty of people play the piano or softball or figure skate as a hobby without the need to make money doing it professionally or have a big business or career surrounding it. But for some reason, writing is different. Many people don’t consider writing really valid unless you’re doing it as a career. Part of this could be because writing is an act that isn’t really complete until it’s shared with others. And for a long time, this meant publication, which cost a lot of money and pretty much required a career.

How to define your self publishing goals?

But now, with lower entry barriers and digital formats for books, as well as the internet in general, it’s safe to say you can get readers to read and comment on your work without spending much of anything. I discovered this phenomenon through fanfic. Before fanfic it never really occurred to me that some people just wanted to write for the joy of sharing their work without any need to go further into career territory.

If a “writing career” takes the joy out of it for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to stick to writing/distributing as a hobby. You can do podcasts as a hobby, free ebooks, online distribution, even print-on-demand through lulu.com, cafe press, or createspace, without the need to go any further or “sell” anything.

Unfortunately a lot of the more serious indies get very put out by the hobby indie. They believe that hobbyists, since they aren’t that concerned with interior layout, perfect editing, or cover design, are somehow making them look bad. But the books meant for a wider audience, that are good, rise above the noise. But it may take some time before people relax about the issue.

Type 2: Self Publisher trying to attract an agent/editor

The second type of indie publisher has a clear goal. He/she wants to attract an agent/editor and hopes that by building a platform (reader base), that he/she will stand a better chance of getting representation or a contract, and that when it happens, it will be a better deal than he/she would have gotten by sending out blind queries and hanging out in the slush pile.

Indies of this type don’t all spend out a lot of cash. Some just podcast and build up a platform that way. Some distribute free ebooks, or online books. Some use print-on-demand. But the primary focus is to get published by someone else eventually.

The attitude seems to stem from the “pre-published blogging” practice. Writers are starting “author blogs” before publication to start learning to market and get their name out there. Indie publishing to attract an agent can be seen as an extension of this concept.

Rather than letting work sit and languish in a drawer somewhere, the indie of this type is proactively distributing work and finding people who like his/her work. Some of these indies sell their work, but many just stick to free giveaways with the goal being to build the largest platform possible to up their odds of getting a contract.

It’s important to note some agents and editors don’t really consider listeners/readers that don’t have to pay anything as real and valid numbers. I think they are valid numbers, since time is an important commodity too, and fans of your free work are more likely to pay later for other work. (Something which larger publishers are slowly starting to admit as well.) But, if you actually sell copies, then you have sales numbers to work with in presenting your case to agents and publishers.

Type 3: Self Publishers running their own business

The third type of indie, which is the type I am, has started their own publishing company, publishing under their own imprint. They own their own ISBN numbers and they are treating it like a business. This type is generally very small business minded and is in it whether or not an agent or publisher ever glances twice at them.

While this type may later sell out to a publisher, it’s not the primary driving motivation. It’s simply an option later down the road if the indie gets an offer. This type of indie has a few different directions they might go in.

They might later sell out if an offer comes along. They might never sell out, instead preferring to run their own micro-press publishing their own work in whatever formats they like, indefinitely. They might sell foreign rights and other subsidiary rights to their work, while maintaining first rights on everything. Or they might move up to small press status and start publishing other authors in addition to themselves.

The goal of this third type is to, over the long haul, build a solid small or micro publishing business.