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Late to the Fair: Why I Became an Indie Author

I caught up to the fact that Chris Kelly was having a blog carnival on Indie Publishing just as the deadline closed. However, after reading the blog posts of those who made it to the fair, and mulling over my reactions, I thought it would still be useful to post on this topic.

I have written previously on my blog about the path that lead me to self-publishing, which echoed other writers (disappointment with the traditional route, issues of control, greater financial opportunities, etc) so in this post I am focusing more narrowly on the most important personal reason I had for deciding to become an indie author.

The traditional publishing route takes just too damn long (and I am too damn old).

I remember a year ago last June coming back from a mystery convention, business cards from an agent and the editor of a small press in hand, and sitting down and looking at those cards. I knew the drill. I and my author friends had been down that road before and I knew that even if I was successful, the minimum time it would take from first query to finished product was 18 months, and as a first time author it would more likely take two years. Even worse, editors at that convention made it clear it would take at least another year after coming out in print before the book was published as an ebook. (I know that this, like much of publishing, is changing, but in June 2009 most traditional publishers were adamant about not publishing print and ebooks at the same time.)

I had had the idea for Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery 30 years earlier, I had written the first draft 20 years earlier, and I was now approaching sixty, and 2-3 years simply felt too long to wait to get it into readers’ hands and discover if my book was indeed something that readers would enjoy.

Now I know that sixty is supposed to be the new forty, but my mother was dead at the age of 67 and my father’s poetry writing came to a halt when he was in his late 70s and entered the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, so in actuarial terms, life really was too short.

In addition, while theoretically my sixty years have brought me wisdom, experience and the financial security that would give me an edge over younger authors, what I felt was just old as I read blogs by twenty-somethings who, with the boundless energy of youth, could put in longer days, were more comfortable with new technology, and didn’t have to spend so darn much time keeping the body moving smoothly. Even more distressing were the real forty somethings who not only had widsom and experience, but also had twenty to thirty years of successfully publishing books under their belts, with established contacts and fans, to help them on their way.

I felt like I was late to the Fair, and if I didn’t get a move on, all the rides would be closed. So I put the business cards away and committed myself to taking the self-publishing route.

I took the next six months to do the final edit and do what was necessary to be ready to publish (get cover designed, set up author website, set up blog), much of which I would have needed to do prior to even sending out my query to that agent or editor.

Then in a two-week period in December of 2009 I published my book as an ebook on Smashwords and Kindle and used CreateSpace to publish a POD edition.

Two weeks, not two to three years.

And now I am nine months down the road and I am not worrying that my window of opportunity is closing and that bookstores will be sending unbought copies of my book back, and Books Scan is going to label me a failure because my sell-through rate wasn’t high enough, and my publisher is going to drop me (or let my book go out of print) because I didn’t make back my advance.

Instead I am having the time of my life. I have sold over 1150 copies of Maids of Misfortune, over 500 copies of my short story, Dandy Detects, and I am watching my sales improve every day.

And I haven’t even turned 61 yet!

About Mary Lou Locke

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2 comments

  1. Avatar of Neil Crabtree

    This is a great post, Mary Lou. I’m the same age, and hear the clock ticking. I wonder about taking 18 months to get to press, after finding an agent, after the agent makes the sale. What can I do marketing on my own in the same time frame? Also, I consider that once the book is out there for sale, it’s not going away. My children might have better success than me selling the books. Either way, once you feel you have the writing down, you want to show what you’ve produced. I started a blog to review Smashwords books, since it seemed no one is doing this. I’ve received 42 books in a week. There’s a need to help indie authors get the word out.
    http://smashwordsreviewed.blogspot.com

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  2. I enjoyed your article and agree very much as I am exploring the future avenues of my new novel and future followers should they happen to go public. “It takes to damn old and to damn long” is my philosophy for the over 55 group. Bookstores seem to be declining even on campuses across the nation and businesses are struggling in the private sector. I have used similar voice in my frustration with the real traditional authors and the real traditional publishers views. Thanks for the input it was enjoyable.

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