Independent publishing is synonymous with self-publishing, but, in my mind, there are a few key differences. Self-published authors generally work with some sort of a publishing platform, like CreateSpace or Smashwords. These platforms offer authors mechanisms with which to self-publish and distribute their work to the reading world. The way I differentiate independent publishing from self-publishing is I don’t use an intermediary publishing platform. That's not to say they're bad. I know plenty of authors who have had terrific experiences using these platforms, so if you're thinking about self-publishing, CreateSpace or Smashwords or Lulu or any of the other well-known sites are a great options. In many cases, they offer services, such as design and editing. They also charge for these services, but that's standard; anybody looking to publish their own work should plan on spending at least a little bit of their own money.
As an independent publisher, my initial instinct was to spend as little as possible. If I could publish my novel for free, that’s what I’d do. But, as I did my research, I found that doing it for free wasn’t exactly an option. There were inexpensive ways I could go about doing it, but I knew these options would leave me with a book that looked amateurish and I didn't want that. My goal was to publish a professional novel whose presentation would be just as good as a traditionally published novel. In order to do this, I had to accept that traditional publishers invest money into their books, which meant that I'd have to do the same.
With regard to financing an independent book, if you’re thinking about becoming a publisher, I wish I could tell you there is some magic bullet solution, but there’s not. In my case, I saved up my money for about a year or so, while I continued to polish up my novel. Lately, crowdsourcing has become a great option for raising money; this is where you present your project to a prospective audience and ask for monetary donations. In return for pledging money, donors receive gifts from the author.
The obvious gift would be a copy of the book. But, you can offer more incentive for larger pledges. So, maybe you offer a signed copy of the book. Or maybe you offer to name a character after the pledger. Or maybe you offer to do a private book reading for the pledger and their friends. You can be as creative as you like in order to get people to help fund your book. Kickstarter is the most popular crowdsourcing site, but there are others, like Pubslush, which is crowdsourcing exclusively for writers and publishers.
Aside from financing the book myself, I also do all the other things a traditional publisher would do, from editing the book, designing the book, distributing the book, marketing the book, and promoting the book. The difference is a traditional publisher has several departments with staff members in charge of these tasks, while, as an independent publisher, it’s just me.
I wasn't sure if I could afford an editor, so that part I did myself with the help of some of my writer friends. The two biggest assists I got in terms of story editing were from S. Kay Murphy and James Brown, both of whom read drafts of Inside the Outside and helped make it much better than I could’ve done on my own. I spent the bulk of my budget on the book design. For that, I hired a company called AuthorSupport. (The cover art on Inside the Outside, incidentally, is a painting done by the hugely talented Colin Frangicetto, who I've written aboutbefore on this blog.)
As far as how the design process went with AuthorSupport, it started with a couple phone conversations. I spoke with Jerry Dorris, the creative director at AuthorSupport. We talked about Inside the Outside, what it was about, what sort of genre it fit into, who the audience was—things like that. Along with the conversations, Jerry asked me to email him a collection of book covers that I liked. Based on our conversations, as well as the covers I sent him, he created about five or six different covers for Inside the Outside.
Then I had the difficult—but exciting—task of choosing one. This decision was much more stressful than I realized it would be, because while I know a reader isn’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, I had no doubt that my book would gain or lose many readers by the cover alone. So, after mulling over the covers and showing them to a few people, I eventually picked one.
Along with the print book, I also had AuthorSupport design the eBook version of Inside the Outside. Once the book was designed, then it was just a matter of distributing it. For the print book, I work with Lightning Source as my printer and distributor. They use print-on-demand technology, which is ideal for independent publishers. Aside from printing the book and shipping it out to customers, Lightning Source also distributes the book, making it available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and several other online retailers and book sellers. For the eBook, I work directly with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, andiTunes. All three of these retailers make it very easy for independent publishers to sell their books on their sites.
And there you have it. You may not believe me, but this three-part article was actually the short version of how I became an independent publisher. If you're an author looking to see you book in print, I would suggest you look into all of your options. If you want to try your hand at the traditional route, I wish you nothing but the best of luck (and I hope you have more success than I did!). If you decide to go the independent route, then I want you to consider me an ally, so don't be shy about asking questions or seeking advice. I'm happy to share any information I've learned along my journey.
Good luck and happy publishing!