News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (www.NobleDead.org); author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

Going “Indie”: Are traditional writers really lazy?


For those who pay attention to Internet blog debates, the whole flame war between “indie” writers and traditionally published is getting heated—and in my opinion, somewhat ridiculous.

For those of you just coming into the room here, a number of writers are both practicing and loudly (and I do mean loudly) proposing that we all ditch our agents, ditch our publishers, and independently publish our own books—focusing mainly on electronic sales.  The great upside of this is that places like Amazon (Kindle), Apple (iPad) and B&N (Nook) keep only 30% of the take, and the writer gets 70% of the take.  This is a MUCH larger cut for the writer than a traditional publisher pays.

A traditional New York publisher pays between 8% and 15% percent royalties—depending on book format—and as I covered earlier this week, your agent will also take 15% of what you earn because most writers working with a New York publisher have agents.

Okay, so 70% versus 8 to 15% is fabulous . . . well, if anyone knows your book actually exists.

Those Lazy Traditional Writers

The main accusation from the folks who take the “indie” path is that traditional writers are lazy.  I don’t care much for name calling in general, but this one really bothers me.



The argument is that traditional writers are both cowardly and lazy.  They are too afraid and too lazy to hire their own cover artists and go through all the work of prepping the manuscript for e-sale format and being responsible for getting it up on the Amazon, B&N, Sony, Apple, etc, websites for e-sale.  They are too lazy to attempt marketing.

In general, they just want someone to “do it all for them.”  I’ve heard this over and over—albeit often from about the same seven bloggers.

And I think, “Huh?”

Anyone who cranks out a publishable novel around the cracks of time in this world hardly qualifies as lazy in my mind. Anyone who read one of my earlier posts on the steps a published manuscript has to go through on the path to publication would hardly call a traditional writer “lazy.”  I know a number of writers who publish through major publishers who also have families and full time jobs.  These folks are not lazy.

In my opinion, it is very hard work to land an agent.  This requires both sharp, professional correspondence and a dynamite synopsis of your novel project.  It is hard work to both research reputable agents and to land one.  Anyone who’s ever tried this knows what I’m talking about.

Once that agent has sold the manuscript to a New York publisher, the real work begins.  No one is “doing this for us.”  We are receiving some much-needed professional assistance, but most of the work getting that novel ready for publication is on us.

We do receive assistance with the cover and with marketing and with distribution.  A New York publisher will get copies of your mass market paperback into B&N, Independent bookstores, and even Fred Meyer and Safeway.  But all the successful writers I know work hard to help with marketing as well—JC and I certainly do.

Question: Does this mean Barb has issues with indie publishing?

Answer: Absolutely not.  I think the possibilities are awesome.

JC and I have ideas cooking right now for some projects we are going to publish independently.  We have connections to cover artists and to qualified freelance editors.  JC could format a book for e-sales in his sleep, and I’m good on the business end of things.  But we’re not going to take something and claim that it’s pure gold coming straight out of our bottoms and then put it right up for publication for our poor unsuspecting readers.  Goodness no.  We will simply hire editorial and artistic assistance ourselves. 

Now, we do have a somewhat recognizable name, but even so, my main concern is marketing—meaning getting anyone to know the books or novellas exist.  This strikes me the biggest challenge in indie publishing.  But we’re still going to give it a try . . . and just not expect too much. The idea is fun and exciting.  I have absolutely no wish to bash anyone who’s doing this or to engage in any kind of name calling.

We’re excited to try indie publishing ourselves.

However . . . I know a number of writers who strove and strove to find an agent and a publisher and could not manage it.  They then began talking about the “new world of publishing” and “the golden age for writers,” and they went “indie” with great enthusiasm and then sold three e-copies of their book, one to their mom, one to their best friend, Kevin, in Chicago, and one to their first cousin, Margaret, in D.C.

It was heartbreaking, and it did not solve their problem.

JC and I make a living by writing for a New York publisher because, at present, people actually know our books exist—because they can see them in B&N and Safeway.  In a few years, as the industry changes . . . we might be following a very different path.  I don’t know.  I do know that we’re watching all this play out like two hawks. 

But we are certainly not lazy, and I don’t understand why anyone would spend so much time and energy railing and railing against writers who still have agents and publishers. 

And again . . . I don’t like name calling.