What Makes an Author Successful?

Successful author blurbs graphic

How do you know if an author is successful? The answer hinges on one’s definition of success, though the most common one is large numbers of books sold and profits made. By that measure, the Covid-19 pandemic was bad for authors. But I hope it may be good in the long run.

Success Comes Easiest to the Already Successful

An April 18 New York Times article, “What Snoop Dogg’s Success Says About the Book Industry,” notes that physical bookstores were hard hit by pandemic shutdowns. Readers bought and read books when more-social activities were curtailed, but their behavior did not lift all booksellers and authors.

The Times article authors note that, “The pandemic altered how readers discover and buy books, and drove sales for celebrities and best-selling authors while new and lesser known writers struggled. Many of the 200-plus new books that Chronicle [Books, a large independent publisher,] released failed to find an audience and quite likely never will.”

As Tyrrell Mahoney, the president of Chronicle Books, told the newspaper, in the category of celebrity sales, the rapper Snoop Dogg’s two-year-old cookbook From Crook to Cook “sold 205,000 copies in 2020, nearly twice as many as it had sold in 2019.” However, Mahoney continued, “It was harder to get people’s attention around books that didn’t necessarily have a big name attached to them.” Then she wondered, “Are those gone forever?”

So what of those other books? From a traditional publisher’s business standpoint, authors without name recognition aren’t as likely to be successful as Snoop Dog, so they’re unlikely to get long-term promotional support.

The Times article notes that “about 98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.”

The Times article notes that “about 98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.” That means only 2 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. Those numbers aren’t making many authors financially successful.

While unknown and lesser-known authors suffered, publishers in general did not. “Overall, publishers’ revenues in the United States, which had been steady but stagnant for much of the past decade, climbed nearly 10 percent in 2020, to $8.6 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers.” The lesson publishers have learned: Success feeds success. Name recognition matters more to the bottom line than quality or taking a chance on publishing a potentially amazing new author.

How I Measure Success

I’ve been a writer and published author my entire adult life. Four decades of stringing words together and hanging them out for public viewing have shaped my definition of success.

I remember the thrill of seeing my first byline on a book review in a respected academic journal. That counted as success for a graduate student. When I became a visiting assistant professor, having a chapter of my dissertation published in a more prestigious journal and my American literature survey course syllabus included by an anthology publisher signaled my membership in the academy that stretched beyond my own university. Those visible achievements would have been essential for academic career success if I had stayed on that path.

Since leaving academia, I’ve measured authorial success in both public and private ways. If an internal or external client returned for future marketing or publicity services, I was successful. If a magazine article or editorial got a healthy number of clicks, that was externally validated, quantitative success. If a book broke even or better on expenses, that spelled financial success. Then there are awards. Winning awards for your writing is nice, and I’ve collected a few, but the kudos that have provided more lasting gratification have been personal and private.

When the president of a college whose mission I support thanked me for developing a fundraising theme and ghost writing collateral materials that resulted in one of the most effective campaigns in the school’s history, that felt like success that mattered because of its long-term effect on students’ lives. And when a professor and novelist praised my profile of her in a university community relations publication, I savored the success of recognition by a fellow author.

When a power industry professional whom I’d never met sent an email telling me how an industry-first article about women in the field made him realize he needed to think differently about his own future employee roster, I knew I’d been successful in shifting attitudes. When readers not only say they enjoyed Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles but also that they appreciated seeing a particular sort of midlife experience as the centerpiece of a novel—because they felt seen or because the story inspired them to think more expansively about their own future—I know I’ve provided a spark of hope for another person’s journey through life.

In my experience, measurable, public success is a prerequisite for business and professional sustainability; private, sometimes intangible success is essential for maintaining one’s passion for the work.

Measuring Your Own Success

If you’re not an author, this publishing-focused reflection may seem irrelevant. It’s not.

Whatever your job title or identity labels—banker, baker, consultant, teacher, runner, parent, activist—your successes and failures, as measured by external metrics, can change in a heartbeat, as the characters in Optics learn. I hope the pandemic experience has helped you reevaluate what success means for you. I hope you’ve found healthier, more sustainable, more life-affirming ways of defining success for yourself, your family, and your career.

Public success will always have its place; it’s useful in providing the physical necessities of life. But maybe the most meaningful success now is lacing up for a run three days instead of once a week, a thank you note from a new hire you mentored remotely over the past year, or enjoying lower blood pressure thanks to altered news-consumption habits. Celebrate the external successes and treasure the private ones.

Celebrate external successes and treasure the private ones.

Measure Success Over Time

At the top of this post I suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic might be good for authors in the long run. The enforced time at home alone (even if with one’s family) gave many people just enough non-work hours to get serious about writing that book they’d always wanted to produce. Aside from a potential spurt of new books and authors, I hope the pandemic experience encouraged more people to write the books that need to be written, rather than just the ones they think publishers and readers want.

By the metric of first-year sales mentioned in that Times article, I’m in the 98% rather than the 2%. However, as I was reminded recently, I’m in this writing and publishing business for the long haul. Even though we write in different genres, I find the professional development tools provided by best-selling novelist Alessandra Torre to be just the inspirational kick in the butt I need when I’m stuck. Her latest webinar reminded me that a book can have many lives—as a stand-alone, part of a series, revised, translated, etc.—and any book can have a long sales life. As a reader and a former English professor, that’s obvious to me; as a writer, I needed the reminder so I don’t let moderate initial success with one book hold me back from moving on with the next.

Yes, books have a long life. They can be discovered and become even more successful years after they were first published. Just ask Stephen King or Snoop Dog.

For monthly updates from Gail about her novel, blog, writing, and reading, sign up for her newsletter, Gail’s Reading Glasses.

Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe

Coyote in snow

Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, the best antidote I’ve found is to give myself a new challenge. Rather than fixate on the project I want to be writing, I tell myself that what I’ll tackle next is merely an experiment. That’s how my first novel, Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles, came about. I was spinning my writing wheels, and I’d never written fiction, so I decided to explore unknown narrative territory.

Back in January 2021, when the new year felt like a rerun of the old, I was stuck. I wanted to start a second novel, but nothing was gelling. The creative silence was particularly frustrating because I usually am sorting through too many ideas rather than too few.

That’s when I decided to give myself another new goal. Instead of committing to an entire novel, I’d write a poem. Though I’ve written poems over the years, I’ve never publicly shared one before. But because many of us are doing things we never expected to, this seems a fitting time to publish a poem that may resonate with others.

Continuity Amid Disruption

One familiar constant amid our disruptive Covid-19 pandemic lives has been the cycle of the seasons—for those of us living in temperate latitudes. However, I haven’t been fully experiencing each season. Weather changes, and wildlife sightings vary, but the human interactions associated with calendar months are missing. No hiking trips with friends and family. No celebratory dinners. No people-watching in Santa Fe restaurants. No singing in choirs.

That last absence in particular provided a framing context for “Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe.” Though I’d sung in many choirs when I was younger—sometimes as many as three in a season—I’d just begun singing again a few years ago and had performed in only two concerts with a community chorus before the pandemic put an end to in-person rehearsals. I’ve been involved with a couple of virtual performances since the pandemic hit, but they’re a poor substitute for being surrounded by live voices. Writing this poem was a way to acknowledge that the seasons reliably complete their cycle, oblivious to interruptions in human social life.

Notes on the Form of “Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe”

In this pandemic poem, two cycles of four seasons, depicted in haiku, are suspended between two longer, grounding stanzas.

I chose haiku for its traditional connection with nature; typically, each haiku contains a word or phrase that indicates the season of the poem. In these haiku, we pass through two years in which the natural world’s rhythms continue as usual, while humans—though part of nature—are out of synch.

The first two lines of each haiku establish the season, usually with an image of nature or a seasonal event; the last lines evoke our individual and collective positions during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. The first fall haiku is a bit different, as I wanted to represent New Mexico’s complicated culture and acknowledge how the pandemic has affected native peoples more harshly. The Navajo have had a taboo about speaking of death, and they bury their dead as quickly as possible, but in Dia de los Muertos—an aspect of New Mexico’s Hispanic culture—the dead are remembered, represented, and death is seen as part of life.

Haiku is also unrhymed, which seems appropriate for a period that lacks a comforting cadence. Nothing feels complete right now—another reason that haiku’s quick images of a moment in time appealed to me.

The haiku are suspended between two longer stanzas representing Santa Fe’s constants of mountains and sunrise (we enjoy nearly 300 days of sunshine annually). The experience of suspension—of being stopped, delayed from doing something, of being held in suspense—is one I hope will soon resolve.

Flock of bluebirds

Suspended Seasons in Santa Fe

In morning we lie in mountain shadow;

It cannot last.

Desert sun rises, burning deep sky blue;

We rise in song!


Wind howls, twists, spreads fear;

Invisible forces tear

At community.


Bluebirds flock, then mate;

Blossoms beckon bees to dine;

We keep cold distance.


Hot days birth monsoons;

Black ravens, corvids, soar high;

We can’t breathe freely.


Navajo taboo:

On Día de los Muertos

Life sits next to death.


Mountain tops wear white;

Long nights fall into blackness;

Our breath turns to frost.


Pollen promises

Life will return to normal;

Still we stand alone.


A rainbow stretches,

Embracing snake and rabbit;

We hold hope tighter.


Pinyon jay on pine

Kaws an everlasting song;

We call in response.


Piñon smoke in air,

We remember together,

We sing together.


In mourning we lie in mountain shadow;

It cannot last.

Desert sun rises, burning deep sky blue,

We raise our song!


©2021 by Gail Reitenbach
All rights reserved. No reproduction in any form without written permission.

For the Love of Book Clubs

I have a confession: I’ve never been in a book club.

I’ve read hundreds of books, thanks to undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, a brief but successful career as an English professor, and a lifelong interest in the written word. I’ve sat in, and led, courses devoted to the discussion of books, but I’ve never been in a book club.

My professional and social orbits haven’t even included talk about book clubs, until recently. I’d briefly considered searching one out as a way to meet new people when we moved to Santa Fe nearly two decades ago, but I never got serious about the effort, for two reasons. The first was the double-edged fear that, as a former English professor, I’d be expected to lead the group and provide insightful comments or that everyone would be struck dumb in fear of what a former professor might say. (No worries there; I’ve forgotten almost everything I took pains to learn about literary theory.) The other reason was best articulated by Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

But such decisions are never forever. I now can imagine belonging to a book club, many years from now, when I’m retired and hanging out with other retirees. None of us has a professional persona to preserve. We’ve lived long enough to call BS on highly touted titles we find dull—or poorly edited. We take turns revising the fates of favorite characters. A couple of us share the backstory on the latest fiction we’re writing. There might be a bottle of wine or a cocktail shaker in the scene.

For now, though, I’m being selfish. I’m reading what I want when I want. I feel no guilt when I don’t finish a book. I feel no guilt for not reading “enough.”

Why Book Clubs?

I became interested in book clubs from a marketing angle when I wrote my first novel, Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles. But beyond that, I love that book clubs are thriving. I love that readers of all ages and backgrounds are gathering in person or virtually to discuss books and share their experiences. I love the potential book clubs hold for community-building.

From their name, you’d assume book clubs are about reading and discussing books. From movies, you’d gather that they’re about getting together with friends of a shared demographic over wine. From the popularity of Oprah’s and Reese’s book clubs, you’d suspect they’re about staying current with influencers. Turns out, book clubs are all that and more.

Large publishers host their own book clubs and offer deals to big-name clubs as a savvy marketing strategy. (That’s one reason it may seem that all the well-known book clubs are reading many of the same books in any given year.) But you can also find book clubs for niche demographics and for every genre under the sun. Some clubs don’t even require you to read the book. During the COVID era, it’s no surprise that virtual book clubs have grown in popularity.

Book clubs aren’t just for those with the disposable income to buy a dozen books a year. Libraries have made digital sign-outs possible. For example, Hoopla, an ebook service for libraries, has a Book Club Hub that’s accessible to anyone with a library card at a library that subscribes to Hoopla for ebook check-outs. (Optics will be available through Hoopla, though my non-Amazon ebook distributor says the service has long processing times.)

Data on the number of book clubs and members is hard to verify, especially as so many are local and without a digital presence. Whatever the reason for joining a book club, participation among “regular readers” in the U.S. between 2004 and 2015 rose from 33% to 57%, according to a white paper produced for librarians. The three-page report includes tips for creating successful book clubs. A chart showing the various ways book club members find out about books puts “Personal recommendations” in the top spot, so thanks in advance for any good words you share about Optics with fellow readers!

Book Club Questions

Whether a book is selected by a nationally known club helmed by a famous one-namer or by a self-governed local group, having a novel selected by a book club increases book sales and can expand the network of potential readers. That’s great, but getting book clubs to choose indie-published Optics is much harder, especially as large traditional publishers have substantially larger marketing and promotion budgets.

Even with those advantages, best-sellers and highly acclaimed titles can fall flat, as a friend who’s been in multiple book clubs recently explained. She described one meeting at which most participants offered only one-word answers to what she considered lame discussion questions.

I want to make it easy for book clubs to select Optics, so I wrote a set of Book Club Discussion Questions. Take a peek and download them if you plan to read Optics with a book club or a friend. I’ve written no “reading quiz” questions—the sort that require you to recall some obscure detail. Nor will you find any that ask you to comment on the “significance” of this scene or that character name, as one might expect  from a college English course. They’re simply prompts to help you articulate why you did, or didn’t, like particular aspects of the book.

If you use these questions in a book club—this year or any time in the future—send me a message via this website to let me know how they worked (and what you drank).

For monthly updates from Gail about her novel, blog, writing, and reading, sign up for her newsletter, Gail’s Reading Glasses.

Reader Advisory: Optics Is Not a Romance Novel

Don’t you just hate it when you start reading a book you think you’ll enjoy, only to discover a few chapters in that it’s not your cup of tea? It’s either more like a mug of weak church coffee or a shot of mescal.

Maybe you’ve had that experience with a book labeled a classic, best-seller, or award-winner. If the title was assigned reading for a class, you probably slogged through to save your grade. If your book club chose it, you might have skimmed the pages or skipped to the final chapter. But when you buy a book for your own entertainment or edification, you want a higher degree of confidence that you’ll like it. (For mass market maybe books, the library can be a safer bet.)

That’s one of the reasons I gave Optics a descriptive subtitle: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles. Turns out, that may not have been explicit enough. Comments from a couple of pre-publication readers suggest that they were expecting something different from the book—specifically, romance.

I didn’t think anything in the title, subtitle, or back-of-book marketing blurb would lead readers to expect a romance plot, but I may have underestimated the power of the romance genre to shape expectations.

When Women’s Fiction Equals Romance

This story on Bustle, “Who Reads Romance Novels? Infographic Tells All,” is a few years old, but the data are probably similar today. Nielsen BookScan, which collects book-related data, found that in 2015, young, white women constituted the largest reading block (59%) for romance novels; readers over 45 were 40% of the market. Now think about every sort of fiction genre published—from literary to fantasy and from historical novels to mysteries. In 2015, nearly one-third of all fiction titles in all formats—29%—were romance novels. That’s a powerful percentage.

My concern about Optics potentially being misidentified as a romance doesn’t come from a place of intellectual disdain. The best romance writers are professionals in every sense; one of my fellow graduate students earned her PhD in English and promptly began a successful career as a romance novelist. And romance novels aren’t necessarily shunned by the supposedly intellectual elite: One of my English Department colleagues in my first academic job frequently reported, with no shame, that she relaxed with “bodice-rippers.” Then there’s the business side. The writing and selling of romance has helped thousands of  women support their families, and I’m all for women’s financial independence.

My challenge is alerting potential readers that Optics isn’t a romance novel. Well, one subplot does have a romance element, but it certainly doesn’t drive the main plot. Social media is one way to reach readers, so I created a couple of tongue-in-check Reader Advisory graphics to post on Facebook and Instagram. They’re designed to acknowledge the pervasiveness of romance plots and the odds that a reader will be younger than my book’s main character.

Not recommended for romance readers

Main characters are all over 50








To be clear: I want Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles to sell as many copies as possible. I’m not trying to drive away potential buyers. Instead, my Reader Advisories are intended to guide readers to a book I hope they’ll enjoy and tell their friends about. Who knows, maybe a few forewarned romance readers will be curious enough to read Optics and will love it. After all, the reviewer at the San Francisco Book Review called it “a perfect beach read,” so you know it’s not self-consciously literary. (You should be able to find the review online in a week or two after they batch-upload the latest reviews.)

Defying Categories and Expectations

The assumption that Optics might focus on romance isn’t just influenced by the overwhelming number of romance titles in the marketplace. It’s also aided by industry categorization.

Marketing in the book industry—whether you’re dealing with a book published by a Big Five traditional publisher or an indie publisher—is driven by metadata (data that provides information about the title). An essential piece of book metadata is the genre category or categories. Traditional print book distributors, bookstores, and online retailers use slightly different lists of categories, but they typically use the same big buckets. Those big categories help both physical and online booksellers group any given book with similar books so browsers can find what they’re looking for. But the more specific your category, the higher the probability that someone interested in just the sort of book you’ve written will find that title. Such a category does not exist for Optics.

The organization that standardizes these categories, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), doesn’t have a category for contemporary fiction about women in the workplace. That omission may seem inconsequential, but there is a category for fiction that focuses on the Amish and Mennonites. No disrespect to those faith groups, but I would guess that category is a rather small piece of the fiction pie. Of the 47 subcategories for romance fiction, you will find one for workplace themes. But what if the novel has a workplace theme and isn’t romance? You’re out of luck. There’s no category for fiction that happens to be about women in the workplace—nevermind midlife women. You’re left with a general category for fiction about women.

Perhaps one day BISG will amend its list to include a category that better fits Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles. In the meantime, I wrote the book I couldn’t find to read, and I hope others will discover in Optics what they’ve been looking for.

For monthly updates from Gail about her novel, blog, writing, and reading, sign up for her newsletter, Gail’s Reading Glasses.

A Book Publishing Declaration of Independence

While the United States celebrates Independence Day this week, I’m celebrating independent publishing. Especially this year, as the publishing industry wrestles with the implications of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m feeling increasingly happy about my decision to publish my first novel independently.

Indie publishing is loosely defined as any sort of publishing beyond large corporate trade, academic, and scientific publishers. That category includes both smaller houses that typically are not publicly traded companies as well as author-publishers who produce and market their own books.

Indie author-publishers may produce a physical and/or digital book under a personal or a business name, or they may hire a third party to handle the majority of editorial, production, and promotion tasks; the latter model can slide into “hybrid” publishing, which is another contested concept. The primary distinction from a business standpoint is that in traditional publishing, the publisher assumes most of the financial risk by accepting a book for publication, whereas the indie publisher bears the financial burden of getting the book to market.

Author-publishers are also called self-publishers. The latter term is preferred by those who wish to denigrate indie entrepreneurs. I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry, which is why I don’t call traditionally published authors lazy or afraid of learning new things—which, trust me, you must do to be an indie publisher. In fact, as a former book and magazine editor, and a writer who has had academic and freelance articles published in traditional outlets, I’ve been part of the traditional publishing industry. And that’s why I knew I could produce as good a book as the corporate behemoths.

Even today, when indie authors account for an ever-increasing percentage of titles and sales, the truths about indie publishing are not self-evident.

Even today, when indie authors account for an ever-increasing percentage of titles and sales, the truths about indie publishing are not self-evident. For readers curious about the differences between traditional and indie publishing, I’ve constructed a short list below. The reasons for both fiction and nonfiction authors taking the indie path vary, so consider this a highly personal list.

Traditional Publishing Takes a Long Time

Unless you’ve got a big name and a timely topic that publishers think they’ll make millions from, moving from completed manuscript to published book typically takes well over a year. After snagging an agent, and after that agent hooks a publisher (both of which can take several years under the traditional model), authors typically wait a year or more to see their book in print. That’s how long traditional publishing takes to go through the editorial, production, and promotion process. It’s the latter—built around customary spring and fall lists—that drives much of the delay.

Experienced indie publishers can bring a book to market in as little as one to three months, but I wanted to present a professionally edited, produced, and promoted book, so I budgeted six months.

Agents and Publishers Love a Safe Bet

Much as in Hollywood, agents and publishers love a book that sounds like something that has previously been successful. I, on the other hand, love to read and write stories I haven’t seen a dozen of. That’s a problem for cracking traditional gate-keepers.

Publishing is very subjective

The Big Five (whose numbers continue to decline thanks to mergers)—Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster—don’t accept author pitches. The price of admission is signing with an agent first. In the six months I allotted to the agent query process, I heard variations on this theme: “After reflection, we don’t feel that this is a perfect fit for [Agent’s] list. Publishing is very subjective, however, and another agent may well feel differently.” The key word there is “subjective.” Even before the pandemic, traditional publishers and agents were reluctant to take on new authors who didn’t already have a large public presence—and, hence, built-in market—or who hadn’t written the next Gone Girl or Twilight series.

Would I have liked to secure an agent and publisher contract? Sure. It would have meant less work for me, as well as easier access to markets, reviewers, awards, and readers. Would I spend an indefinite number of years pursuing that goal? Hell, no. I’d rather declare my independence.

Traditional Publishers Offer Exposure—for a Price

The main advantage of using a traditional publisher (when that’s an option) is exposure. (Book advances are nowhere near as large as in previous eras, most advances don’t come close to paying the rent, and when advances don’t “earn out”—meaning that the book has sold enough copies to pay back the advance—the author sees no future royalties.) The big corporate houses, whose numbers have been steadily declining, have the most clout with book distributors and booksellers. That means they can make your book more visible to potential buyers.

However, those same publishers have almost total control over the fate of a title once it’s acquired. The publisher chooses the editorial team (Will you be simpatico?), the cover design (Will you hate it?), the print run (How big a bet will they make?), the promotional budget (Did you know that anyone other than best-selling authors is expected to fund and organize the bulk of a book’s promotion these days?), and how long the book stays in print.

Successful Authors Can Go Indie and Traditional

It used to be that the mark of a successful indie author was to be picked up by a traditional publisher. That typically happens after impressive indie sales, as was the case with E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. That franchise earned Random House so much (one estimate puts net profit at $163.5 million) that the publisher gave a $5,000 bonus to each of its more than 5,000 employees. (In case it’s not obvious, that sort of earnings record is rare.)

… indie authors don’t have to stay in one genre lane …

However, an opposing trend is also taking shape. The reasons are as varied as the authors and their goals, but those leaving big-name publishers for the indie realm are more than a blip. (One UK author offers a case study in this lengthy but fascinating article from 2015.) Thanks to new technologies, feisty new distribution and retail partners (more on those another time), and readers of all ages who are platform agnostic, indie authors don’t have to stay in one genre lane—something that traditional publishing contracts may stipulate; instead, they can publish as widely and eclectically as they wish.

These days, even agented authors will, at least selectively, go indie in order to retain greater control and potentially higher earnings. That’s the case with Tim Westover, the winner of this year’s first Selfies U.S. Book Award, sponsored by IngramSpark and presented at the American Library Association’s annual conference. Westover has an agent, but he felt that self-publishing The Winter Sisters would be the most pragmatic option. “Indies carry the stigma of ‘not good enough to get traditionally published.’ And sometimes that’s true. But there’s also a substantial segment of authors that speak to smaller audiences, whether that’s something regional (like my book) or a hyper-specific genre or a minority cultural voice,” Westover says.

Indie Publishing Is Mainstream

One could argue that indie publishing is the original traditional publishing in the U.S. After all, Benjamin Franklin, one of our Founding Fathers, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence, was a self-publisher (under a pseudonym) of Poor Richard’s Almanack. No surprise, then, that the Independent Book Publishers Association (I’m a member) named its awards program after Franklin.

In the early centuries of book printing, someone with money decided what got published. That was either the publisher or the wealthy patron or the author with means. Not much has changed. When authors foot the bill for publishing, the process has often been labeled “vanity publishing,” but given today’s options, one retired college professor has argued that traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing.

Today, indie publishing is big business.

Today, indie publishing is big business. In 2018 for example, the number of self-published books increased forty percent and totaled 1.68 million. And in June this year, Publisher’s Weekly Vice President and Publisher Cevin Bryerman said, “Self-publishing is one of the fastest growing segments in the book industry.”

Indies Have More Control

My favorite jobs have always been those where I’ve had influence over both the big picture and countless details. It’s the project manager in me. Now I’m putting those skills to work for my own project.

For starters, I get final say over how the cover looks. Traditionally published authors may be able to offer feedback on proposed covers, but they never get the final vote. For example, one publishing industry insider has written about strongly disliking the first cover proposed for her nonfiction book. The revision might be better, but in my opinion, her book’s cover is dull and conveys nothing about the contents (which I’ve read).

I also was able to choose the formats I wanted to invest in. Instead of hard cover—the standard first-run choice for traditional publishers—I opted for trade paperback to keep the price lower, in hopes of attracting more readers. I’m also offering ebook formats, of course. Audio books require additional investment for a professional narrator and production, so that decision is for a future date.

Indies Can Adapt More Easily

The novel coronavirus has been a harsh reminder of human frailty and business fragility. The traditional industry carries on, but smaller traditional publishers, including those affiliated with universities, are struggling operationally and financially.

Meanwhile, well-established authors with agents and traditional publisher contracts are leaning more heavily on social media and other guerilla marketing tools long employed by indies. For example, with in-person book tours cancelled, one group of novelists, operating under the moniker A Mighty Blaze, has turned to do-it-yourself online promotion. (They only include traditionally published authors.)

I made the decision to go indie before the coronavirus threw all businesses into coping mode. In retrospect, it feels like a lucky bet. When my launch schedule was thrown by an editing delay, I was able to adjust the publication date, and as a print-on-demand publisher, I can avoid the financial risk of a too-large print run.

Optics: A Novel About Women and Work and Midlife Muddles is getting favorable early reviews, which is a welcome validation of my decisions over the past several months. Though there are no sure bets in indie or traditional publishing, I’m proud to declare myself an independent author.

For monthly updates from Gail about her novel, blog, writing, and reading, sign up for her newsletter, Gail’s Reading Glasses.