Indie vs. Trad (Yes, I’m Going There)

Anyone who reads my Facebook posts knows I have very strong feelings about the way the traditional publishing industry treats authors when it comes to the reversion of rights and the distribution of wealth. But the decision to publish on your own or submit your work through an agent to the Big 5 is an individual one.

If you want to know the good and the bad of either world, there are plenty of resources on the web, but remember, opinions vary based on experience, and no one else’s experience will be the same as yours.

For the record, my time in traditional publishing was great. I liked the people I worked with and they treated me with a lot of respect.

When I sold my first four books, traditional publishing was considered the only legitimate path toward publication. Then the Kindle was invented and Amazon opened its doors to authors, and indie pioneers like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking started making money hand over fist. And suddenly the idea of self-publishing had great appeal to many authors. Especially those who had been unceremoniously dumped by their publisher when their sales didn’t meet some corporate number cruncher’s expectations.

When my friend Brett Battles left his publishing house and decided to go indie, I thought he was a little crazy. I was in the middle of finishing up a big, bold, traditionally published “blockbuster” for Dutton that was supposed to set the world on fire.

But then something amazing happened.

Over the course of the next year, Brett started selling a ton of books on Amazon. And as I watched this phenomenon, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

When my Dutton book failed to fly—even after rave national reviews—I wondered if maybe the trad pubs didn’t know as much about selling books as they thought they did, and indie was the way to go. The book in question (The Paradise Prophecy) was one I would not have chosen to write on my own, but the publisher had come to me, and the advance money had been good, and I’m always a sucker for good advances…

But after its failure to make much of a splash, I wanted to write something for myself. Not for an editor or publisher, but for me. Just me. No restrictions, no dictates from on high, no agent interference, nothing. So I sat down and wrote a book I’d been itching to write for some time. A book that nobody in the industry seemed much interested in. But I wrote it anyway, thinking that I might self-publish it, while still holding onto the idea that maybe I could get a traditional deal instead.

When it was done, however, I looked at all the successful indie authors I knew, saw how well they were doing—and more importantly, how much control over their work they enjoyed—and decided that I definitely needed to give it a shot.

So Trial Junkies was published as an indie in May of 2012, and by the middle of June, I was selling nearly a thousand books a day.

I haven’t looked back since.

In the years that followed, Trial Junkies, has gone on to sell more copies than I ever would have imagined, and the book has received a lot of terrific reviews. It was also picked up by Amazon Crossing for translations to German and French.

So, you see, if you ask me about indie vs. traditional, the answer I’ll give you is obvious.

But, as I said, my experience may not be yours.

My experience may, in fact, be an anomaly.

So I urge you to do your research and figure out what path is best for you and only you.

And I also urge you to tell me I’m crazy in the comments. That’s what blogs like these are for. 🙂

19 thoughts on “Indie vs. Trad (Yes, I’m Going There)

  1. I don’t think you’re crazy at all. I think the fact we now have choices is the best thing that’s happened to publishing. There are new doors leading to different paths. I started writing for an e-publisher before the Kindle was a gleam in Amazon’s eye. There was a lot of ‘trial and error’ in those days, and digital publishers came and went. But traditional publishers also came and went, with lines closing, and authors dropped. Amazon and the Kindle was a game changer.

    The panel Kris Montee led at SleuthFest with Neil Nyren and CJ Box was a major eye-opener as to what a publisher can (and will or won’t) do for its authors. I walked away from that one glad there were choices, and thinking I made the right one for myself.

  2. Great case study, Rob. You’re right, mileage may vary. The first 5 novels Lynn Sholes and I wrote were legacy published with the usual 12-month wait from acceptance to new release table, and no control. Numbers 6 thru 8 are indie published. We are preparing #9 for the indie route and are half way through writing #10 with the same route in mind. It’s a great time to be a writer. BTW, I really enjoyed The Paradise Prophecy. My kinda book.

    • Thanks for the kind words on Paradise, Joe. It really was not a book I would have written if Dutton hadn’t come to me about writing a thriller centering around angels and demons.

      Glad to hear you’re embracing the indie route. It’s both wonderful and scary to be the captain of your own ship.

  3. Yes, you are crazy, Rob. I know you.

    But that doesn’t make you wrong. I started down the indie road as an experiment, to see if I liked that road going forward. Monthly income, speed of publication, an upward trend line and no non-compete clause with myself convinced me this was the way to go.

    It’s more work, but more fun. It’s like running a small business, and if writers would approach it that way they’d see solid returns … if they are patient and productive.

    • That’s basically my experience, too, Jim. In my case, it actually IS a small business. I started Braun Haus Media, LLC, and got official and everything. Now I’m creating in-house projects and hiring other writers to write them.

      So, if you ARE crazy, like me, you’ll go beyond self-publishing and go full on indie… 😉

  4. I’m happy for your success, Rob. I have many friends in the same boat. Myself included, in that I now have a foot in both worlds and am glad I did it.

  5. Good post, especially since I’m at a crossroad myself. Being part of the great cozy purge (See “Save Our Cozies” group on FB), I have written my next book and have to decide which way to go. It is nice to have choices but scary making the plunge either way.

  6. Great story, Rob. I’m about to go indie with my first novel, after having all the doors slammed in my face. How did you go from zero to 1000 books a day in one month? That’s a phenomenal statistic.

    • This was back in the days before Bookbub, and I was told it wouldn’t work anymore, but I decided to put the book out for free for about three days, then got word out via facebook and twitter that it was available. It was downloaded 46,000 times in those three days, which put me on all the Hot new lists on Amazon. After the free period was up, the book stayed high in the rankings, reaching, if I remember correctly, the Top 40 on Kindle, and sales went though the roof. I could not believe how many books were selling. I’d never seen anything like it before.

  7. Hi Rob
    Thanks for sharing this story and congratulations on your success.
    Do you think that part of your e-publishing success was because you were already published and had a readership?

    • I honestly don’t think so. I had a readership to some degree, but truthfully, I was a so-so selling mid-lister when I left trad pub. I think going free as I mentioned to Don above is what made it work and put me on the map.

  8. Hi Robert,
    My first nonfiction title will be released next Wednesday! I left my traditional publisher last year and decided to self-publish. What a learning curve! But it was/is a liberating experience.

    Re: “free for three days” sounds exciting! I always knew I’d do free, but not sure for how long or when. What I like most about self-publishing is having the option, maybe freedom is a better word, to giveaway or not! The way I see it, it can only help my platform since I am already working on the second title in the series. Such a great tale. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you went there.

  9. Robert,
    Wow, great article–encouraging! I am about to launch my book, after deciding to take control of the process myself. Trad pub was taking too long and my plot is timely (China, Iran and the South China Sea), so I’ve made the decision to start a business and go all in, 100 percent. It’ll launch June 9! I like your approach of an initial free period to generate interest and downloads.
    Thanks for the article and for sharing your experience–I’ll look up your work!

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