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Into the Bushes: My Experience As an Indie Author

Would I do it again? Read on to find out.

Note: I apologize for the length of this post. To that end, I have made a handy-dandy menu. Feel free to click and jump to the answer you want.


Sarahbeth Caplin and I have been having a great time comparing the paths we both walk. One, our first names are a combination of two names, which leads to no end of confusion during phone conversations; and two, we’re both indie authors by choice.

She asked me what my experience was so far. This led me to three corollary questions.

Read on to find out the answers.

Is it What I Expected?

It’s not been an easy road. I didn’t expect to arrive here. From my earliest memories, I wanted to be a traditional author. I wanted my books in stores, and my name visible on shelves, and I wanted to see people reading my works at coffee-stops and in malls. Barnes & Noble was my goal; then in 2011, everything changed.

I wrote The Sundered, and it was good. Solidly good. Not the best thing anyone had ever done, but distinctly readable. I began the process of trying for an agent.

I have nearly 150 rejections from that time period. I even won a contest for a query pitch, granting me the chance to entice five AMAZING agents.

Know what I heard back over and over again? That The Sundered was wonderful but too weird, and while they loved it, they didn’t think publishers would take a risk on it, so it was a no.

I was told it MIGHT be publishable if I did things that made it more “normal,” like completely changing the ending, turning Harry into a woman, or weaving in an enormous romance through the whole thing. Any and all of those options would destroy the essential fabric of the book and the world it’s based in, so no thanks.

My final rejection came in August, 2011, wherein an agent told me (again) that the book was too weird for him to sell because publishers were afraid of the shaky market – but still asked me to send him the rest of the manuscript because he just had to know how it ended.

I knew then I had something worth reading; I wasn’t crazy – other people liked it, too. I also knew I had a REALLY hard sell. That many good agents couldn’t all be crazy.

By this point, I had several friends who were indie authors, as well as quite a few who were traditionally published, and I began to notice something odd. Both had pressure; both wailed when sales fell; but the indie authors could pick back up and keep going, whereas the traditional authors found themselves back at square one because their publisher didn’t want them anymore.

Whoa. I wrote about a little of this here, but the gist is this: in this day and age, in the year 2012 (it was then), self-publication was the way to go.

And it was scary as hell.

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Would I Do it Again?

I had to do scary new things. I had to be careful to ensure I was protected, which meant researching the use of fonts and images. I had to learn weird legalese and compare various platforms, listen to hours of talks and interviews on self-publishing, and haunt the blogs of authors who’d “made it.”

It felt like I was on safari, following rules and maps others had painstakingly drawn up, but I didn’t recognize most of the signs in the map. SO much of it was feeling my way along, backtracking, and finally rejoicing when I found what I was looking for. It was one of the hardest roads I’ve ever pursued in my life. But you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

My third work, Strings, is launching in the next few weeks. I have a major novel in the works, one which I only recently realized I do NOT have to keep to a certain word-count because ebook readers LIKE long books (WOOHOO). I do my own covers (here’s how, by the way), and I really, REALLY enjoy it.

Self-publishing is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Holding in my hands a book I put together is… AMAZING.

By the way, did you know traditional authors have little to no control over their cover design? Yeah. Log THAT one away and think about it.

No I don’t sell like hotcakes, but here’s the thing: traditional authors don’t really sell like hotcakes, either. Unless you’re Neil Gaiman, your books will not sell enough to let you quit your day-job. (This has been more than proven, but if you want some varying opinion on it, check out Hugh Howey’s post.)

However, I sell enough. I’ve more than covered all my costs for stock photos and font usage, and since I own the copyright and ISBN, my books will never go out of print. That is worth the stress.

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Would I Tell Anyone Else to Follow Me?

Yes – with caveats.

I do genuinely believe that indie author is the best course of action for many of us in the writing world. Traditional publishing IS STILL GOOD, but extremely limited.

If, unlike me, you’re writing a story that fits neatly into one genre, that complements the big sellers already selling (like but not cloned, if you get my meaning), then by all means, DO NOT QUIT until you get an agent and a publishing contract.


If, like me, you have a book that doesn’t quite fit into any one category, then publish it yourself.

If, like me, you have a book that doesn’t easily fit with “if you liked so-and-so, you’ll like this, too,” then publish it yourself.

If, like me, the idea of having zero cover control/making outrageous changes to your story/completely changing the ending fills your skin with bugs, publish it yourself.

If, like me, you have a concept that you know is unique and would suffer if made more “marketable,” then publish it yourself.

I love being indie. Right now, I wouldn’t trade it unless I was offered one helluva contract. Do I still wish I’d gotten an agent? Yes – but more for validation (and for things like foreign rights) than anything else.

My experience as an indie: hard and good and nerve-wracking and worth it. I’d do it all over again. I’d advise it to anyone who’s willing to work hard and really believes in their work.

If you do choose it, tighten your seatbelt. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

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By Ruthanne Reid

Ruthanne Reid is one of those pesky fanfiction authors who made good, and thus eschews most labels. Except for being a Generation X-er (or maybe Xennial, according to some guyโ€™s webpage), a musician who loves music but also carries a ton of baggage about it, a self-taught graphic artist who designs her own covers, a spoonie who wrestles Fibromyalgia not unlike yon Hercules and the Nemean lion, a Christian who hesitates to use the word because too many of them are crazy but Jesus is pretty great, a rabid shipper whoโ€™s too smart to lay out precisely which ships because of the wars, and an avid reader when she isnโ€™t busy caretaking for some pretty ill folks.

You know. Unlabelable.

Currently a resident of Long Island City and a loving mommy to one current cat and numerous future ones, Ruthanne is happily married to a fellow geek who loves good stories and great games as much as she does. Between the two of them, they own a lot of things that need to be plugged in.

4 replies on “Into the Bushes: My Experience As an Indie Author”

I read all of your articles about indie publishing with interest. I truly believe that the Lord had us cross paths through April S. when we didn’t know each other at PBU, just so He could use you to point me toward indie publishing. I’ve learned a lot from your experiences, so thank you for sharing. I’m convinced now that this is the way I want to go.

I AGREE!! I’m so glad this has given you some hope. And to emphasize again, there’s nothing wrong with traditional publishing! But in my case, this is definitely (for now) the way I should go. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

I’m so glad you never gave up. The feeling of constant rejection would drive me insane, but you forged your own path and I hope it leads to huge things for you. You’re amazingly talented in multiple ways, you’re smart, kind, and always happy to chat with people. You’ve been an inspiration to me and many others.

To be honest, I think if you had to listen to the publishers and make The Sundered more mainstream, it would be forgotten among all the other books that follow that format. You’ve made a novel with memorable characters that you feel so much attachment to, want to make everything work out, and then the ending where we all just crave more. An author that doesn’t spoon filled a traditional ending.

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but I wasn’t a huge reader. I read a lot as a kid, but was discouraged from reading fantasy novels when I was a bit older, thanks to my step dad. When I got my kindle my first thought was ‘Okay, let’s get back into reading.’ but I never found a book that gripped me. So when I saw The Sundered for free on Amazon, I thought ‘I have nothing to lose.’ Now that I’ve known you so long, I realize that I gained so much, not just an amazing story and a passion to read again, but a friendship and someone that inspires me. So I really did have something to lose.

Okay, I basically wrote my own blog post on your blog! Needless to say, you’re awesome and I will continue to get everyone I know to read your stories ๐Ÿ™‚

Wow. WOW! I can’t thank you enough for sharing this with me. I honestly had no idea how much of a difference it made – and I’m really glad to know you like me as much as I like you. ๐Ÿ˜€

This is a deeply encouraging comment. Thank you, Nikki. I suspect I will be returning to read this one when I need a lift.

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