Into the Bushes: My experience as an indie author
Into the Bushes: My experience as an indie author

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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A three-times bestselling author, Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and been the keynote speaker for the Write Practice Retreat. Author of two series with five books and fifty-plus short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom and used up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon in the process. When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away. P.S. Red is still her favorite color.