AskALLi Self-Publishing Advice & FAQ
AskALLi is an umbrella campaign in which we promise to answer any question anyone might have about self-publishing.
- Member Advice Forum for Associate and Author Members (book editorial, book design, book production, book distribution, book marketing and promotion)
- Member Advice Forum for Professional Members (running an indie author business and selling rights)
- Monthly Member Q&A, where members submit questions in writing to be answered in Google Hangout by the ALLi team
- A Self-publishing Advice Center, our reach-out advice and education program, to the wider indie author community.
- A thrice-yearly free online author conference, Indie Author Fringe
- A weekly broadcast on YouTube and SoundCloud, syndicated as a podcast to Stitcher and iTunes which includes:
At ALLi, we pride ourselves on being able to answer any self-publishing question, while being careful to distinguish between fact and opinion. We rejecting speculation in favor of what has been tried and tested by thousands of members and followers. And we offer best practice advice while recognizing that indie authors, by definition, are the experts in their own work and the creative director of their books and careers.
However you choose to publish, AskALLi offers advice you can trust in a collegiate spirit that allows you to make up your own mind.
Below find some FAQs specifically about what it means to be indie that authors considering self-publishing often ask.
Make sure to visit our Self-Publishing Advice Center for daily blog posts about every aspect of self-publishing and running an indie author business.
Self-Publishing & Independent Authors FAQ
What is an independent author?
At ALLi, “independent” is an inclusive description and always relative (everyone needs support to write and publish well). Some of our members are fiercely indie-spirited, as DIY as it’s possible to be. Others are happy to collaborate with a publisher where that seems advantageous, some working with paid publishing services, others with trade publishers.
So what marks out an indie from other authors? The Alliance allows that you are an independent author if:
- You have self-published at least one book.
- You see yourself as the creative director of your books, from conception to completion through publishing and beyond.
- You expect that status as creative director to be acknowledged in any partnership your negotiate, whether a paid author-service, or in a deal with trade-publisher or agent e.g. if you have an established author platform, you should receive a higher royalty rate and advance than an author who does not.
- You recognise that you are central to a revolutionary shift in publishing which needs to move from seeing the author purely as a resource (in the new parlance ‘content provider’) to respecting the author as a creative director, with much to offer — and be rewarded for — in each step of the publishing process.
- You are proud of your indie status and carry that self-respect into all your ventures, negotiations and collaborations for your own benefit and to benefit all writers.
What is the difference between a self-publisher and an indie author?
As self-publishing evolves, its terms of reference are rapidly changing.
Many authors who publish their own work feel uncomfortable with the term “self-published”, which gives the impression that they have done everything required to produce the book themselves, from cover design to editing. In fact, almost nobody who produces a good book does so alone.
New, more accurate, terms are becoming more commonplace, but have not yet taken precedence over the catch-all term “self-publishing”. At ALLi, we use the following (sometimes overlapping) terms of reference:
Self-publishing author: any author who has published a book at personal expense. Self-publishers range the full gamut, from those publishing a one-off book for family and friends to the most entrepreneurial and productive author-publisher.
Indie Authors: Self-publishing writers who publish to sell books and reach as many readers as possible. “Indie” is primarily an attitude. Indie authors see themselves as the creative directors of their own work, embracing creative freedom and control, and accepting responsibility for their own publishing choices. An indie author will choose the publishing services — paid or trade – most appropriate to each book project.
Author-publishers: writers who make their living from publishing their own work. ALLi has a professional membership category for such author-publishers.
Publishing Service / Author Service: Services that handle some or all of the processes of publishing, at the author’s expense. Services run the gamut from freelance one-person operations, like designers or editors, to partnership publishing services that handle everything for a fee to trade publishers that license rights. Indie authors consider trade publishers to be a service, like any other, to be considered on its merits.
Payment to a publishing service can take three forms:
1. A fee
2. A royalty split or percentage payment
3. Rights licensing in return for a small royalty and, sometimes, an advance on royalties. When payment for services takes this third form, we call it trade publishing (also known as “legacy” or “traditional” publishing).
Trade (traditional) publishers: Businesses that license publishing rights from authors and handle the publication of their books in return for a large percentage. Most trade published books are handled by one of what are known as “The Big Five” corporate publishers: Penguin-Random House; Hachette Book Group (HBG); Harper Collins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster.
Independent or “indie” publishers: Small publishing companies which, like the big conglomerates, commission books from authors and publish at the company’s expense, not the author’s. If very small, they are sometimes called micro-publishers.
Why are more writers choosing self-publishing?
Author-publication served only a tiny number of writers before digital technology enabled print-on-demand and the direct distribution of ebooks. This technology has revolutionized writing and publishing. It simultaneously does four things that are very good for authors:
- It gives us a global readership, instead of confining us to specific territories.
- Our books are continually available — there is no such thing as ‘out-of-print’ anymore.
- It takes away the necessity for ‘middlemen’ like agents, publishers, and distributors (though we still may choose to work with such partners — see above). And:
- It gives our readers a point-of-purchase just at the moment they discover they want our book.
As the creative possibilities of this revolution make themselves felt, the author-publishing option is attracting more and more writers.
Will Digital Publishing Kill Print Books?
We don’t believe so and the evidence so far is that digital publishing is growing writing and reading in all formats, audio (abooks) and print (pbooks) as well as electronic (ebooks).
It is true that most indie authors make most of their income from ebooks but most also choose to produce print editions, generally through POD (print-on-demand). Others work with publishing houses for their print editions.
More and more indie authors now produce audiobooks too.
ALLi encourages our members to publish as widely as possible (to Apple iBooks, Kobo, and IngramSpark as well as Amazon) and in as many formats as affordable.
What about standards and quality?
ALLi is helping to raise them. Our core mission is the fostering of excellence (and ethics) in the sector.
As self-publishing goes mainstream, more and more authors are producing books that are indistinguishable in quality from those produced by trade publishing houses. In many cases, we are hiring the same freelance editors and designers. And some indies are going way beyond the standard book, experimenting technologically and artistically.
Why are so many self-published books such poor quality?
When authors set out to publish, most of them don’t have the necessary skills to do so. They may not know or care about publishing standards or they may publish too soon.
Writing a good book is highly challenging, as is publishing well. Self-publishing has not made either of those two feats easy.
Allowing an outpouring of writing as creative expression is easy, as is putting a book up on a digital platform. Acquiring good craft skills in writing or publishing is not. It requires a long apprenticeship. This is one of ALLi’s core functions, to help authors learn good craft skills from each other.
But there are two dimensions to this complaint about poor standards, depending on whether it comes from the perspective of old publishing or new.
Traditionally, publishing has worked from a scarcity model, grounded in commercial principles. It selected a few books to be published and protected their value with copyright. Now we are working from an abundance model, grounded in creative principles. In an abundance model, excess and redundancy are no cause for concern.
This is how nature, the fundamental model for all creativity works. An oak tree throws a lot of acorns to get one baby oak. A lot of sperm miss out on the egg.
Yes, self-publishing is enabling more poor-quality books to be published than ever before but what’s important in an abundance model is not how many bad books are enabled — with the sophisticated algorithms, search engines, keywords and sampling that readers enjoy today, they quickly fade into invisibility — but that many more good books are being enabled.
Creativity is never a zero sum game. More bad books doesn’t mean fewer good books. The opposite. More masterpieces emerge at the top, the expanded tip of an enlarged mountain.
Despite the growing mountain of sub-standard books, it’s not at all difficult to find great writing, and great self-published writing, these days.
The complaints about bad books drowning out the good often come from those who have vested interest. Online algorithms and book search are actually very effective — and getting better.
And from a writing, rather than the publishing, perspective, a bad book is only a precursor to a better one, if the writer keeps writing and learning.
It is one of ALLi’s key objectives to encourage indie author excellence. We encourage our members to aim high and commit to continuous creative development in writing, production and promotion.
Do I have to hire an editor? I can’t afford it.
You can’t afford not to hire an editor. Editing is an essential for all writers, at every stage of development. Hilary Mantel and Stephen King need, and appreciate, their editors. You need one too.
Writing falls into the realm of art and self-expression. So too does self-publish, if you are doing it just for yourself, or family and friends. Even then, you might choose to get some professional help. a book that will sell well, you need to budget for editorial, proofreading, cover design and, if you intend to publish a book with complex design features, probably a
For the indie author and author publisher, however, publishing is a business. And every business needs a budget. If you want to sell and sell well, you need to budget for editorial, proofreading, cover design and, if you intend to publish a book with complex design features, probably a formatter/typesetter.
You will also need a good website and social media set-up to market yourself and your book. These are the expenses of being in the publishing business.
As a member of ALLi, you will be connected with other writers, those just starting out and those who are further along the author-publishing path, who will help, support and guide you in making savvy commercial choices. As will our team and our team of advisors.
Discussions in our forum is closely moderated, co-operative and collaborative. We also provide a database of reputable and reasonably-priced service providers who are vetted ALLi Partner Members.
And we offer many discounts and deals that reduce your expenses. If you use just a few of these, you’ll earn back your membership fees immediately.
If I self-publish, can I still attract a trade publisher?
Despite those who like to create a phony war between author- versus trade-publishing, many of our members move happily between these options. Writers can now choose different pathways for different projects, and in different phases of their writing lives. This is a good thing.
The stigma that once surrounded self-publishing is dissolving, as more indies experience commercial and creative success. Agents and publishers now trawl author-publishing sites (including this one) looking for writers with proven talent and fan-bases.
It’s all part of a growing movement towards author empowerment, which ALLi is proud to foster and encourage.