A few years ago, I decided to write a series of books called The Calypto Cycle that I intended to self-publish. I decided to go the self-publish, or indie, route for a few reasons. First, and likely most importantly, I felt the books I wanted to write weren’t going to be viable for a traditional publisher. The story itself was an odd mashup of genres (I dubbed the stories coal-punk thrillers), and each story was meant to be relatively short and self-contained, but with a tread of a larger story arc extending through the volumes. Second, traditional publishing is a sloooooow process, and I wanted to get these books out there quickly. Third, I have friends who have had poor traditionally publishing experiences, and while that doesn’t guarantee I would have a bad experience, I wanted more control over my product. Finally, I wanted to the challenge and satisfaction of doing it myself.
After reading a whole bunch about the indie market, I decide the story I wanted to tell, The Calypto Cycle, could be a good fit. With each book clocking in at around 40,000 words, I could write them quickly and set a decent price point. I envisioned the series as having nine books, which if read in order would tell a large story, but which could also be read individually because each volume would have a more-or-less self-contained story. I decided to write the books in groups of three, with the third and sixth books end with a significant, hanging plot point, so that I could, if desired, combine each set of three into a moderately long (~120,000 word) single book and also sell the story as a trilogy of “omnibus” volumes. I felt these specific details would me give a decent shot at some indie success.
I’m now about halfway through my indie experience, and to be honest, it’s been a mixed bag, but still rewarding. I’ve published four Calypto books, have the fifth ready to go into production, and I have written the first draft of the sixth. Books seven through nine are plotted out and ready to be written over the next few years. The published books have sold moderately well, and have even managed to slightly exceed my expectations (which admittedly were low). I’ve learned the production side of book making, from how to format manuscripts, securing covers, opening online shops, etc. Where I have failed is marketing—I simple don’t toot my horn very well—but improving on this is one of my goals for the coming year.
So what I have learned? Like all “art,” indie publishing is hard, time-consuming, frustrating, and rewarding. It has a steep learning curve and requires a considerable investment in time just to get that first book out. After that, it requires constant effort to keep things moving forward, so you can’t just focus on writing. The market is very crowded, so the challenge is helping your audience find your work, and I believe this is where I have struggled most. Yet, even knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change my decision. I still feel The Calypto Cycle was made for indie publishing, and I am proud of the product that I was able to assemble and market. I have learned a great deal about what goes into publishing and met incredible and talented people along the way. As my catalogue continues to expand, I am hopeful that sales will rise. I read somewhere (I think it was an interview with SF author Orson Scott Card) that most authors don’t earn a living until they have a about seven books in their back catalogue, so I still have a ways to go. As I continue along that road, I want to continue to learn and improve.