AMA: The Pros & Cons of Being an Indie Author

Lisa Orban
Jul 27, 2018

Hello, my name is Lisa Orban and I have been an Indie author since 2013 and have published eight books in four diverse genres, so far.

As readers, many of you may not be aware of the great debate over independent publishing and where those authors fit into the publishing world. To answer that truthfully, most Indie authors are looked upon as the unwanted stepchildren of publishing, tolerated but not respected, even though some of the top grossing books of recent years have their humble beginnings as Indie publications (The Martian, 50 Shades of Grey).

As authors, many have struggled on the rejection road in the traditional world of publishing and may be wondering if it’s time to throw in with all those other authors who decided their book was worth the time, money and effort to publish and promote on their own.

The two sides of the debate come down to this:

  • On the Indie side, the idea that those books may not meet what is considered traditional editing standards, and thus producing a lower quality book for readers.
  • And on the traditional side, that profit comes before innovation and once a book formula is found to produce big numbers, they rarely vary from it, giving readers a predictable, if well edited, version of the same book over and over again.

So, let’s have a discussion of the pros, cons, rewards, and heartache of becoming an Indie author and what this debate means for readers. I look forward to answering your questions.

Website | Links | Video Blogs

If you would like to learn more about me, my books, and find out about my latest misadventures in living, visit my website, The Talking Book with Lisa Orban.

I'm adding a few videos of my life as an Indie author from my weekly video blog. If you'd like to see more videos you can find all of them on my website or on my YouTube channel, The Talking Book.

Trivial Pursuits | The not so glamorous life of an Indie Author

https://youtu.be/fobLp78mXRg

Rainy Day Reflections of a Writer | Some days, self-doubt takes over

https://youtu.be/ErXcrsIgw0A

The Internet has Eaten my Life! | How marketing & promotion can take over your life as an Indie author

https://youtu.be/fcphYX9QlK8

If you'd like to connect to me:

Twitter

FaceBook

GoodReads

Website | The Talking Book

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What kind of personal background do you write for your characters that do not make it to the final version of your books?
Jul 29, 8:33AM EDT0

Honestly, I write a lot of things that don't ever make it into the final edits of my books. Since most of my characters are actual people, with real life backgrounds, I pick and choose what I feel is important for people to understand them, but leave out things that don't move the story along, and I only share what is considered "public knowledge" about a person. I don't spill secrets or things that aren't generally known about a person already. When writing memoirs, it's okay if I choose to share my own personal secrets, but I would never knowingly betray a confidence from a friend. 

Jul 29, 10:11AM EDT0
In what ways does the publishing industry sacrifices creativity to be profitable?
Jul 28, 9:12PM EDT0

Traditional publishing companies tend to stay with storylines that have proven to be successful for them in the past and are often reluctant to stray very far from those verified sellers. It also makes them less likely to take a chance on authors who they feel won't be prolific enough to justify their investments in them. 

Like all corporations, the primary goal of the traditional publishing house is profit, not innovation, not upsetting apple-carts, not daring new adventures. As an author, as long as you fit their notion of a profit maker, you can find a decent home with a traditional publishing house, but not all authors fit that mold. In the past that has meant most of those authors have gone unnoticed and unpublished, however good their manuscripts may have been. But that's changing now, and traditional publishing houses are becoming but a small piece of a larger, more varied smorgasbord of options for readers.

Jul 28, 9:25PM EDT0

Hi,

I'm also an Indie author (children's books) What's your favorite thing about being an Indie author?

Jul 28, 2:21PM EDT1

The people that I get to meet that I would never have had the opportunity to if I hadn't started writing. 

I have received invitations to come to stay with people and visit their country/city from all over the world after they've read my books. As a matter of fact, I just returned from a trip to Canada where I stayed with the O-Pipon-Na-Pwin tribe for a week after one of their teachers read my books. We corresponded for over a year and this summer I took him up on his invitation and I had the time of my life. 

So, while I may never get rich as a writer, there are rewards far beyond money for what I do.

Last edited @ Jul 28, 3:37PM EDT.
Jul 28, 3:36PM EDT1
How do you promote self-criticism and improve your writing?
Jul 28, 1:29PM EDT0

By always being as honest with myself as I am with other people, listen with an open mind to criticism and heed the advice given to me when appropriate. And never assume one revision is ever good enough to publish a book. 

Jul 28, 1:38PM EDT0
As an indie published author, what is your definition of literary success?
Jul 28, 11:42AM EDT0

From a financial point of view, literary success is being able to support myself entirely from the proceeds of my book sales. (Still working hard to meet this goal)

From a personal point of view, it's knowing that my books continue to have an impact on the lives of the people who have read them long after they've finished my book(s). There is something profound in knowing I will forever reside in the memory of people I have never met, that my words are quoted in countries I've never traveled to and may never visit. To know that even after I am gone from this world, I will continue on as an old friend recently met to anyone who picks up my books. 

Last edited @ Jul 28, 11:57AM EDT.
Jul 28, 11:54AM EDT0
What do you consider to be the pros of being an indie author?
Jul 28, 7:49AM EDT0

The complete control I am able to have over my books, from content to cover art the book is completely mine. It hasn't been run through a filter of other people who have changed my voice to suit themselves, so when you read my books it is absolutely me you are reading, not a watered-down version.

Jul 28, 9:07AM EDT0
Today it is possible to find so many books with similar storylines that readers are left wondering if the writers worked together. Have you come across this? How has this imitation affected sales of some books by indie writers, especially those with the original storyline that probably sold enough to get others to mimic it?
Jul 27, 6:58PM EDT0

According to the Greeks, there are only 7 story types in the world, all the rest is background and fine detail and T.S. Elliot once said, "Good writers borrow, great writers steal." After so much human history and all the stories that have been told, there are always going to be similarities found within any story. And writers tend to steal from each other quite a bit, whether or not we realize it since writers tend to read more than the average person it's really not that surprising. 

I think what matters more is how those stories are put together, the fine details, rather than the big picture that determines if we consider it a good or bad book. We are all telling the same 7 stories, but we change the flavor it in our own way, sometimes people like our particular blend, and sometimes they don't, but it all comes down to the details.

And it's not a terrible thing. We all have a preference to the type of books we enjoy reading, and all the books in that category share some basic traits we like, and if a book doesn't fall within those preconceived parameters, we tend to get upset. Now, I generally don't like my vampires in spaceships, but there are writers who are willing to put vampires on spaceships and there are readers who like finding them there, and as long as the writer is honest about what the story is, then readers who like that type of story will buy their book and be happy when they do.

Last edited @ Jul 27, 7:43PM EDT.
Jul 27, 7:42PM EDT0
What were some of the problems you experienced by being an indie author?
Jul 27, 9:43AM EDT0

My biggest problems as an Indie author are finding the time to write and the money to promote what I write.

Take right now, for instance, I'm giving up my normal writing time to spend time with you and answer your questions. But, I enjoy interacting with people and I always love to talk about my books, what it's like to be an Indie and answering people's questions. As a matter of fact, on my website, I have an entire collection of videos of me answering questions from readers. 

If you'd like to check out some of those videos, here's the direct link on my site Answering Your Questions.

For the other challenge, finding the money to promote my books, I do the best I can within the budget I have. I'm always on the lookout for affordable, effective promotion. Sometimes it works, sometimes I've just thrown money away, and I never know if it's going to work until I try. But I do spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to attract readers to my books.

Jul 27, 10:46AM EDT0
Have you ever faced rejection as an indie author? What did you do?
Jul 27, 9:12AM EDT0

Oh, only all the time lol 

For all the wonderful reviews I have been given, I'm not everyone's cup of tea. True story, I was once given a one-star review because the reader was upset that my life wasn't tragic enough to suit her and she was disappointed I hadn't suffered more in life. What do you do with that? You ignore it, of course.

And I've had my share of rejections from traditional publishing houses when I first started out and attempted to sell my story to them. I've since given up on going that route, but I have several dozens of very nicely worded rejection letters to prove that I at least tried.

Jul 27, 10:38AM EDT0

Eight books since 2013? That's crazy, how do you get this productive? Teach me, sensei.

Jul 27, 7:55AM EDT0

Okay... first you start with a healthy dose of ODC, add in some insomnia and the ability to tell people "NO" forcefully when they try to take your writing time away lol 

Okay, while the above is true for me, each writer is different and their subjects are different so they need different amounts of time to complete. Two of my books are memoirs, so I'm drawing on my own experience, all I need to do is put down my life and then tidy it up for readers in an entertaining way. 

My cookbook was an accident and created because all my grown children were asking for the recipes for the food they had grown up eating and couldn't find anywhere in any cookbook so I made what became the template for my published cookbook as a Christmas present for them.

Four were adult coloring books and I have enjoyed making optical illusions most of my life so putting those together was more of a past time that I shared when I was finished. I've always been artistic and have won awards in the past while I was in high school/college for my art. So, it wasn't much of a stretch for me.

But the last book, my political satire took me the longest in terms of research. While the entire book is tongue-in-cheek every fact given is true, at least as of the publication date, and it's based on real-life problems facing the U.S. So I was required to read a great deal over a host of subjects before I was able to put it all down in book form. 

So, my best advice is do your best with the time you can take out of the rest of your life and do what makes you happy.

Jul 27, 10:34AM EDT0
Would you say that there is a lot of bad blood between traditional published authors and indie authors?
Jul 27, 7:05AM EDT0

I'm not sure that's the right way to put it, but I won't say it's not either.

Traditional houses look at Indies as upstarts who are encroaching on their land and they are not impressed by it.

Indies tend to be fed up with traditional houses because how rigid they can be and don't appreciate being treated like rift-raft by the industry. 

So, yes there is tension between the two groups and I doubt it will ever be resolved because of the very nature of the dispute.

Jul 27, 10:25AM EDT0
To what extent is the process of your character development influenced by the personal traits of either yourself or the people you know?
Jul 27, 7:00AM EDT0

Well, since two of my books are memoirs, they are heavily influenced by who I am and the people I know. I am drawing from my own life to bring you a story for your entertainment. 

Many people in my life who are in my books and have read them come back after they finished to tell me how much they enjoyed seeing themselves through my eyes. 

If you'd like see a few interviews with friends about my books, check out the links I've added.

Wine with Renee

https://youtu.be/1CgE1YqthPk

TIM Talks

https://youtu.be/MncTOpWuJuY

Wine with Renee Pt 2

https://youtu.be/QHdS9tY3zII

Jul 27, 10:20AM EDT0
How are readers benefiting from both traditional published books and independent ones?
Jul 27, 6:43AM EDT0

Variety. 

With the upsurge of Indie publishing readers now have more options on what to read than they ever have before in the past. And Indies push traditional houses to put out better books in response. 

Jul 27, 10:16AM EDT0
Did you recruit the services of a professional editor prior to publishing your book, what are the reasons for your answer?
Jul 27, 6:43AM EDT0

I didn't for my first book, and it showed. But after reading my book, a few people came to my rescue and because of how important they felt my message was, offered to edit it for free. 

On my second, I did hire a professional editor, and it was a disaster. They took my money and didn't edit my book. They kept it 2 months past the deadline I gave them and then returned my book completely unchanged. And that created a major crisis in my life as I scrambled to produce a finished book by the preorder deadline. It was probably one of the worst moments in my life as a writer. 

Since then, I have employed a series of 7 programs to root out the errors in my books and used test readers to help me find the rest. 

If you'd like to watch a bit of that insanity check out the video link.

My Sad Saga

https://youtu.be/y1kn2MG4U2M

Last edited @ Jul 27, 10:22AM EDT.
Jul 27, 10:14AM EDT0
What are the fundamental differences with regards to the challenges one faces as an indie author compared to those of a traditionally published authors?
Jul 27, 6:00AM EDT0

As an Indie it is having your voice heard and your books found. An Indie is competing with millions of other authors and thousands of publishing houses for essentially the same audience. As an individual, it can be difficult, and expensive, to compete with that.

A house author only has to worry about writing, everything else is up to the house they belong to, so all the additional drains on time that all Indies have, they don't have to worry about. They have more time to write, so they can write more in a shorter amount of time because they don't have those distractions. When they finish their manuscript and hand it off to their editor, they are officially done with that book (minus a few possible rewrites) and are now free to start another book.

When an Indie finishes a book, then they have to arrange for editing, cover art, interior art if they want it, formatting and uploading their book. Then once the book is out in the world setting up promotional and marketing material, setting up interviews, press releases, sending out hundreds of emails begging reviewers to review their books, doing an AMA ;). I spend a full third of my time doing those things, and at the time of a new release, it goes up to 100% for a few months afterward as I try to do everything possible to get it noticed. 

And that's probably the biggest difference, time.

Jul 27, 10:09AM EDT0
You say that traditional publishing is based on a fixed formula that seldom varies. Do you imply that all traditional published books have zero innovation and the only original ones are from indie authors?
Jul 27, 4:26AM EDT0

There are always exceptions to the rules, on both sides. But it is much harder in traditional publishing to offer up a book that throws out all the rules and have it published. 

If you are an author with enough clout (think Stephen King) they can pretty much write anything they want and someone will publish it. They are considered a solid investment because of the huge following they have, and even if it's bad, their fanbase will still buy the book. There is very little risk involved. 

But, for a new author in more traditional publishing, that kind of freedom isn't offered, at least not unless they reach star status. Established publishing houses tend to be more conservative, sticking with what they know will turn a profit, and shun the unusual because they don't have any stats to back up their choice to bet on it. They have an obligation to the company, their employee, and possibly shareholders to pick established winners that won't break the bank by making the wrong investment.

Indie publications don't have to worry about any of that so they are more likely to write the unusual, the bizarre, the innovative because they have no one to answer to but themselves. They are free to write what moves them, and be able to take the time they need for research and development that they may not have in a more traditional setting.

So, I won't say that all traditionally published book to have zero innovation, but it is more unusual for it to happen.

Jul 27, 9:58AM EDT0
What are the most rewarding aspects of having your book published?
Jul 26, 8:18PM EDT0

The people I am meeting because of my books, and the lives I've impacted because of my words. 

Because of the way I write, many people feel like they've made a new friend by the end of the book, which encourages them to reach out to me after finishing the book. I enjoy the reviews, but it's the personal messages that are often the most rewarding for me. 

I have changed the lives of some of my readers, and I know this because they have told me so. In my memoirs, I talk about the dark places my life has taken me, and I get correspondence reaching out to me saying things like "I always thought I was alone, now I know I am not", "I was in an abusive relationship but because of your book I had the courage to leave", "my mother was in an abusive relationship when I was a child and because I read your book I was able to forgive her and we now talk again", "when my husband went to war I felt so alone, but after reading your book I found a friend in the dark". 

I may never get rich being a writer, but I will never say it wasn't worth it. Every letter, every new friend, every life I've changed has made all the effort worthwhile.

Jul 27, 9:45AM EDT0
Many indie writers try to write books they think will sell. Do you use this strategy and has it worked?
Jul 26, 4:11PM EDT0

I think that may be true of some authors, Indie or not, but I am not one of them. I write books that I believe will have appeal to readers as they in the past had appealed to my listeners. I use many of the same techniques in my books that I've always used when telling a story. I am not what you could call, a formal writer, I have a very informal style that my readers like. 

Jul 26, 4:48PM EDT0
How do you know if you have what it takes to be an indie author?
Jul 26, 5:16AM EDT0

How do I personally know I have what it takes to be an Indie author or how does someone know if they have what it takes?

Personally, I wasn't sure when I started out, but I believed enough in what I had written to make the attempt. It wasn't easy, and truthfully, still isn't, but I will never say it wasn't worth it. I once heard a quote, happiness is working hard and putting in long hours doing what you love. I can't say I'm always happy putting in long hours and working hard, but I can also say I've never felt more fulfilled with my life than I have since I became an Indie author. 

Now, if you're asking how does someone know if they have what it takes to become an Indie author, I think that depends on the person. But I will say some of the traits that will be needed is dedication, commitment, the ability to be a self-starter, self-discipline, and a willingness to learn new things.  If you can't motivate yourself to your cause without outside prompting, you probably won't make it far for long.  

Jul 26, 11:59AM EDT0
Who are your favorite authors and how have they propelled you into your writing career?
Jul 25, 10:18AM EDT0

Ironically, all my favorite authors fall into the sci-fi/fantasy category, a genre I have never attempted. Perhaps one day I might gather my courage and take the plunge, but for now, I'm happy writing the books I am most comfortable with. And I do love to read, I love to read so much I turned my dining room into an honest library with built-in shelves, a faux fireplace and over 5000 books in residence. 

That being said, I have taken to heart some of the advice those authors have given over the years, which mostly boils down to, don't give up and have faith in yourself. If you write a book that doesn't fit in with the current medium of writing, write it anyway and let people discover you.

My books don't always fit in with the norm, but that doesn't mean they are not good stories, and generally, when people finish my books they are happy with the results. And I will admit, I break a lot of rules when I write. I write most often in first person, and I will on occasion directly address my audience. In my paperbacks, I have scattered short notes for my readers to find in the headers of some of the pages for no other reason then I want to. I have fun with my books so you, the reader, can too. And even though the subjects are sometimes quite serious, I always try to soften the blow with humor. When readers finish my books they often feel like they've made a new friend because I include them in my stories and welcome them into my world like an old friend recently met. Which I am told is something "serious" writers never do, but it is my voice you are hearing, ringing true and without someone else highjacking the story for the sake of "traditional industry standards". And it's up to you, the reader, to decide if you like that type of storytelling or not.

Jul 25, 12:53PM EDT0
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