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UPDATE: Why did these four established authors go indie? (And where are they now?)

In July 2011, we ran this post about why four established authors were going indie on some projects. Where are they now? Here's the original post with a brief update.

We have four very different writing styles and four completely different publishing journeys behind us. What these four BoxOcto authors have in common is an enduring love and respect for books and an unwavering dedication to the art and craft of writing. And we've all made the decision to self-publish.

There's a pervasive perception that people only self-pub when they've been rejected by "traditional" publishing. That's not the case here. We all plan to continue and expand our endeavors in print publishing. We're not burning any bridges. And we're mindful of the reality that traditional publishing is not about ink, paper and royalty negotiations; it's about a zeal for excellent writing, respect for thorough editing and joy in thoughtful presentation.

So why have we gone over to the Dark Side? Well, there are the esoteric reasons Thomas Jefferson and I laid out this weekend in An Author's Declaration of Independence. But on a pragmatic level, we have four very different reasons.

Mylène Dressler
Mylène was the first of us to go live with her haunting sophomore novel The Deadwood Beetle, the story of an aging Dutch immigrant to New York, a retired professor of entomology whose father was a Nazi collaborator. The depth, beauty and artistry of this novel won thousands of fans (including me) when it was published to great critical acclaim by small literary press Blue Hen (a Penguin Putnam imprint) back in 2002. Mylène's next novel, The Floodmakers was published by Putnam in 2004, and her career expanded to include her unique brand of writing and creativity guruship. She's done fellowships and residencies at the Carson McCullers Center, UT and other lucky universities, and is now in residence at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Why is Mylène self-pubbing her backlist? Midlist authors make more money doing their own ebooks. We can get 70% of the purchase price when we sell directly through Amazon, and going through any Big 6 publisher, the best we can hope for is 25% of net. Because the book has already passed the gatekeepers, been edited and copy edited and enjoyed (in M's case) excellent reviews, it stands out from the crowd, which is the most difficult aspect of self-publishing now that the gold rush is in full swing and the market is being glutted with hastily produced amateur efforts.

Update December 2012: Dr. M, as her students affectionately call her, is in residence at Guilford College and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her novella The Wedding of Anna F, which appeared in Big Fiction Magazine. Look for the ebook in 2013.

Colleen Thompson
Bestselling romantic suspense author Colleen Thompson's maiden self-publishing effort was The Night Holds the Moon, an epic fantasy collaboration with longtime pal Parke Roberts, in which a magic flute meant to be handled only by a docile, well-trained virgin is placed - by fate or magic - in the hands of a disreputable young lady-in-waiting. It's a feat of both world-building and storytelling and is a radical departure from Colleen's body of work. With her 20th romance novel in the pipeline, one would expect her to stick with the genre that brought her to the prom, as it were. But that's not where her heart is right now, and if there's one thing a romance author knows, it's the importance of following one's heart. The Night Holds the Moon marks an exciting turning point for Colleen. More about that later this year.

Why did Colleen self-pub this original novel? I've been bugging her to blog about the fascinating backstory on this book, so I won't give too much away. Bottom line: When Colleen and her collaborator were offered a print deal, it came with a request for some major rewrites. The publisher was asking for compromises Colleen wasn't comfortable with, so she and her partner passed on the deal. Cue Frank Sinatra. She did it her way. And because she's a seasoned pro, she had the know-how to do it well. Her publisher controls most of her backlist titles, but Colleen's pubbing her back-backlist, historical romances she wrote as Gwyneth Atlee, including Innocent Deceptions, a Romantic Times Top Pick and nominee for Reviewer's Choice Best American-set Historical Romance of 2002 and the Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence.

Update December 2012: Colleen indie pubbed her Gwyneth Atlee books, which continue to sell well. She's currently working on two books under contract with a major publisher, and Amazon has picked up the rights for several of her backlist romantic suspense titles.

Joni Rodgers
When I signed a deal with HarperCollins for my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair back in 1999, "electronic rights" referred to film, TV and audio adaptations. The memoir tells about how I wrote my first two novels and began my publishing career while undergoing treatment for lymphoma, a virulent blood cancer, and Lifetime was interested in optioning rights for a television movie. With my long-term survival in doubt, my husband and I felt - as desperately as we needed the money - a movie about our family could be confusing and unhealthy for our children (then 7 and 9) if I wasn't around to see it. My agent withheld electronic rights. The book came out in 2001, got rave reviews, and propelled my career into high gear. Fast-forward ten years. The book is still in print, I'm still alive, and the ebook revolution has arrived. (Not sure which of these astonishes me the most!)

Why did I self-pub my memoir? Once again, it's about the Benjamins. I make more per copy. More important, I saw the opportunity to begin my own ebook venture with this bestseller as a flagship title. Blessed with generous reviews and built-in buzz, it's going to provide sturdy coattails for my backlist fiction (coming out this summer) and a new original novel I'll release this fall. HarperCollins has been enthusiastically supportive of my self-pubbing endeavor and even helped me gain permission to use the fantastic original cover (designed by Chip Kidd) because they know I'm more valuable to them if I'm thriving creatively and commercially.

Update December 2012: With BLBH enjoying steady sales and a fresh influx of glowing reviews, Joni indie published two mystery novels and a mini-memoir. She's currently working on a ghostwriting project with a major publisher and preparing to launch her own online indie bookstore.

Barbara Taylor Sissel
Bobbi is the baby of our publishing sisterhood. Her story is more typical of the self-publishers who are basically sick of the wrongheaded query process. Her writing is not typical at all. We've been part of the same critique group for six years now, and I'm continually astonished by the transcendent quality of her prose. Her fiction is issues-driven, rich in imagery, peopled by believable, engaging characters. Her first novel was pubbed by a small literary press several years ago, but Bobbi is reclaiming her publishing virginity and considering the forthcoming novel The Ninth Step her debut. And rightly so. She isn't the same writer she was back then, and Lord knows this isn't the same publishing industry.

The Ninth Step is a riveting and richly human story about an alcoholic's search for redemption in the wake of a fatal mistake, a woman's search for answers in the wake of harsh disappointment, and a family's search for peace in the wake of wrenching loss. I loved this book and can't wait for readers to get their hot little Kindles on it. Watch this space for release details!

Why is Bobbi self-publishing her debut novel? In a word, she's ready. Since her agent left the biz, the time-suck of querying, rewriting, waiting months for response simply doesn't make sense for her. Because the caliber of her writing is so high, she seldom gets the form rejection, and this drags the process out even longer. She's open to being edited, but she's wisely reluctant to follow market-minded agents and anyone else who wants to lead her too far from the path she's chosen for herself as an artist. Without giving an inch of her artistic integrity, she's asked for and received feet-to-the-fire editing, and she's investing in a beautiful cover that will open the door and welcome readers into the warmblooded world she's created. For Bobbi, this is about the art of publishing in its purest form: a skilled author, whispering directly into the ear of a discerning reader.

Update December 2012: With the success of her indie titles lighting a fire, Bobbi was signed by a fantastic New York agent who quickly landed her a big fat 6-figure 2-book deal with large mainstream publisher. The first of the two, Evidence of Life is now available for pre-order.

You'll find a continually updated carousel of BoxOcto author ebook titles in the sidebar on the left.


Thanks so much for this, Joni. Having read every one of these books, I can say I'm very proud of what we're giving readers the chance to decide on for themselves!
Barbara Sissel said…
Thank you for this oh so cogent post, Joni. I'm so pleased to be included in such stellar company and I'm excited to see how each of our journeys develops. It's such an exciting time, I think. Utter chaos to some, but chaos can be so creative of fresh opportunity!
Something else that's a bonus for you all--you've all had or have had agents. You've gotten through that very difficult hurdle. I MIGHT self-pub some of my short stories while I wait to query my novel, but for right now, I still plan to go the old way with the book. But we'll see. When I get an agent (I'm saying when!), if my agent believes I'd do better self pubbing, I will definitely listen. But this is all WHY I want an agent. I need someone who has been in the biz to come alongside me and help me navigate these waters.
It's interesting to have these choices now that writers really didn't have before (or they did, but they were so much more limited). One thing I also wonder about, though, is what will happen to those of us in (however tangentially) the academy. One reason I'm reluctant to self publish is that I won't be able to count anything that is not published by "a reputable publisher" for either a bid for a tenure track job or for tenure itself, if I go that way. I wonder if someone will come up with a way of gate keeping that will allow novelists who DO have craft to stand out from the norm.
Rousing post, Joni! It's so heartening to see that authors do well when they have the courage to prioritise their artistry

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