On Choosing to Indie Publish

By way of background…

When I wrote my first novel, I was around eleven years old. I wrote it in a paper notebook that has been long lost in the nearly twenty years since then, but I remember the central plot involved bunnies and a princess. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, my mother bought me a typewriter—a Canon StarWriter, to be precise—and I felt I’d arrived. Nothing made an eighties kid a real writer like having a typewriter.

With that typewriter, I produced another novel that also has been long lost in the years since—such is the result of growing up poor and moving from home to home so often. From what I remember, that story was a romance of some sort, probably the result of reading romance novels and watching Benny and Joon and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet far too many times.

Choosing to independently publish…

Now I have three published novels, and none of them are about bunnies, princesses, or star-crossed lovers. Instead, my novels are about power, family, love, politics, sexuality, friendship, alienation, grief…all those spices that make up this dish we call life. Only once I was in law school did I gain some clarity about the stories I wanted to tell, about the lives I wanted to center, and the audiences I wanted to reach. That’s also when I realized I wanted to independently publish my novels.

Why did I choose to independently publish?

  • Freedom to tell the offbeat stories I want to tell
  • Unwillingness to wait years for someone to finally tell me my stories were worthy
  • Eagerness to understand the ins and outs of publishing
  • Interest in potentially helping other marginalized authors publish
  • Desire to have creative control over my work

I independently published my first novel in 2015, and the process was quite an adventure. There are so many things I’d do differently now, and I’m grateful the technology and platforms have improved to make the process easier. I thought about querying that novel, but the other part of me felt it was absolutely necessary to avoid delaying what I’d spent my whole life wanting to do…publish a novel. Moreover, I knew I could choose the traditional path later if my mind changed. With two more published novels since that one and my own imprint (that I’m hoping to grow), I no longer have any trepidation about independently publishing my work.

The feedback I’ve received from my readers has been so affirming. It turns out there are readers interested in offbeat stories that center messy bisexual Black women in extraordinary situations.

On  “traditional” publishing…

Will I ever seek to have my work published by a “traditional” publisher? Possibly. It can’t hurt to try.

Yet it isn’t my priority, partly because I take issue with the notion that getting accepted by a publishing house is the “traditional” way to publish. All the “Big Five” publishing houses are less than two hundred years old; calling the act of publishing through these companies “traditional” (as though this is the main way books have always been published) is actually ahistorical and myopic. Many of the great writers that have become canon published their own work.

Did I mention the history of these “traditional” publishing houses is steeped in racial inequality? Indeed, independent publishing has been a game-changer for authors from diverse backgrounds. Because of the current revolution in digital technology, marginalized authors who have long faced discrimination and exclusion in “traditional publishing” have found success in independent publishing, with self-publishing soaring among Black authors in particular.

No matter what, it’s all about exposure…

Ultimately, the most important thing a writer can do, besides produce an engaging and well-edited book, is get their work in front of readers. The biggest struggle of any writer, whether “traditionally” or independently published, is getting their work in front of readers. So that’s my focus, more than anything else. Exposure. Until “traditional” publishing can guarantee that, it won’t be a priority for me.

For now, I’m enjoying the journey of independent publishing. The wealth of information I’ve learned is invaluable. Every day, I learn more about strategies for publishing and gaining more exposure. One day, I hope I can help other authors like me on their publishing journeys. There are so many stories locked inside us, and we all deserve the opportunity to share those stories with the world!

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