Ten Things I Learned About Independent Publishing in 2013

Read “Ten Things I Learned…” for 2011 and 2012

1. Predictions, schmedictions. No one knows anything, really.

The market is flooded!

Hybrid is the wave of the future!

Self-publishers are taking over the world!

Paper is dead!

E-books are dying!

Amazon will drown us all in a wave of Kindles that will smash against the Pacific shoreline and cause a publishing war where publishing executives will build giant monsters made of Nooks,iPads, and Kobo readers, leading to a post-apocalyptic world ruled by shotgun-wielding space pirates!



No one. Knows. Anything.

This market is changing so rapidly, what we predict today will be obsolete in another year. Or a matter of months. I don’t make predictions, but here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

2. Follow your passion.

Sounds cliche, right? But as the newness of this career wears off and the day to day sets in, I’m reminded more and more that being a writer can become a job. And if you’re going to make it more than just a job, you have to continue following the passion that led you to this point. Whatever point that is. Maybe you’re struggling through the not-so-fun revisions on your first manuscript. Maybe you’re looking to go in a creative direction that is 180 degrees from where you started. Maybe you’re writing in a genre that everyone says is on the decline.

Follow the passion.

Because that’s the only reason to be a writer. Write because you love it and you can’t imagine NOT doing it. And if you’re not feeling the passion anymore, look back and find where you lost it. Fight to get it back. Nothing is dead here. But the day to day grind can wear you down, so remind yourself daily why you love what you do.

3. Don’t follow trends.

I’ve had a lot of advice from various sources about what I should write. “This is hot!” or “That is heating up.” “You’d be amazing writing ____!” “This is my favorite genre, write this.” “No one is going to read ______ anymore. So passé.”

It kinda goes back to my last point, but don’t follow trends. Follow what you love. For one thing, you’re going to be a better writer in the genre you love most. For another, trends change and they can change FAST. By the time you finish that manuscript, the bestselling wave of dystopian biker steampunk romance will be long gone and everyone will be hooked on space pirates. (Though, to be fair, who isn’t hooked on space pirates?)

(I mean, space pirates are awesome.)

(I mean, space pirates are awesome. Especially Zoe… who was on FIREFLY!)

The point is, don’t follow trends. Be bold. And if you’re bold enough, maybe you’ll create the next trend yourself.

4. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate goals.

Maybe last year, you had the firm goal of landing an agent to handle your subsidiary rights this year. Maybe you queried a few and found that none of them really met your expectations. Don’t be afraid to keep looking, if you know that’s the direction you want to go. But also, don’t be afraid to reexamine that goal. Maybe what looked like a necessity a year ago isn’t a necessity today.

In the fast-changing market we’re in, there’s no shame in changing your goals or even dropping them completely. Don’t cling to goals just to cling. Be flexible. Reflect. Really examine what you want and whether or not the steps your taking are helping you achieve that. Don’t be afraid to trim back the time you’re spending on XYZ if it’s distracting from your ultimate goal as a writer which is…

5. You should be writing.

This is the most obvious one in the world, right? But in the face of publishing and promotion and signings and conventions and a million other things that go along with being a writer and a publisher, it can be very easy to lose focus on the not-so-simple act of writing.

Readers often ask me when I’m going to do a signing in their city, or whether I’m going to go to this or that convention. Sometimes, I’ll try to go (I’m going to RT in May) but often, the answer is no. And the two main reasons for that are 1) I’m a mother with limited time. 2) I’d rather be writing.

You know those license plate covers with the “I’d rather be ______” on them? That’s me. I’d rather be writing. I’d rather write than promote my work. I’d rather write than go to a signing. Not that it’s not fun to do those things, but I’d just rather be coming up with new stories or working on the ideas I already have.

Everyone’s time is limited by something. Family. Day jobs. Business obligations. Just make sure that writing is a priority. At least it should be if you are in this for the long haul because…

6. Self-publishing is not the new Tupperware party.

You may think I’m being rude or egotistical or putting down new writers, but I’m not. (I’m also not putting down Tupperware parties, because they rock and there’s usually really good snacks.) But I’ll say it again.

Self-publishing is not the new Tupperware party.

And if you’re going into this business with a pretty, pretty cover and a book you haven’t invested in, then I’m going to say it: You’re doing it wrong.

Look, covers are important. And I’ve never claimed to be the greatest writer in the world. But I invest in my work. I work at being a better writer with every book. I study the craft of fiction. I hire an editor and I listen to her when she tells me that I should do this or that for these reasons. I might not always agree, because sometimes punctuation or phrasing is a stylistic choice and she’s awesome, so she recognizes that.

(And this may piss you off, but if you don’t understand the phrase “punctuation or phrasing is a stylistic choice” then maybe you’re not taking your writing seriously enough.)

I’ll be frank, and I’ll probably piss off some people saying this, but there are a lot of people heading into the business now, seeing a few make it big, and thinking that if they just slap a pretty enough cover on a manuscript and promote enough, their book will be a hit, no matter how many mistakes there are.

You’re doing it wrong. And you’re making those independent writers who care about their reputation and credibility look bad, right along with you. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Care about your work, and respect the people you’re asking to pay for it.

7. Don’t get cocky.

Did I sound cocky in the last point? I’d love to lie to you and say I don’t have an ego, but I do.

This year has taught me that very clearly.

And EGO is a big, nasty monster who will eat up your happiness and screw up your goals far faster than anything I could dream and write in a book. I’d love to say that it doesn’t bother me that some people—even after ten relatively well-reviewed books—don’t take me seriously as a professional because I’m self-published. I’d LOVE to say that the validation of my readers and personal satisfaction are always enough for me.

But there were times in 2013 when that would have been a lie.

It does hurt sometimes, that people still look down on me for self-publishing or assume that I wasn’t good enough to make it with a “real” publisher. That I’m not invited to this convention or that panel when I feel like I have something to add. I try not to let it bother me. Sometimes it does.

At the end of the day, I am still determined to retain creative and legal control of my work for numerous reasons, both business and personal, and I feel that self-publishing meets those goals the best, so I ignore those feelings and think with my head and not my ego.

Don’t feed your ego, but don’t forget it’s there. Because the minute you have any kind of success, your ego will make itself known, and it’s always hungry. If you’re not careful, it will bite you, and it will hurt.

“Pride, my friends, is the deadliest of fires. While other flames burn the surface, pride burns from within. It works its way from the heart until it consumes you. And like any fire, it will eat its prey until it is smothered or quenched.”

8. Someone will always have it better than you.

They’ll have a better cover. Better plot. Better reviews. Better word of mouth. Better sales. Better publicity. Better hair.


This ties into your ego, because once that rears its head, you’re going to start noticing all the ways that your book or your manuscript is NOT a success. And if you’re not careful, you’re going to start focusing on that instead of all the things that have gone right.

Remember, every path to success is different, because success is individual. What is a rousing victory for you is not the same as the next writer. Focus on your own goals and don’t compare yourself to others. And remember…

9. Someone will always have it worse.

Don’t forget your successes, because I can almost promise that somewhere out there is a person who thinks you have it made. Are you just barely scraping by on your writing income? There’s a passionate writer out there who is working two jobs and writing until the wee hours who thinks you have it made. And even the most successful writer you know may be going through personal problems that you can’t even imagine.

Focus on your own work, not comparing yourself to others. I cannot stress how important that is if you don’t want to lose your mind, motivation, and passion for your art.

10. It’s still worth it.

I’ll echo what I said last year, because it still applies:

“Keep doing your thing. Keep writing and know that yes, it’s still worth it. Writers are still publishing with more creative and personal freedom than ever before, and they’re being paid.”

It is a good time to be a writer. In 2014, things will change. How? I don’t know. Will subscription models change publishing? Maybe. Will self publishing grow or shrink? I have no idea. Will space pirate fiction take over the bestseller lists? We can hope.

Mmmmm, space pirates...

Mmmmm, space pirates… (on the deck of  SERENITY! on FIREFLY!)

In the end, we write because we have no other choice. We love it too much. And whether we self-publish or not, telling the stories that live in your head and sharing them with your audience—big or small—is worth it.

So in 2014, I suggest you just keep writing.

Thanks for reading, Elizabeth

UPDATE: Since someone mentioned on Facebook that I didn’t credit the gratuitous space pirate scenery I included in the post, I’ll let you know that any and all space pirates pictured are from the tremendously awesome (and tragically cancelled) show Firefly. Or possibly it’s companion movie, Serenity. Both created by one of my storytelling idols, Joss Whedon.

Sadly, one of the things I did NOT learn in 2013 was why the greatest show ever written for TV was cancelled. Some mysteries will never be solved. (But seriously, if we could make space pirate fiction happen, that would be awesome.)

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  1. As an aspiring novelist working on her first book series on her third round of editing, I can say each time I finish the last pages of the editing process I already have a person out there reviewing the manuscript so I can see the suggestions with an open mind and a critical eye. It hasn’t been an easy process learining the ins/outs of the publishing process, actually it has been a hair raising, stressful process that leaves me often wondering if my hidden fear of writing a synopsis isn’t just a mental roadblock I can’t just climb over and be done with it. Nevertheless, I look at everything associated with publishing my book as a new begining one that I get to create. Sure it is financially draining, mentally exhausting and frankly social media is a marketing nightmare, but I don’t think I would stop any of this just for the sake of giving up. All of this is too much, however, when I go to bed at night my last thoughts are, “What can I dream about next?” I wake up itching to start anew or continue where I left off the day before. I choose to embrace my creative spark, blowing life into my craft despite the boat that constantly wants to capsize in the lake of worries surrounding me. In the end, I believe the story must be told in a way that conveys what my head and heart have wanted to share all along. Everything you’ve said in your post is exactly what I believe to be the experience of Independent Publishing to be. A wonderous adventure ripe with adventure.

  2. Well, I was jumping up and down (in my chair) at #6, then #7 made me calm down. And the last three were spot on, of course. Stop the snark! No meanness. And yes, it’s all worth it. Finally I can say truthfully that I’m doing what I love. Thank you, ElizHunter!

  3. Good stuff here. I’m working on my next novel, almost ready for publishing. Copy edits almost done from proof copy. One final run through. I’m very grateful for my first novel’s path to recognition, including community reads and national awards. It may not get the attention of everyone as it’s self-pubbed, but it has found its audience and that attention is growing. Good things for 2014 coming.

  4. Great advice. Just finished running through the proof my first book. Got to start handing out ARCs. Have no idea how it’s going to go, but hey, I’m still going for it. 🙂

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  8. Great post! You are so spot on! I truly agree with following passion. While it would be great to write the next big thing, I’m happy following my heart. Never short change yourself by wondering what others want. There is an audience for everything. Focus on your art, not on popularity.

  9. Great post! You are so spot on! I truly agree with following passion. While it would be great to write the next big thing, I’m happy following my heart. Never short change yourself by wondering what others want. There is an audience for everything. Focus on your art, not on popularity.

  10. Great post! It really is a brave new world out there and the truth is that no one knows what the publishing future holds so as you point out, the best thing to do is write what you want to read and write what you love and do it the best you can. Rinse. Repeat!

  11. On the deck of SERENITY! on FIREFLY – I would be content in fantasy… My Favorite of all time. Joss Whedon is the best. Your post was very well thought out and if no one has said it, all we have to do is replace “Write” with Paint, type, glue gun, sewing or anything else you are doing either to make a living or as a hobby turned money maker or volunteering at the nearest hospital, senior center etc. It has great points for just about anything you are doing. On trends! three out there now that I am not fond of. 1. Too much sex (sorry) 2. The Novella 3. Giving out several chapters ahead of publishing date as teasers. (I want the whole book at once, and if I read the chapters ahead, then buy the book – for some reason I feel a little cheated because I already read part of it) oops, I missed one, those new secret author groups geared for marketing by readers….

    • And I have to stick up for the novella! But that’s just me. I love reading and writing them. It’s the perfect length of fiction for me sometimes. I’m not a big fan of the serial novella, though. I prefer them to be shorter, stand alone works.

  12. I think independent publishing is a dream! Whatever story an author dreams up can be available to readers all over. Of course, editing is sometimes a problem, but I can read reviews just like the next person and weigh if the story is something I’d enjoy anyway.

    Publishers and agents have a narrow field. They need to make money, so they look for a particular story, an author, a celebrity, the next trend…AND they can only take on so many projects. Limited.

    So for me, as an unpublished writer trying to catch the eye of an agent with a genre book that has been deemed “on the decline”, independent publishing is looking more and more like a dream.

    • Thanks for commenting, Stacia. Many people focus on the business side of the equation regarding independent publishing, and that’s important! But there are many, many creative reasons to choose it, as well. It’s very freeing. Best of luck with your work!

  13. Total awesomesauceness. I completely agree – go with your gut, and hang in there. The more you write, the better a writer you become, so any story you deem a failure is doing the important work of making you the writer you want to ultimately be.

  14. The awesomeness of this post knows no limits. Space Pirate Fiction is the wave of the future. And if not, I’ll still read the heck out of it. 😀

    Thank you for the post. It was funny and enlightening. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. You have to do what’s right for you and your work. Besides, whether you pay an editor to edit your work or a publisher pays an editor to edit your work, you’re still getting edited. LOL!

  15. You had me at Space Pirates! What an insightful, inspiring and fun blog. Thanks so much for posting this. It echoes my beliefs too. Always write what you know and love. Write the kinds of stories you want to read. Craft them and nurture them. They are your children. Don’t send them out into the world without preparing them for it. And never allow anything to crush (or burn) your dreams or to stop you from telling your stories. We are the bards of this world. Without our kind there would be no civilisation as we know it.

  16. Your writing ALWAYS has an impact on me E – whether its your books, blog, or counsel. Thank you for this post. I needed the reminders (in a bad way! lol) So grateful to call you my friend and very much looking forward to RT in May.

  17. I wouldn’t say I’m “pissed off” by #6 but it was a little disheartening to read considering I’m a new writer. “And if you’re going into this business with a pretty, pretty cover and a book you haven’t invested in, then I’m going to say it: You’re doing it wrong.” Are there really THAT many books out there that people are so obviously putting a lack of effort into that you needed to say this? That is ALSO disheartening. I will not give up though. My DREAM is to become a successful published author and I will put my ALL into my books, and create a pretty cover too 🙂 Anyway, great post! Very sound advice, thanks!

  18. Your “things I learned about independent publishing” posts are really helpful. Thanks for writing them (and, um, obviously…thanks for writing the amazing books you write!)

    This is the first year I’ve actually *done* the independent publishing thing (released 2 novels that have been in the works for YEARS) and every day is a learning opportunity. I agree with what you’ve said about the importance of really investing in your book. It’s easy to want to say “Oh, I need to put this out NOW!” but the fact of the matter is that putting work out there that is riddled with spelling/grammar/punctuation errors and plot holes isn’t going to help. Editing and all of that takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.

    Anyway. Happy New Year your awesomeness, and I can’t wait for the second Irin book!

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  21. You love Firefly/Serenity! I thought I couldn’t love you more, but I was wrong. You are the most awesome writer ever! 🙂

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