Self-Publishing Progress and Hurdles

Thursday, February 23, 2017

At the Digital Book World (DBW) Indie Author Conference on January 19, we were so pleased to have Orna Ross, author (traditionally and self-published) and founding director of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), join us from London to provide an overview of where things are today for self-publishers. Now that the independent sector of the publishing industry has matured for years−we sometimes call it Self-Publishing 2.0 now−Ross agrees with us that indies are in a far better place than in the past.

She reminded us that there are actually seven processes involved in publishing, processes every indie author has to be prepared to handle personally or engage professionals for assistance:

  1. Editorial
  2. Design
  3. Production
  4. Distribution
  5. Marketing
  6. Promotion
  7. Rights sales

Progress for Indie Authors

I asked Ross to give both “the good news and the bad news” about what indies face today. Her purview from the leadership of ALLi’s international membership shows her the following key elements of creative progress being made by self-publishers:

Note that she’s stressing in her last point that indies aren’t just DIY savvy; they’re also becoming increasingly good at forming the teams of pros they need for production and community, the DIWO aspect, which is progress in the commercial arena as well as creative progress. She points out that a great result of indies’ work is that they’re employing other creative workers including editors, designers, and more. Indie titles, especially in genre fiction and non-fiction guides, account for some of the super-sellers in the publishing industry as well, contributing a significant percent of the industry dollar share.

Hurdles Indies Face

When it comes to hurdles indies face today, some seven years into the new era of self-publishing, Ross gave us two viewpoints: personal and industry.

Personal Hurdles

First, she pointed to challenges authors encounter in their own work such as quality, mindset, managing time and money, business skills, and hiring and managing people. Her mention of “mindset” was especially valuable all day: writers need a positive, can-do mindset to power through moments of self-doubt and setbacks.

Publishing Industry Hurdles

And in terms of hurdles being placed in authors’ ways by the publishing industry, she mentioned the lingering stigma against self-publishing, lack of bookstore presence, and the longstanding reluctance of major book prize and festival organizations to include indie authors.

The best pathway forward, Ross tells us, is to be sure to keep a strong mindset of capability and resourcefulness in place, in both the creative and commercial areas of challenge. This might mean, for example, that some of the best commercial marketing starts with a creative idea. Also, thinking through the seven processes on a regular basis−checking to see if you’ve hit your bases fully−is one of the best ways to stay firmly on track, avoiding surprises and pitfalls with that great mindset in place.


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Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in book publishing. Formerly with CNN, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media, he is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, founded by the German Book Office New York, the magazine for the international publishing industry. With Jane Friedman, he produces The Hot Sheet publishing-industry newsletter, providing expert analysis and interpretation in a private subscriptionemail newsletter, expressly devised to give authors the news insights they need, free of agenda and bias. Anderson also writes the #MusicForWriters series on contemporary composers for Thought Catalog.