Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Incredible Lightness of Being Indie

Hugh Howey's latest post is the best career guide I've seen for modern authors. Go read it. And the recent Forbes articles is a must-read on the REAL reasons for the indie revolution.

Which brings me to thoughts of the future and what it will mean to be an indie author for the next five years. I firmly believe the future will see more and more authors (new, midlist trad-pubbed, as well as veteran bestsellers) going indie, in part or whole. In five years a whole "generation" of writers will have made careers as writers without having ever been published by anyone other than themselves. Those authors will have made their own rules (about storytelling, writing, and careers), and they will be different than any other generation of authors in the past.

This crucible of indie publishing isn't just changing the industry, it's changing the writers.

The Five Year Plan
Right now, I'm working on a NEW Five Year Plan for my writing career, and Hugh's post is a timely reminder that I need to take an objective view of the industry while planning my next moves. Before I self-published in November 2011, my Five Year Plan went something like this:
  • 5 Year Goal: Make enough $$ from my writing to replace a part-time job in engineering and help fund my boys' college education (estimated equivalent to selling 15k books/year)
  • 1 Year Goal: Write&publish Books 2&3 of the Mindjack Trilogy; hit the top 100 in my Amazon category at some point during the year.
  • First Book Goal: Break even on the launch of Open Minds and build fanbase towards the longer term goals.
I'm on track to not only hit my First Book and 1 Year goals, but my 5 Year Goal as well - all in my first year of indie publishing. Which means it's time for new goals!

As I work those out, I've realized that being indie isn't just about having control of your publishing/marketing (you don't have control of sales, just give up that thought right now). It's about having control of your writing, and where you want to take it. I'm finding I need a Creative Five Year Plan, not just a Business Five Year Plan. And the Business Plan is a lot easier to make.

The Creative Five Year Plan
Once you get past the how-do-I-format-this and how-do-I-price-this and what-the-heck-is-marketing-anyway questions, the real power of being indie starts to settle in. You realize that just because books have always been written a certain way, does not mean they have to continue to be written that way. Rules you didn't even realize your subconscious has laid hold of (book length) no longer restrict you. The euphoria of realizing you can write anything is quickly replace by a deluge of questions.

What do I want to be writing in five years?
What drives the length of a story?
Where do I need to stretch myself as a writer?
If there was no consideration for sales, what would I write?
If sales were all that concerned me, what would I write?
Do I continue to deliver stories that will build upon my prior works?
Do I diversify and write something completely different?
Does brand matter anymore, in the digital age? 

These are just a few of the questions rumbling through my head.

Right now, I want to explore some of the innovations that ebooks are bringing - like varied story lengths and forms - while still working on my essential craft: storytelling. I want to continue to build my fanbase by writing stories that would appeal to fans of the Mindjack trilogy, while also branching out to write some romance and MG, regardless of whether it will sell. Most of all, I want to focus on increasing the quality and quantity of my output, my production, because that will increase the likelihood of reaching my financial goals, as well as just make me a happier writer.

Do you have a Five Year Plan? Feel free to share in the comments!

LAST CRIT WEDNESDAY OF THE SUMMER!
(last chance at a critique from me before school and hyper-writer-production-mode start)


Legalese: I'll randomly chose a winner of a 5 page critique via Rafflecopter. The critiques will be offline, not posted on the blog. My critique philosophy is "honesty with kindness." I believe someone can't learn while they're in pain, so it's important to temper the truth with gentleness. I also believe my job as a critiquer is to help you tell your story better, not change it to be the story I would write.
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21 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I'm organized enough for five year plans, but yours is definitely awesome, Susan.

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    1. Ditto lol. And I'll add that I love reading about your journey.

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    2. Planning is a compulsion of mine, so it’s not really optional. :) I have to tell myself to relax and just go with things on a regular basis – because there’s lots of advantages to that too.

      Thanks Eliza!

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  2. I find I'm constantly revising and changing the creative 5 year plan. Some of that is due to what I learn about being Indie, to what seems to drive sales, my constantly changing perspective on marketing which seems to go against the tide, what I want to write as I change and grow as a writer. All of it. so much changes when it fully sinks in that your writing is in your hands. It's a terrific feeling and I love planning out what I want to write even if it changes every few months. :) I always want to try something new, even if it's under a pen name.

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    1. Yes! None of this is a bad thing. And I hear you on the changing perspective on marketing going against the tide - I think that means you're in the trenches, seeing the changes before the rest of the troops. Also a good thing! :)

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  3. Sounds like you have a great plan. We as writers need to assess where we are, if our goals are reachable, and what we've accomplished. Very nice of you to share your experiences!

    I don't always comment, Susan, but I like to see what you're up to. You have lots of great ideas.

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    1. Thanks for commenting DG! I figure if it helps me, it might help someone else. :)

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  4. This is what I'll be doing next week, you know! And it seems like my five year plan for starters is going to look very much like your first one. :D

    Btw, I can totally see how the creative plan might be more difficult. But I think it's something even traditionally pubbed authors deal with. I mean, look how Grisham's career has changed. Good stuff as always~ <3

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    1. That’s a good point, and I think you’ve hit what I was dancing around. Being multiply-published (whether trad or indie) means you have to take another look at where your career is going, not just how to “break in” or “get the next contract” – being indie means that’s all in your control (for better and worse), whereas trad authors will likely have agents and editors weighing in, or even trying to steer the boat.

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  5. I'm great at applying concrete goals in my job, but not always in my personal life - gotta get on that.

    You've accomplished so much already - looking forward to where you take it from here!

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    1. Thanks Jemi! Yeah, the concrete goals of work always seem easier to tackle - plus there's the reward of externalities. People acknowledge your outward success, but only you (generally) know about your inward ones. But both are so important to be able to keep going!

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  6. That's awesome, Susan! I love the idea of having a long term plan to keep me focused. Hope you achieve yours!

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  7. Great post, Sue. This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately too. Bob Mayer posted something similar recently about viewing your publishing future as a business and to make a longer term goal than just 1 year. I've been working on my 5 year plan, and I think it includes a bit of diversifying. I have a plan for an adult paranormal/mystery series as well as continuing with my YA paranormal writing. I just wish my 5 year plan included creating a clone so I could find more time for writing!

    And a big congrats to you for reaching your 5 year goal in just 1 year! That's awesome!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarra!:) I think I read that post by Bob – he always has such a no-nonsense approach (being Special Forces will do that to you, I suppose). I can’t wait to see what you do in the next five years – I’m sure it will be awesome. And when you get that clone, let me know how you did it!

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  8. My five year plan is to still be writing. I admire your drive and your focus, I'm sure you will find the success you are looking for (and deserve).

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    1. Thanks Rick! And to keep writing is a fine, fine goal. :)

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  9. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Great thinking, & chalk one up to the this-revolution-isn't-the-end-of-the-world school of thought. Bravo. You're absolutely right. My five-year plan needs some updating, but first it needs some re-visioning.

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    1. I'm still working on my creative 5 year plan, having taken time out to publish a couple works. I think it will be a Work-in-Progress, but thanks for stopping by and reminding me I need to keep at it. :)

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  11. You are a model indie writer to follow, Sue. My little launch exhausted me, and I thought about you and some of the other heavy weights, amazed at what you not only pulled off two launches, but did an awesome job. I know you have secret super powers, don't you? Come on now, admit it! JK. I know you were exhausted, but all that hard work has paid off, and still you continue to blaze a trail and offer to help others, too. *Applause* You go, girl!

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