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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

An Indie in the Trad Pub World of ICRS

By Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 27 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®--fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers' Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer's Best (twice), and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice. She loves to interact with readers on Facebook.

Last week I attended ICRS—the annual International Christian Retail Show—in Atlanta. It was the first time I've attended as an indie. I didn’t know how I’d feel as an indie in that decidedly traditional publishing world.

I know now. I’ve never felt better on the ICRS floor.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not traditionally published any longer. I felt all of the camaraderie with my authors pals with none of the disappointment over my own sales. In fact, my first indie Seatbelt Suspense®, Sidetracked, continues to sell quite well. And I’m getting to keep all the royalties for myself.

A few highlights of my own books, and things that stood out to me during the convention:

1. The Sidetracked ebook has been out for three months now. In those three months the ebooks alone have earned me 66% of the advance I would have made on the novel (after paying the agent 15%) if it had been traditionally published. Paper sales as of two weeks ago (after one month on the market) brought the total just a little above what the advance would have been. In short, in three months of ebook sales, and one month of paper sales, I’ve made money equal to the trad pub advance that would have taken me about 5 years to earn out. Of course, from the total I need to subtract expenses. But that hardly concerns me, when I see this much difference in income. An added bonus: so far I've sold two subrights--large print and foreign rights to a Dutch publisher. Guess who gets to keep all those proceeds. 

At the Christy banquet in Atlanta
2. My last trad pubbed novel, Dark Justice, is a finalist in six awards: The Christy, the Carol, Christian Retailers Best, ECPAChristian Book Award, the Inspy, and the Foreword. Ted Dekker took the Christy in suspense for his novel Outlaw. Tosca Lee won the ECPA for Iscariot. (Both great choices.) Steven James won the Inspy for The King. Dark Justice won the Christian Retailers Best in a tie along with Dani Pettrey's Shattered. The other two are still to be announced.

I look at awards and being a finalist as extra gifts—not needed but certainly fun, and useful in promoting the book. Awards have historically been firmly planted within the trad pub world. But that is changing. One by one they are opening up to indies. I think we’ll continue to see more of this. The awards organizations can’t deny the changes in the publishing world, and they’ll want to keep up.

3. One of the (few) downsides to indie publishing has been the inability to get the free formal reviews of the trad pub world. That is changing also. My first indie pub last year, That Dog Won’t Hunt (Southern contemporary), garnered a 4 ½ star review from RT Book Reviews. One of the most important reviewers, Publishers Weekly, is just now beginning to review indies. Their BookLife site is in beta test. Another sign of the changing times.

4. I was surprised at the number of my multi-published, bestselling/award-winning trad pubbed colleagues at ICRS who wanted to talk to me about my indie experience. Many are thinking about making the jump.  Or at least putting out some indie titles to begin making the income so they can afford to switch over in the future. It looks to me as though this trend of going indie will only rise.

5. The ICRS floor was the slowest I’d ever seen it. And we thought past years were down. The lower numbers are certainly an indication of the difficulties in traditional publishing. Fewer publishers on the floor. Fewer bookseller attendees.  All the same, I had some great interviews—web, radio, and TV—for Sidetracked, set up by Blythe Daniel, the publicist for the Jerry Jenkins Select Line. The media and their listeners still just want to talk about good books. They want Story. They don’t care whether it’s traditionally pubbed or not.

6. I still have good friends in the trad pub world—agents, editors, publicists, etc. It was great to see them at ICRS. They continue to have my respect as they navigate the changing waters of publishing. And I continue to say I am very grateful for the years I spent being traditionally published—for 25 books. That time allowed me to build my readership and Seatbelt Suspense® brand—two very important things now that I’m an indie.

Haven’t read Sidetracked yet? Where ya been? Check it out now--the ebook’s only $4.99. You’ve paid more for a latte.

When you live a lie for so long, it becomes a part of you. Like clothing first rough and scratchy, it wears down, thins out. Sinks into your skin ...

When Delanie Miller finds her friend murdered, she faces a terrible choice: save herself, or save an innocent man from going to prison.

Over 100 5-star ratings on Amazon. #2 on the Top Rated List for Christian Mystery/Suspense.


  1. Brandilyn, thank you for this. I won an indie deal for my first book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, in a writing competition. After seeking much advice, I went that route and at a conference was rebuked by an editor for doing so. Later, my agent at the time told me my book had already sold more copies than an author he knew who had a book out with that editor's house. Quite redeeming. Thank you for an illuminating post on indie publishing.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Okay, let's try that reply again. Just wanted to say waytago, Beverly. (And yes, "waytago" is a word. In the Brandilyn Lexicon.)

  2. BC, I've been pretty vocal in my feelings about indy vs. trad. First of all, I bellieve there is no reversing this trend. All authors are indy authors because all authors can choose to self-pub, sign with a publisher, or both. But here's the argument I get when I bring up authors like you who've made the jump: BC already has a huge following, so going indy is easier for her.

    My argument: If I go the trad route, it will take at least two years from aquiring an agent to seeing my book on Amazon. That first book may sell a few thousand copies. If I write profusely, I can generate a good fan base and sell 100,000 copies a year (because I'm all the rage you know) and maybe pull in $25k per year.

    If I go all indy, I'll have book #1 on Amazon by the end of this year, followed by another book every two or three months (because no one is throwing up roadblocks and my kids are out of the house now). In five years, I can have ten books on my list. If I sell 1000 of each every year, I'll earn about $25k. But guess what? I keep adding books. And the income grows year after year.

    So either way I end up in the same place after 5 years, but as an indy I'm master of my own fate. I could even sell one or two books to a publisher along the way just to build a fan base. We have that choice now. We're only skimming the surface of possibilities right now. There's a e-book seller out there now that lets you add sound effects to your book. Recording equipment has come down in price now so that an author can make her own audio books.

    Like I said, we're all indies. Whether we're established authors or beginners, we make the choices that benefit we, the talent. I do hope publishers will get it together and join us in the 21st century. I love them, I really do. They've made my life wonderful from the time I was old enough to read (my mother claims it was from birth). But we run a business. Me, Inc. will work out my best deal. If the publishers want to join us, we're waiting.

    1. I do believe it's true that a trad pubbed author with a solid following who turns indie will often sell more books out of the gate. That makes sense. You're not starting from scratch. But those who give someone like you that kind of argument are only looking at the difficulties of getting started on the indie side. They're not looking at the difficulties of the trad pub start, which you pointed out. Either way the ramp up can be a number of years. There are many indie authors who are doing well who never were trad pubbed.

      The only thing I caution to anyone going indie from the get-go is to make sure his/her craft is ready. When you're trad pubbed you have all these gatekeepers that have no problem telling you your craft isn't good enough yet. (I know--I spent 10 years of hearing that.) It's harder to get one's craft to the publishable level when authors go indie from the start because the gatekeepers aren't there MAKING them do it.There's a temptation to publish too early. This is where a good editor comes in.

  3. Brandilyn gives us all an example of what a good and established author can do with indie publishing. Ron and Heather Day Gilbert have made the case for those starting out to go indie. I've always seen it as the way for an author to be allowed the freedom to write what they want when they want, certainly not without any less work - in fact, perhaps more as they establish their market. It's a great choice, and Brandilyn has and will make the most of it.

  4. I'm waiting for more Southern fiction from you!! :)

  5. Dear Ane, I am now writing the sequel to THAT DOG WON'T HUNT, titled PITCHIN' A FIT. It's about 1/3 done. Happy now? :]

  6. I agree that more authors than ever are considering indie publishing. I am hoping that more and more CBA reviewers will begin to realize that readers WANT to see their fave authors reviewed, and whether they're indie or tradpub makes NO difference to them. I love that readers are making the calls on things and supporting authors they love. Glad you had a good experience, Brandilyn, and congrats on being a finalist in so many categories!


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