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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Writing All Over The Road

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 14 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.

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I have to admit, lately, the picture on the right seems more like the choices we're facing in the publishing world these days. Back in 2009, when my first novel came out (a Christmas novel called, The Unfinished Gift), life seemed so much simpler. There were really only 2 choices available for a fiction writer hoping to get his/her novel into readers' hands:
  1. Somehow get invited to join the ranks of an elite club made up of those who were traditionally published.
  2. Keep trying.
Apart from this, you really had no other choice, unless you were so desperate to get your name on a book that you paid thousands of dollars to a vanity press in exchange for a garage full of books you couldn't sell. No one recommended doing this. There was no such thing as "indie publishing," and self-publishing in general was totally frowned upon.

I was fortunate. An A-list literary agent picked up my first book within weeks after I sent out my first manuscript. She had a contract with a major publisher 2 months later. That book did very well, so they gave me a contract for another, then another. They did so well, they gave me a 3 book contract, with a commitment to publish 2 books a year. That was enough to allow me to write full-time, so I did. Then came another 3 book contract, then a 4 book contract. 

It seemed like everything was all set for a nice, stable career as a full-time fiction author. But while all this was happening, somewhere along the way, Amazon gave us Kindle. Then Barnes & Noble created the Nook. Then iPad got in the game (and Amazon created a free Kindle app that worked great on iPads). Then everyone had smart phones. Then people started feeling safe buying more and more of their products online. Amazon introduced Kindle Prime, with free 2-day shipping. I watched my e-book sales on my royalty statements go from 3% to 50% in just a few short years and watched my print book sales decline.

I would browse through bookstores at home and on trips, mostly to find my books on the shelves (and confession time, turn all the covers so they were facing out). But I started to notice more and more, I was the only one on the fiction aisle. Then a couple of years ago, I began to hear of Christian publishing houses going out of business, other publishing houses merging and downsizing their staffs trying to stay afloat. I'd hear from my published author friends the sad news that their contracts were not being renewed.

Then last August, my contract wasn't renewed. Months before this, I could see the

writing on the wall so I began to prepare myself to learn all about indie publishing. And I got lots of help from other authors who had blazed the indie trail before me. Last November I published my first indie suspense novel, When Night Comes. It has done surprisingly well. I followed this with my first nonfiction book, a 31-Day Devotional called Perfect Peace. Also published as an indie.

But now as I finish up my current work-in-progress (WIP), I find there at least 4 choices for me to consider on the road ahead (referring back to the first picture above):

  1. Re-sign again with another traditional publisher (which my agent is urging me to do).
  2. Sign with a smaller, independent press (who will do all the legwork for me, freeing me up to put more time on my writing...for a price). 
  3. Continue on this new path as an indie author (doing everything myself).
  4. Become a hybrid author (do half my books as an indie, half with a traditional publisher).
When did it all become so complex and confusing? It was so much easier when I was a "kept man." Since this is a writer's blog, I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling like I am now "writing all over the road." I'd love to hear your story, what choices you are facing and how you are processing all these changes.


  1. I made the decision to stay with indie last year. It's not the publisher's fault. It's mine. I have no patience for what I call "non value-added" work, meaning the endless query letters and conference meetings. I prefer to spend that time writing or running my own little business. Of course, the world is still full of choices. Recently I started a podcast called Teen Writers Publish!, the goal of which is to show young writers how they can not only write at a young age, but publish and market their books. I'm a marketing junkie, so it fits my personality. I also handle all the marketing for our family business, also a part time job for me after the day job is over.

    We never sleep.

    While I sometimes grumble about starting my work day at 7am and ending it at 9pm, I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing my own thing. I may fail miserably as an indie author, but if so, I would have certainly failed just as miserably if I'd stuck with the traditional route. Of course, the industry is still changing rapidly, so who knows what next year or next week holds.

    Love your posts, Dan. God bless and I hope you do well in the indie world.

  2. I entered this business when Indie meant vanity. I held out for a traditional publishing contract and found one with a small press. God was good to me and I love my publisher. They're growing and trying new things. It's nice to be able to contact the CEO and talk things out. I love the editors I've been given.

    I had considered self-publishing a cookbook (put together by the characters in my book...actually my street team members who have taken on the persona of a character and submitted the recipes as such), but the formatting is difficult on a cookbook, so I contacted my publisher and he said he loved the idea and send it, he'd publish it. We're using it as a promotion for the next book.

    I know I need to dip my toes in the Hybrid Author pool, and I will. When the time is right. God's best on your Hybrid journey, Dan. I love your books (haven't read your suspense. Shiver. You know me). lol

  3. Ron, sounds like your skill set is tailored made for the indie life. On the one side, the writing still has to be the main thing. But if the writing is there, I think the next big thing is to have that entrepreneurial bent. You have to be okay with wearing a lot of hats and shifting between a variety of tasks. If that's not something a writer is comfortable with, they might want to consider Option 1 or 2.

  4. Ane, I'm glad you're happy with your publisher. Happiness is a great value all by itself. I know part of my decision to go indie was that I was already fulltime (writing was/is my day job). So I needed to maximize the earnings available, which meant doing things myself, not giving half to two-thirds of the sale income away to others. It tuns out, I like all this non-writing stuff. But if I didn't, or if I had a fulltime day job, I wouldn't hesitate to sign on with someone.

  5. Dan,

    A great post. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    One thing that's often left out of this equation is the author himself/herself. Ron is a great case-in-point.

    He loves marketing, so that part of the writing business is just as creative for him as the writing part.

    He also loves reaching out to people personally, which is something else indie authors have to do. So it's yet another creative outlet.

    But there are a lot of authors who don't like those things or who have no skills for them. For those types of authors, a more traditional publishing route might be the better choice.

    Whatever the case, hearing testimony from other authors is helpful to all of us. It never hurts to hear someone else's experiences when we're trying to decide what to do with our own writing.

    So thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this very complex and never-ending subject.

    Best wishes!


  6. I agree with you, Carrie. But I might add this...I've gotten to know quite a few indie authors who chose the indie route because the traditional route had utterly rejected them. Or else only gave their books marginal support (to where it was more frustrating than anything else).

    Some of them have proved to be surprisingly adept at stretching themselves beyond their comfort zones (in some of the ways you mentioned, both of which come easy for me and Ron).

    If the traditional route is an open door, it should definitely be given serious consideration. Just wanted to leave a crack open in another door for those who might want to give it a try. Some of these lades have done quite well and are very glad they pushed past the challenges.

  7. Dan, I agree with your comment that "If the traditional route is an open door, it should definitely be given serious consideration." All other things--writing ability, mainly--being equal, it comes down to balancing the speed and monetary benefits of indie-publishing with the security of having a company behind you. Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Thanks for sharing your journey. I'd love at some point to get my feet wet in the indie market. Time is the problem, but I suspect it won't always be. I suspect you'll take the traditional and keep on in the indie as well. Not such a bad idea to spread those eggs around. Looking forward to your update!


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