Why Self-Publishers Should Go it Alone, Together

by Joel Friedlander on January 15, 2014 · 33 comments

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By Jordan E. Rosenfeld (@JordanRosenfeld)

If you’ve never heard of writers’ collectives before, or if you know about them but wanted to learn more, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this terrific article by Jordan Rosenfeld.


You’re interested in self-publishing because you’re ready to go it alone, so it might seem a little strange for me to suggest that you go it alone—with other people. Say what? Bear with me, and I’ll lay it all out.

More than a year ago, a writing friend of mine (who lives in another state) and I were both considering self-publishing our novels, but we felt a lot of trepidation at launching into this bold new world. I’d been traditionally published by both a fairly large publisher (Writer’s Digest Books) and a one-man small publishing operation (Kulupi/BeijaFlor Books) for my books on writing.

I’d had two agents, and a number of “close calls” in mainstream publishing with my novels (e.g., editors who liked the books but didn’t feel they could effectively convince a pub board to publish them). I will not lie—I was among those who looked down my nose at self-publishing in its early stages. That is, until my friend Chelsea and I began talking about how, after years of working hard, we were tired of waiting for the gates of publishing to open to us.

My hesitations about self-publishing were manifold and included everything from a fear of finding a market to producing a book that looked “real” enough to not be an instant tell that I did it myself. Then there was the fact that I didn’t have much of a clue how one went about producing, marketing, or getting a book into bookstores, if that was even possible.

But Chelsea and I soon realized that we knew lots of talented writers with other skills (because all writers soon realize they need a backup plan): graphic designers, photographers, editors, marketing pros, social media experts, journalists, and so on.

What if we came together to support one another, and cross-traded services? And what if we created an umbrella collective with its own mission and logo? And, best of all, cross-promoted one another so that when any one individual person’s platform or base experienced success, we could all benefit. Thus, Indie-Visible was born.

I want to make it clear that while we share resources and have the option to publish our books with the “I.V. Ink” logo, we are all independent publishers of our own work. We own the rights to our work and do not share profits with one another, though we do offer each other free or bartered services.

In our year-plus of operations, here are the top reasons I remain convinced that being part of a writers’ collective of independent writers is superior to “going it alone.” (There are other hybrid collectives in which writers put money into a pot and the collective does the work of publishing.

There are variations, such as the magnificent SheWrites Press by which you can pay to have them produce your book and share in the organization’s reputation, and yet more variations).

Oversight: When you go it alone you leave yourself open to mistakes that you make because you don’t know you’re making them. In a collective you have people to edit and proof your work, give pointers and advice on your cover, help you brainstorm ideas, and tell you honestly what needs work.

  • Resource & Talent Sharing: In a collective you’ve got a hub with many spokes, all contributing information that you might not find on your own. In fact, you can customize your collective by inviting in writers who also have the skills you desire.
  • Moral support: It’s tough out there for a single writer. Things are shifting so rapidly in the new frontier of indie publishing that to go it alone is like trying to take a rubber raft into the ocean. You can get discouraged and overwhelmed all too easily. We use a Facebook working group to share tips, encourage one another, and set tasks.
  • Joint Promotion: Who has a huge budget for marketing these days? And since the bulk of unpaid marketing is done through social media, what better strategy than benefiting from the collective marketing power of your fellow indie authors with their networks.
  • United Front: In a writer’s collective you’re going beyond self-publishing into co-publishing, and you stand to get a better reception because you’ve already been approved by a collective of people willing to join forces with you and who support what you write.
  • Professionalism: I firmly believe that working with other people doing who do what you do holds you to higher standards and pushes you toward making more professional choices.
  • Creative brainstorming: In a collective you are more likely to come up with new ideas together than you would all by yourself. Plus an idea will get tossed out there, and then it picks up energy and rolls through the group, getting bigger and gaining traction.
  • More to offer: Over time, a writers’ collective can become more than just a self-promotion machine. With more “person power,” you can actually offer something back. IV is going to be putting on an annual indie publishing conference and teaching webinars. We also have a collective blog.
  • Success by Association: Associating yourself with other writers of a high caliber automatically joins your work in the minds of readers.

author platformJordan Rosenfeld is the author of the novel Forged in Grace, and the writing guides Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, and Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life (with Rebecca Lawton). Jordan’s essays and articles have appeared in numerous magazines, and she teaches via online writing courses and webinars. She has two writing craft books soon to be released with Writer’s Digest Books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: A Toolkit to Build & Bolster a Lasting Writing Practice (Spring: 2015), and, with Martha Alderson, “The Plot Whisperer,” Deep Scenes: Plot Your Story Scene-by-Scene through Action, Emotion & Theme (Fall, 2015). Her first romantic suspense novel (pen name J. P. Rose) Night Oracles, releases Spring, 2014. www.jordanrosenfeld.net

Photo credit: cindiann via photopin cc.

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    { 25 comments… read them below or add one }

    Sharon A. Lavy January 15, 2014 at 4:52 am

    I call it Independent Publishing. To distinguish between Vanity publishing which is not self-publishing at all, but paid publishing~by the author.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Good point, Sharon. However, using only the “independent” label will confuse people inside the publishing field who commonly refer to independent publishers as those not associated with one of the “Big 5″ or “Big 6″ (hard to keep track sometimes) international conglomerates that control many of our larger houses. This leaves publishers like Rodale, Sierra Club, Shambhala, and many other sizable companies. “Self-published” on the other hand, cannot be confused with any of these other models. Thanks for commenting!

    Reply

    Debra L. Butterfield January 15, 2014 at 5:01 am

    What an amazing idea! I am most certainly going to start sharing this plan and try to build a collective or find one I can join. Thanks Jordan!

    Reply

    Alison Gillespie January 15, 2014 at 6:06 am

    This is a great post! I love the idea of a collective. Brilliant!

    I would love to start or join just such a group in my area.

    My question for you and others is: how to get started if you DON’T already know others in your area working on indie publishing, or other writers working on their indie books? And also, has anyone had any luck using Meet Up for this purpose?

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 15, 2014 at 6:12 am

    Alison, the vast majority of the writers in our collective do NOT live in the same area. But yes, I was going to suggest joining FB and LinkedIn groups of similar interest and spreading the word as you get to know people. Even contacting other authors whose work is similar to yours or which you admire. We are actually a cross genre group, which is great because we help promote each other across a wider spectrum.

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 15, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Sharon, I usually refer to it as Independent/Indie publishing, too. But I wanted it to be clear in the article which crowd I was speaking to. Thanks for reading.

    Debra, thank you, too, for stopping by.

    Reply

    Alison Gillespie January 15, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Jordan, re: not living in the same area as the rest of your members, as stated in the reply to my comment above. I would love to see a second post that details the mechanics of doing this long distance. I have a lot of questions about making it work. Do you regularly skype? Do you have a closed group on Linkedin or open? How do you approve new members? When do you say, okay, we have enough people now. And do you have a leader of the group who gets to make the tough calls and keeps it all going?

    This is all fascinating. This is opening a whole new world of ideas for me… and I have to say one of the appeals of doing this would be to reduce the social isolation of going it alone.

    Reply

    Michael W. Perry January 15, 2014 at 7:36 am

    It’s a great idea, but I’d suggest tweaking the description a bit. While the two words overlap, there’s a term that better fits what you’re doing. Contrast these definitions:

    Collective: done by people acting as a group.

    Cooperative: involving mutual assistance in working toward a common goal.

    The latter fits more closely with what you’re doing. A collective suggests authors, editors, layout and cover designers and marketers all ‘acting as a group’ to collectively create and publish each book. What you’re describing is mutual assistance, each member helping the others to write and publish books that remain their’s exclusively. That’s a cooperative.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Auburn, AL

    Reply

    Courtney J. Hall January 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

    This article thrills me because it’s EXACTLY what I and my critique group have done. There are only three of us, but so far we’ve put out three books with more coming this year. We also share skills – I’m a graphic designer and one of us is an editor and has experience in typesetting, so between the two of us we’ve got production pretty much covered. If only we could find a writer with marketing experience…maybe someday! But I love that you’ve posted this. Thanks so much for sharing – I think the authors’ collective is something we’ll be seeing a lot more of, with the industry changing as fast as it is.

    Reply

    Connie B. Dowell January 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

    This is a fantastic idea! I too can’t wait to get involved in such a group. In fact, if I might be so bold, if anyone (fiction or nonfiction writers) wants to get something started, email me: cgbdowell (at) gmail (dot) com.

    P.S.: I hope I am not overstepping good comment etiquette here, Jordan and Joel.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Hi Connie, Jordan has obviously touched a nerve here, and there seem to be lots of writers who would like to give the collective/cooperative/collaborate a try. And hey, why not? There are many details to learn about and obsess over, and splitting up those duties seems like it would yield big benefits.

    So go ahead and see if there are others reading here who would also like to explore this idea with you.

    Reply

    Marie Miller January 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Connie,
    This seems like a fantastic idea especially with all of us newbies who are eager to get guidance as to the best way to handle self-publishing. More heads are better than one. I would like to be involved in this cooperative endeavor..

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 15, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Alison: We use Google+ hangouts; the Voxer app on our smartphones; Facebook working group for daily interaction most often.

    And yes, I’d say combating the social isolation is one of the #1 things it does for all of us. We don’t all have something new to promote at the same time, so often we’re just sharing resources and lending moral support.

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 15, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Michael: Yes, you could make that distinction. Cooperative is a good word. We used the word collective because someday down the road we might, indeed, make the leap from indie publishers copublishing to publisher OF indie work and we want to hold that open.

    Courtney: The writers with marketing skills do exist! I suggest writing a blog post about your passionate idea, then linking to that with a request for a marketing-writer via your social media outlets.

    Connie: You never know until you ask, right?

    Reply

    C. P. Lesley January 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    That’s a great idea, Jordan (I’m another member of Courtney’s writers’ cooperative). And thank you for such an interesting article. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Nice to know there are other cooperatives out there! Self-publishing is a lonely business, and I’ve found it hugely helpful to have friends to trade ideas with along the way.

    Reply

    Ernie Zelinski January 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    You say that “being part of a writers’ collective of independent writers is superior to “going it alone.” ” For many people, perhaps. For people like me — definitely not! A collective would slow me down and interfere with my creativity and direction.

    This would also not be the way go for people such as Robert J. Ringer. He is the only person in history to write, self-publish, and market
    three #1 mega-bestsellers. I am talking about “true #1 mega-bestsellers.” Each of these books ended up selling well over one million copies. And Ringer did this by self-publishing in the 1970s and 1980s. Two of his books have been listed by “The New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

    I know that Robert J. Ringer’s philosophy is much like mine, since we both subscribe to the philosophy of these two quotes.

    “The great creative individual . . . is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.
    — John Stuart Mill

    “Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.”
    — Bernice Fitz-Gibbon

    In short, joining a collective would interfere with the results that I attain. Here is one of my results. My books have now sold over 800,000 copies worldwide. I have achieved this by only working three or four hours a day. I am now down to working one or two hours a day, making an income better than 95 percent of income earners.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 15, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Ernie, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it’s the ONLY way or the superior way. I think it’s a great way for newer indie published authors, and for those who enjoy working together. You are obviously an example of the person who succeeds by going it alone. I daresay, though, that yours are not the typical results.

    Reply

    Jacobus January 15, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Joel, It’s natural that a new writer will find it difficult to publish their works. It’s because reputed publishers usually don’t risk publishing new writers books. Now comes the question, what should a newbie do? self publish or try hard to persuade some reputed one? My opinion is first try to publish it through reputed publisher, if not possible then gather your courage and publish it yourself, use your confidence. Thanks.

    Reply

    Pamela January 16, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Exciting idea, and it makes so much sense. I’ve independently published two books, and have the bruises to prove it. To have a collective group of people to share experiences, frustrations, and joys is a great idea. To also be able to share ideas on cover art, formatting, marketing, etc. is brilliant.

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 16, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Pamela, I love that phrase “and have the bruises to prove it.” I agree that if for no other reason, the sharing of experiences and frustrations is a good one.

    Reply

    Connie B. Dowell January 17, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Thanks, Joel and Jordan. Things are already coming together for our group! So exciting.

    Marie Miller, if you are still looking at this forum and still interested in joining, could you get in touch using my email address above? It seems you don’t have a website linked to your comment (Your email is not displayed for comments you leave–standard blog practice to ensure privacy), thus I have no way to get in touch with you.

    Reply

    Jordan Rosenfeld January 17, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Connie, so glad to hear it!

    Reply

    R.C. O'Leary January 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    this blog post is insightful and also timely to me. I had posted an article on my blog yesterday and asked if it was possible for multiple authors who write similar type books combine their efforts behind one pseudo “super author” names. I.E. could they combine their efforts into a “brand” which would increase their ability to break through and establish themselves. Kind of a synergy where, perhaps, 1 + 1 + 1 = 5

    Reply

    Randall January 17, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    She Writes Press?? Would that be the Vanity Press I read about not too long ago?

    http://www.thepassivevoice.com/10/2013/whats-the-difference-between-she-writes-press-and-createspace/#comments

    Reply

    Catriona Troth February 1, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Hi Jordan,
    As a member of another Author Collective – Triskele Books (www.triskelebooks.co.uk) – I would like the second everything you have said. We too live geographically apart (spread across three countries) but we have found working together immensely satisfying. The mutual support is unbeatable.
    Our five members write in different genres (crime/historical/lit fic) but share a strong sense of ‘time and place.’ And also, we hope, a commitment to high standards.
    Thank you for the article. So great to hear of others treading this path!

    Reply

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