Posted On January 24, 2012 by Print This Post

Jo Robertson – When Indie Publishing is a Viable Option

Once a road less traveled, the indie route is now a super highway to publishing. We’re excited to welcome back author Jo Robertson. Jo shares her writing journey and the reasons why she opted for indie publishing jo.lewisrobertson@yahoo.com

 

When Indie Publishing Is a Viable Option 

I completed my first “real” manuscript in 2005 and entered it in the 2006 Golden Heart contest for romantic suspense. In a freaky run of good luck that book, “The Watcher”, won the award that year. 

To say I was elated is understatement. I’d entered on a lark, had no expectations or illusions about doing well, and even less understanding of what the award meant. 

On the excitement scale winning was a perfect ten, but in the real world of publishing it doesn’t guarantee anything. Realistically, winning RWA’s Golden Heart Award represents the fact that five of your writing peers deemed the first 50 pages of your manuscript strong enough in all elements of the scoring guide to win in a category of perhaps 150-200 entrants, depending on which category you entered. 

While that’s a big coup in the romance writing world, it guarantees nothing but the slim possibility of being published. 

News of my win brought lots of requests and an agent, but ultimately every publishing house passed on “The Watcher.” My agent was certain the book would go to auction, but it didn’t. 

That’s when I learned that “spin” is very important in selling a book, and that editors aren’t the be-all and end-all of the industry. There’s a hierarchy that has to be scaled before a book is acquired by a publishing house; the larger the house, the taller the ladder. And there are literally dozens of factors that must align like the stars for your book to get published. 

However, ever the optimist, I didn’t sit on my tush and complain. I finished a second book, “The Avenger,” which won the 2007 overall Daphne Award under another name, mutually parted with my agent, and continued to shop my books around. The contest wins garnered requests for partial and/or full manuscripts, but never amounted to a sale. 

I continued writing and learning about the craft and the business because, really, that’s the only part of the business the author can control. I wrote a third book in that loosely connected trilogy and two historical thrillers. I wrote a young adult paranormal.

Nothing sold. 

And, yes, in spite of my head telling me I was a solid writer, my heart felt like something you’d scrape off your shoes. Even though I never considered giving up, I got very weary of the highs and lows of submission and rejection, submission and rejection. 

I felt like I was on a merry-go-round that wouldn’t let me off, and I didn’t have the courage to leap toward the dizzying ground below!

Finally, I began to think about publishing “The Watcher” myself. My family and friends wanted to read it, and I thought they deserved at least a complimentary print copy. Perhaps my books would never be read outside my family, but that would bring me satisfaction. 

I had long clung to the traditional publishing model even though my common sense told me the landscape was changing, the internet was exploding, and writers were taking their careers into their own hands. Most of my writer friends gave me advice contrary to my own instincts, or I would’ve indie published a year before I actually did. I was ready to take the leap in early 2010. 

Still, I hesitated. “Self-pubbed” had such an ugly ring to it. Did I really want to give up the “dream” of a book published by one of the NY Six? Would I sacrifice sensible and alternate publication to get my books in a brick and mortar establishment? Or did I simply want readers to enjoy my stories?

What finally moved me toward indie publishing was not Amanda Hocking’s or John Locke’s incredible success. It wasn’t my instinct that electronic books were the waves of the future. It wasn’t even my son-in-law saying, “It isn’t what percentage of the book market is now electronically published, Jo. It’s how fast it has happened.” 

Exponentially! 

Finally, it was my own mortality that kicked my ass. I thought of Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress.” The thrust of the poem is “I could take more time to woo you, but ‘time’s winged chariot’ is at my back and I don’t have ‘world enough and time enough’ to waste.” 

I felt I could no longer woo New York. 

As a mature writer, I bring many skills and assets to the table, but youth isn’t one of them. As Marvell concludes in his poem, I cannot “make the sun stand still,” but I can give it “a good run.” I can “tear [my] pleasures with rough strife/through the iron gates of life.”

So I struck out on my own, grabbed the golden lasso and trudged through the incredibly exciting and wonderfully straight-forward journey of indie publishing. 

The first electronic copy of “The Watcher” went live on August 18; “The Avenger” went live on September 3; and “The Traitor,” on December 31, all in 2011. 

I haven’t looked back, haven’t harbored regrets, and haven’t stopped to count my sales or money earned (not much anyway, <g>) because really the only thing in the writer’s control is producing the next book. Our careers should always be about that. 

I do know I’ve achieved more in sales and income  in the last five months than I could’ve possibly done in traditional publishing in a full year. Clearly some of it is luck, much of it is hard work, and I like to think a smidgen of it is talent. 

The vagaries of the book industry are wide, wild, and unpredictable. Who knows what readers will like? Often they don’t know themselves until they see the cover or read the blurb. No one can predict what will flop and what will fly. Not NY, not indie publishers, not the woman on the street.

As an independent writer, you must do it all (or hire someone to do it for  you). If that scares you to death or you lack confidence in your own vision, then possibly indie pubbing is not for you. 

But if you’re confident in your writing, if you have strong resources in family and friends, and if you enjoy managing your own career and relying on the sweat of your own brow, then you might consider dipping your toe into the indie publishing pool. 

What do you have to lose? 

You can find the entire Andrew Marvell poem here: http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/coy.htm 

*** 

I’m giving away one free download of “The Watcher,” “The Avenger,” OR “The Traitor” to one random lucky commenter.

Here’s a quick blurb on Jo’s latest, THE TRAITOR 

Assistant district attorney Isabella Torres and DEA Agent Rafe Hashemi want to prosecute the same man, notorious and vicious Diego Vargas. But Isabella believes Vargas knows something about the disappearance of  her older sister twenty years ago and wants to charge him for his current human trafficking operation. Rafe wants to nab the corrupt councilman for drug trafficking.  

When Isabella and Rafe meet anonymously at an upscale bar and end up spending a passionate night together, only to learn the next day who the other is, sparks fly and the game is on for control of the case. Forced to cooperate with each other, they must balance the danger of the case against the danger of their hearts. 

 ***

Have you ever begun a sojourn that ended up being a much longer journey than you’d anticipated? Have you ever started one thing only to see it turn into something else?

 ***

Join us tomorrow for a Q &A with fire arms expert Adam Firestone.

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Bio: Like many writers, Jo Robertson penned her first story at a young age. However, a family and a teaching career put her writing dreams on hold until her Advanced Placement seniors conned her into writing her first complete manuscript. That story, which subsequently won RWA’s Golden Heart Award in 2006, was THE WATCHER. Contact Jo at:  http://www.jo.lewisrobertson@yahoo.com. Also follow her on www.twitter.com/jorobertson29 or www.facebook.com/jorobertson44.

 

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44 Responses to “Jo Robertson – When Indie Publishing is a Viable Option”

  1. Jo – good for you and congrats! I love that poem. I turned 40 almost three years ago and I decided that if I was ever going to make the dream of being a published author happen – then I had to get to it. So, I did.

    The journey has been up and down and I just made my first sale but I never would have experienced any of it if I had just dreamed about it.

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 24, 2012, 5:42 am
  2. Jo,

    So glad you followed your heart. Mine ached for you while reading this post, but I’m so thankful your decision has met with success.

    I wish you many, many more sales!

    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | January 24, 2012, 6:42 am
  3. Hi Jo,

    It takes a bit of courage to be a writer. You have shown your tenacity too. We write good stories and yearn to be read. Don’t wait for Prince Charming. Make your own dreams come true. Good luck.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | January 24, 2012, 7:00 am
    • Great advice, Mary Jo (btw, Jo’s my middle name too!). I’ve never been one to sit back and wait for someone else to make me happy, and in this case, I’m really glad I didn’t!

      It does takes tenacity and courage to be a writer. I’m always surprised by how many folks WANT to be writers, but never seen to stick with it. So, yay us!

      Posted by Jo Robertson | January 24, 2012, 12:03 pm
  4. Great post. Congratulations. It’s so empowering not to have to be focused on pleasing an agent, but instead readers.

    Posted by Janice Lane Palko | January 24, 2012, 7:02 am
  5. I have so much respect for you. IMHO, it takes nerves of steel to become an indie author when you don’t already have a fan base. But to hear of your success is such an inspiration.

    I wish you more sales and money than you could have made by waiting on traditional publishing!

    Posted by Cynthia D'Alba (aka ArkansasCyndi) | January 24, 2012, 7:03 am
  6. Jo,

    Well done for taking the leap of faith and doing the right thing for you. That’s the most important thing, regardless.

    I wish you all the very best with your books.

    Cheers,
    Kiru

    Posted by Kiru Taye | January 24, 2012, 7:40 am
  7. Jo – To win both the Daphne and the Golden Heart,and with two different books, is a clear indication of your talent. I think a lot of writers are moving to your way of thinking, although possibly for different reasons.

    Thanks for reminding me of that fabulous poem – it’s an old favorite. And speaking of old, boy, can I ever relate. I was a garden writer for 20 years before I seriously attempted writing fiction, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t start sooner.

    I turn 60 this year and, to quote another favorite poem of mine, the bell is tolling. I constantly feel pressure to work harder, write faster – not to mention write BETTER. Switching from non-fiction to fiction was a bigger learning curve than I anticipated. Either that or I’m a ridiculously slow learner.

    I’m still aiming for New York, but at some point indie publishing may call me, too. I don’t think it’s an option any of us can overlook anymore.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | January 24, 2012, 7:44 am
    • Hi, Becke, it’s always good to “bump” into you round and about the blogsphere. I love that poem too and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” — gosh, isn’t that a marvelous sentiment for how we’re all connected as human beings?

      I, too, went from writing exposition to narrative, and oh boy, was that ever a change up! So I get what you mean.

      Best of luck to you!

      Posted by Jo Robertson | January 24, 2012, 12:12 pm
  8. Jo,

    I think every aspiring writer can identify with at least one, if not all of the points you’ve made.

    I’m so happy you perservered and kept writing. Your story is an inspiration. While I’d like to have the experience of working with an editor and holding that book I wrote in my hand, I know it’s a long shot.

    The publishing landscape has changed drastically over the past three years. The explosion of indie publishing and the success of indie writers is a strong indicator that publishers and agents don’t have the last word on what will sell or what readers want to read.

    Thanks so much for being with us again. I wish you much success.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 24, 2012, 8:36 am
  9. Morning Jo!

    Great to have you here with us again. Isn’t it amazing – the new world of indie publishing? It has it’s good sides and it’s bad, but I’m glad it’s worked for you! It’s definitely on my list of things to try this year – I’m turning 50! eek! =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 24, 2012, 8:54 am
  10. Jo, thanks for sharing your story. Even though we’ve known each other for several years, I’d never heard it.

    The Watcher is a superb book and a true genre straddler. I wish publishers were more hospitable to such books. I have The Traitor waiting on my iPad.

    I think it’s worth noting that you had strong validation of your book’s quality from industry professionals, not just family and friends. I have a couple of mss. I thought were ready but see, with the perspective of more experience, were not. I’m grateful they aren’t out there to embarrass me now, as my agent shops books I know are much better. I think excellence is a critical component of your success.

    Do you have a release date set for The Avenger?

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | January 24, 2012, 10:00 am
    • Hi, Nancy, so glad you could swing by. Yes, “The Avenger” came out in September (it’s the second book and my sons claim it’s the best, but I’m partial to “The Watcher”). “The Traitor is the third one, but of course, they can be read in any order.

      It’s amazing how even just a few year can grow us as writers. When I started writing fiction seriously, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! I credit RWA and good critique partners, as well as lots of advice from editors and agents, for polishing me up a bit.

      Posted by Jo Robertson | January 24, 2012, 12:22 pm
    • Hi Nancy!

      Your comment really resonates with me:

      “I have a couple of mss. I thought were ready but see, with the perspective of more experience, were not. I’m grateful they aren’t out there to embarrass me now”

      Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 24, 2012, 5:54 pm
  11. The Traitor sounds like a great read. Congratulations on throwing your iron in the publishing fire and finding success.

    Posted by PatriciaW | January 24, 2012, 10:35 am
  12. Thanks, Patricia, so glad glad you could stop by.

    Posted by Jo Robertson | January 24, 2012, 12:22 pm
  13. Folks, I’m going to crawl back into bed where I’ve been for five days with a mega stomach flu. If my husband catches me at the ‘puter, he’ll whisk me to the emergency room since he’s convinced I’m dehydrated.

    I tell him a gal who’s 20 pounds overweight is not in danger of dehydration, but you know men. You can’t tell them anything!

    I’ll be back!

    Posted by Jo Robertson | January 24, 2012, 12:25 pm
  14. Jo, it’s been fascinating watching from the sidelines as your career flourishes. Huge congratulations! I love hearing about your journey and when and why you made the decisions you made. All took courage so good on you!

    Posted by Anna Campbell | January 24, 2012, 2:16 pm
  15. Oh, forgot to stop and give a big wave to the RU gals! Hope you’re all having a great day! x

    Posted by Anna Campbell | January 24, 2012, 2:17 pm
  16. Jo -

    The publishing industry has shifted so abruptly. I was preparing a presentation on “The Path to Publication” and realized the statistics and methods that I’d collected even five years ago no longer applied. It’s truly a brave new world.

    I have to admit, I’m glad I didn’t have the temptation of self-publishing to turn my dust bunnies into dollars while forging ahead toward NY. Had that been the case, I would have been overjoyed with the money and maybe not pushed forward hard enough to ultimately find a publisher – maybe. I’ve never been good with temptation. I cave every time. (grin).

    Good luck with your sales. You’re a good strong writer as your readers have discovered. Glad that you’re experiencing financial rewards as well.

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | January 24, 2012, 4:05 pm
  17. Wonderful post, Jo!

    You are such an inspiration for never giving up, and I’m thrilled that you are finally getting the readership that your wonderful stories deserve.

    Sorry to hear you have the stomach flu. Lucky me, I have the respiratory variety. :-P Here’s hoping we both feel better SOON!

    Posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy | January 24, 2012, 5:36 pm
  18. Jo,

    Thanks for being with us today! We hope you feel better soon. Also, thanks everyone for dropping by.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 24, 2012, 10:51 pm
  19. This post couldn’t come at a better time. While I might have felt discouraged that with so many awards your books didn’t sell, the post actually reinforced my inklings toward self-publishing. Congrats to you on your efforts and thanks for sharing your story.

    Posted by Jenna Harte | January 25, 2012, 9:43 am
  20. It’s funny, I’ve been reading this morning about the publishing conferences going on now and the general feel is that publishers are very pessimistic about the future. I can recall three or four years ago, while working in the industry, I was very pessimistic about the future because it looked for all the world like publishers were cutting back and locking up opportunities for writers even more than usual. Today, the shoe’s on the other foot. I’m very optimistic and excited for the future, opportunities for writers seem almost boundless sometimes. Congrats on your books, best of luck to you. I think we’re heading for a time where all writers will essentially be self publishers, choosing what terms and platforms we want for their reach and promotional possibilities rather than production. Publishers should be pessimistic, their business model is in the process of total upheaval. Where writers are gaining power, control and opportunities in the shift, publishers are losing the same.

    Posted by Dan Meadows | January 25, 2012, 10:54 am

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