Posted On August 12, 2016 by Print This Post

Not for the Faint of Heart: Making the Switch from Traditional to Indie Author by Leigh Duncan

RU followers are probably familiar with Leigh Duncan and her books with Harlequin American Romance. A visit to her website will give you a clue that there are changes afoot. Today, Leigh fills us in on all her news. Scroll down to the end of the post for details of her giveaway!

Not so long ago—last year, in fact—I was a traditionally published author who aspired to become a mid-lister…one day. I told myself that one day, when I wasn’t quite so busy writing, editing and promoting the eight books I’d published with Harlequin American Romance, I’d have the time to devote to longer, more complex stories my readers wanted. Though it hadn’t happened yet, I convinced myself that one day, the muse would gift me with what writers call a ‘gimme book,’ a story so perfect it would practically write itself. Since I wouldn’t have to sweat over every word in my gimme book, I’d have no trouble meeting my contractual deadline early. I’d use the downtime before I started writing the next book in my contract to haul out and polish the long novel that languished in my desk drawer…one day.

Except one day didn’t come.

I never did get that gimmie book. There was never any slack in my deadlines. Instead, the publishing landscape changed. The only line I’d ever written for closed, replaced by a brand new line of category romances that didn’t have a home for me. Or at least, not without a major revamping of the brand I’d worked for four-plus years to establish.

Finally, I had the time to work on that longer novel!

By then, though, self-publishing had burst onto the scene bringing with it promises of a new, easier, quicker way to bring stories to market. I found the concept of publishing the book-of-my-heart without having to appease an editor—or an editorial board—absolutely liberating. The ability to work one-on-one with a cover artist who would really and truly listen to my input made my little ol’ heart go pit-a-pat. Plus, friends who were quick to make the leap from traditional to indie-published soon reported that they were absolutely killing it, thanks largely to Amazon’s vastly more author-friendly royalty structure.

All that sounded fabulous. However, I knew there was a downside. Self-publishing meant no longer having access to my old publisher’s (or, for that matter, any publisher’s) mammoth distribution/promotion system. It meant coordinating all aspects of my book’s production—from initial concept through delivery of the finished product. To do it right, self-publishing required a considerable investment of my own money.

Decisions. Decisions.

getPart (2)


Though leaving NY was one of the toughest decisions I ever made, I took the indie plunge. Since October, I’ve self-published two novellas (A Reason to Remember and The Billionaire’s Convenient Secret) and a hefty women’s fiction novel (The Growing Season), which I serialized for a variety of reasons. With the release of my first suspenseful women’s fiction, Pattern of Deceit, next month, I’ll round out my first year as an indie-published author. And, in bringing these four books to market, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you today.

A Reason To Remember

Self-Publishing is not Free Publishing. Successfully bringing a book to market requires an investment of money, as well as time and effort. Unless you want reviewers to unfavorably compare your intricately woven masterpiece to a poorly written children’s book, you’ll need to assemble your own publishing team. At a minimum, your team will include a cover designer, editor, proofer and formatter. Hire the best people you can possibly afford. A minimum of two rounds of edits at $.01/word for each round might seem like a lot, but the polish a good editor will give your manuscript is priceless.

Not the Best Time to Switch to a New Genre. Established authors have already developed a track record. You’ve put time and effort into building a brand. Whether you have a following of twenty loyal fans or twenty-thousand, readers know and appreciate your work. Why, then, would you throw that all away when taking the indie plunge? You need to have a compelling reason for not continuing to give those readers what they expect from you when you dive into self-publishing because…

Discoverability is Tough. Two years ago, before so many authors dipped their toes into self-publishing, catching a reader’s eye might have been easier. Now, however, with so many writers—experienced and novice alike—entering the market, according to Nick Morgan in Forbes, “There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published.” Which makes catching the readers’ attention even more of a challenge than it ever has been. And, with social media sites constantly changing the ground rules, it’s getting tougher and tougher to promote a new release.

So, how do you make your book(s) stand out from the crowd? I believe the key to discoverability is in numbers. The more books in a series you produce, the more attention you’re apt to get. It may take three or five books before your efforts start to pay off. Be patient. Keep writing.

Success Doesn’t Come Overnight. It’s so tempting to dip your toe into self-publishing with a novella or short story. You tell yourself you’re learning the ropes but, in reality, you’re hoping to strike gold with the first swing of your pick ax. Yeah, forget about it. The truth is, indie success doesn’t happen overnight. Just like you didn’t build an overnight career with a traditional publisher, it takes time to build a career in indie. Ask Charlaine Harris or Kristen Painter. Both of them had ten-year track records as published authors before True Blood and Nocturne Falls earned them their Overnight Success badges.

Romance Writers of America (RWA) offers a self-publishing track at its annual conference and makes the tapes of these workshops available for purchase (see Most of the best selling authors at the 2014 and 2015 conferences said they didn’t achieve self-publishing success until they published their fifth or seventh book in a series.

My Best Advice. Self-publishing can be an expensive proposition with no guarantee that you’ll ever earn back your investment, much less earn a decent living from your writing. The challenges of discoverability can make you question your talent, your abilities. And, for a slower writer, like me, it can take years to develop a lengthy backlist that will attract new readers.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Only you can make your own decisions. As for me, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to write the next book. I’ll hire the most talented editors, proofers, cover designers and formatters I can possibly afford. And I’ll make it the best book I’ve ever written.


Reader or writer, how has the recent popularity in indie publishing effected you?  


Prize Drawing:

Barnes & Noble cover
One winner will be chosen at random from the comments to receive an autographed, print copy of The Growing Season (US shipping address only, please).

The Growing Season

Fresh Hope For Shattered Lives

Ann Maywood expects life to return to normal following her mother’s death. But Ann’s career is in shambles, her lover has moved on, and her mom’s illness has saddled her with monumental debt. Worse, her irresponsible sister barely made it home for the funeral, but now Cass’s grief spirals out of control, while their brother, Chuck, refuses to fulfill the dreams their mother sacrificed everything to achieve. In this emotional women’s fiction, relationships are tested, old dreams give way to new goals, lives are shattered and rebuilt as Ann tries to hold her family together without the person who always sheltered them.


Leigh Duncan 2012

Leigh Duncan lives on Central Florida’s East Coast where she writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance with a dash of Southern sass. Winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award and an Amazon best-selling author of Harlequin American Romance, she has also been nominated for the prestigious RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice and Booksellers’ Best Awards. Her eleventh book, Pattern of Deceit will be available this fall.

Twitter: @leighrduncan

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Publishing Career


46 Responses to “Not for the Faint of Heart: Making the Switch from Traditional to Indie Author by Leigh Duncan”

  1. Great insights, Leigh! It’s true. Self-publishing is definitely a lot of work, but the ability to control one’s own career is so worth it!

    Posted by Maria Geraci | August 12, 2016, 6:28 am
  2. Thanks for the shout out! And I’m glad to be a part of your journey!

    Posted by Kristen Painter | August 12, 2016, 8:00 am
  3. All very true! Creating a quality product is hard. I’m so thankful for my indie publishing team–we make my books look good. But I couldn’t do this without them. I still wistfully look at traditional publishing and wish it extended the same royalties, etc. that Amazon does.

    Posted by Kessie | August 12, 2016, 8:05 am
  4. Great insight. I think the trade off is well worth the cost. To have the freedom to write a book the way you intended without having to bend to the whim or will of a publisher, is worth all the work.

    And yes, having a strong team behind you is key for success in writing and everything else in life. Best of luck in this new journey. You will be great!

    Posted by Erica Alexander | August 12, 2016, 8:11 am
  5. A lot of good food for thought. Thanks for sharing, Leigh.

    Posted by S.K. Ryder | August 12, 2016, 8:13 am
  6. You are so right about how tough it is to self-publish… at least if it’s done right.

    It is so hard to be heard among the throngs of authors all yelling, “Buy my book!”

    Good luck. You’re an awesome writer and deserve all the success!

    Posted by Cynthia D'Alba | August 12, 2016, 8:45 am
  7. Leigh- I’m happy for you that you decided to take the plunge. I’ve found self-publishing to be a wonderful, scary, joyous ride. I think the points you made for being successful on spot on. Love your covers and already started your series…!!

    Posted by Judith Keim | August 12, 2016, 9:09 am
  8. Hi, Leigh. You are so right about the expense and discover-ability issues with indie publishing. But I love the freedom. Like you, I’ll just keep plodding along, because I like the writing.
    I have to say, making some good money would be great, too, though. 🙂

    Posted by Larissa Emerald | August 12, 2016, 10:10 am
  9. Larissa–no question about it, you have to love what you do. Otherwise, why bother?

    Posted by Leigh Duncan | August 12, 2016, 10:23 am
  10. Great to see you out from under the “we don’t do that” attitude. It’s given you the freedom to write your own books in your own style. Congrats and keep up the great writing!
    Despite the expense, you know I’m self-publishing as of the October. I’m excited and scared but diving off that cliff!

    Posted by Marian Griffin | August 12, 2016, 10:41 am
  11. Leigh, such an interesting article. Thanks for sharing your journey. Today’s changing market makes these decisions so much harder than they used to be! I’m going to order one of your books because I think I’d like that southern sass!

    Posted by Sherry Howard | August 12, 2016, 11:13 am
    • I’ll let you in on a little secret, Sherry. If you subscribe to my newsletter (there are subscription buttons on my Facebook page at LeighDuncanBooks and on my website), you can download a free copy of A REASON TO REMEMBER. 🙂 Happy Reading!

      Posted by Leigh Duncan | August 12, 2016, 4:49 pm
  12. One of the things I find most interesting about successful authors moving to self-publishing is that it has expanded the opportunities for readers. Instead of authors only writing in one genre, or for one particular publishing line, authors have the freedom to spread their wings and experiment with different genres and/or with story ideas that might not fit the standard mold. Plus, it’s fun that so many authors have regained the rights to books that have long been out of print – makes it so much easier when readers want to read everything their favorite authors have written!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 12, 2016, 11:49 am
  13. All that, and I forgot to thank you for this great post, Leigh!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 12, 2016, 11:50 am
  14. Great post! Glad to see you’ve taken the plunge. I took one of your workshops at NECRWA and it helped me so much. Good luck with your new books.

    Posted by Laurie Evans | August 12, 2016, 12:24 pm
  15. Great post. Full of wisdom.


    Posted by Rachel Hauck | August 12, 2016, 12:43 pm
  16. I totally agree. I have self published two novels. Having strong editors who will be highly critical is essential and proofreader of A+ category. I have to add that I have research many editors over the past year and their cost have increased enormously. For me it is a difficult decision whether to continue publishing. However, the characters in my head are hounding me. God Bless them.

    Posted by Sarina Rose | August 12, 2016, 1:35 pm
  17. Your post came at the right time for me, Leigh. As I dip my toes in self-publishing, I’m experiencing not only the scary prospect of the financial investment but also questioning my talent. It’s not easy following my own path, even though I know that’s what has to be done, and not taking the siren song of others’ success stories too seriously other than to be happy for them. Your post was a reminder to stay the course.


    Posted by Barbara Barrett | August 12, 2016, 2:25 pm
  18. You made a very good point about “overnight” self-publishing successes. I was already a fan of Charlaine Harris’ Shakespeare series when she hit mega-stardom with TRUE BLOOD. I still really like her first series, even though it’s never found the popularity of her paranormals.

    I know some multi-published authors with lots of books out there who are still struggling to break into self-publishing. It sounds like time, perseverance and a good editor are important factors.

    I’m so glad your new ventures are working out for you!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 12, 2016, 4:44 pm
  19. Leigh, this was an excellent blog. A bracing reality check. We writers must be made of tough-stuff in order to persevere. I’ll be sure to check out your novels and wish you the best of luck. God bless.

    Posted by Cheryl | August 12, 2016, 5:01 pm
    • Thanks, Cheryl! There’s nothing easy about writing for a living, never has been, probably never will be. (BTW, sign up for my newsletter either on my website or FB page — LeighDuncanBooks — and you can download a free copy of A REASON TO REMEMBER.)

      Posted by Leigh Duncan | August 12, 2016, 5:07 pm
  20. Great article, Leigh! I loved it. 🙂
    I’m making my way through the Indie landscape myself. I have good days and not so good days. Pretty much like every day as a writer. 🙂 In this article, after every paragraph and point you wrote, I wanted to write, “TRUTH!” 🙂

    Posted by Fiona Roarke | August 12, 2016, 6:42 pm
  21. Wonderful post, Leigh! You are brave, but you also have the talent and gumption to see this journey through. Best of luck to you!

    Posted by JoMarie DeGioia | August 12, 2016, 7:28 pm
  22. Thank you all for joining us today! Since comments are still coming in, we’ll do the drawing for Leigh’s giveaway tomorrow. Check back tomorrow evening for the announcement of the winner. Enjoy your weekend!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 12, 2016, 10:58 pm
  23. You made many great points, Leigh. It’s a lot of time, work and often a tough road. But having total control of your books… priceless. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Naomi Bellina | August 13, 2016, 8:12 am
  24. Leigh, your blog is heartening. I’m at that point – midway through a self-published series – hoping for a breakthrough. It can be tough to keep going when you haven’t found your audience yet. I’m still writing and hoping. Thanks for your positive take.

    Posted by Lucy Lakestone | August 13, 2016, 10:05 pm
  25. Thanks to for selecting the winner of Leigh’s giveaway – congratulations, KESSIE!

    Please email me your mailing address – my email is I’ll pass it on to Leigh.

    Thanks to everyone for joining us!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 13, 2016, 11:06 pm
  26. What an excellent and honest post! I’ve been an indie author for a few years now, but have only recently given up my day job to write full time. My sales aren’t quite up to a level where they’d pay all my bills, but I am so happy to be able to concentrate on my true passion at last.

    I wanted to also let you know about Alliance of Indent Authors (ALLi), a not-for-profit organisation which supports indie authors through a members’ only Facebook group and a self-publishing advice blog, as well as a several free publications. They have a list of service providers, such as editors, cover designs etc. who adhere to ALLi code of conduct. I would not have been able to do what I’m doing without the support from ALLi. I am now also part of their editorial team! Find out more here.

    Posted by Helena Halme | August 28, 2016, 4:25 am


  1. […] Not for the Faint of Heart: Making the Switch from Traditional to Indie Author […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Feb 23, 2018 No More Fat Shaming! with Kris Bock





Follow Us