I realize that I am an odd duck in many ways. I am not driven by any kind of bottom line. As an author, I do not want to sell a million books. I want to sell just one book — or better yet, give it away. If the gospel message that I have packaged in those pages brings even one soul to Christ, then I have fulfilled my life’s purpose and that is what motivates me every time I type. It is a struggle, I think, for anyone who takes on the mantle of “Christian artist” to never measure success by the world’s yardstick but rather by the world’s RULER. I struggle with that but so far with God’s help, I have been victorious. So, while it may seem odd, writing and publishing is my vocation, and my mission, and not my secular occupation. For me, it is a calling.
We aren’t too far away from the days when self-publishing, or publishing through small “novelty press” also often referred to in a derogatory way as a “vanity press,” had an incredibly negative stigma in the publishing industry. Despite the strides made otherwise, it still carries a lot of negative connotations with it, as if this were 1985 and someone self publishing would have to shell out thousands of dollars in order to hold a physical copy of their book in their own hands.
Up until about eighteen months ago, the only self published books I’d ever read were absolutely dreadful. They were poorly edited, poorly formatted, the covers were plain and unattractive, and the stories were badly told. My thought upon reading them was, “Well, no wonder this person can’t get published.”
However, times are rapidly changing.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer (22 Feb 1788 – 21 Sep 1860)
I’ve heard the publishing industry described as “the Wild West” right now, and no one really knows what the full outcome is going to end up being. So many media outlets claim that the publishing industry is “in turmoil” and they point to hundreds of brick-and-mortar bookstores across North America closing their doors and mergers of hundreds of traditional publishing houses transforming into a few large multinational corporations.
It really isn’t in turmoil or vanishing. Rather the publishing industry is presently in the throes of revolution. Recently, we have witnessed the availability of internet news outlets with RSS feeds and E-mail revolutionize the large scale consumption of daily printed newspapers. We have witnessed MP3 players revolutionize the music industry in recent years making terms like “broken record” as anachronistic as “ticker tape parade.” It is not a new phenomenon. Recall that the printing press itself once revolutionized the way all modern human beings transcribe and consume information.
In just the last four years, there has been a massive shift in the way book buying and selling works. Last year, for the first time in human history, the world’s largest bookseller (Amazon) sold more eBooks than traditionally printed paper books — and by a very wide margin.
Traditional publishers and professional organizations — and this includes mainstream Christian publishers and Christian artist and author professional organizations — have by and large been very reluctant to even recognize the emerging paradigm, much less embrace it. Sadly, many have ridiculed or violently opposed it instead. Historically, this has never proven fruitful for the cause of the gospel message. I refer to the ridicule and violent opposition Martin Luther endured in his mission to bring the Bible itself to the public in a language the public could actually consume.
In this emerging paradigm, in the midst of this revolution, I was led to independent (or “Indie”) publishing. I found it a perfect match for my writing career for a number of reasons:
(1) Mainstream Christian publishers, for the most part, tend to want “safe” stories, and their readers tend to want “safe” reads. Fair enough. Some standards among a very large Christian romance publisher are: stories may not include alcohol consumption, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, Halloween celebrations or magic. Lying is also problematic, physical interactions (i.e., kissing, hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality, avoid any mention of nudity, etc.
(2) I write Christian romances and Christian suspense. However, unlike much of the mainstream Christian Fiction, I write realistic characters (all of them, not just a select few characters), with flaws, with sins in their past, with a sinful nature of tempted flesh in their daily walk, and with a desperate need for grace and redemption in their present. The settings are contemporary. The struggles they face and the problems they encounter are big and serious, hardly ever “safe.” I prayerfully strive to use scripture and prayer appropriately.
NOTE: One major Christian publisher wrote me and told me that she personally LOVED my book, Sapphire Ice, but she couldn’t publish it because her customers would find it too risqué for their tastes because of one scene. My research indicated that would almost certainly be the case with any Christian publisher.
(3) I am a prolific writer. Between March 2012 and June 2013, I released five complete novels, two different box sets, an anthology, and a cookbook. I would have no patience for a publisher and the time it takes to follow the road of traditional publication. I would lose patience with waiting months and months between releases.
(4) I get to make all the decisions about titles (ugh, my last title took me MONTHS of candidates before the final decision), cover art, branding, marketing, and deadlines. I don’t need to have any of these things approved or revised or dictated by any third party individuals or committees. In the end, the decision and the responsibility is mine.
(5) I realize that, just as missionaries and evangelists throughout history have done, I operate under a stigma in this field. So many reviews I get, from readers and NOT professionals within the industry, praise the editing and formatting of my books. That tells me that the vast majority of ebooks, whether independently published, small press, or large press, are simply not well formatted, and I know many indie published books aren’t well edited.
I have the benefit of a husband who supports my writing in every single facet of it. He founded Olivia Kimbrell Press and I know that the mission of that press will grow to include more voices who share my writing mission. My husband and I are one. We pray together before embarking on any project. He edits my work, and is as skilled as any professional editor. He formats my work and has learned everything he can about formatting eBooks AND print books. The end result is a book that is published and distributed by an indie press of such high professional quality that it meets or exceeds the caliber of anything a traditional publisher can produce.
Indie publishing completely suited me. But, I had a massive mountain to climb with it, too. I had to learn the publishing industry. I had to discover what publications to read, how to glean information from them, and what to take away from them. It wasn’t easy because it was all brand new to me.
I had to develop a fan base — and that took almost a full year. I published my first book in March 2012, and February 2013 all (at the time) four of my books made it into Amazon’s Top 100 for Christian Romances for the first time. That took a tremendous amount of social media and networking work on my behalf, because I didn’t publish through a publisher who already had a large customer base.
Along the way I had to actually battle just to gain acceptance and credibility in my chosen mission field. Until just a few weeks ago, even the American Christian Fiction Writers considered self publishing a short-cut to “actual” publishing. They have (wonderfully so) recently changed that wording on their website.
The writing and publishing were the easy part. Suddenly, my life was consumed with marketing and networking, and my writing time was slashed in half. That is simply the life of an indie published author. But today, now that I have a good base built, I am able to pull back from it slightly and focus on writing again, letting the writing time outweigh the marketing time.
It has been a tremendous path, and one that I would gladly take again. And, honestly, after delving deeply into the publishing world, reading all that I can about publishing news and industry information, I would not choose to publish traditionally, especially now that I have a choice.