Independent Writing

When I explain to people I published The Knight and the Serpent independently, that I did not peddle my manuscript to a single agent or publisher, they often become suspicious of the book’s quality. Despite having a rapidly growing market with an extensive library of well-composed works, I will admit the stigma attached to the independent literature industry is fairly earned. Many independent books are fringe topics and/or are poorly researched, poorly written, and minimally edited. In a market where thousands of books are published every month, and a publishing house has to sell about 10,000 copies of an average book to break even, the average independent author is likely to sell one hundred or less copies. By and large, independent writers themselves do not turn a profit. While part of this dismally poor showing often is due to a small topic audience or lack of effective marketing, oft-times an independent book fails simply because it is a miserable bit of writing that no sane agent or publisher would touch.

That is only half of the story. Today’s literary industry is in disarray, leaving many good authors with no choice but to go the route of independent writing if they ever want their work to see the light of day. Literary agents, the self-proclaimed conduit to success for a writer and the experts who supposedly separate the wheat from the chaff, are completely unregulated, overly abundant, and often incompetent. There are far too many cases where agents have rejected award-winning, best-selling work, while at the same time accepting poorly written trash. In today’s market, the sheer volume of books being written continues to dilute the market, forcing publishing houses to focus on a few block-buster manuscripts rather than accepting good, but less marketable work. Rapidly changing technology, the introduction of new ways to reach potential readers, print-on-demand services, and the rise of electronic books is wrestling away significant market share from the big publishing houses, stunting growth, and stealing profits. The existing turmoil in a once aloof industry puts off many ordinary citizen writers… writers like myself who are not necessarily in it for the money.

Writers are supposed to follow scads of rules and guidelines on the road to successful publishing. Some rules, such as ‘Don’t quit your day job’, ‘know your audience’, and adhering to the Chicago Manual of Style are quite sensible. Some, such as submission page format requirements and other agent idiosyncrasies, get a bit pedantic. Since I already have to lots of rules in my day job, I found I really was not interested learning and following lots of industry guidelines in my writing… especially when it came to pursuing an agent and a publishing house. In writing The Knight and the Serpent, I wanted to write a story I would want to read without getting caught up in all the rigmarole that is the literary industry. Besides, I am not sure I have the time to rise to the level of commitment an agent or publisher would demand of me.

While The Knight and the Serpent is popularly categorized as fantasy, it is really historical fiction/adventure interwoven with a Christian morality play. Stylistically I wanted the story to have the same flavor as late Victorian era young men’s adventures, such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. This means my target audience, born between 1870 and 1940, are for the most part dead and gone.  I am not sure it is a profitable genre and target audience, but the story is the way I want it, and that is important to me. It does appear as though I do have some fans, as The Knight and the Serpent Kindle Edition has been downloaded over eight hundred times in less than six months, and most of the reviews have been generously positive.

Hopefully this gives my readers some insight as to why I chose to independently publish The Knight and the Serpent instead of peddling it to an agent or publisher.

Good Reading, John

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