When Traditionally Published Authors Make the Leap to Indie Publishing

CarolI’d like you all to meet my friend and mentor, Carol Gorman. She’s the author of more than 40 books for young readers. Dork in Disguise, originally published by HarperCollins, was nominated for 10 state children’s choice awards and was the winner in 5 of those states. Her books have sold to various book fairs and audiobook companies in the U.S. and to publishers in England, France, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

I first met Carol when I moved from Minnesota to Iowa in 1994. She was what I wanted to be: a published author! I’d published a few magazine stories at that point, but nothing else. I could hardly believe that such an accomplished author would be interested in me. But that’s Carol!

She taught me about Three Act Structure, how to audition for and work with book packagers (which started me on my own career), what to look for in an agent, what to look for in a contract, how to put together a good school visit presentation. Much of what I know about writing and publishing, I can trace back to some conversation I had with Carol.

And now she’s set up shop as an indie publisher. I’m so impressed by all she’s learned and accomplished. So here’s a peak at what it’s like for a successful, traditionally published author to make the leap to indie publishing.

You’ve published many books with traditional publishers. What got you interested in indie publishing?

The experience with my 40 traditionally published books was very stressful for me. I’d hope and pray that an editor would like my manuscript, that I’d get a great cover, that the book would come out when it could get noticed, and that it would stay in print for a long time. So the idea of actually getting some control over these things was very appealing. I could choose and hire my editor, approve the cover art, design or approve the interior, publish the book when it would work in my life, manage my own book launch, and maybe best of all, make sure the book is available as long as I’m alive and interested!

Was it hard to learn how to do this?

Yes. I’m still a novice; I have so much more to learn! Business and sales are not in my natural skill sets. But I hooked up with online and onsite courses in Lincoln City, Oregon taught by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. They taught me the basics and are still teaching me, as I am ready to learn more.

What was the hardest part?

It would have been designing my cover. But I’m realistic and know that I don’t have the talent for that. I’ve seen so many covers that, frankly, look self-published: the 6 x 9-inch cover using a generic photo, no author or book blurbs on the front, amateurish copy, etc. So I’m using a smaller trim size, which is more expensive—printing costs are determined by number of pages—but looks more professional, I think. And I’m hiring artists for the cover illustration and book designs. Claudia McGehee designed the logo for my publishing company, Skylark Lane Press, and I love it. I’m also absolutely thrilled with the illustrations and designs from artist Candace Camling for my Dork novels. She’s interested in doing a lot more of my books, and I’m so happy about that!

Carol's logo

dork cover

I took an online course on interior book design with Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira which was the best course of any kind I’ve ever taken. I learned enough about InDesign that I can do my book interiors. I know that Joel Friedlander has very reasonably priced print and ebook design templates that many writers use and like. But I didn’t want to be limited to his designs.

What was the easiest?

I don’t think any part of this is easy. But I love it so far! It’s hard work and frustrating, but it’s so gratifying when the book is ready and It looks very good, and I feel confident about the story.

Were there any surprises along the way?

I can’t think of any. I knew I’d have a steep learning curve—or mountain—to climb. I think many people learn these things more easily than I do. People with business acumen, people who have design talent, people who are good at detail work, these people will grasp the minutiae more easily than I have.

Do you think you’ll return to traditional publishing?

No. I don’t want to go back to feeling so helpless. I’ve decided that I’d rather earn less money but have control over the publishing process. I do think, though, that if I learn how to do this right, I should be able to earn a very good living. I’ve started very slowly because of the strain of my husband’s 14-year battle with bone cancer and the grief of losing my sister to breast cancer last summer. It’s hard to focus and learn new things when these crucial life events take over. But over time, I’ll get more books out, I’ll know the steps to take, and I expect the process to become smoother.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for other traditionally published authors who might be considering indie publishing?

Yes. I recommend that you start your own publishing company so that the company name is listed on the copyright page. You want to be an indie publisher, not a “self-published writer.” If you have your own publishing company, it demonstrates that you’re take your writing and your business seriously. You’re going to write and put out a lot of books, not just one or two. (That said, I have to admit that Skylark Lane Press doesn’t yet have a website. That’s the next thing to tackle.) The publisher website can be a part of your website or a separate entity.

Also, take classes from Dean, Kris, and Allyson, and learn everything you can. They hold an on-site 8-day workshop once a year for experienced writers who want to become publishers of their own work. The workshops are tremendously helpful and inspiring. Dean and Kris have written best-selling novels. They’ve had a wealth of experience writing, publishing, and in distribution and promotion, and they like sharing what they’ve learned.

Thanks, Carol, for answering my questions. Please visit Carol’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series and many other books for middle grade readers. For more information visit her website or look for her on Facebook or Twitter.



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Dori Butler
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author of more than 50 books for young readers, including the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series, and the King & Kayla series. Her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won a 2011 Edgar Award and her books have appeared on numerous children’s choice and teen award lists. Dori grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area. She enjoys visiting schools and libraries all over the country and dreams of doing an author visit in all 50 states.
1 Comment
  1. This is such a great interview. I, too, am an indie publisher, and your insights are very helpful. I inherited my Dad’s publishing company and am working to move it forward, happy that all our books have life as long as I’m around to keep putting them out there in front of new readers.