Friday, February 06, 2015

Writing: Hybrid Author Dan Walsh

I first met Dan Walsh at a meeting of the American Christian Fiction Writers. He's a former pastor, now writing full-time. He's had a great deal of success as a writer over the past decade, and recently made the jump from publication by a "traditional" publisher to independent ("indie") publishing. I've asked Dan to tell us a bit about the experience.

1) Why did you make the decision to switch from traditional publishing to being an indie? Since 2009, I've published a dozen novels under contracts mostly with Revell (Baker Books) and 1 book with Guideposts. Over the last year or two, I could see a massive change coming to the publishing world as readers, by the millions, began to buy more and more of their books online (rather than at brick-and-mortar bookstores). Not just e-books, but print books as well. I observed numerous Christian publishers going out of business, merging with other publishing houses, and/or dramatically downsizing their staff. The writing was on the wall. So, I began preparing for the eventuality that my publisher would not be able to re-sign me to the kind of contracts I'd been receiving for the past 5 years. This was confirmed last August. Thankfully, by that time I had just finished my first indie book, When Night Comes.

I had already studied what was necessary to publish the book on my own, so I jumped into this role through September and October, and was able to launch my new book on Nov 1st. It's done very well. Enough to give me the confidence to stay the course and continue writing fulltime, now as an indie, at least for the rest of 2015. My final 2 books with Revell will come out this year (April and Sept). I also plan to release a sequel to When Night Comes by the end of the year. In between, I hope to release the first 2 books of a new trilogy that will feature dogs as main characters (and people, too, of course). Book 1 is called Rescuing Finley. I also hope to release my first non-fiction book. I'm finishing up a 31-Day devotional called, Perfect Peace.

2) What are some of the pitfalls you didn't see coming? There weren't that many. Mainly because, I looked into this in some depth, so I was pretty prepared as to what I could expect. Maybe the only real setback for me was how much time it actually takes to accomplish all of the non-writing tasks involved in self-publishing. My life has gotten a lot busier than back in the days when my publisher's staff did all these things on my behalf. I don't mind the work, but I do have to allow more time for it.

3) Would you do it again? Guess I already answered this in Question 1, since I said I plan to release 3 or possibly even 4 new indie books this year. Having worked out most of the kinks and bugs with first project, it's given me the confidence to move forward on the others. I love all the creative control (covers, titles, content, etc.) Financially, while I'm not selling as many books as I did with my publisher (since indie books aren't being accepted into regular bookstores yet), I'm making over 3 times the amount per book sold. Based on the sales so far, I could be back up to where I was last year by the end of this year, or early in 2016 (God willing).

Thanks, Dan. With the increased popularity of independent publishing, I'm sure my readers will want to ask you some questions. 

Tweet with a single click: Author Dan Walsh tells why he has decided to "go indie." (To tweet, click here).


R Merr said...

Thanks for the article. It wasn't until last year I learned that the publishers on many occasions tell the author what kind of books they want written.Did you have that kind of restriction on your contracts? Most authors that traditionally published and then switch seem to do well. Do you think that will hold true for those who go right to being an indie?

Richard Mabry said...

I'm hoping that Dan will answer, but in the meantime let me chime in. When my current contracts are fulfilled, I'll have had ten novels published by traditional houses in the Christian market, and was never told what to write. But, and this is important, the serious writer (and agent) will know that certain publishers have certain standards, and will "shop" novels accordingly. And realize that you don't try to sell a work of fiction to an agent or publisher until it's finished.
As for what seems to lead to authors "going indie," most of the successful ones seem to start out with traditional publishers to get an audience, then eventually self-publish, mainly because of both time and economics involved.
Thanks for your comment, and we'll see if Dan responds as well.

Nancy Kimball said...

Great interview, Dan. I was tickled pink to see you here on Doc's blog. R, I know you were addressing Dan, and Richard is correct about the hybrid authors. In some respects it is easier to show strong sales with established readership carried over from traditional publication. But I am one of those who started Indie, and have done very, very well for my debut novel. As has Sally Bradley, among others. If your craft is good, you have a very solid novel (well edited, formatted, with a stellar cover) and you have some entrepreneur acumen, a debut Indie can earn as much on their Indie work as their hybrid buddies. But Indie publishing is more like the Old West than the Promised Land.

My decision to go Indie was brought on by exactly what you described. The agent I was working with advised she would not be able to shop my contemporary work to publishers if I were going to release my debut novel (historical in an "unpopular" time period) with a small press or as an Indie. I couldn't let the story/novel of my heart and soul that made me a writer languish on a hard drive while I wrote something more marketable/traditional friendly.

Richard Mabry said...

Nancy, thanks for sharing your own story. It's interesting that indie authors are always ready to share the stories of their successes. But there are failures as well, both in traditional and indie-publishing. You're right in pointing out that a well-written book is necessary for even the possibility of success.

And as I'll mention in this blog next Friday, some of the outcome depends on our motivation for writing. I'll quote Lawrence Block and Jim Bell in that one. Come back for "the rest of the story." Meanwhile, I appreciate your comment.

Nancy Kimball said...

Thanks, Doc. But out of curiosity, why do you find it interesting Indie authors are always ready to share the stories of our success? Isn't that expected? Like celebrating a contract, or additional printings for a trad author? Or is it interpreted as proselytizing for Indie? It's not meant in that spirit. By most Indies and hybrids I know, and certainly true for me. :)

Of course we have fails. Cover fails, and formatting glitches, and books being released that weren't made as strong as they could be. But what I love about the Indie community, especially the by invitation only CIA (Christian Indie Author) group on Facebook is that those things are fixable and there's always people ready to help the newbies and veterans alike. Overcoming an error that might seem like a "fail" is easier to accomplish as an Indie where you control everything. You can yank that book, get it recovered, get it fixed, adjust your price points, and move forward.

Richard Mabry said...

Nancy, didn't mean to be argumentative. If I were, I wouldn't have devoted so many prior writing blog posts to the new developments in publishing and the option to become "hybrid" or "indie."

I simply make two observations: As Randy Ingermanson and Jim Bell frequently point out and you emphasize, it still takes a good book to succeed. And you rarely see an author who self-published talk about how it didn't work out for them. If there aren't any such stories, I'm happy, but I'm betting there are. In the interest of "fair and balanced reporting," I'd be happy to hear them as well.

Again, thanks for your comments.

Dan Walsh said...

Sorry for not responding sooner. Checked in yesterday afternoon and all was quiet.

As far as being "told what to write," in a way I was. Not so much as, "We want you to write this book," but more like, "This kind of book."

For the most part, I get why. It's a business for them, more art for me. Most readers, if they like a book you've written want you to keep writing those same kinds of books. It's called branding. You wouldn't go to McD's to get Barbecue. You go there when you're in the mood for McD's.

The publishers figure, they're investing all this money in your "brand," and it takes time to build an audience. Much more time if they let you keep changing the kind of books you write to suit your creative flair. So they want you to keep writing one kind of book.

The problem, for the writer, can come in when you start writing 5,6...8, 9 books, or more. You might like to branch out, try something a little different. For example, there's a huge block of folks who like suspense books. Another who like romantic dramas. But there are also a big block of people who like to read both styles, maybe at different times.

I'm like that as a reader. I like to read 3-4 different kinds of books in the course of a year.

In indie publishing, you have that freedom. Now having said all that, I do believe writers who hope to build an audience of readers, as indies or traditional, HAVE to learn the craft well. If you're writing is not up to par in traditional publishing, they reject you. You may self-publish that book and no one can stop you, but it won't sell well.

But I've learned in the last year or two that there are a great number of indie authors whose writing is totally up to par, who for some business reason, were rejected by traditional publishers. Their books are doing great, and their audiences are growing (for all the right reasons).

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Dan. Excellent explanation.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post and I agree with Dan. There are many excellent indie authors out there (many are now on my Must-Buy-Everything-They-Write list). Often they are writing in a genre, location, or about subject matter that isn't trending with publishers. Often they are actually AHEAD of the trends, in my opinion. I hear so many Christian readers who are looking for books with more...more depth, more issues, etc., and many indies are addressing these issues. I'm really thankful for the openness of the indie community--by nature, we can be, because we see our royalty reports/sales every day. Yes, we do lament together when we have poor sales months or bad reviews, but the thing I've found is that we do it TOGETHER. It's more of a supportive atmosphere versus a competitive one. For me, I'm glad I had the indie experience first, but I know traditionally published authors who go indie like Dan and you, Richard, have an advantage because you are bringing your already-established readership with you. Basically, I'm beyond thankful that authors have these options to get their books into the world. :) Thanks for the interview!

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Heather. I haven't found the atmosphere among traditionally published authors to be competitive (well, not much), and I'm glad to know the same holds true with indie authors.
I appreciate your comment.

Dan Walsh said...

You are right, Heather, about indies writing books that aren't "trending" with publishers. I'm sympathetic toward both parties when those rejections occur. The pubs have been dealing with retail bookstores as their primary revenue source (going back generations now). They don't survive without those orders, or you could say it another way, without the "approval" of the bookstores.

So the bookstores have, in some ways, dictated what those trends are. Here's a silly illustration to show what I mean. One of the only edits in my first novel, The Unfinished Gift, was to change something a character (a little boy) said about Santa. I was told an entire bookstore chain wouldn't carry my book if I let the child have this view of Santa. To me, that's just nuts. But what choice did I have? So, I changed it.

This massive shift, from retail to online stores, has somewhat removed all these "artificial" boundaries. It's resulting in a surge of creative freedom for indie authors.

But it's also resulted in a massive surge of books being published, making it even harder in some ways for readers to find you. Instead of browsing through a few racks in a store, it's like a WalMart sized store filled with nothing but book choices.

My hunch is, down the river aways the rapids will smooth out, and things will make more sense. New patterns and new norms will be established.

Has to happen. We're sheep. Sheep like things simple.