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some thoughts about indie vs traditional publishing (2021)

3 min read

I was just having a day with my son, and we went to a bookstore to buy some new books. He loves Calvin and Hobbes, so we were at the comics session looking for a new collection for him and I found this graphic novel called The Joe Shuster Story, by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi. What first grabbed my attention was the peculiar drawing style of Thomas Campi, I loved his art, found it so beautiful. Then the back cover said it was the story of the creators of Superman. I loved it, even more, it’s a biographical graphic novel about graphic novel creators. How cool is that?

I read it in one sit and when I closed the book, I was even surer of something I’ve been certain of for a long time: I don’t want to publish my books traditionally.

I know many writers who want to become authors published by big houses. I’ve been there before. It’s still dreamy to think about that, and I might change my mind in the future. But if you ask me today, I’ll say, without blinking, that I want to stay away from big publishers, agents, and all that stuff. I wanna go “indie”.

Indie publishing means you’re in control of everything about your book. You can publish it right now if you want and if it’s complete. Actually, you can publish it exactly as it is. And you’ll retain all rights to the work you’ve done. Also, you’re the sole responsible for both your success and failure, if that happens to be the unfortunate case.

Let’s go back to the graphic novel for a minute. The story is this: young Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel created Superman when they were in high school in Cleveland, Ohio. Shuster was the illustrator and Siegel was the writer. In 1939, they signed with a big corporation to publish Superman stories, but they were young and they didn’t care much about the clause in the contract that said that National Allied Publications would own the character, the stories, and any copyright related to Superman. Superman became the success we all know today, and they didn’t see a single penny of all that success. There’s a series of lawsuits that seems to be still ongoing, now with their heirs and the whole story is a big mess.

A similar situation happened with Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2007, she assigned the copyrights of the book to her agent Samuel Pinkus. According to her lawsuit against Pinkus, she was “duped” by him into signing over the copyrights of the book.

There are many other stories involving copyrights and even about publishers deciding they don’t want to publish the book anymore but still want to hold its rights. But I don’t want to comment on all of them nor decide who was write and who was wrong about it.

My point here is not to convince you to go indie, nor say that everyone will be screwed by agents and big publishers. I was just thinking about these stories and Shuster’s and Siegle’s story too. And yea, think about this: it’s so f— hard to write a book, you know that. And when you complete the work you dedicated hours of your life to, you want to see it published, standing on a shelf of a bookstore. But you don’t want to waste your time with anything else. From lawsuits to beating yourself up for not reading contracts better.

But I want to hear the other side, and happy-ending stories about traditional publishing. So what do you think about it and what good stories about traditional publishing do you know?

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