Being a rockstar: why you want to start an indie publishing house

I’m a publisher twice over. I run a tiny college press half-time, working 20 hours a week, and I’ve just started a tinier press of my own. I fill the other twenty hours with freelance work, teaching in a college publishing program, and running Diabolic Muse, my upstart startup press. Growing both presses is fun, but I’d be languishing if one of them weren’t all mine.

Who knows how well it’ll do, but who cares if it doesn’t soar to quite the heights I’m dreaming of. I’ve only sunk two thousand dollars into this incipient empire (which yielded a first season of five ebooks and a cool website I can update without needing to know HTML), and I’ve got other dreams—probably other houses—to create.

Two grand can be divided into five hundred bucks each among four of you, with only one forth of the work to do.  (Wish I’d had a smaller ego and shared the glory and the expense.)

Important qualifications for doing this:

1) Do it part-time, not full time.

2) Get some formal publishing training first.

3) Work in house at the same time you run your own house.

Here’s why you might want to do this in addition to working for another house full or part time:

1)     With ownership comes passive income (“passive” sounds weak and lame, but read on).

We, the few who shepherd and create the book culture, have a right to more than just what lawyers and book store clerks alike settle for: an hourly wage or salary, however high. They’re earners. They don’t make money; they work for it. If the lawyer can’t work, they don’t get paid (except from their benefits package). Their money is earned actively, and is called active income.

Conversely, if just one of the books I publish “goes viral” and is downloaded thousands of times, gold passively enters my company’s coffers. I could be in coma; the gold keeps coming in. I stopped earning when I finished work on the book and put it up for sale. Work done. Income just starting, and maybe never stopping.

You all deserve passive income. It just tastes better than earned income.

2)     You’ll own a kind of cultural, intangible mass of real estate. You’ll walk around feeling like—and being—no mere editor or even publisher, but something more like a feudal lord. You hold and own a fief of sorts, an online fief that gets richer and more captivating as beautiful, challenging writers come to live there and publish their books with you. Everything that happens in this realm gets associated with you.

3)     There are amazing, unique books that simply won’t come into the world without you to notice them as worthy manuscripts that others will pass over either because they’re blind to the value or because they don’t how to edit them to bring out the gold inside. No one is going to open a house like yours that will offer the same books to the world that yours will.

Remember, publishing is a much stronger creative outlet than just writing, editing, singing, or painting. The indie publisher’s creative power is the power to unleash—authors, editors, everyone, with unpredictable results. The house starts out as an extension of the publisher but soon becomes a real-life chimera, a mix of the drives of all the creative people you have, and ever will have.

4)      An indie house creates an extended family of thrill seekers/adventurers that you take into the cultural wilderness. It’s a serious rush being out there with them taking creative risks every day.