Indie Publishing After a Traditional Career

NaNoWriMo brought things at Smiling Tree to a screeching halt! However, November is almost over and we should return to the regular, two posts per week schedule soon.

Today I’d like to welcome Jennifer Lawler. Jennifer is an accomplished writer and has published both fiction and nonfiction, used various pen names, written under her own name, gone the traditional route, and self-published. In this post, she shares her reasons for choosing to self-publish after a successful, traditional career.

I have to say that traditional book publishing has treated me perfectly well. I’m the author or coauthor of more than twenty-five

Jennifer Lawler

Jennifer Lawler

nonfiction books published the traditional way, with a publisher, an advance, bookstore distribution, even publicity provided by the publisher. I’ve worked for book publishers like PRC Book Printing as a book development editor and as an acquisitions editor, and I also worked for a stint as a literary agent.

So why did I decide to go the indie route for the second edition of Dojo Wisdom for Writers, a book that was pretty successful the first time out (it was originally published in 2004)?

First and most important, the book was out of print and the rights had reverted to me. That meant it wasn’t available for purchase (except on the used book market, and I didn’t earn anything from resale). I felt like the book still had relevance (particularly if I updated it, which I planned to do) and I wanted to bring it back into the world.

But I knew that the world of publishing had changed a lot in the nearly ten years since the book originally came out. The editor who’d originally published Dojo Wisdom for Writers was long gone, as was the editorial director, so it wasn’t like I could just drop someone a line and see if they had any interest in a revised and updated version of the book. My agent had just retired, so that shortcut was out, too.

I briefly thought about querying agents but I’ve been focused on my career as a novelist and an essayist, so if I got an agent, it

Dojo Wisdom for Writers

Dojo Wisdom for Writers

would be someone who could help me with that. For a one-off, I wouldn’t get many agents interested in representing me. A second edition is a hard sell to traditional publishers because most review outlets don’t review second editions and publishers worry that the sales potential has already been exhausted. But I’d be happy with sales of a few thousand-even a few hundred!-copies of the book. A traditional book publisher would consider that a failure.

I also knew that I wanted to explore indie publishing for a collection of my essays, Travels with Jessica. My essays are popular with a core of readers, but the gatekeepers of traditional publishing have responded to them with a collective shrug. So I knew indie publishing was where my publishing future most likely lay.

I didn’t want to experiment with that collection, though; I wanted to know what I was doing so that the details of publication didn’t get in the way of writing and promoting the book. So, I used Dojo Wisdom for Writers as a trial run. I bought ISBNs, I figured out how to format the files for CreateSpace, I dealt with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program.

So far, so good. The second edition of Dojo Wisdom for Writers came out in August. I’ve figured out what to do, I’ve earned royalties, and I have Travels with Jessica set to release in early December. I’m glad I was able to figure out the learning curve with Dojo Wisdom for Writers. Although I spent some time updating and revising the material, I was able to shift most of my attention to the process of

learning indie publishing, making it easier than it might otherwise have been.


Jennifer Lawler is the author or coauthor of more than twenty-five nonfiction books. She writes romance under a variety of pen names. Find out more at

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