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Why I Decided to Be an Indie Author Instead of Pursuing Traditional Publishing | Sara Talks Writing, Business, and Creative Control

I really wouldn't change a thing about it, honestly.

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry, Discernment, Church, Solomonic Magic, Occult, Left Hand Path, Demonolatry, Demonology, Corinthians, Paul

When I was a student at Emerson, I thought to myself, with a healthy dose of naive student arrogance: why should I care about the metrics of self publishing? And why am I wasting an entire semester's worth of a class on book design when I'll never need to know that?

Fast forward a couple years out of Emerson, and boy oh boy, am I eating those words. Eating 'em like Dumbass-O's. I never, in all my life, expected that going the traditional route would be such a schlog, you see; I was told it would take three to six months of submission to find an agent, then another maybe six months to a year to secure a deal with a publisher, then some time spent editing and getting contracts together, and bang: you've got yourself a shiny book deal and a timeline that helps you focus on nothing else but the writing.

Then all that idealistic nonsense gave way to reality, and I realized that actually, you've got a better chance of getting into Harvard (with a 3.59% acceptance rate as of 2024) than get a literary agent (with a neat 2% acceptance rate, or a 1 in 500 chance). So all those literal dozens of queries I sent out for The Glass Witch over the span of months (not including the conferences and everything else) really resulted in... nothing. Well, save for a great bit of content for the back cover of The Glass Witch. I'd gotten great advice along the way, cutting my book from 132,000 words to a neat 107,000, learning how to gut and rewire a book like a fish, and figuring out how to maximize my back matter's potential for query letters and cover material alike, yeah—there's nothing I regret about one great, if expensive, New York conference/workshop I went to—but the whole process was pretty demoralizing.

Well over a hundred queries, and the best I had was an agent who strung me along for months, only to tell me she couldn't take on more work (as she then, a week later, signed another author). That agent, at least, was the one who encouraged me to start a Tiktok, so I owe her something in that respect, but otherwise, it was a wash. (And don't even get me started on the couple agents that tried to contact me a literal year after I'd already gone through the work of releasing the book myself.) Aside from that, there was one indie publisher who wanted to re-release The Glass Witch, but by then, I was square in the Indie Publishing Life, and the benefits were too good for me to pass up. Way too good.

Let me tell you what some of those benefits are.

Benefit 1: Creative Control of the Story and Art

This is hands down the biggest perk, even bigger than any talk of royalties or payment. As I was querying, there were a lot of mixed opinions from agents (some wanted more chapters of the main character's relationship with her mother, some wanted to lop off the first three chapters altogether, so on and so forth). It was confusing and frustrating to try and balance so many different opinions from people who were all industry professionals, and yet seemed to have very different directions they wanted to see my work go in for the marketability.

I'll tell you something: to hell with marketability. From the bottom of my heart, enough with all that noise. I will, of course, keep in mind some level of tags, tropes, and other such things, as well as keep in mind the conventions of my genre and the expected story arcs that people hope to see in books like mine—that was the boon of Emerson's indie content, figuring out how to actually nail the marketing specs of a book down—but I'm not compromising the actual heart and soul of my work for the sake of making it more palatable to whoever is (or was) putting things like Cait Corrain's Crown of Starlight on their Goodreads list.

(I saw Reads with Rachael's review of that ARC, okay? It made Del Rey take a serious hit in my eyes as a legitimate publisher. Jesus.)

And the art! The cover art! One thing about publishing houses is that while some may have fantastic cover designers (whoever designed Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver and Uprooted... I love you), other publishers, especially small ones, don't always have the best budget for cover design (or the best concepts to begin with). Being able to not only run contests and pick what I personally felt best fit the themes and motifs of the story, but also keep the story as true to my original vision as possible while also balancing the needs of the reader in terms of pacing, plot structure, expectations, etc., is the biggest reason that I am now #IndieForLife — because I'll be damned if I let commercialism ruin the stories that come directly from the depths of my heart.

(And I've gotten better at book design since doing it on my own! So much better! I paid for the cover of The Glass Witch, but after picking apart the .PSD the artist gave me and learning from it, I found Book 2 was easy to make a cover for myself. Cover to be announced soon!)

But seriously. Could I have published Where the Gods Left Off traditionally? I doubt it. Maybe Discovering Christian Witchcraft could've gotten picked up, but what changes would editors have forced us to make? I can't bear the thought—nor can I bear the thought of not getting to personally handle all the orders that come through my website. That's another bonus: actually getting to see the magnitude of preorders and get to pack every order for customers that have taken a chance and spent their money on my work, of all things. It's so special. ♥

Benefit 2: The Royalty Rate 100%, baby.

Sure, I don't have an advance that a publishing house could give. And of course, the marketing for my work is a nightmare (though what publishing houses don't tell you, of course, is how much marketing they want authors to do anyway, as well as how many costs the author needs to jus eat for things like book tours and the like). But what's not a nightmare is the knowledge that the money I make from books on my website specifically is Price of Book minus Print Cost of Book. That's it, baby. That's a 100% net profit for me, and God, do I love that. It means the lessened reach I get without a traditional publisher isn't that bad, especially since I have enough of a social platform that someone looking for a book like mine will be able to find it when I post about it. Having a social platform is virtually inevitable for authors these days, so being able to cut out that middle man with the publisher is just great.

On Amazon, I can put a book up on KDP and get royalty rates as high as 70%, which is insane compared to the pittance a lot of publishers offer (anywhere from 15 to 25%). It also makes it just as quick and easy for anyone to grab a digital or physical copy of my book, no matter where in the world they are. The amount of money Amazon takes for all that printing, warehousing, and distributing is nowhere near what publishers take, and so that option, too, is still better for me overall than a traditional publishing house. And the more books I write, the more opportunities for royalties there are.

And thanks to websites like IngramSpark, which give indie authors a slice of the retail pie, I can also list my books there and see them appear in stores, libraries, and more, just as much as any traditional publisher. In fact, imagine my surprise when I learned that not all traditionally published books actually make it into the bookstores in the first place! Sure, they have better connections, deals, and resources to get books in stores, but things like IngramSpark are also pretty good at getting books out there. I was shocked, shocked, to see Discovering Christian Witchcraft come up as a product on so many different bookstores (including Harvard Bookstore, of all places)!

Benefit 3: Publishing on My Timeline

Now, while I said to hell with marketability, I will say that the production pace of books is where I'm glad for some more commercial urgency. With traditional publishing, it can take a year after a book deal is signed before the book ever hits stores, sometimes even longer. And a lot can happen in between the time you get the deal and the time you see your publication date. (Though in fairness, most of what I see comes from authors going off the wall and torpedo-ing their own career before it even starts.)

With indie publishing, though, I can publish whenever I want. I'm on track, as an indie publisher, to get out two books a year, which is huge for an author of any kind. It's tight, sure, and it's where the bulk of my cutthroat capitalist skills have come from (because we no longer have time to fart around making a million drafts and revisions; we have to know what this story is doing and get it down and get it polished and get it out there), but it also means that in ten years time, if I keep this pace, I'll have twenty books published. And there's one quote I saw somewhere on the Amazon KDP forums that gave me more hope than anything I've read online about self publishing in the past two years:

The best marketing you can do is writing the next book.

That's a big deal because it means that even if my very first book, The Glass Witch, doesn't rocket off into the sun on some best seller nonsense, it's still a step. And the next two books after, Where the Gods Left Off and Discovering Christian Witchcraft, only grew in their attention and intrigue. In indie publishing, the success isn't a firecracker that goes off in a big and flashy explosion. It's a snowball, rolling down a hill, growing bigger and bigger until it becomes a snow boulder on a mission. Little by little, I'm getting there, and I have the schedule to make it work.

Speaking of that schedule, let me also let you in on my plans for the next year and a half in my publishing catalogue.

Sara's 2024-2025 Publishing Catalogue

To start, I'll say that I have three publishing categories: fiction, nonfiction, and academic/informational writing. Fiction is typically in the genres of fantasy/romance or sci-fi/horror, whereas nonfiction is anything about me and my experiences, and academic/informational are resources for others to use (like Discovering Christian Witchcraft). Even if there are some personal tidbits in that, you know it's meant to be less a story, more a tool for others interested in the subject matter.

With that said, here are our listings for 2024-2025:

The Glass Witch 2 (Cover and Title TBA)

First things first, right off the bat—it's been a year and a half since The Glass Witch came out. That means that there's nothing else I can be putting out in the fantasy category except its sequel!

I'm currently writing the first draft of this (after... scraping the other first draft) and I gotta say: I've become so much better at writing since I wrote the first book. So much. Like, now I'm so much better at trusting my instincts for what's working or not, and so much better at scrapping things that aren't working (even if I really like them). No mercy in me anymore. No "it' my baby" squabbling that lets stupid moments in that kill the story.

Just a writer doing her best to do her story justice.

If you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet, definitely do so, because I'll be releasing updates about the cover, title, and release dates as we get closer! Right now, I'm feeling this is probably going to be a Winter 2024 release.

Where the Gods Left Off 2 (Cover and Title TBA)

I'm currently sitting on 37 out of 50 interviews for a second volume of Where the Gods Left Off. To this day, I'm so surprised at the amount of love this book has gotten. While I was living the experience of doing all these close encounters of the Divine Kind™, and therefore didn't see it as anything crazy special (because I'd been used to it by that point), it seems to have really resonated with a lot of people, and I'm happy for that!

This volume, I can tell you now, will be a lot different in tone from the first. There's a lot of soul searching and "what am I doing?" in here as I go along, and yet somehow, I'm still getting more and more out of it. Every time I think that I may be done with this series soon, I find so much more to explore and learn from the world around me. While I can't say how many books this series will have, I can say that I'm not done anytime soon.

Given my timeline and progress, I'm pinning this as a Spring 2025 release.

A Cookbook for Kitchen Witches! (Cover and Title TBA)

You know, I do a lot of recipes on this blog (and on Patreon and Tiktok), and people have asked me again and again if I intend on making a cookbook. The answer, as you can imagine, is yes—and so that's filling my Informational slot for Winter 2025!

While I have no idea of title or cover art just yet, I will say that I want to make a cookbook that's actually usable as a cookbook. I've seen far too many witchy cookbooks with the most complicated and outlandish looking recipes, and honestly, there's just no need for that. So I'm looking to make a true guidebook for those everyday cooks: the busy people, the one-pot-stop fans, the ones not so comfortable with a million and two wacky techniques or ingredients but right at home among rough chopped carrots and onions and potatoes.

So keep an eye out, because you know that's going to be one hell of a resource!

Remember: you can always sign up for my newsletter here to stay on top of all I'm doing!

Christian Witch, Witchcraft, Mysticism, Magic, Crystals, Bible, Incense, Folklore, Sara Raztresen, God, Spirituality, Tarot, Occult, Evangelical, Demons, Sin, Danger, Possession, Idolatry

Sara Raztresen is a Slovene-American writer, screenwriter, and Christian witch. Her fantasy works draw heavily on the wisdom she gathers from her own personal and spiritual experience, and her s

piritual practice borrows much of the whimsy and wonder that modern society has relegated to fairy-and-folktale. Her goal is to help people regain their spiritual footing and discover

God through a new (yet old) lens of mysticism.

Follow Sara on Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, and explore her fiction writing here.

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