20 comments on “Overcoming Stigma: Indie Publishing’s Biggest Mistakes, Part I – The War on Traditional Publishing

  1. You are so my favorite blogger for real. You aren’t afraid to take on these big topics and I love it! As a reader I find the majority of indie authors annoying to be perfectly honest. They are the worst kind of pushy salespeople imaginable in many cases. While I used to follow many of them on Twitter I’ve slowly unfollowed them all, I couldn’t stand the noise. As a whole I find most indie authors arrogant, self-centered, and pushy.
    I can’t imagine not having physical books from the library for my daughter and I. We’re not among the poorest but I certainly can’t afford to buy enough books for us to read. We go through them like they’re chocolate!

  2. See, I do find indie authors to be delightful, friendly, engaging, enthusiastic people when I talk with them. I like talking about writing and ideas and feminism or whatnot. Unfortunately, like you said, the noise is just too high! I have unfollowed people I’m fond of because they self-promoted too much.
    I really do think the problem is that writers should not be responsible for their own marketing, because then conversations do start feeling pushy. How do you honestly engage with people AND convince them to buy your book? In my opinion, you can’t. For me, the most effective indie marketing campaign would be an author who is interesting and engaging and who talks with people about writing, but never their own works. I can look on their profile and see the links myself if I’m interested — which I will be, if I’m not feeling pushed!

  3. So far my favorite authors by far are the unpublished ones I know lol. I’m sure there are great indie authors out there but they’re hard to find on the social media platforms I frequent.
    Sadly I too have unfollowed people I really enjoyed because of self-marketing.
    My philosophy is be an interesting and intelligent person and I will decide for myself to go buy your book.

  4. Great post Lora! While I did go with a small press for my books, I don’t think it’s either/or for the traditional vs. Indie. I love the deal John Locke made to get his books distributed by a legacy publisher. I hope to do that eventually. One of the first things I did when my books came out was contact the local libraries to offer donations. I want to support libraries and book stores. I want books to be available to those who can’t afford an eReader or internet.
    I’m not sure what the answer is. I made my choice for my reasons, and yes, I do believe that the royalties payment for eBooks has to change in traditional publishing. I liked that Amanda Hocking got herself to a place where she could negotiate a great contract for the Trylle Trilogy with a legacy pub. I think there’s room for everything.
    I’m hoping to see more mergers of indie and traditional. More unique contracts where books can get into bookstores and libraries, but authors are given a fair contract for their eBooks and royalties. I think the time is coming and I look forward to it!
    Thanks for this (as always) thought-provoking post! xo

  5. I just have to say, after re-reading this, that you do paint all indies alike, when I know a lot of indies and I don’t know any who celebrate bookstores closing or who don’t think of the readers. We are trying to get our books in bookstores and libraries, not get them to close. Traditional publishers charge 10x more for their books, and treat authors like crap most of the time. Authors are getting robbed blind, lied to and manipulated by traditional publishers.
    It’s not that the traditional publishers have to die, we just want them to treat us with fairness and respect in business dealings.
    And we do think of the readers, while at the same time trying to protect our careers. I think most indies think of the readers way more than traditional publishers do. They aren’t in the business so that lower income kids can get access to free library books. They’re in the business to sell eBooks at $14.99. It’s unfair and untrue to categorize all indies this way. I’m sorry if you’ve had experiences like this, but I haven’t seen this to be true in my circles.
    As I said before, it’s not either/or. We’re all just trying to make the best choices given the options available to us. You might check out http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ He’s an atty who writes an awesome blog about publishing and all that. He often talks about some seriously scary contracts he sees in the traditional publishing.

  6. Yeah, I erred on the side of brush-painting because I didn’t want to pull back and qualify every sentence with “not all indie authors do this, of course” etc. etc. I’m more focusing on the overall sense of the business when you pull away from authors — who are individually wonderful people — and take a step back at the big picture. The big picture, if you’re just looking at blogs and articles and small-press or POD literature, does generally laud the death of the traditional machine.
    You’re ABSOLUTELY right about traditional pricing and author unfairness, though, but that’s another debate that I don’t have the business sense to address in this series. Ideally I’d love to see traditional press take the respect of authors that indie does, while maintaining its reach and everything else to readers.
    Basically, I do want indie to become so widespread that it can reach kids in libraries — but I don’t think that going all-digital is the answer. Authors like you who also publish in paperback are a GOOD THING, but for every one of you I see more blog posts talking about why it’s ridiculous to make “dead tree books”. Again, dichotomy.
    But yeah — to answer your comment, I didn’t mean to paint all indies alike because I’m not talking about individual people here. This series is going to generalise a bit for the sake of examining trends, but definitely it’s not trying to accuse everyone of doing this.

  7. Really well written article and I viscerally identify with so many of your frustrations! I participate on several boards as both an author and a reader and it is funny how I have felt both sides of this coin… I belong to a little online book club. At the top of our thread, it says that our list is closed, but you’re welcome to join the discussion if you pick up the book we’re currently reading. EVERY TIME our thread gets bumped to the top, some pushy indie author pops in (sometimes angrily) to demand that we read his/her book. Ugh.
    On the flip side, though, I shopped around my first book for five years. The editor I worked with loved it so much, she became a champion for my book, using her own personal connections at some of the Big Six houses to get it considered… And even that was not enough. It sat forgotten in the slush piles.
    And then I received a little note from B&N saying that if I had a manuscript, I could upload it and be a published author.
    My book went on to win three national awards, including the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year. I think in wonder about how if there wasn’t this indie market, my story would be dead, sitting in a drawer gathering dust.
    I think the dirty secret of every indie author, though, is that they would love to be published by a “real” publisher, someone who would pay them enough to quit their day jobs and write all the time. I think sometimes the calls for “Death To The Publishing Industry!” are more along the lines of throwing rocks at the boy you like.
    But when the boy isn’t smitten by your barrages of love rocks, it empowering to be able to say, “I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m good enough. I am going to do it myself! And then won’t you be sorry!” So perhaps things are more along the lines of “Hell hath no fury as a writer scorned.”

  8. Yep, exactly — the false dichotomy (that is, I might add, championed in the reverse by some members of the traditional community) just drives me crazy either way.
    I think a merger would be fantastic! Your points about eBooks and royalties are basically where I’m nervous about traditional publishing as well — if I were published through a brick-and-mortar house, I would want to retain the rights for my eBooks, or at least paid a fair amount for them. It’s kind of like the TV Writer’s Strike — they wanted 8c per DVD, but eventually settled for a promise that they get the 4c they were already promised. What a raw deal. :(

  9. I’m definitely not arguing that the indie market should collapse — far from it! I think it’s a fantastic option to have, especially in cases like yours where, for whatever reason, a fantastic book just doesn’t get picked up by the traditional market. (It’s much more dictated by what’s popular at the time / what they think they can sell, for example, which means that people ahead of the game might not be able to sell at first, and then get screwed later when their once-original idea is just “part of the rush”.)
    I’d have much, much less of a problem with indie publishing if it weren’t so focused on digital-only. The fact that people are still asking the question “Should I bother with paperbacks?” is, in my opinion, the problem distilled down to its essence. That should not be a question. When millions of people don’t have access to digital books, the industry should take that into consideration, not just say “well, we’re not marketing to THOSE people, we’re marketing to the FUTURE” (an argument I have actually heard).

  10. I agree that all digital is not the best way to go. I have a Kindle in my backpack usually nestled up against a paperback (often from the library). I have my books available in both paperback and digital but my digital far outsell my paperbacks — not uncommon for a new author. The reality is that getting an Indie paperback book into mainstream stores is next to impossible.
    What most Indie authors want/need is to be read and talked about. At that point, it becomes a matter of economics, no different from traditional publishing, film or music. Paperback with no hard cover first, straight to DVD for movies that won’t make money at the theater. Back in the day, you got an A side song and a throw away on the B side of your 45. Very few ever had two hit songs on a 45.
    If you get the audience you need from the .99 Kindle edition, that is where you are going to put your limited marketing time and budget. Eventually, I would love to see myself in bookstores and libraries. I purchased a couple boxes of my POD and had a book signing. But I know I will never see my book in any store in the near future and certainly not in any library.
    Do I see a sense of “Die evil publisher!” out there? Of course. But it is from the same group that would cheer an opposing teams injury of their star player. I think most Indies are cheering on the traditional publishers, begging them to change their business model in order to survive. We want to see them come out better than the film industry and the music industry. This is our world and we want them to survive so we can get that big advance from the traditional publisher that we all secretly dream about…even if we turned it down. Collectively, we may be large and are becoming a force but we are still individuals. We can’t hide the smug smiles when one of “us” has a major success and can thumb their nose at the big guys. Hey, we’re human.
    I also want to say that I loved your blog because although it might have swung with too broad a brush, it might get people talking. It might just make those of us hoping for change rather than demise become more vocal.

    • Thanks for your comment! You make a lot of really good points, and it’s good for me — as a writer still hoping to go the traditional route — to get more insider views.

      I hope this does get people talking, on both sides of the fence — I really, really do think that digital-only is a serious problem for economic privilege reasons, but until indie authors have a way to get their books onto the shelves, digital will still be the most tempting route. Other people have mentioned a merger of indie and traditional, and I think this is the key here. How? Well, that’s out of my hands — I’m not a business person. I just talk about things. ^^;

  11. Great blog. Your point about cost and access is one that is near and dear to my heart. I serve on the Board of a small literary society and we recently made the decision to phase in eBooks into our awards process. The fact that most of our judges do not have eReaders and that we cannot afford to supply them with one seems to escape most of the independent publishers in their efforts to be fully included. They demand we get new judges or respond that we should make judges read them on their computers, as if many of them don’t have day jobs that require plenty of screen time or the fact that reading a novel (or 20) at a desk is not an easy or comfortable task. It very much comes down to an issue of seeing beyond their own privilege.

    • It actually surprises me how little the idea of privilege comes up in discussions about indie publishing. To assume everyone worthwhile can afford ebooks and ereaders (or, in the case of older readers, can use them without eye strain) just smacks of privilege to me, but it seems to go ignored by the general population.

      I think if more people had situations like yours, it might have more of a voice, because you’re certainly not alone.

  12. I’m not sure I follow a lot of what you’re saying. Generally speaking, I think indie authors (such as myself) are applauding the fact the gates are swinging our way. The big-time publishers aren’t viewed as the monopoly-type gatekeeper juggernauts that they used to be. So, I believe, we’re applauding a death to hard-headed narrow-minded attitudes toward specific books rather than the overall demise of traditional publishers, bookstores, and libraries.
    No longer do we have to hear things like “nobody will read this” or “thanks, but we feel there isn’t a market for this.” Indies are leading the charge and proving there are niche markets for all kinds of books and are selling well–many of them previously rejected by mainstream publishers. The message is clear about the future of publishing. Why else are big-time authors like Joe Konrath jumping ship to Amazon and turning down six-figures from traditional publishers?
    As far as ereaders, many of them are pretty cheap, starting as low as $99. If young people want an ereader, they’re going to get it the same way they get their smart phones, Xboxs, or any other electronic device–from Mom and Dad or buy it on their own. By the way, you can read books on phones, too.
    I actually had a respected literary agent shopping my manuscript around, but unfortunately, she couldn’t place it. We got the typical “not the right fit” responses. I’m now an indie publisher and loving every minute of it. However, I don’t sit around knocking back brewskis, celebrating because Borders is no longer with us. I do know internet commerce is becoming more commonplace around the world, though, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
    I truly believe indie and traditional publishing can work alongside each other, but it’s clear no one can ignore digitized publishing and ereader devices. And keep in mind the next generation will probably be reading ALL their school books on some form of an ereader, so ereaders will become the norm–similarly to high iPods are the standard for listening to music remotely. Some schools are already experimenting with the idea of ereaders.

    • Not everyone can afford the $99 for an ereader. Even if you do think that’s cheap. For some of us that’s two weeks of groceries. And while we may eventually save up to buy one are we supposed to be cut off from the rest of them? And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to read a novel on a phone… it’s not especially easy.

      Anyways, as you said… you completely missed the point.

    • “I’m not sure I follow a lot of what you’re saying.”

      Clearly. Your comment has nothing to do with the post, which is about how ebooks are inaccessible to people below a certain income bracket, and how obnoxiously blind indie authors are to this. Lora should probably thank you for your comment, I suppose–it’s a perfect illustration of the prevalence of the “Let them eat cake; let them buy an ebook reader” attitude.

    • Ahh, but see, this is exactly my point. Your argument — and the argument of many indie authors — is that kids can just get their parents to buy them ereaders the same as they do computers, phones, gaming devices, etc.

      What you and these other people seem to fail to realise is that you — and these hypothetical teenagers you’re talking about — are in the severe, privileged, minority. This is the problem. For you, $99 + Internet is reasonable. For many, many, many other people, that is an insurmountable fee.

      My argument is not that digital publishing has no merit. My argument is that proponents of digital publishing often ignore the existence of millions of people left behind. The next generation will not be reading their school books on ereaders — the next generation of well-off kids will, but the thousands of poor schools all over every country will not. And as far as the indie publishing world is concerned, these kids don’t exist.

  13. I’m a new independent author/publisher (about 20 books in three years). I publish ebooks, and both paperbacks and hardcovers. One of my books is sold as an $18.95 hardcover, $15.95 paperback, $4.99 ebook and $1.99 ebook sampler. If none of those prices are right, an impovershed reader can borrow a book — even borrow an ebook and ereader — from a library. Some schools provide laptops to all students, and a great many libraries have PCs that can be used to read books on. Used — and usable — laptops are available for as little as $50. I don’t spit in the faces of people with low income, but I know they can find plenty of books to read at low prices or for free. When I was a kid the highest allowance I ever received was 50 cents a week — and I knew my allowance would end when I became 16 and could get a part-time job. I worked and saved and bought model planes, records, movie tickets — and books.

    Michael N. Marcus

    — Just out: “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books,” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0983057257

    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.BookFur.com (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0983057249

    • If I revisit this topic, I should probably clarify that it is entirely about the digital-only model of publishing. Indie authors who publish hard copy books get no flak from me, because libraries can buy those (and authors can donate copies to their local library as well, which I think it’s a good idea). It’s mainly the “all paper books are stupid, let’s move to digital” crowd I have the big beef with here.

      I know you can borrow ereaders from some libraries, but for some people it really isn’t an option — in another post I mentioned a friend who won a free iPhone 3GS back when they were new, but he sold it immediately because he knew if he tried to use it, it would just get stolen. Sadly, areas where people would most need to borrow an ereader are likely to be ones where this isn’t feasible. I do think that libraries lending out ereaders is a FANTASTIC idea, though, and I hope it spreads!

      I’d actually be interested in seeing the numbers on schools that provide laptops — I assume that those schools are not in low-income areas, since those areas often struggle to get enough pencils and textbooks and pay the teachers, let alone laptops. I just have no idea where to get those figures.

      Amusingly, your book title caused this to get caught up in the moderation queue. Who knew WordPress’ language filters are the same as my mom’s?

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