16 comments on “Overcoming Stigma: Indie Publishing’s Biggest Mistakes, Part II – Sales over Story

  1. I’m the moderator of a Yahoo group called Lesfic_Unbound. One of our members posted the link to your blog and I’ve found your comments about indie publishing to be extremely interesting. It’s something that we’ve talked about quite a bit also. I’ve stated some of your concerns myself. I’m glad to find that other people have the same concerns about indie publishing that I do. It can be a great thing, but the down side is that it’s allowing a lot of junk to get out there also. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that there’s any way to control it.

    • Glad to know other people are talking about this! :)

      Oh dear, I don’t even know how to begin to approach the issue of quality control in indie publishing, because yowza, traditional is just as bad. Trying to browse the fantasy section in a brick-and-mortar bookstore is exhausting. Remove the last barriers to publication and it just exacerbates the process.

  2. I could argue traditional publishers are more about quantity than quality, too. Don’t get it twisted: publishing is a business, so if the tried-and-true Twilight-type book is bringing in dollars–even if the writing isn’t great–they’re going to definitely stick with it. It’s all about the bottom line.

    Now, I admit, there is a ton of trash out there by indie publishers. Many of the newbie authors just don’t understand or realize the importance of a good edit, so they rush the book to market. But there are many indie authors who fully appreciate what is required to create a quality book, and that–ironically–means creating a book that looks as if it were traditionally published.

    • Oh yeah, I definitely get that. One of the benefits of indie publishing is that you can approve your own cover design, rather than having a blond amazonian warrior princess in skimpy armour on your cover because the marketing team thinks that’s what will sell. :P

      • My children and I used to go to this Japanese bsrootkoe to get our Japanese books but the store closed down and now we mostly buy online.French and Spanish books are pretty much available in any bsrootkoe. Most bsrootkoes here now have a section of Spanish books and I’ve seen some with a section of French books as well. It depends on where you live. But you may have to do this online. It will be easier that way and you can find a much wider selection as well.

  3. While I’m sure there are plenty of things to complain about in indie publishing, it’s worth pointing out that indie publishers who are serious about publishing quality books know how to present their work in a way that doesn’t advertise that it’s independently published.

    When people find books that are obviously self-published, either because they are poorly written, badly made or riddled with errors, those books tend to be the ones that are held up as examples of indie publishing, while the indie books that are well written and professionally made are seldom suspected of being independently published and therefore don’t help to counter the impression that indie equals dreadful.

    I realize that you are drawing your conclusions about indie publishers from reading what many of them say, not from their work, but I believe the same thing applies. The indies who are serious about producing quality work tend not to go around bashing other publishers, either indie or traditional. They do not clamor for quantity over quality, and as long as people continue to assume that indie equals dreadful, the indies who put out quality work will work even harder at not looking like indies.

    I do understand where a lot of the things you complain of are coming from. If you have never amassed a file cabinet full of letters from agents and publishers that all say some version of, does not meet our needs at this time, you may not understand what it is like for an author to realize that she can take the product of years of work and put it into the hands of the reading public herself. Given the often scornful and dismissive remarks made about indies by those invested in traditional publishing, I can forgive a little crowing and a few sharp remarks from those who have made an end run around the former gatekeepers. Perhaps you can imagine what it’s like to feel vindicated when a book that traditional publishing wouldn’t touch sells thousands of copies for the indie author.

    There are plenty of indies who may well be the next Tolkien or the next Tolstoy. Traditional publishing certainly isn’t looking for the next Tolkien or Tolstoy. They’re looking for the next blockbuster. The next Tolkien or Tolstoy is much more likely now to go indie, because s/he can at last tell exactly the story s/he wants to tell. We are all familiar with anecdotes from author blogs about the demands that traditional publishers make of writers. Make that gay character straight. Make the girl a guy. Get rid of that disabled character. Call yourself J.K., lest boys discover they’re reading a book by a, gasp, woman!

    One thing that independent publishing has given us is the opportunity for the artist to say exactly what she wants to say in just the way she wants to say it. I think we can’t imagine yet how profound a change this is.

    Catherine M Wilson

    • See, I agree with you whole-heartedly! This series is definitely not “why traditional publishing is better than indie”, which is why I’m trying not to make too many direct comparisons. The recent spate of authors who’ve been asked to change gay characters to straight ones, or people of colour to caucasian, etc. etc. etc. makes me very, very sad.

      This series is also definitely not about attacking indie publishing as a choice for authors. I can absolutely see it as a valid decision — even without the backhanded “it’s great! …… just not right now” rejections! As I said, I fully support indie publishing as an idea — I’m just not so sure about its current iteration.

      Indie publishing still has a stigma in the greater reading/writing world, and it can’t just be because everyone outside the industry is an ignorant butt-monkey. This series takes a few things that I’ve noticed about indie publishing that may contribute to this stigma, and attempts to examine them. It is by no means comprehensive, and is not meant to suggest that people should not go indie. It’s just a look at some of the reasons why the indie world still gets a bad rap. I don’t go into the shortcomings of traditional publishing because, frankly, the indie world has that covered. ;) That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of the limitations; just that they’re not in the scope of this series.

      My main concern is not that indie publishing is invalid or that traditional publishing is amazing; it’s just that, as an outsider with one foot in some of the circles, I’ve noticed far more conversations about marketing than I have about story. When I talk about writing, I want to talk about writing — people’s characters, their plots, what crazy twist they came up with this week. But too many people only want to talk about their latest marketing idea. Whenever someone mentions John Locke as their hero, I have to try not to groan.

      The bit about Tolstoy or Tolkien wasn’t meant to suggest that indie writers are inherently less talented, it’s just that I’m concerned about the fast-paced demands that indie publishing puts on authors. You don’t even have to go back to the classics — a more recent example might be Naomi Novik with her Temeraire series. I’m not confident she could have done it in a world that’s demanding one new book a month.

      I am an outsider, though, which means it’s harder for me to find recommendations for amazing indie books. All I hear about are the marketing successes, and frankly, I haven’t enjoyed those stories from a pure storytelling standpoint. I’m actually going to get into that a little bit in the next part of the series.

      Thank you for your comments, by the way! It helps me to clarify my own position and figure out what it is I’m really trying to say.

      • What I mostly take exception to in your blog post is that you talk about “the indie industry” as if indie author/publishers are all the same. We are not an industry. We are a group of writers who want their work to be read and who would prefer, as most people do, to be paid a little something for our work.

        You repeatedly refer to “the indie industry” as if all indies are the same. This may be a semantic issue (i.e. you didn’t really mean that we’re all just awful self-promoters who care nothing for putting out good stories) but when you speak of an entire industry in one breath, that’s what it feels like.

        I have read many of the conversations you complain about, and they are generally on blogs that are places where independent publishers can come together and help each other by sharing what we have learned on the journey to independent publishing. Yes, we talk about marketing. We’re indies, so we have to do our own marketing. We talk about the success of people like Amanda Hocking. Forgive us if we enjoy seeing the gatekeepers who once turned us away forced to eat a small serving of crow. Many of us publish a book every few months, but that doesn’t mean we wrote them in a month or two. Most of us have a drawer full of old manuscripts ready to go–often the work of a lifetime.

        The folks who are all over the internet talking about independent publishing are talking about publishing, not writing. The writing discussions take place elsewhere.

        There are many blogs and websites like Goodreads that talk about writing, about reading, about story. We participate on those sites too, but often, because of posts like yours, we hesitate to admit to being indies.

        Just because you are hearing about the “fast-paced demands that indie publishing puts on authors” doesn’t mean that most (or even many) indie authors are feeling that pressure or succumbing to it. We are, after all, independent. We don’t have to answer to anybody else. I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t care about story. Why else do we write? There are much easier ways to make a buck!

        Sure there are some folks who are taking advantage of the easier access to publishing to produce truly dreadful stuff. Amazon provides reviews, not by industry professionals, but by the reading public, and the reading public is merciless with books like these. Eventually the folks who are looking for a quick and easy buck will realize that the bucks are neither quick nor easy, and they will go away.

        I find your accusations of elitism–that we are “ignoring and discounting an economic class of billions of people” even more puzzling. Ebooks cost much less to publish than trade paperbacks. An author who has to pay someone to do a book design and a cover design for a trade paperback will have to lay out several thousand dollars, often more. To convert a Word file into a professionally formatted ebook costs between $100 and $300. Why complain about a process that makes it CHEAPER for writers to get their work out to readers?

        From the readers’ point of view, yes, the ereaders are expensive, although Amazon now has one for $79. But ereading apps for computers, laptops, netbooks, iPods, iPads, and even cell phones are free. And you don’t need an expensive internet connection when just about every coffee shop and library has free wifi.

        Few people complain that to see the latest movie on dvd they have to buy a $99 dvd player. Why complain that to read an ebook you need a device to read it on?

        I read a lot more books than I watch movies, and my ereader has paid for itself many times over, by allowing me to read books in the public domain for free, by allowing me to sample a large part of an ebook before I buy, thus saving me from buying something I won’t like, and by enabling me to find many excellent books for just 99 cents, or $2.99, or $4.99, while the traditional publishers are charging $12.95 and up for many of their new ebooks.

        I think you have probably read many indie books without realizing that they were independently published. That may be the root of the problem here.

        Catherine M Wilson

        • Guilty as charged on the “indie industry” accusation. I just wasn’t sure how else to refer to it. “A subset of indie authors that I notice very frequently online” gets extremely long, so I went for expediency. Granted, this means I paint with a much broader brush than you deserve, and I apologise for that. My aim is not to make indies ashamed of being indies.

          Sadly, I doubt your last point, as I live in Japan, so anything that makes it over here is probably not independently published — but I freely admit that’s just an assumption, and would be thrilled to be wrong! :)

          My point about elitism is actually exactly what you said — it’s not about the writers, it’s about the readers. I’m not talking about the cost to publishing, I’m talking about the cost to readers. Many indie authors don’t seem to realise how many people can’t afford laptops, computers, phones, or any device that can read ebooks. Not “ehh, is it really worth it?” can’t afford it, but “I have $11 in the bank and two kids to feed” can’t afford it. The entire point of Post 1 is that many indie authors honestly do not seem to realise how much of a privileged few we who can afford them are. Another commenter referred to this as the “let them eat cake” mentality, and I have to say I agree.

          The elitism thing really is what makes me the most upset. So many people — again, including comments on this blog — just seem baffled by the argument. Why don’t people just use free wifi at the library? Why don’t they just use their laptops? Why not just get a cheap ereader? Because millions of people cannot afford any of these things, and rely on free libraries to get access to any books at all. This denial is the attitude that I think indie publishing needs to combat. Less than 1% of the world is on the Internet; I don’t know the statistics about personal computer use, but it’s also nowhere near as large outside our circle as we think it is.

          Indie books are not, at this moment, accessible to people of low income, and many indie authors don’t seem to realise this. Hence, elitism. I don’t complain about DVD players because there’s no alternative — people in low income families just don’t watch movies. Period. Whereas with books, there is a free alternative.

          I don’t mean to harp on this, but blindness to one’s own privilege is a major issue with many people, not just indie authors, but it’s extremely relevant here.

        • From your comment: “What I mostly take exception to in your blog post is that you talk about “the indie industry” as if indie author/publishers are all the same. We are not an industry. We are a group of writers who want their work to be read and who would prefer, as most people do, to be paid a little something for our work.”

          From the post: “…this series is not pointing fingers at individuals. It’s not actually about individuals at all. It’s about trends I’ve noticed in indie publishing, which aren’t necessarily dominant, but which still need to be eradicated in order for the indie publishing world to be respected in its own right.”

  4. You state that indie books are not accessible to people of low income because they can’t be borrowed from the library. But here’s the rub: libraries won’t stock my book because I’m indie. So how is it my fault that low income readers can’t read my books for free?

    As I see it, it’s the self-pub stigma that is unfairly keeping good books from low income readers. It’s the elitists who believe the only books worthy of inclusion in a library collection are the traditionally published ones who are the problem. I’m sure indie authors would love to have their books in libraries. That’s how many people find their favorite authors.

    And yes, some indies can’t afford to publish paperbacks. Some can only afford to publish ebooks. Are you aware that libraries are now lending ebooks? Some libraries provide the ereading device and some require the borrower to provide their own, but can you imagine what a boon this is going to be to low income people?

    I think perhaps you don’t follow the blogs where indie authors occasionally pool their “scratch and dent” inventory and donate it to schools, churches, community centers, or soldiers deployed in theaters of war. And I think perhaps you don’t realize how many of those indie authors are low income themselves.


    • I am aware that libraries are lending ebooks and ereaders, yes. I’m also aware of my friend, who won a free iPhone 3GS in a contest in 2009, and immediately sold it because he knew it would be stolen within a week. It’s a step, and a good one, but doesn’t solve the problem. Not yet.

      The elitists who believe only traditional books belong in libraries ARE a problem. A huge one. But so are the myriad authors who only print their books digitally.

      Indie authors who publish in print and donate their books to libraries are AMAZING, and I love them. I honestly would shout their praises to the skies. I am not even being hyperbolic here — they deserve some sort of prize, because this is exactly what the indie world needs to do. They also need to publicize more, because the ones who make Internet headlines are the ones posting about how ‘dead tree books’ are stupid and digital-only is the way to go.

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  6. Absolutely wonderful article that you posted. I was wondering though, maybe could it not be said the same for like poetry. I only post probably two poems a week, because I try (even thought I still don’t think there that good) to post only better quality poems than quantity. But I know some people are always saying write and post as many poems as you can a day. But do not your article findings show the same for this? Better quality and a bunch of junk just for quantity? I just do not want to post junk, if you understand my babblings.

    • I think it absolutely applies to poetry! If you’re the kind of writer who can write multiple poems a day without straining or lowering your quality (my mother was one), then that’s fantastic, but I don’t think that people who write slower should try to force themselves to match some kind of arbitrary standard.

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