That title has probably put you off already – a lot of people read ‘indie’ and substitute ‘vanity’ or ‘crap’ or worse. And probably with good reason in some cases, as a lot of independently published books don’t stack up against offerings from traditional publishers.
Notice I said ‘a lot’, not ‘all’. More on that later.
What does it really mean, indie vs traditional publisher?
I read a lot of writer blogs, publishing pages and twitter posts from authors (too many, according to my wife), musicians and creative types. A lot of them say the same thing, but there are some common themes. Things like Kickstarter and just internet viral word of mouth are proving to be great tools for anyone wanting to drum up support for a new book or project – it’s amazing what you can get money for via Kickstarter! But that’s not my point, the point is nothing’s changed here.
You heard me, getting people to buy books is the same as it always was: it’s about getting bums on seats, getting the reviews and making sure potential readers have access to what you’re selling. All that’s changed is some of the mediums we as authors use to get those messages across.
I’ve been traditionally published (twice) and have published two of my own novels myself. (Don’t groan, I’m working hard not to be one of the indies that gives the rest of us a bad name). I laid out both books myself – having a print design background wasn’t a total waste of time – I got my covers designed and I’ve had the contents edited by someone else, although one is better for that than the other. That done, I’ve organised printing and distribution, electronic versions of both books and then concentrated on getting exposure.
The experience from the publishing end is different but similar: our traditional publisher sorted out the cover, edited both books and printed copies of them, sent out a press release and… wait, that’s about it. But that’s the point, they produce a FINISHED article to a certain standard that’s expected of them – many indies don’t manage that.
Besides the finished product, a point I know a lot of people miss: getting a publisher doesn’t mean there’s less work to do; there’s exactly the same amount of work, unless you’re James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King (and lets be honest, their names do all the work). No one promotes your book but YOU whether you’re an independent publisher or land that dream book deal.
Talent wins out – and hard work
When I suggested this as a topic for my guest blog, Theresa replied with this comment:
“One thing I hear among bloggers is that they don’t like reviewing vanity or indie books because they are either awful or the authors don’t want anything besides glowing reviews.”
It’s true. Most wannabe writers are unrealistic in their expectations and while a HEALTHY belief in one’s abilities is important, I know a great many are crushed when the reaction is not the ‘glowing review’ they expect from their favourite blog (go read the review and comments of a recent high profile crash and burn – it’s enlightening). And while everyone may have a book in them, I don’t necessarily want to read it.
I learned a long time ago – over 25 years ago, now – if you do anything creative you have to develop a thick skin. The simple fact is: not everyone’s going to like what you do. That’s fine, because it’d be a very strange and boring world if we all liked the same things, regardless of what you believe about “popular” culture.
Sadly, a lot of indie authors are buying the X-Factor/American Idol model of life: basically, “I’m going to write a book and it’ll be a best seller over night!” Reality check: it just doesn’t happen that way (for most people). I think one of the most depressing things to hear a kid say today is “I want to be famous!” That may be, but they don’t want to do the work involved to get there, either.
I mentioned Stephen King earlier and he’s a prime example. It took him a lot of years and a lot of work to become a household name. A lot of people forget (or choose to ignore the fact) he published short stories in the likes of Playboy magazine and lived on his wife’s income while he wrote. Hey, there are no shortcuts – writing is work!
I know she’s been in the press a lot recently, but Amanda Hocking is a good example of getting it right in the digital age. She’s very good at getting her message out there, but she can also write. It’s not just that people knew about her, she also managed to reach and connect with her audience – the difficult bit. And she’s not afraid to put in the hours it takes to get something done.
Advice for writers
Here’s the advice bit for anyone considering the self-publishing route: the biggest complaint I (and many, many others) have is about editing your final manuscript. No matter how good you think you are, you CAN’T edit it yourself. GET AN EDITOR. At the very least, you’ll get an outside perspective from someone without any axes to grind or sucking up to do. And they’ll fix those troublesome commas and apostrophes, too.
Last bit of advice. Writing the book is only half the battle – maybe a third – the rest is about getting people to read it. My favourite J.G. Ballard quote is apropos here:
“Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it.”
That’s not the whole story with the indies; I’d say there’s a good portion of indie publishers who are getting it right, an attractive (DESIGNED) cover, good story that shows it’s been tightened up and any sloppy bits sorted out before it’s unleashed on the public.
Cory Doctorow at the London Book Fair told how he’s offered a ‘bounty’ on spelling mistakes in his books. With the benefits of digital publishing, if you spot a spelling mistake in one of his books, he’ll correct it and footnote the contribution with your name and date. It’s a great idea and one I might ‘borrow’.
So give the indies a chance. Yes there’s dreck out there – but that was there before, it was just published by the traditional publishing houses. There’s still a lot of gems to uncover, too, I’m just going to be careful where I step…