Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Writing 101: What's Wrong With Indie Authors

Notice there is no question mark in the title of this post. I'm not going to attempt to investigate a problem, and point out several generalities that could affect independently published books. I'm going to tell you, plainly, what's wrong with indie authors...and why there are some readers they won't ever get.

Being Indie

For the record, I'm an indie author. Technically I became an indie author when my first self-published book hit the market on Christmas Day, 2012. But I made the decision to become an indie the summer before. So in my way of thinking, I've been an indie author for a while now. I have immersed myself in the community by joining and reading forums, taking part in social media, blogging, and connecting with other bloggers and self-published authors. I have done a lot of research and a lot of blog-reading, and I have reviewed around 15 indie books. These are my qualifications, such as they are.

There's this real piece of work over at Good eReader, who absolutely doesn't pull his punches when he's beating up on indie authors. The way this guy shuns self-publishing, you'd think we were all heroin addicts. But as acerbic as I may find his blog posts, by some measure he's kind in his opinion of indies. Stick around the self-publishing game long enough, and you're bound to hear far worse.

So what's wrong with indie authors? Why does this guy, and so many like him, absolutely hate us? The answer is an ironic one: what's good about indie authors is also what's wrong with them.

  • Timing: Indie authors have the luxury of publishing on their own schedule and no one else's. Where Stephen King must wait for about a year for his finished manuscript to start selling on Amazon, the indie author can start selling theirs immediately. It's a double-edged sword. Indie authors often feel pressured to publish, and quickly, in order to gain and maintain fan interest. This rush to publish can result in a sloppy finished product, something that readers hate. Many people think all indies are sloppy. What they don't understand is that indies aren't any sloppier than any other kind of author -- they just don't have a team of editors at their disposal, and the rush to publish makes it impossible to find one.
  • Design: If you're an author, you're also an artist. Words are your medium. The printed page is your canvas. But you don't necessarily know how to make things visually appealing. I know I don't. I have almost no eye for art, color, composition or any of it. There are plenty of indies who are design-challenged, like me. The trouble is, we have to come up with our own book covers don't we? Many people shy away from indies because they find the covers to be poorly-designed. But when you combine high-priced graphic design with indie authors who are working with a small budget, you get what you get. I'd like to remind the world that the Beatles' White Album had nothing on the cover. The cover is overrated -- it's what's inside that counts. 
  • Promotion: Indie authors promote too much. This is a complaint you'll see a lot (especially if you spend time at Good eReader). Well, traditional publishers promote a lot as well. They drive me crazy with their flashing ads, and I absolutely hate those ambiguous commercials that James Patterson puts out. People with something to promote have to promote, and indie authors more than most. The market is competitive, attention spans are short and when Twitter doesn't like it people do get banned. All the people who want to play social media police would be using their time much more wisely to speak out against those who incorrectly use "your," "their" and "too." That would make the world a better place. Getting rid of all the book promotions really wouldn't change Twitter so much. The Huffington Post tweets links all day every day.

What's wrong with indie authors? That question has several different parts. Some of them just haven't got a break from the big publishing industry. Some of them are a bit off-beat, and they're too risky for the corporate types to take on. Some of them have no idea what they're doing, and didn't take the time to figure it out first. And a few of them probably aren't meant to be authors or writers of any kind. But there are plenty of really bad books that got published by the big companies anyway, and lots of indie books that really deserve it. Some of the most famous names you've ever read self-published first.

So here's the final answer on what's wrong with indie authors: nothing that readers and honest reviewers can't fix. The more feedback you give an author, the better they will become as an author. You form an opinion about every single book you ever read, you know you do. Share it. Instead of avoiding the indie authors, give them what they want. Read their work and tell them what you think about it. Be your own judge of every indie book and every indie author you read, and don't take any blogger's word for it...not even mine.

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