Are Indies Really That Bad?

Yesterday, Kate, Cedar, her first reader (Hi, Sanford!) and I were taking about what I should write about today. It would be easy to do another Hugo related post. Goodness knows there is enough ammunition out there. But I wanted to do something else. The only problem was I couldn’t figure out what to write about. So, I did what I often do. I went trolling through my Facebook feed to see if anything caught my eye. It didn’t take long for me to find something. Of course, it also raised my blood pressure and had me gnashing my teeth, never good things.

Anyway. . . .

Here’s the set-up. An traditionally published author was bemoaning the fact that she had bought an e-book and had been so disappointed in it. It had been touted as “If you love Jim Butcher, you will love this” or words to that effect. Seems this particular author adores Jim Butcher’s work and found this particular book sadly lacking. Okay, I can get that. Those are big shoes to fill. But she didn’t leave it at that and that, dear readers, is where my issue with her begins.

coverforvfaFirst, she didn’t say where she saw the book touted in such a way. Was it a cover quote, given to the author by someone else? Those are always tricky. I know. Our own Sarah gave me a cover quote for Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) that compares VfA to early David Weber. The quote thrilled me because I knew Sarah meant it. But it also scared me because I knew there would be those who wouldn’t agree — and I was right. Several of my reviewers have said they didn’t see it. But that’s okay. The quote was Sarah’s opinion and one I was honored to have received.

But we don’t know if the Butcher quote was a cover quote or it was part of the product description written by the author or if it was part of an ad campaign. If the author or publisher was foolish enough to compare the work to Butcher, well, that is just asking for trouble. At least it is in my opinion. That’s like walking up to someone with your dog, who just happens to be the world’s ugliest dog ever, and telling folks it looks just like Lassie and expecting them to agree with you. If, on the other hand, it was part of ad copy, well, the condemning author should have known better than to take it at anything more than hype.

Second, and this is my real issue with the complaining author, is when she went on to point out that it had been an indie published book. Okay, fair enough if she had left it at that. But no. It seems if she had known it was an indie book, she never would have bought it. It seems she thinks indies, at least “unknown” indies, should never publish until they submit a book to a traditional publisher and have it accepted and published. Then the unknown indie author will know she is good enough to call herself an author. Yep, you read that right. Each of us who indie publish, should go the traditional route first — and successfully land a publishing contract — before self-publishing. That will get rid of all the dreck out there if we do.

Fair is fair, she does admit there is some dreck being published by traditional publishers but that’s okay. It made it through the gatekeepers.

Now, how many problems are there with what she proposes? A number but let’s just discuss the major ones. To submit to most traditional publishers, you have to do more than send your manuscript to the publishing house and wait for them to get back to you. You have to find an agent first. From everything I am seeing and hearing right now, it is as difficult — if not more so — to find an agent as it is to find an publisher. So, you can have your manuscript out for months, even years, trying to find an agent, especially since so many of them do not want you sim-subbing your work to other agents. Then, assuming you get find an agent and come to an agreement, you have just signed away something in the area of 15% of all your earnings, plus expenses, to someone and often for the life of your work’s copyright.

Now your agent starts to try to earn money for both of you by submitting your work to publishers. This is yet another waiting period of months or more in all too many cases. Assuming they do manage to land you a contract, yet another waiting  All this could add up to two years or more from the time you start shopping your book around. What are you supposed to do in the meantime? That is something the reviewing author didn’t address. However, since she feels you shouldn’t self-publish until you have that contract, my guess is she thinks you can now self-publish because you are, by her definition, “good enough”.

And here is the big rub. Most publishing contracts include the right of first refusal. What that means is the author won’t be able to self-publish while waiting for their traditionally published book to come out. There have been a few examples where a publisher has require an author to return their advance and has canceled the contract because the author — gasp — indie published something while waiting for their traditionally published book to come out. The publishers say it is to prevent diluting their brand but it is more simple than that — they want to control the author’s career. Sorry, but no.

But let’s look at it another way. There are very limited number of slots available for new authors with any given publisher. Big Publisher isn’t about to give up a Stephen King slot for a nobody. Besides, as the reviewing author said, these same wonderful traditional publishers have published dreck. But we are to trust them to decide if we are good enough to self-publish or not.

Give me a break. Anyone who starts off by saying they wouldn’t waste their money on an indie book loses credibility. That is especially true when you realize there is a growing number of indie authors who make good livings off their work. Add to that the fact that traditional publishers troll the best sellers lists for indie authors to try to entice over to the traditional side of the business. Finally, there is a little bit of responsibility any reader has to have when choosing a book, no matter how it came to the market. You don’t take sales copy at face value. You check the reviews. You look at the sample. You check to see what else the author has put out.

Are there bad indie books out there? You bet. But there are bad traditionally published books as well. Being indie does not, on its face, make a book less of a book than one that is traditionally published. For an author to say differently leaves me wondering if said author is scared by indies and by the success so many have had.

65 Comments

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65 responses to “Are Indies Really That Bad?

  1. Draven

    I’ve read a lot of good indie books recently that are much better than the drek being spewed at me by the publishers for the last 20 years. Yes, that is a complement to y’all.

  2. dougirvin

    Publishers have a procedure in place that is available to independents as well.
    First readers check it out and determine if it should be sent to an editor (I’m simplifying the steps – there could be several readers before an editor sees it).
    The editor reads it and determines if it fits any of the publishers imprints. If so, they’ll get around to contacting the author and discussing the work – BEFORE an offer to publish is made.
    The work is bounced around thru various hands giving up or down checks, before finally reaching the desk of the one who can make an offer.
    Offer is made, then the hoops begin to spin. Proofing, copy and content editing, drafts revised and re-sent — all before the work is sent to the typesetters. Then it is sent BACK to the writer to verify and changes made at the last minute.
    Finally – assuming everything checks out – the work is published, sent to distribution, and passed along to the book stores. Where it waits, gathering dust. Unless, of course, a marketing plan was set up to make it noticed.

    In Indy publishing, yes you have your first reader, then a few beta readers. Then you upload it.

    Time scale for the first rendition: 12-14 months to a couple of years.
    For the second: six months or less.
    And if an Indy has a good team in place (First reader and betas) anything they put up will be on par with what a tradpub would print.

    Life is short, years are long. I’m going Indy.

    • Uncle Lar

      And with that first process every one of those many gatekeepers could simply have had a bad day, be angry at something having nothing to do with you or your work, or just read too many with a similar theme and grown tired of it. With Indie it is the reader who decides, them and no one else.

    • My turn around at the end of a book, is typically more like two weeks. Usually my readers get back to me fairly quickly, (and I often send out advance pieces) and my current editor turns it around in four days or less, which is rather nice.

      Though if something comes back from my readers as having issues, it can take longer, I admit that I have one that’s been bouncing around for a year now, but because it’s not on my ‘main track’ it only gets worked on between those books that are.

    • The timeframe is the big issue for me. I’m working on a couple of novels that I hope to have finished by the end of the year. I’m pretty sure that if I had to send them out and just *wait* for years to hear back and then wait for years to have them published, all the oomph (totally a word) would just go right out of me. I’m planning to Indie publish in big part just to keep myself motivated.

      If they’re successful, I figure it might be a faster way to get a publisher’s attention. If they’re not, I just keep writing and improving…

  3. A little over a year ago, I wanted to have a gatekeeper tell me I was good enough. I loved the idea of indie, but I wanted to know I was good enough first. Sarah kicked me in the ass and told me to put something up. So I took the one thing I had that wasn’t out for submission and put it out there.

    It spawned two more books now, with a third in the works now. I have other stories bouncing around in my head that I need to get down on paper as well. I can see easily how authors can make a good living as indie writers. I’m not there yet, but I can see it. Especially with enough titles out.

    As for the author referred to in the post, she needs to understand that if traditional publishing puts out drek, then it stands to reason that there are great indie authors out there.

  4. Gah! Someone needs to poke her in the eye. I’d happily do it, but I’m busy. I waited 10 years for some traditional publisher to tell me they thought I was good enough. What I got were publishers and agents telling me my writing was good – but didn’t fit their list, or they didn’t think they could sell it, or some other such thing. Last year I made the decision to quit beating my head on that spiked wall and do the publishing myself. I woke up this morning to find my first book at #9 on the crime fiction/serial killers list. Second book’s out. Third book out in August. Like T.L., I’m not there yet, but I can see it. And it’s all in my hands now. I like it better this way.

    • I had the same experience, only with a couple of different agents. They loved the book, were thrilled by my writing … but alas, they just didn’t think my first and second books were “marketable” … or, “didn’t do Westerns” or “the market for historical fiction is really tight now,” et cetera, et cetera.

      So, I went indy, because I was pretty certain that my books would sell at least among the blog-commenters to the various blogs I contributed to. I’d straight-up prove my books were marketable. I’d want an agent to come to me … but if I sold a sufficient number of books on my own, then what exactly would I need an agent for?

    • Congratulations! And you’re #20 in physical Books in your category too!

  5. Uncle Lar

    Might just be appropriate here to remind folks of a little concept first codified by Ted Sturgeon back in 1951.
    “ I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”
    More commonly referred to as Sturgeon’s Law it seems to me to be the ultimate validation for Indie publishing. Sure most indie will be crap, but then so by old Ted’s observation is everything else. Why on earth would indie be held to a higher standard except by people who dislike or fear the freedom it provides? And don’t forget that other true observation, crap is in the eye of the beholder. Your garbage may very well be someone else’s idea of gems.

    • B. Durbin

      That’s what I was thinking when I read the post, too.

      • I remember a conversation I got into at a Dutch SF convention with a British writer of some note. Somehow we got onto the subject of Sturgeon’s Law — in its sanitized form, 90% of everything is crap — and brother, did the writer have some flaming hot things to say about that. He said it was just bar talk, Sturgeon expounding on something to an audience in a convention hotel bar over a beer, and trying to be as sensational and colorful as possible to get a rise out of his listeners. Where did Sturgeon get that figure? What studies did he make? Where’s the enforcement mechanism in Nature that makes this “law” so universal? Why couldn’t the proportions be different in various fields of endeavor? What are the objective standards that relegate something to the 90% and something else to the 10%? Why isn’t there a fuzzy middle ground? Wouldn’t 10% outright crap, 10% sheer brilliance, and 80% in a continuum ranging from barely competent to pretty darn good be more realistic? The writer summed it up as saying that the 90% figure is bogus, propounded by someone who had been in the field long enough to be bored by what had once been new and wonderful to his younger self, and his trash might well be someone else’s treasure.
        That was the writer’s take on it. I don’t know too much about Sturgeon and don’t want to be too hard on him, but “90% of everything is crap” does sound like convention bar-talk bluster, and it’s been endlessly repeated ever since because it sounds so deliciously shocking and pungent. I’d go with 10-80-10 for most things, including SF.

        • The answer is, it’s self-scaling. Like Television, when you only had three networks, you’d keep flipping the channels and complain there’s nothing on. Now there are 500. Flipping all the channels takes longer, but there’s still nothing on.

          Anything that isn’t in the top 10%, however good or bad it has to be to get there, is the non-crud.

          (The way I heard it, Sturgeon was very scrupulous about bad language, and said Crud, not Crap.)

  6. Reziac

    One wonders if there’s a principle of artificial scarcity at work here, regardless of the quality of the work. Hard to see how that benefits agents, but it benefits publishers by keeping profits above expenses (increasingly difficult with the rising cost of materials and labor… tho in recent I’ve seen spasms of commercial books Printed In China on …disposable… materials).

    Do the gatekeepers peel the best 10% off the pile governed by Sturgeon’s Law, or do they take what chanced to float by? Before, we couldn’t really know. With indie, we can check for ourselves.

    Speaking of profits, anyone done the math on the current Whopping Great Sale?? I’m having trouble seeing how Tor will make any money on that. I’ll bet the contract has some interesting escape clauses and noncash components.

    • My cynical side suspects that the contract was signed because they’re all on the same “side”. It’s like they’re determined to show the rest of the world that they can too (foot stampiness) act as gatekeepers for SF.

      I never read any Scalzi after the first book. I guess somebody must be. But I’m guessing they’re going to have a harder time getting him his Hugos going forward.

      • While Scalzi does sound like fingernails on a chalkboard (and ruthlessly plagiarized H. Beam Piper – for which I will never forgive him) apparently he sells well. As I’ve never read him, I honestly don’t know how good or bad of a writer he is.
        But with a good advertising, you can sell damn near anything, and if the author you’re trying to sell is a good writer, well I think it is a very safe bet that they will make their money back on him. I’m sure there are exit scenarios in the contact, so that if he starts writing drek they can dump him.

        I just know that I now have a target of how much money I want to make, so I can say I’m doing as well as Scalzi. (Yes, it would be nice to sell as much as Larry, but hey, I’m a realist, I don’t think I’ll ever sell THAT many!! 😉 )

        • Hmm. $3.4 million for 13 books… that’s more that $260,000 per book. I don’t know. I have a hard time believing they’ll make that much, consistently. Does anybody know what percentage Tor pays for
          ebooks? As a back of the napkin thing, if they pay 25%, they’d have to sell over a million dollars worth of each book. If the books cost $8, that’s selling 125,000 copies.

          They don’t look like they add up to me.

          • From my time working in other markets, I would expect that TOR makes at least 5 dollars a book. So after 52K books, it’s all profit for TOR. As for what TOR is paying him? I’d guess it’s probably 2 dollars a book, which means about 130K in sales to pay back the ‘advance’ if you think about it in typical terms.
            I would expect TOR to sell close to, if not more than, 100K of his book in the first year of its sale, and to then continue selling at 1/2 to 1/3rd that going forward. So I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t earn out at a 2 dollar royalty rate, and no matter what, TOR (who again I’m sure is taking at LEAST 50 percent of the cover for themselves), will easily earn a good profit.

            • Yeah, it sounds like it will work, if he keeps selling at the same rate as he has been. I imagine there are escape clauses if he doesn’t though. Packaging it up in a huge deal like that makes it sound really big and gets attention, so from a PR perspective it makes sense to do it that way.

  7. Reziac

    BTW the slideshow widget is causing the page to never finish loading, probably because it’s HUGE. Also, it doesn’t display right in the first place (at least not here)>

  8. So, someone judged a book by it’s cover (quote) and it turned out badly? I wish there was an adage about judging books by cover (quotes)….

    Seriously though, yes, a plus of traditional publishing to the readers is that it guarantees at least a minimum level of workmanship, and some insight as to style.

    But this is the Century of the Fruit Bat. I have far more tools than whether the book says “Del Rey” on the spine. At a minimum we have Amazon reviews. Yes, on Indies sometimes there aren’t enough to be statistically significant, but it’s a start.

    I also have friends and “friends.” (friends in “quotes” means “pals I casually know on FB”).

    So if the nameless author at the start of this relied on “friends” rather than “cover quotes,” they need to better understand the tastes of her friends.

  9. Maybe that critic had a point, although not the one he/she made.
    We don’t have a gatekeeper for our work. In theory, that means we can be original, as original as our imagination allows. But I’m not seeing that. Indie authors are following the same well-worn paths, just not with the originality of those who found those paths the first time.
    Comparing my novels to Butcher? No thanks. I try hard to be original.
    My characters are human and they have ordinary human emotions. The setting is different, some aspects of currently-recognized science aren’t the same, but those things make up the background that my characters act against.
    I’m not depending on ever-more fantastic evilbadcritters or new magical abilities, I put my human characters into new settings and create new challenges they have to overcome. With luck, that will be enough to appeal to readers.
    FWIW: I admired Butcher’s early novels. His Chicago Wizard series is an example of a series that’s gone on too long, IMO. It’s become formulaic, and he is in a sense diluting his own brand.
    But even if he wants to break out of the mold, will his publisher allow him to?

  10. Lea

    I’ve read really good and really bad indie books. But the bad indie books were mostly free or a dollar. Compared to the bad published books which are much more expensive.

  11. Pound for pound, there’s probably more terrible indie stuff on Amazon than traditional stuff. That doesn’t amount to there being no good indie stuff. I’m strongly considering publishing my first work indie. The gatekeepers are the readers. If they like it, they’ll buy it.

  12. Lea has it right. For what the publishers are charging for their dreck, I can get 8 or 9 pieces of indie dreck, and may find a diamond in the rough. And at least it won’t be whatever the publishers are pushing at the moment, because indies start the fads now and when indies are done with it, the publishers are just getting theirs out!

  13. B. Durbin

    I’m also curious as to what the distinction is between “indie” and “traditional” when it comes to very small presses. I have a friend who is published by a house so small that their web page lists all of a dozen books right now—is that traditional? Is that indie? She’s also a photographer, and not only does her own cover art, but is that house’s go-to person for design work. I’m not even sure how the books are made, but I suspect that it’s POD, given the scale.

    They just recently put out a call for direct submissions in children’s and teen books. No agent involved. So—there’s gatekeepers, but the level of access is lower. And their specific level of interest is in “hard to categorize” genre crosses.

    Maybe that’s the hybrid future for people who don’t quite want to strike out on their own—there’s help available, and cross-promotion, but it’s still partway on the indie scale.

    • I’d guess it comes down to degree of control. Publisher 99% Author 1% is Big Five Trad Pub and those smaller presses that operate in a similar fashion. 100% author would be pure indie. I’d wager that when you get to about 45% author, 55% publisher you have bumped into the TradPub range. (I’m lumping agents in with publishers, since they tend to remove a certain amount of control from the author.)

      • B. Durbin

        I’d have to ask her, then, what amount of marketing, etc. she ends up doing. I think it’s slightly tilted towards the author, but that may just be her case.

    • Timid1

      Indie is self-published. Two of my favorite histories were self-published because the subject had limited appeal. The authors found a printer, said “This is what I want,” handled distribution and marketing, paid for it all, and received all wholesale and/or retail profits. That’s Indie.

      If an author is picked up by a small publishing house, it is not Indie because the author received money and, hopefully, royalties for his manuscript and the publisher handled the rest.

  14. carlton mckenney

    I buy indie, I buy traditional, depends on what catches my fancy. One thing that the traditional publishers seem to do a better job of is making sure that the book entries on Amazon and BN have a synopsis/come-on description. I see many indie published books that have an interesting cover or title and no description. They are unlikely to get my $ unless it is an author I already know. If I am going to part with my hard earned cash I want some idea that what I am buying matches my interests.

    • B. Durbin

      My above mentioned friend has shown me a book on how to write a query letter (the whole thing is on how to get an agent, but the query letter description is very important.) It’s highly specific, right down to specifying how long your synopsis should be. (No more than three sentences, in fact.) It didn’t use these words, but it’s basically the “elevator pitch.” You’ve got a couple of floors of travel to sell your product, so you need to do so in the most efficient and interesting way possible.

      Indie writers should work on that pitch as hard as they can, because that’s how to get sales.

  15. Right now, eighty percent of what I write is targeted at male readers. So yes, most trad publishers aren’t interested in my work. They definitely weren’t when I shipped it around years ago.
    I’m trying to serve a market that the trads won’t serve, and so far, it seems I’m doing fairly well with that. Now if only I knew how to do a real marketing campaign 😛

  16. I write so cross-genre that even I have no idea where to shelve my stuff. That alone would lock me out of the current traditional publishing system. I also tend to write shorter (70-85K words for a novel), which is another “problem” for TradPub at the moment. I’ve read some great indie stuff, I’ve read some drekig indie stuff. I’ve read TradPub that I enjoyed and TradPub I couldn’t finish (such a great premise, such a massively wimp-out second half!)

    It’s kinda amusing – the first academic review of my newest monograph is coming out soon. I saw an advanced copy and my response was “Yeah! I’m a real author.” (Instead of a Velveteen Author 😉 ). Which is silly, but that is the metric for academic non-fiction – do academic reviewers like it. Even though I’ve been getting rave reviews in person from “normal people” who have read the book, it’s not until there are journal reviews that the book is considered a successful monograph. Strange world, no?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Not really (at least for that academic piece) because in some fields I won’t know a bad “monograph” from a good “monograph”. IE I don’t know enough about the field to know if “you got your facts right). [Smile]

      Since academic reviews *should* know the facts, then a positive response from them would have more weight than a positive response from me. [Smile]

      Oh, congratulations on the rave reviews. [Very Big Smile]

  17. I used to be very wary of indies (repeated burns of ‘is this really bad fanfiction… no no, I mean THAT KIND the REALLY awful stuff… with the serial numbers rubbed off), then a while back I realized I’d taken to avoiding traditionally published Sci Fi and Fantasy unless it was recommended by someone whose judgement I trusted, so I started looking at Indie again. I still tend to be cautious, but that’s only because I’m cautious most new authors regardless of source these days.

  18. Timid1

    Okay. I haven’t p***** anyone off yet today, so might as well do it now. Our unnamed traditional author has a point: there is a lot of dreck in Indies because the only gatekeeper is the customer. Yes, there’s dreck in traditional publishing, too, but while our “gatekeepers” may also bar stories and authors that “aren’t the right type,” they also keep out the horrendous dispose-in-a-hazardous-waste-dump dreck.

    This, of course, does not mean that all indie is dreck. It does, unfortunately, mean there’s a higher percentage of dreck in indie because the manuscripts haven’t had to survive a dip in a slush pile before making it into print. This also means that an indie author not only has to compete against other authors, but against all the dreck that’s out there. It becomes imperative that the indie author produce a quality product, not only in writing but in every aspect, from the cover to the text formatting.

    I’ll be blunt. Not long ago I picked up an indie book that was substandard in typos, formatting, cover, and plot. Had I not known the author was capable of better, I’d never pick up another one of their books. As it is, I came away thinking this was a trunk clearing exercise, and have become a bit shy at this author’s other indie works. That manuscript would have never seen publication in anything other than a less-than-pro/for-the-love market. That book might have netted them a few dollars, but will cost them more in future sales.

    That’s not the worst. No, the worst is the question of whether the author thought this was their best work. If so . . .well, there’s a reason why I go by Timid1, and that’s the fear that I might Indie publish something I think is great but actually stinks, and end up killing future sales.

    Is there a solution? Other than a review board giving their stamp of approval to indie works, and risking a repeat of what we have now by self-appointed elites and for-pay reviews, I can’t think of one.

    • If you publish dreck, come to recognize it as dreck later in your career when you’ve become an awesome writer, unpublish. And change your pen name.

    • Synova

      I’d be happy with a trusted person who was willing to say, it might not be next year’s Hugo winner but you’rre not going to have to change your name and move to a different state.

  19. Max

    I’ll admit that upon reading the second paragraph I had a bit of a stop and think moment. Mostly because several of my reviewers have said that my first book was similar to Jim Butcher, and as an indy, that could almost mean that mine was the offending “drek.”

    I hope not. And I have no way of knowing. Still, it was a moment of … “Huh, do any of my reviews actually say that specifically?” Nothing like momentary surprise to wake you up.

    To the topic at hand:
    I really can’t say much but “I agree.” There’s a lot of reasons to indy publish, and a lot of reasons why traditional publishing has become a slog. And there isn’t anything a publisher can provide that an indy author can’t get on their own. There are freelance editors out there. There are freelance artists. There are ways to advertise your own book. All that’s left after that is the audience, and you can find that too.

    Publishers will never die, but even if it takes time, indy authors will stabilize and continue to grow in number and quality.

  20. Chuckles

    It’s just the bureaucratic credentialism and Social ‘Sciences’ peer review shell game extended to publishing.
    Until the right sort of people approve of you, you can’t possibly be any good. As sir Humphrey said in the ‘Yes Minister’ days, ‘Anything may be done, but it may never be done for the first time.’

  21. Ahem, *I’ve* been approached by a traditional publisher. I am now validated.

    (Scams are a traditional part of publishing, right?)

  22. I’d think the gatekeeper in independent publishing is Amazon’s sample page system. The prospective buyer has but to look at a book’s sample pages and can tell right off if a book is ineptly and amateurishly written. Looking at the sample pages alone can save the reader from regrettable purchases. It might also work the other way — covers are a potential weak point for everybody in DIY publishing, and good authors aren’t necessarily good graphic designers. The sample pages might show that the book is well written even if the cover is meh.
    Less obvious errors might not show up, though. A writer might be able to compose sparkling prose that makes the sample pages look good, but hasn’t learned story construction, and what seems fine on the basis of a few pages might be a meandering, poorly plotted mess that an experienced traditional editor would have sent back for rewriting in days of yore. But I’ve read professionally published books that were just that, so it’s a risk the reader takes anyway.
    That aside, the sample pages will usually tell the story, so to speak. The author can plug and promote and market and write ad copy that sells, but in the end you can’t hide from what you’ve actually written.

    • When I was doing book reviews for various websites, I ALWAYS wanted to look at the sample pages/look inside feature before I committed to doing a review. The few times that I didn’t, because I was intrigued by the description alone and committed to a review – I regretted not having taken that due diligence.
      A chapter, or two, or even three is what the gatekeepers of trad publishing usually want to see going in. If they can make up their mind from that sample, well then, so can an ordinary reader.

    • Laura M

      Also, think how much more information a sample provides. I am no longer 16 and able to stand in a bookstore for an hour or more reading the first couple pages of all the books that looked interesting. Instead, a sample provides a whole ten percent, and you don’t have to by it or have some snotty salesperson ask you if you plan to purchase all the books you’re reading. Now, we can browse quietly at home.

    • One thing Amazon has just done that I think really hurts is they’ve re-arranged the product pages, and now the blurb is truncated after 5 lines 9for the Kindle version of the page) and the rest is hidden under a “Show More” link. Which totally ruins a clever blurb that is a trifle longer than that.

      The Blurb is important in selling the book, and cutting it off and hiding part of it breaks the shopper off the track when they are reading it.

      • I noticed the same problem with overdrive–that all the browsing reader saw was the cover and the first sentence. It doesn’t matter how clever the rest of the blurb is, the first sentence has to hook them into clicking “more”

  23. Depends on the writer.

    There’s a lot of indie stuff that is awful, but there’s also a lot of traditionally published stuff that is equally awful or simply not my cup of tea. I know at least one famous writer who does good SF, but I don’t like his fantasy very much.

    Chris

    My Site: http://www.chrishanger.net/
    My Blog: http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/
    My Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall

  24. It seems to me that part of what we’re talking about here is what can you depend on (more or less) to make sure you get “more of the same, but different.” Some people believe that a publisher’s brand does that, some folks depend on a specific author, others try to judge based on cover blurbs, read-inside samples, and so on. But… sometimes an author decides to try something different (when you see Jim Butcher’s name, are you thinking of the Dresden Files or the Codex Alera? Very different, I think?) Sometimes publishers do some different strokes (often to fill the gaping maw of “We gotta publish this many books this month, no matter what!). Cover blurbs — for a while, if I saw “The next Heinlein” or similar wording, I avoided the book, simply because “the next Heinlein” was almost always a disappointment.

    Anyway — my belief is that each and every book needs to be judged on its own merits, not by the packaging. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes you will get a flop, but don’t blame the packaging that you tried to use to extrapolate the contents before reading — blame the contents, and try again! There’s lots of stuff out there, don’t decide that you aren’t going to look for the diamonds because you found some of Sturgeon’s 90%. Keep panning, you know there’s gold out thar somewhere! Heck, there might even be some truth, Scully…

    • TRX

      Next Heinlein? The shelves are flooded full of them. The problem is, they’re aping the late Heinlein, which I don’t much care for, instead of the early and juvenile Heinlein, which I think is much, much better.

  25. Traditional publishers are terrified of indie publishing, which provides only one benefit to them–as a sort of farm team for spotting promising new authors–and a host of toxic futures. Recent contracts from traditional publishers reflect this: They want *absolute* control of the author’s writing life, and for the most part control of published works until the copyright runs out. Some even invoke nondisclosure and forbid an author publishing anything anywhere–even on their own blog–without prior permission. Think I’m exaggerating? Not a whit:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/unconscionability.html

    The fear is palpable.

    For many years I wanted the validation of a “real” publishing contract for my novels from a “real” publisher. In today’s environment, the cost is far too high. I’m going indie. If I didn’t think it would work I wouldn’t do it. But I know something about publishing (I co-owned Arizona’s largest book publishing company for some years) and from here, indie has never looked better.

    • Lea

      “control of published works until the copyright runs out”

      I think this is why you get annoying situations where you actually can not purchase a book that you want. Why should books ever go out of print anymore when print is digital? Why should you be able to purchase a kindle copy of a particular book in England and not in the US? None of this is author or heir dictated, I think.

      • Yup. Copyright law has nonobvious (and sometimes unintended) consequences. There is as enormous body of copyrighted works for which nobody knows who the owners are, so even if the books are good, no sane publisher would dare try to republish them against the risk that some cousin or great grandchild would hear about it and sue. Copyright is a mess, and whereasI support it in principle, the current implementation needs some reform.

        But what you’re really talking about is when a publishing contract expires, and with digital publishing, there is no “out of print” and the answer is basically “never.” I’m unlikely ever to become a famous writer, so I don’t have much to lose by keeping all rights and publishing it myself. Being a retired publisher with 30 years tenure does help; I used to edit and sometimes lay out books for a living. I shudder to read about the contracts that the tradpubs are pushing on authors these days.

        National restrictions on book distribution are pure rentseeking, and yet another facet of publishing that needs reform. I keep reminding publishers that when readers want to buy an ebook and can’t because of distribution resrtictions, they’re as likely as not to run right over to Usenet or The Pirate Bay and download the damned thing for free. The last thing we should be doing is teaching honest people with money in their hands to be pirates.

        Go figger.

  26. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    It seems she thinks indies, at least “unknown” indies, should never publish until they submit a book to a traditional publisher and have it accepted and published. Then the unknown indie author will know she is good enough to call herself an author. Yep, you read that right. Each of us who indie publish, should go the traditional route first — and successfully land a publishing contract — before self-publishing. That will get rid of all the dreck out there if we do.

    Oh. My. God.

    Ah, well, it’s good that there are still people like that out there. It reminds us that the bad old days aren’t all that far in the past, and that some people are stuck solidly in them.