Are Indies Really That Bad?
This is an updated version of a post I originally published in May 2015. It came about when, at a loss for something to blog about, I went to FB, looking for inspiration. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find something. Of course, it also raised my blood pressure and had me gnashing my teeth, never good things. I’ve taken the original post and updated it.
Anyway. . . .
Here’s the set-up. An traditionally published author took FB to bemoan the fact that she had bought an e-book and had been so disappointed in it. According to this traditionally published author, the book had been touted along the lines of “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 is where my issue with her begins.
First, 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 the crap out of 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.
I always think twice about a book when the author touts their work as being just like so-and-so best selling author. I especially do when the author uses the description part of the Amazon page to tell me that. It’s one thing to have someone else comparing the book to another. It is something completely different when the author does so. When that comparison is the first thing I see in the product description, and there is no attribution for the comparison, it smacks of desperation.
Now back to the author complaining about how bad the book was.
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. She seems to thins 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.
All hail the gatekeepers!
Now, how many problems are there with what she proposes? Too many to number, so 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. Almost every major house, and most of the mid-sized ones, have in place systems that require authors 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 making the rounds 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 trying 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 time of waiting follows. 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 is a 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.
Then we need to remember that the reviewing author admitted, albeit reluctantly, that 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 are a number of indie authors who make very 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. Many of whom we never hear from again once they go trad. 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.
But there is more to consider as well. The number of bookstores continues to decline in much of the country. We are down to basically one national bookstore chain–B&N. To say it is struggling is to understate the fact. Traditional publishers are in a quandary about what to do because they no longer have as many storefronts to display their wares. Yet, those who still condemn indie publishing as being a short cut and the place for dreck don’t see a problem. They don’t recognize the fact that the number of new titles being published has decreased over time. That means even fewer new slots for new authors.
Then there’s the news from this past week that Baker & Taylor is getting out of the retail wholesale business. That means Ingram is the only entity filling that role now. I don’t have the link at hand right now, but Publisher’s Weekly had a piece about how this is concerning the indie bookstores. When you leave distribution in only one company’s hands, they have the industry over a barrel. That means not just bookstores but publishers as well.
But we are supposed to continue using the antiquated gatekeepers to prove we are “real writers”.
Sorry, but no.
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.
There are gatekeepers out there. But they don’t reside with the agents and publishers. They reside where they should–with the readers. After all, aren’t they the ones whose opinions we should really worry about?