Who Is To Blame?

Today’s post is a blast from the past. I’ve been sick as a dog for a couple of days and simply am not up to putting a post together. No, I don’t have Covid. Just lousy allergies and probably a light case of something like the flu. But I’m better and am enjoying my first mug of coffee in several days. Heaven! This post is from October 2017 and is still relevant when it comes to the indie vs. traditional publishing debate.

Last night, I started my usual prowling through the internet, looking for a topic for today’s post. Nothing resonated with me until I came across a discussion about indie authors. Even though the discussion remained civil, the disdain and condemnation was obvious. I’ll admit, I had a knee-jerk reaction where I wanted to go wading into the discussion to give the indie side of the argument. I didn’t because it would have gained nothing. The people taking part in the discussion are so entrenched in their beliefs, they wouldn’t have listened, no matter how convincing my arguments might have been.

You see, like so many who have been traditionally published, this group simply can’t fathom the speed with which a number of indie authors write. More than that, they can’t accept you can write, edit and publish a book in a month or two. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that the year or more between books most authors experienced by traditionally publishing was an artificial delay in the production line. But, because this is the system they are used to, it is the only one they feel is valid.

Yes, that is a bit of an oversimplification. They understand that authors write at different paces. It is the rest of it that blows their minds. They have a hard time realizing it doesn’t take months to get edits back and have them finalized. They forget that indies don’t have to wait for publication slots to come open for release dates. Even so, when they start saying they fear for our industry, they point to the speed with which indie writers are putting out their product and assume the product must be inferior because it didn’t go through the same process their work did.

One of the authors pointed out that they had published something like 10 books in a little more than that many years. The author’s view was no one should be able to put out a quality product quicker than that. After all, there’s all that research that must be done, the careful selection of words, the crafting of the story, etc. No one should be able to put out multiple books a year, much less a book every month or so. Mind you, she had no idea how long the books were the indie author who published monthly put out. She simply assumed, just like she assumed they were poorly written.

That particular author’s attitude isn’t new. It’s something indies have had to deal with since Amazon first opened their KDP platform to us eight or so years ago. They’ve complained that we aren’t “real” writers because we didn’t go through traditional gatekeepers. They’ve decried the quality of our writing and editing. They do so, more often than not, without reading our work. They simply join their voices to the cries of outrage coming from the rest of the flock.

What did catch my attention in the discussion, however, was a comment that basically said that instead of focusing on the “bad writing” of indies, they needed to ask why the public is reading such crap. They pointed to 50 Shades of Grey as their examples, pointing out it had sold many more copies than the “classics”.

What that comment failed to note, possibly because it wouldn’t fit the narrative, was that 50 Shades did start out as an indie novel and then it was picked up by a traditional publisher. That traditional publisher put mega bucks behind the push for that book and its sequels. It even contracted for a new book in the series, this one from Christian Grey’s point of view.

The answer to that person’s question is simple. There are those who appreciate the classics and literary fiction but they are not the majority of the reading public. The majority of those who buy books or borrow them from the library read to be entertained. They want a story they can escape into. They want to be able to forget their worries for a few minutes or a few hours at a time. It really is that simple.

A look at this week’s New York Times best seller list tells the tale. Of the combined print and e-book list, four of the first five entries on the list are genre fiction. They are written by authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King (2 entries) and Nelson DeMille. The 5th book is a book of poetry. Looking at the hard cover list, none of the titles are what you might call “literary” fiction. Considering the fact this particular best seller list is determined by push and pre-orders (not completely, but to a large extent), it is obvious even publishers understand readers want something that has entertainment value to it.

Does all this mean indie writers don’t have challenges we need to meet headlong and overcome? Absolutely not. To start, we need to understand we have to put out the best product we can. That means our writing has to be good and it needs to be edited. We need to be prepared to take the slings and arrows of criticism leveled at us by those who have yet to realize there are more paths to success than traditional publishing. We need to develop a thick skin and be prepared with facts and figures when people come at us, telling us we aren’t “real writers” because we didn’t go through the gatekeepers. What those critics don’t understand is that our gatekeepers are our readers. If we don’t do our job well, readers won’t buy our product.

Now go forth and read — and write. If you read a book by an indie author, do them a favor and leave a review. Those help more than you realize. I’m off to find another cup of coffee now and then it is a day of writing. I can’t afford to wait a year or more between books coming out. Guess I’m not a “real writer”.

Featured Image by Pexels from Pixabay.


  1. I think I first read this before I had installed Kindle for PC.

    So there is a bit in here that is now much more relevant, and I’ve copied it to my file of notes to pay attention to in the near future. The bit about reviewing indy titles.

  2. “What did catch my attention in the discussion, however, was a comment that basically said that instead of focusing on the “bad writing” of indies, they needed to ask why the public is reading such crap.”

    The eternal cry of the aesthete. In case anyone was wondering why Our Betters are so intolerant of opinions other than their own, the core of it is here.

    There -is- a reason why 50 Shades was so popular. But we don’t know what it is. The book itself is not good, for sure. Clearly its good -enough- though. I think a bit of investigation into marketing and demographics would be interesting and revealing.

    However the person asking that question is not interested in discovering why. They are much more interested in forcing the public to read “quality”.

    Personally I’ve never understood readers who like Mystery novels. I hate mystery. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were no mystery novels, and the only thing to read was what I like?

    1. I don’t like mysterys for two contradictory reasons: Either I figure it out too soon and I’m bored with the rest of the book or I can’t figure it out at all and feel like an idiot at the end.

      1. I don’t like them (usually) because there’s no space ships, no aliens, no ray guns… no elves… etc.

        Imagine my discontent when supposed SF/F stories also have nothing of science fiction about them.

  3. Something I hadn’t thought of–
    thing with the actual classics? There’s an existing supply.

    We have at least six copies of the collected Sherlock stories floating around the house, only half of which I bought, and only two of those bought new, years apart. At least a half-dozen more not-all-the-stories books, and an additional half dozen “inspired by” things for the kids.

    None of those are going to be counted together, and they sure as heck aren’t going to be counted in the same year’s sales, but that’s not because folks aren’t reading them.

    1. This reminds me that I should really make a project of listing and getting really good fun stuff in hardcopy editions that are convenient for reading and don’t require technological futzing to lend/share. I have some collected-works-of that are very beautiful from the outside… but… I don’t often pick them up because they’re an inconvenient size and kind of small print run too close to the spine and this, that, or the other thing.

  4. Also, classics? Is Dickens a classic? He was written to entertain. (I happen to hate him but that’s not the majority view.) Alexandre Dumas? The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo? The Virginian by Owen Wister is a classic. Some people find it very boring. I read it to my dyslexic son and he adored it. But the point is that Wister invented almost every single trope for westerns in that one ‘boring’ story.

    I’ve been binge reading an author I never heard of before, D. E. Stevenson. She is a very light read and that was all I could take while I finished up the school year. But I’m not the only person who just wants superlight now and then. What’s fascinating to me about her on a whole different level is that since I started trying to write I can actually see her setting up her plot points at certain times. And I remember how Dorothy Sayers set up similar deals with much more disguise. I can see how one is a much better author than the other. And I don’t care. I’ll read them both.

    1. Mm, hard to say. A lot of authors want you to see their setup, because it puts you in the place of the knowledgeable observer, who understands what the characters don’t.

      Oh, and she has one of those weird Ballard-type English sf/disaster/dystopia books,when you get far enough into her books, unless I am thinking of someone else.

    2. Some of Stevenson’s stuff is good. I recommend Celia’s House. (And she is related to the more famous Stevenson author. 0:)

  5. It’s no secret that Trad-Pub writers generally look down upon us barefoot types. Our decision to bypass the gatekeepers of Pub World strikes them as cheating. We haven’t “paid our dues,” in the ancient phrase. And these pump-‘em-out types who release four! five! six! novels in a single year must be doing something illegal. But making an objective case for our collective inferiority would take time, effort, and serious analysis. So they leap straight to the disdainful dismissal.

    Which is not to say that all is well in Indie Land. Quite a lot of the stuff being produced by indie writers is seriously flawed. You can always tell an indie who thinks spellcheckers and proofreaders are for pussies. Sadly, many are grammar-deficient. A few deserve to be flogged with an apostrophe, if not impaled on a giant exclamation point.

    But at least indies are in there pitching. Striving to entertain. Many seek to break completely new ground: subjects and approaches Pub World would never countenance. Yes, yes, occasionally the “new ground” turns out to be a toxic waste dump. At least we’re taking some chances, while Pub World continues to demand The Same, Only Different. And as for the hyper-productive ones, well, okay: maybe their characterizations are thin and their styles are workaday. But their books keep selling, so they must be making someone happy.

         There’s a good case that what matters is reader satisfaction. While that might be inherently immeasurable, at the very least robust sales figures count for something – and indie fiction is currently outselling Trad-Pub fiction by a healthy margin.

    We have our problems. But we also have our advantages, one of the greatest being that our stuff reaches readers when we choose to release it, not according to the whims of some faceless “editorial committee” that’s mostly a bunch of business-school dropouts. We might not be in any university’s Canon of Great Literature a century hence, but there are present-moment pleasures to compensate for that. Besides, who expects to go on a lecture tour in 2100 anyway?

    1. “When I am dead/ I hope it may be said,/ ‘His sins were scarlet/ but his books were read.’ ”
      Hilaire Belloc

    2. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is “book one has been professionally copy-edited” popping up around the time book five or so is released. There are interesting pro/con arguments, but if you can get sufficient readers to “launch” without paying for a copy edit, it’s hard to argue that is a “bad” decision.

      I haven’t run into any particularly awful grammar, just typical its/it’s, they’re/their, less/fewer issues.

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