Are Indie Books Inferior to Traditional Books?

Are we ready to get controversial again?

Yeah we are! Because what’s a book blog without delving into a fiery pit of panic and chaos every once in a while? Nothing, I tell you! NOTHING.

We’re talking about indie books today, people. More commonly known as self-published books. Or even MORE commonly known as .99 bargain basement books only a mother could love. Oof. There’s a lot to unpack here. Ready?

There’s this common idea that indie publishers sent in their sloppy first draft to an agent, got rejected, and in a fit of spite decided to upload it to Amazon with a home-made cover. Self-published books have a stigma of being un-edited, unprofessional, self-indulgent drivel. or I’m sure we’ve all heard this one before:

“If you couldn’t get traditionally published there’s a good reason for it.”

Ouch. I won’t lie. That really stings.

The truth, people decide to go indie for a huge range of personal reasons, and a large majority never even looked into traditional publishing to begin with. Time. Money. Goals. Overall personal preference. Why aren’t these considered valid reasons?

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I sort of feel like getting a traditional book deal is a lot like America’s Got Talent. For those who don’t know, AGT is a show that features talented people from around the country in a competition to find the very best. The winner receives a headliner show in Las Vegas.

Now, we’re talking about hundreds, if not thousands of people go to try out for this. And we’re already on our 12th seasons. So wow. That’s a LOT of amazing skill performing on that stage. Is everyone amazing? No, there are tons of people who try out as a gag, and that’s to be expected. But I’ve watched enough episodes to have my mind blown by the sheer amount of creativity and skill so many people possess.

But the thing is, there’s only room for one winner. Why? Because despite how it might seem, there’s not an infinite number of stages at Vegas. And one by one the acts are eliminated, because that’s the nature of the show, and the industry itself.

The winning act is ALWAYS amazing. They worked hard to get there and have a lot of talent to share. But what about the final ten acts? The final five? The second to last act who didn’t quite make it? Did they just stop trying? Are they just NOT GOOD ENOUGH?

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I know I’m not the only one who would love to see some of these other acts perform again. They’re still awe-inspiring and fantastic. So maybe they buy some stage time at a local theater and take their act there to find an audience. Is that wrong? Because they weren’t chosen by a judge or a producer, should they not try anymore?

This is what traditional publishing feels like to me. They want the very best, but they only have a limited amount of space. They want to publish one great vampire novel, but they’ve been submitted 20 great vampire novels. All of them have merit and are interesting. But they can only choose one and they pick what they decide is THE VERY BEST. And maybe it is. Maybe of all twenty, that one novel truly was the most amazing of the bunch. Sure, who am I to say they’re wrong?

But does that suddenly mean all 19 other manuscripts are suddenly complete garbage? That they were are nonsense and don’t deserve to ever be read?

Why would it?

Isn’t being the very best completely subjective? Perhaps to a large majority, the book the publishers chose IS the best. But we’re not a hive mind. There’s always going to be a handful of readers who dislike it, and that’s okay because we all have different experiences and tastes. Maybe they would have preferred one of the other 19 books that weren’t chosen.

Well, the publisher can’t possibly choose all 20, right? I mean, they’re still a business at the end of the day, and it just wouldn’t be profitable. That’s where indie publishing fills in that niche.

In my experience, most indie authors aren’t looking to make it big. Is it a dream? Sure? But the more realistic goal is to find an audience and earn a modest income and support themselves like any other day job. That’s it. The traditional book publishers, however, have a LOT of employees to provide for, it’s understandable they have to choose the very best because they have hundreds of people and their families to support. Sure, I can’t fault them for that. Everyone just wants to get by.

So why is it so wrong when the indie author tries to do just that?

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What strikes me as extremely interesting is that books and writing seem to be the one area of artistry that people HATE to see others do “unprofessionally”. Maybe it’s because I live in the Bay Area, but here it feels like pop-ups and kickstarters are absolutely everywhere, and people love it! Shop small! Find and support your local artisans! Shop at your Farmer’s Market, not the grocery store. Put your dollars toward Mom’n Pop shops, not a chain retailer. People are turning their backs on big corporations and investing in local small businesses.

So, with all that in mind, I simply can’t wrap my head around why authors who also try to strike it out on their own are so looked down upon.

Let’s say we have a local beekeeper, Mary, trying to sell jars of honey at the farmer’s market. Why should we give her a chance? Well, she’s right up close with the bees, she takes care of them herself, extracts and packages everything by hand. Wow.  Who cares if her jar costs $3 more than the store, she doesn’t have a giant factory and employees at her disposal,  and she’s not trying to get rich. She just wants to make a living wage.

We give her home-jarred honey a chance. Maybe it’s amazing. Maybe it’s not. But we still give her a chance because we want to support local business. If Joe Schmoe’s honey down the street was disgusting, do we turn our noses at Mary because ‘Oh, ALL home-made honey is nasty’.

No. We don’t. Because that’s utterly ridiculous. Mary isn’t Joe. Why would we assume that just because she sells the same product that the quality of hers is exactly the same? Joe doesn’t use clean jars. He doesn’t know how to take care of his bees properly. This is just a side gig for him. Meanwhile, Mary is pouring every free minute she has into getting her business off the ground. But they’re obviously still the same, right?

I know, I’m ranting and I’ll stop.

But like I said, it’s painful. People see one ugly Photoshopped book cover and horrendous grammar and assume all indie authors are lazy and incredibly self-centered. They don’t see the whole picture. That for every person posting their book onto Kindle as a joke, there’s another who has poured hours of work, and hundreds to thousands of dollars into polishing a novel as professional as it can possibly be.

I realize there’s always going to be readers who won’t touch an indie book with a ten-foot pole. I don’t agree with them, but that’s certainly their right and prerogative. But there are just as many readers who won’t read, or even know about, indie books because they’ve never been exposed to them. But they are out there, they are growing by the thousands and guys, there really are some gems.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of the notion that all indie books are sludge. It’s biased, unfair, and simply untrue. That’s like saying every single traditionally published book is pure gold. HA.

Personally, I think the book community is ready to step up to the plate and judge each book based on what it actually is, the plot, the characters, the WRITING, not where it came from. With the rise of #ReadIndie I have hope we’re making our way toward being more open-minded readers. Because, come on guys, we’re better than that.

Have you read any indie books lately? Any good ones to suggest for others? Do you feel indie books have a place among the bookshelves of traditionally published books? 

21 Comments

  1. I’ve always loved reading your discussion posts. They have the best combination of no-nonsense and humor and the occasional side-tracked rant (which I totally love by the way) And this one’s the best so far.
    Probably because the topic is so close to my heart 🙂
    Sometime in the middle of 2016, I found a website that supports indie authors and I’ve been working with them since. This opened a whole new set of doors for me and it opened my mind to SOOO many indie novels that are at par to their traditionally published contemporaries. They DO have a place in the bookshelves among traditionally-published books, in my opinion. And they need more love, honestly.

    Some of the best indie books I read last year are:
    The Last Great American Magic (so amazing, Tecumseh has my heart)
    A Book of Revelations (the best anthology I ever read last year. Seriously)
    Hidden Dawn (all about First Nation, the imageries in the book is BEYOND AMAZING)
    The Forgotten: Aten’s Last Queen (historical fiction with Tutankhamen’s wife as the MC)
    No Dogs or Indians (changed my whole perspective in what racism can look like)

    xx Kate | https://allthetrinkets.wordpress.com

    1. Author

      Oh my gosh. Wow. Thank you! THANK YOU 🙂 This has to be the sweetest comment I’ve ever received! I’m soooo happy you enjoy reading my posts, and I’m just so so flattered by this whole comment! I’d LOVE to learn more about the website you mentioned for indie authors, and what type of work you do with them. I was going to say cover art, buuuut I don’t want to make any assumptions 😉 Honestly though, it’s always such a thrill to find some who fully supports the indie writing community!

      Yes for indie love! I think there’s a slow, tiny shift going on right now for bloggers to read more indie books, and it honestly makes me SO happy. I’m going to check out your recommendations, and maybe someday I’ll get brave enough to actually do proper book reviews, haha. Anyway, thank you again for such a lovely comment!! 🙂

  2. Indie books get such a bad rap.

    I will be up front and say there are some genuinely horrible ones. I’ve read such cliches, I thought my eyes would fall out.

    BUT.

    I’ve also read really incredible, thought provoking books that were self-pubbed, or small press. Books I would like to turn around and buy in hardcopy for my home library (the ultimate place of honor in my book collection). I also think that the quality of indie is improving. At first, everyone and their aunt was using CreateSpace to publish poetry collections, memoirs, steamy erotica, you name it. These days, the fad has passed and the platform is more readily available to artists who take it more seriously. It’s why I will continue to request ARCs on NetGalley that sound interesting but aren’t from major publishers. It’s why I consider every single solicitation I get on my blog to make sure it is a good fit, and give a heartfelt reply.

    Snubbing indie authors is like refusing to eat at local restaurants. Just because it doesn’t have a national name, just because you ate at a diner once and had an undercooked omelette, doesn’t mean they’re all that way.

    1. Author

      YEEEEEEES! The restaurant analogy is PERFECT! We all know chain restaurants. They’ve tend to stick around because they have built a reputation for themselves of a certain level of quality. That’s great. But sometimes we’re tired of Olive Garden or Red Robin, and that’s where the hole-in-the-wall comes in. Some are terrible and are gone in a month. But then you find that gem…and literally EVERYONE has that gem.

      Okay, so I ran with the restaurant analogy a little too much. But still, it’s another spot on example of what indie books are to trade books. Yes. Just…yes.

  3. This is such an awesome and thought-provoking post! *bookmarks to add to my monthly wrap-up*

    I guess I’ll admit that I’m SCARED to read self-published books, because, yes, they don’t go through the same amount of thorough editing that traditionally published books do! But I totally understand that there are probably a BAJILLION indie books that are actually 10000x than some traditionally published ones, if they’re given a chance to shine!

    I’m actually reading an indie book right now. It’s called Over Raging Tides, written by Jennifer Ellision, one of the indie authors I trust! <3 My ALL TIME favorite new adult series is by a pair of indie authors, Krista and Becca Ritchie, as well. <3

    – Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    1. Author

      Thank you! I’m super honored you liked it that much 🙂

      I think it’s a completely valid fear to worry about the quality of indie books, because it’s true, there’s not really anyone checking to make sure the quality is up to par but the author themselves and some folks are just in it to make a quick buck. But on the same note, there are traditionally published books that are equally as awful and ridiculous, yet that doesn’t stop us from picking up more trade books because we know they aren’t ALL going to be like that. So I think it’s important to keep that same mentality with indie books. Some are going to suck. Hard. But others have had hours and hours of dedicated work and quality editing poured into them and I think it’s unfair to write them off.

  4. I am not on the Indie bus. I read trade books because I like a book that has been thoroughly edited and read by more than just me. I think being published must be a dreadfully arduous task or self publishing would not exist. I also think about all those authors who got hundreds of rejection letters and still never went the indie route.
    I realize you are a writer, so I hate to say this. I don’t read self-published books. At all for the most part. Maybe that makes me a snob, but I don’t have time to weed through all the self pub books for the diamond in the rough.
    With that being said, I don’t actually think of them as “less”, I am just not interested in reading them. I did when I started blogging and got little interest for my efforts. I was recommending books people had never heard of. Also, giving a critical review to a self-published author is heartbreaking and I hated to do it. I need to be honest though, or what am I “reviewing” for.
    I do agree that a lot of trade books don’t deserve all the hype they get. Or maybe I am getting more picky in my old age.
    Great topic! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Author

      Thanks for commenting! Of course you’re totally welcome to your opinion, like I said, I know there’s many reasons many people don’t read indie books. I think the only thing I’d have to disagree with is that indie books aren’t looked over by multiple editors, beta readers and ARC readers before publication, just as traditional books are. Because I can assure you there are many that absolutely are. All of them? Not even close, but you’re right, being a professional indie is a ton of time, commitment and money to hone the final product into something competitive with a trade book and I think it does a disservice to indie authors to ignore these efforts.

      Anyway, like I said, thanks for your comment 🙂 And thanks for reading!

  5. I’m a big supporter of indie and self-pub books! A lot of what I read is self-pub, and I hate the stigma those books have, so I love that you posted about this! I also love the analogy you made about AGT. And yes, ‘the best’ is subjective anyway! Obvi there are some books out there that are just objectively bad (no editing/proofreading, etc.), but I hate when people use that as an excuse because most of the self-pub books I’ve read have been just as amazingly written and edited as trad pub books. And back to best being subjective, we do all have diff tastes, so for some people, it’s hard to even find what you like in trad pub. That’s where indie comes in! Indie/self-pub has more genre crossovers, more niche stuff, more diversity, more risks. Great post!

    1. Author

      That’s fantastic to hear! I love finding another indie supporter <3 And you mentioned something I really wish I had thought of before-that indie books can get away with more niche/diverse/unique subjects that sometimes traditional books can't. And that's NOT a bash on traditional books, it's just publishers have to focus on the bigger picture and what is going to appeal to the widest market. They can't always take the kinds of risk that indie authors can. Wonderful comment! Thanks!

      1. I agree, trad pub books can be great too! But the pubs are choosing based on what’s going to appeal to a wide market, so when you have tastes that fall outside that, it’s great that indie and self pub is out there too 🙂

  6. Such a great posts and I love how you compared publishing to talentshows or honey-makers 🙂
    I haven’t read a lot of indie yet, but I’m working on it. I think there are definitely some great books out there and they shouldn’t be stigmatized just because they are indie.

    1. Author

      Haha, I’m glad you were able to untangle all my ramblings 😉 I sort of went off on a stream-of-consciousness thing for a little bit and had to wrangle it all together.

      Hopefully you find some good indie books soon! 🙂

  7. This is such a brilliant discussion post, I love it. I have to say that, sometimes I feel a bit wary of indie books, but that’s just some pre-conceived idea I have of these kind of books and this needs to stop. Just because they’re not published by big publishing companies doesn’t mean they are not worth reading, and I am sure I’m missing out on tons of gems because of that :/ I need to make an effort to find more indie books 🙂
    Lovely post! x

    1. Author

      I’m glad you liked it! I know how it feels to try to move away from that stigma and stereotype, as even for myself I was always wary of reading books from indie authors. But reflecting on my own journey I knew I was being silly. There are just as many authors out there willing to do the legwork to create a quality, finished product and if I like the premise of their books, there’s no reason for me NOT to give it a chance.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  8. This is such a greatly worded post! I suck at that lol. Anyways I love reading indie books I love the hunt of finding a great read. I used to read alot more Indie than I have recently(0 this year so far) and honestly some of my favorite books for years were by non traditionally published authors .
    One of my favorite authors is Amy Dawson

    1. Author

      Thank you! And I’m sure you’re better than you think 😉 I’m happy you enjoy reading indie, there are some really great finds out there! Hopefully you’re able to pick up a few this year, it’s always nice to mix things up sometimes. Thanks for author recommendation too!

  9. I actually adore indie books…? There are some indie books which are not very good at all – I’ve experienced and though I don’t want to judge, I do. But there are others which are written exceptionally well with a very unique storyline! The fact that people think indie authors are lazy is very rude and ignorant as many indie authors I know actually have day jobs plus not to mention many do the networking, promoting and designing all by themselves!

    1. Author

      I don’t think you’re being judgmental by acknowledging that some indie books are bad. Some ARE bad, but the fact that that doesn’t stop you from still reading and enjoying them says a lot 🙂 And it’s true, being an indie author and putting a quality book requires SO MUCH work, and usually all on their own too. It’s sort of mind boggling when I start getting overwhelmed by it all.

  10. I’m not going to lie, this post for sure challenged my perspective. I am kind of a book snob – not even just in terms of indie publishing for generally. I usually don’t read anything unless I’ve read several positive reviews about it first – I don’t like to spend money/time on anything that will end up sucking.

    I think you’re right though. Everyone has the right to have their manuscript published and just because some of them are bad (some traditionally published books are bad too!) doesn’t mean that all of them are.

    1. Author

      I’m really glad I could make you think about it a little bit deeper 🙂 There’s no doubt a lot of self-published books ARE bad. With fewer restrictions and guidelines, there will undoubtedly be hoards of people throwing up a first draft on Kindle and never looking bad. What I hope to do is draw attention to those who treat writing as a professional career who are often unfairly lumped in with those people. And as you mentioned yourself, there are many traditionally published books that are equally as awful! We’re reaching a point where we shouldn’t judge a book’s quality on where it came from, but the actual content inside. Thanks for commenting!

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