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?
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?
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?
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?