Is ‘indie’ the new ‘crap’?

Is there still a stigma attached to self publishing?

As an indie music fan, I have always associated the word ‘independent’ with quality. People who have ploughed their own furrow, refused to compromise their artistic integrity and done their own thing. Indeed, I’ve never been a great fan of mainstream music dismissing pretty much the entire lot of it as overproduced shite. The big exception here being Abba and 1960s bubblegum pop but cut me some slack there, everyone needs to flirt with the Dark Side sometimes.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that in the world of literature, the word ‘independent’ in many circles is synonymous with the word ‘crap’. Even worse, it can also mean, giant-egoed, self-important drama queen… with delusions about their talent (please god let that not apply to me).

I don’t want to sound chippy but self published authors do seem to be pretty much the literary equivalent of ear wax. Worse, I get the impression that, in many quarters, if it came down to a popularity contest between the two, the ear wax would win.

Then, we move further out to extremes and we have these people who have worked themselves up into a frothy-mouthed frenzy of loathing at the idea that anyone should dare to publish their own book. These people seem to be determined to exterminate any literature which has not been chosen by the beloved gatekeepers from the public domain. I reckon they probably work for them.

So first up. The indie bashers. What I’d really like to know is how these people buy books?

I mean, when I buy a book I go into a shop and have a leaf through and if it looks interesting I buy it. On Amazon, I go to the page, have a look at the preview or download a sample and read it. If I like it I buy it. So when the indie bashers take a break from stalking the Amazon forums, axe in hand, like Jack Nicholson in the Shining, looking for indie authors so they can kill them, what are their book selection criteria?

Clearly they don’t buy them the way I do or surely they’d spot the duffers on the first or second page of the sample. Instead, it seems they purchase without looking so they can be shocked and irate and feel cheated when a book turns out to be crap.

Why does this piss me off? Well mainly because I’ve waited to publish until I’ve written a reasonable book. I’ve had it proof read by professionals. I’ve had a proper cover designed by professionals. I’ve attempted to produce a book which looks and feels professional to the reader and it got an award so it must be reasonably decent. I’m not the only one self publishing who has bothered to do this, there are lots of others. Unfortunately we get lumped in with those selling dross with the aplomb and sensitivity of door to door double glazing salesmen.

However, don’t get smug, indie writers. If the people who are pathologically unable to spot a good book seem thick, you, my fellow authors are the dumbest things that ever walked the earth. With the brains-to-body ratio of a triceratops (look it up) and a sense of self preservation that would make it look smart for Lady Ga-Ga to wear her meat dress in a shark tank.

Oh yes, a lot of you really do seem to be intent on shooting yourselves – and me with you, you smeckers – in the foot. Yeh, I’m raw about it this week.

So here are some please-oh-please-I’m-begging-will-you-fricking-do (and-do-nots) for anyone thinking about publishing their own novel.

1. ‘Wait it is not ready yet’ The Grolsh Novel.
You’ve managed to write 70,000 words with a beginning a middle and an end.

Well done.

Here’s the big news. This is where the hard work starts. Avoid being Grolsch author. If this is your first ever novel, the chances are, ‘it is not ready yet’. Think before you go ahead and publish anyway. Trust me on this, I’ve written three Grolsch books. I really, really wanted each one to be THE ONE but it wasn’t. It took every fibre of self control in my body to demurr from publishing them but I did. Trust me, if I can do it, you can. Experience has now proved that, had I published any of them, I would have destroyed my credibility as a writer and made selling subsequent books that bit harder. I am very, very glad.

2. Think about production.
If you’re going to write a book, do it justice. Spend money on a professional proof reader. Also, don’t get it proofed on paper, trust me, you’ll put more mistakes in than you take out. Er hem, I did anyway. Have it proof read by somebody who will make the changes in the document. Get a decent cover designed by someone who knows what they’re doing. Find out what fonts are popular with publishers, find out how books are formatted and laid out, justification, chapter headings etc.

3. Try to avoid making assumptions about your audience. It’s dangerous.

Some of the things I’ve seen indie authors do on forums are, frankly, prepscholic. Pretending to be other people and bigging up their book, making fake accounts and writing pretend five star reviews. The average 10 year old would consider these moves unsophisticated and beneath them.

This behaviour is very unwise, my paduan learner.

And it’s cheating.

Furthermore, every single one of those bogus reviews chips another tiny piece off the genuine reviews and hard earned reputation of those of us who do have some integrity.

It’s also worth asking family and friends to admit their connection.

4. Avoid ‘exchanging reviews’.
I am pretty gutted when authors offer to ‘review’ my book and give it 5 stars if I do the same in return. No. I’ll review a book and give it however many stars I think it’s worth. Gushing about books you’ve never read or that you’ve enjoyed less than you say damages the integrity of the whole system. It also damages the credibility of genuine, honest review groups.

5. Avoid spamming.
If you drop a 3,000 word essay about how wonderful your thriller is into the middle of a thread about teacups you are going to turn people off. They’re going to remember you as that person who turned up without so much as a nod to the topic under discussion, or even a hello, shouted in their faces for a few moments and then effed off into the ether, never to be seen again.

Are they going to read your book?

No.

6. Make it perfect.
That’s right. You have to, because unfortunately, there are a lot of people self publishing things that shouldn’t see the light of day. That means that even if your book is alright, the automatic assumption of a big part of your audience is going to be that it’s crap and that you are a git. So you almost have to make a better job of it than a ‘proper’ publisher would.

7. Be confident – but not arrogant.
So many people knock self publishers that, if you are one, it’s easy to take it to heart. Also, if you don’t have that vote from a ‘gatekeeper’ it can make believing in your stuff and publicising it very hard. So try not to over compensate. If you’re publicising on forums, I’ve found the best way is to ignore the fact you’re an author for some time and just chat to people. Like real life, you can tell people what you do when you get to know them.

8. Be courteous and professional.
If someone doesn’t enjoy your book it’s allowed. Don’t get into a public shit fight if someone gives it a bad review. Indeed try to avoid shit fights at all.

To sum up, make sure your book is ready, present it and publish it as well and professionally (I hate that word but I can’t think of any other way to say it) as you can. And once it’s out there, behave with integrity and courtesy. In other words, research what your publisher would do, if you had one, and do the same thing only better.

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