Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Looking for a good read? Check out some indie authors!

During my senior year in high school, I signed up for my first creative writing class.

Oh sure, I was forced to take language arts/English classes all the way through junior high into high school and was given the opportunity off and on to be "creative" in those classes.

But this was different.

Here it was, my first opportunity to write basically what I wanted to write: science fiction. My creative writing teacher, now that I think about it, was surely a new member of the Topeka High School faculty. I mean, she didn't look much older than me. But I'm sure she must have impressed someone in the THS English department to be awarded the privilege of administering that department's "creative writing" class.

As far as I can remember, she told us that she would love it if we'd "hone" our skills in one particular area/genre. If someone wanted to focus only on poetry, so be it. What about focusing on "free verse" poetry? Could we do that? Why of course we could!

It's a "creative writing" class!

When I told her I'd like to focus primarily on sci-fi, her response could have been something like:

"Well, I am a woman, David, and women traditionally don't care much for science fiction." But she must have phrased it such a way that said she would be as objective about it as possible -- for a woman, of course.

Even before "graduating" from 6th grade, I devoured science fiction: Burroughs, Heinlein, etc. and for the most part the only comic books I enjoyed were of the sci-fi variety. So, needless to even mention, my brain was definitely full of science fiction plots/characters/settings and even themes (especially what is now referred to as "dystopian sci-fi").

Even though the first draft of our stories/poems weren't due until Friday, I purposely handed in my "post-nuclear holocaust" short story on Thursday.

The next day, I couldn't believe it: she had made enough copies of my story for everyone in the class and spent nearly all of that class period using my story as her text for that day's "creative writing" instruction. I was more than stoked: I thought I had been transformed ... re-created ... initiated into another world. I had "made it."

A few weeks later, she assigned the class a "character study" in which we were to describe using as much metaphorical language as possible someone we admired ... or at least liked a lot.

And I chose to focus on my current girl friend. And I thought the assignment was pretty easy. And I thought the best person to first share my descriptive paragraph with was that beautiful young lady.

Boy, was I wrong ... so very, very wrong.

Not only was she humiliated by my metaphoric/allusive description of her, I firmly believe this seemingly-harmless collection of sentences led to the demise of our relationship. (She was so "impressed" with my description of her that she drew -- with colored pencils even! -- a pictorial representation of it and threw it at me before that school day was over.)

Audience ... that's what "creative writing" is all about. And there we have it ... my introduction to "The quality of indie books."

Now how about we move on to the meat of this blogpost: 
the highly-insightful and sometimes even humorous comments 
from the those who populate The Writers' Cafe.

"It occurred to me today that we as indies have been fighting a losing battle by trying to argue that indie books are of the same quality as trade published books. Certainly many are, but at the same time a great many aren't. Which means that the quality of an indie book on average is less than that of a trade published book. This is basic statistics, and as long as many indie authors produce poor quality work, there's nothing we can do about it. And readers will know this - let's be honest. They aren't dumb. And if they've been browsing as I do and checked out a lot of books, indie as well as trade, they will have come across some poor indie works. Those invested in the trade publishing world have of course seized on this quality gap and used it as a club to beat us over the head with. Again, this is their bread and butter we're threatening, so there's not much we can do about that either. And so we as indies will always be labelled with the stigma of poor quality. But, and here's where things get turned around, the underlying reason for this difference is the presence or absence of gatekeepers. In the trade publishing world books of substandard quality simply aren't produced - or shouldn't be. But the gatekeepers have been knocking out books for other reasons than quality. And as all of us know, often the reason for their rejections has been commercial success. In short if a book didn't fit in a commercial genre or follow a particular commercial trope, it was unlikely to be picked up. That means if you want original, fresh work, you're much more likely to find it among indie books than the trade published. So maybe instead of trying to argue a losing cause and to claim that indie books are of the same quality on average as trade published, we should instead be arguing a winning one. That indie books are fresher, more original, more creative etc. And if those invested in trade publishing claim we produce poor quality work that they would never publish, we as those invested in the indie publishing world argue that they produce formulaic, derivative, generic and unoriginal work. This is in debating a thing called framing the argument. Showing the true costs of choices etc. So everybody wants better health care but no one wants to pay higher taxes. You can't have both. So maybe readers want higher quality books, but they don't want boring, repetitive stuff that they've read a hundred times before."

"I don't honestly ever find myself having this argument--not with family, or with friends, or with strangers, or with trad publishing colleagues. I think the work I put out myself is on par with what I get with publishers. Better in content in many cases. Less flashy with art."

"It's true that most of the indie content is below par, both in quality of stories and quality of workmanship. But we writers should look at this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.  Because it's presenting us with a clear way to stand out from the crowd.  We must make sure our work rises above that level, and readers will notice.  They may still complain about indie books in general, but they'll also know which authors to turn to in order to find better than the typical indie book." 

"I honestly don't care what anyone thinks. I'm selling books, I'm having a blast doing it, and people who are reading my books love them and demand I write faster! Then again, when I decided to write, I never once considered tradpub. I know it's hard to believe, but NOT ONCE. The lousy terms, the idea of putting my career in someone's hands and hoping they do right by me, was never something that appealed to me. I understand that a lot of other self-publishers don't come at it from this angle, which I assume is behind the desperation to be seen as 'legitimate.' I personally don't care. When I was devouring books like a maniac, I never ONCE turned to the copyright page to see who published that book. NOT ONCE. My advice is to stop trying to win the argument. It's never ending and it will never really make you feel better. Just ... write. If you're having fun, and people are loving and buying your book, what does it matter what some jackass in New York thinks?"

"I see the argument differently than most. For starters, I don't buy into the whole Team Indie thing. I don't recall ever signing up to be part of some conglomerate of self-published authors. If you put out a professional product that's been professionally edited, has a professional cover, with an excellent blurb, readers shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a traditionally published book and a self-published one. So maybe the reason readers are critical of indie books is because some authors are presenting their books as being something that's substandard from the get go, as in 'I'm indie, so I'm going to be different and not spend money on my books or learn how to do the production work properly'. Me? I'm an author. The method of my publication is inconsequential. What matters is that I put out a quality book. I'll leave the rhetorical debate of why some readers dislike indie books for others who have more free time on their hands than I do. I choose to spend that time writing more 'quality' books."

"IMO, the biggest pro-indie case, and the reason most readers buy indie, is price. Indie books, on average, are cheaper. That, first and foremost, is what makes them attractive. Indie writers have more flexibility over price (including free) than trad writers and publisher with overheads and specialists to pay for. Some people may complain about Indie quality, but everyone loves a bargain, and lots sign up to Bookbub to get exactly that."

"With my reader hat on: The average quality of independent books vs tradpub would only matter to me if I were planning on reading all 2 million (or whatever the number is) books currently published. Even in the genres I mostly read there are approx 100000 books listed on Amazon. At an average of one book a week, if I live to a typical age I *might* manage another ::counts on fingers:: 2000 books. Since the market opened up in the last few years I'm buying good books faster than I can read them, and I guess approx 70% are indie (I seldom bother checking). Proportionately I find as many duds in the tradpub books (derivative formula). Honestly I'm not seeing a quality problem. If I don't like a book it goes into the DNF folder and onto the next. Happy days."

"Back in the 90s, I earned my living as a freelance writer for about three years, one book published, one in progress, lots of articles. I did okay, but when I really looked at the numbers, I said, yeah, no, I'm not insane. Got myself a job as an acquisitions editor and spent a pleasant ten years earning good money doing a job I was good at. When I started writing again, I never once considered tradpub. Not once. My first book has 99 five-star reviews on Amazon. No traditional publisher would ever have picked it up. It's a genre book that doesn't have a genre, it breaks rules right and left, it's simple and not, it's decidedly quirky in every possible way. I wrote it and if I'd been the acquisitions editor who got the manuscript I would have said, 'Not a chance, loved the read, but I can't sell a book that doesn't fit on a specific shelf, and by the way, do you know that there are rules about how plots work?' I don't feel the need to defend indie publishing. For me, that would be like defending indie music. Sure, there's a lot of crap out there. But it's also where a lot of interesting stuff is happening. If you're the kind of person who needs to know exactly what you're getting, stick with the top 40. But those of us who are listening to the crap in order to find the interesting stuff, we don't need to defend ourselves to you. We get to smile quietly and keep listening."

"Something I learned in business a LONG time ago is that trying to compete on price isn't usually the best strategy. I believe that most consumers seek out quality and will pay for quality, as long as the price isn't too far out of line. I hate to see indie authors underpricing quality work because they feel like their only advantage is price. It isn't. I think that the more stories that come out in the mainstream media about indie authors having success, the less common will be the impression that indie works are of poorer quality or worth less money than traditionally published works. I encourage indies to not give in to the thought that "I have to sell my hard work for cheap" and price their work what they think its really worth."

"I call this 'The Originality Trap', a belief that being 'original' from the ground up is the single most important thing, even if story or even mere comprehensibility 
(not a word, but it should be) must suffer. I've read so many freaking books 
that are so wrapped up in being 'spayshul' that they make absolutely no sense."

"Maybe ten to twenty years ago, there was a lot more credibility to the 'gatekeepers' argument filtering out the cruft and serving the best of the best to the reading public. However, while the media and certain corporate moguls are trying to sell the quality point in the news, the numbers aren't supporting that argument. Titles by self-published authors are now showing up routinely in the bestsellers lists. Even the New York Times which was openly hostile to self-published writers in the past, finally gave in and now includes self-published titles in their reviews. A significant percentage of the top books listed are self-published. If the quality wasn't there, then why are these books flying off the shelves?"

"Serial fiction is another big thing that self-pub is turning somewhat mainstream, I think. Not that it didn't exist before, but H.M. Ward is making bank on a VERY addictive NA romantic suspense serial. Sure, her work is fun entertainment -- but I think bringing that form to the ravenous romance community is pretty original. So, if we're talking about, like, experimental literary fiction, I totally agree -- not much of these writers are taking advantage of self-pub. I think that's partly because the self-pub stigma is especially strong in literary circles (I say this coming from academia): I think lit-fic is still pretty attached to the traditional publishing model. But indies are providing readers with fresh, original content: or at least content big pub refused to try out." 

"It doesn't matter how you frame the argument, there are people who simply aren't going to change their minds. I see no point in wasting valuable writing time on something that won't change by blabbing at people. Do your best work. Always strive to improve yourself. When possible, advise and even mentor new writers to do their best work. Set a good example -- standards, if you will -- by being a professional writer and publisher. Price books the way you feel benefits your career. Write a series if you want. Or don't. Write in the genre you like. Or the one that you can make money from. Pay for covers and editing. Or don't. Respect the fact that others won't agree with you. Accept that some people won't like what you write, and won't hesitate to tell you, in excruciating detail, why. Write with your heart, and publish with your head."

"People confuse originality with creativity or even talent. I believe it was Mark Twain that said 'All ideas are second-hand.' We all start out wanting to be 'original.'  But originality is not the goal of storytelling. The goal of storytelling is to speak on the human condition. 
Readers read not to see something original per se. 
They read to engage in the human experience. 
They read to be entertained. The read for comfort and familiarity. They read to escape. 
I watched Henry IV pt 1 last night (with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston). 
It was the most beautiful production of the play I've ever seen. But it wasn't original. 
They didn't change the play or the characters 
or turn Percy into a vampire or Prince Hal into a fairy. 
Ye gods, Henry IV wasn't even original when Shakespeare wrote it! Everyone knew the basics of the story. But what made it great was the interpretation of the story. The ability to take an old story and make it mean something to a modern viewer."

"My first career for the last 20 years has been as an indie artist. That community has had this argument in one form or another over and over and over. It's moot. Here's why: Some people don't care if a book is indie published or not. (great, don't worry about these people, you just keep being you) Some people do care. Some people will decide to judge all indie books by a bad experience they've had with one or a few titles. Those people are narrow minded. Their minds cannot be changed except by their own persuasion. If that happens at all, it will be over a long time, after many + experiences that slowly chip away at their initial impressions. These kinds of people exist as consumers of every creative market and you just cannot fashion your practices to indulge them. The only things you could possibly do in an effort to change their mind is to put out the best possible work product you can at every stage of your career and continue to do this repeatedly. The good news is that is what we should all be doing anyway. We should all be doing our best to put out our best work all the time. And I'd say most people do. The disconnect lies in subjectiveness. The logic flaw that exists in a lot of these "indie writers don't care about quality" arguments is the CARE part. I've never met an indie that didn't care. I've never met an indie that didn't think that they were putting out their best work. But there's no accounting for taste. Just as some people are tone deaf, some have no idea their cover is bad or that their writing is stale. I've met many artists like this in the art world, artists who think they are incredibly talented and are ready for a professional career. LIFE separates the wheat from the chaff. Bad work, doesn't sell. Some people will explore the reasons why, solicit objective opinions, and then take steps to improve. Some won't. This natural selection exists in every creative pursuit. It works on it's own. So we need do nothing. Now from time to time people point to a book they don't like that is selling well and they say 'The system doesn't work, this shouldn't be making money because I think it sucks.' That's just sour grapes. In the end all we can do is keep our head down, and swim in our own lane."

"The only way I know an indie from a trad is if the indie screams it.  Now do not get me started on indies that use others.  Oh and I learned something this week.  If you want to write about a real person even fictionally, you had best get that person's permission or the estate's permission."

"You know, Woody Guthrie said something about music that this conversation reminded me of: 'I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.' Well, the entire literary industry spend decades convincing authors that they were too ... something to be published. I suppose in a way I am proud to be a part of the change that has put that behind us. Hugh Howey said something in another thread that he was happy to be part of allowing a twelve your old girl to put her NaNoWriMo novel up for sale (sorry if I misquote him slightly since I'm not sure exactly which thread he posted that in). Anyway, I agree with him on that. I hate an industry that told us (still tries to tell us) that we aren't any good and I'm not fond of people like Franzen who tell us we have to have the literati's permission to put our stories out there. So I'll put out the best stories I can and to the devil with the rest."

"I've read twenty books this month. (Twenty! Amazing what you can get done with a vacation and a well-stocked Kindle.) Some were tradpubbed, most were indie, 90% of them were wonderful. Thinking back on them now, I can't tell you which ones were published by indies and which ones weren't. They were all edited, formatted, and presented about equally well. I feel like there might have been a lot more trouble with quality when ebook self-publishing was still getting its feet, but I don't even see this subject as relevant anymore. Most author-publishers have their [crap] together. I pick up a lot of books by browsing alsobots, reading samples, and purchasing whatever looks cool - I can't remember the last time I DNF'd because of a quality problem. (Though it probably was a trad book with fixed font size, which drives me crazy and seems to be prevalent in older trad titles.) I'm not saying that there are no low-quality books. I'm just saying they're not visible or numerous enough to be worth worrying about. Also, if there's any perception that self-pubbed books are of lower quality, then it hasn't hurt my business, so I don't care. Y'all know what they say about ze haters."

"I don't think the average consumer even knows they are reading indie books. They buy from an Amazon list or an also-bought or from a Bookbub email and never check to see who the publisher is. Even then the self-publisher can be obfuscated through a small pub house or custom imprint. Now, if they read a poorly edited book and check out the publisher, it can reaffirm their bias -- 'Of course it was bad, it was self-published' -- while not realizing many other good books they have read were indies. I don't think 'Indie Book' can be a brand. Just like 'American car' is not a brand. There are good ones and bad ones in both groups."

"An intelligent buyer choose a product based on the merits of the product, not all similar products by makers ranging from known companies to unknown ones. 
If a reader believes that quality books only come from traditional publishing companies, I would prefer not to have them as a customer. 
I'd rather have readers who like my work for what it is, a self-published book, 
and not because I led them to believe 
that it was something more akin to a traditionally published book. 
To me, it's as simple as that."

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