On indie books

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The recent bru-hah-ha about indie books and the Future of Publishing has made me think more deeply about indie books. Are all of them bad? No. Some of them even have relatively nice covers! And, more importantly, some of them are probably pretty good.

Myself, I’ve read at least three good self-published books, plus tons of zines, comic books and chapbooks that were self-published. Plus, I’ve definitely read some real stinkers in traditionally published books realm, so it’s not like I think all trad. published books are automatically awesome anyway.

Really, the only thing that trad. published books have going for them is better marketing and more of a chance that they’ll have at least been glanced at by an editor. Well, that and the fact that they’ll probably get reviewed more, they’ll be available in libraries and bookstores, and, yeah– I’d be less judgemental of them from the start.

One of the articles I read was this one on USA Today, about an indie author who first tried to get her books published traditionally but was continuously rejected. She then decided to publish her books online– in ebook format, as well as paper– and she’s done really, really well. Better than she would have if she HAD gotten picked up by a trad. publishing agency.

That article, along with several others, have made me think a lot more about the future of publishing in relation to indie books. Here’s what I know:

  • traditional publishing, if not in “trouble” or “dire straits,” is having some, er, issues. This is partly due to the economy, to the advancement of ebooks and ebook readers, and to how people think about and interact with books now compared to pre-internet times.
  • the internet is king. Internet culture has permeated Western society and along with that comes the DIY ethos, the cutting out of the middle-man, and, most importantly, the idea that authors (and readers) don’t necessarily NEED big businesses to tell them what to do any longer.

So, basically, I’m not overly surprised at how popular self-publishing has become, especially with new technologies and more options in getting one’s book out there if one wants it to be out. What’s surprising to me is that some authors seem to prefer being self-published than not! The balance between self-pub and trad. pub is changing, and I’m actually really excited about where it’s going and how it’s going to end up. Especially if self-pub and trad. pub can figure out a way to work together that doesn’t involve fists and name calling.

Do I think trad. publishing is going to die? No. (I don’t think paper books will disappear, either.) Do I think self-pub authors are going to become more prolific? Yes, although considering how few literature awards, professional reviewers, and other established trad. publishing thingies actually deal with self-pub books, I think they’ll have to be prolific in other ways than trad. published authors are (or those established whatsits are going to have to change their criteria).

Though I’m very interested in indie books and want to explore them more, it still feels like less of a crapshoot to stick with reading trad. published books– basically, the odds are more in my favor that I’ll be reading a good book if it’s been through the trad. publishing wringer, if for the (copy-)editing than nothing else. However, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t give indie authors more of a chance. Some of them, at least, are willing to fork over the time (and money) to make their books the best they can be, and for those authors? I would be willing to at least give them a shot at convincing me how wonderful they are.

Also, if I ignore self-published books entirely, will I be cutting myself off from a big and soon-to-be (if not already) important part of the book world? I think it’s worth at least dipping my toe in.

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m still not going to accept self-published books for review (so please don’t email me offers), but I will be branching out more and seeing what good indie books are out there. Luckily there’s some places that are helping to separate the dreck from the diamonds, and I’m hoping they’ll help me find some good reads. I’ll have to work hard to overcome my prejudice first, though!

Do you have a stigma towards self-published books, too? Have you ever read an indie book, or if you haven’t yet– would you? What do you think about authors doing really well selling their books themselves instead of through a publisher?

Note: none of this relates to backlist books that authors have rereleased themselves, which does happen and which is an entirely different thing I’m also excited about.

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  2. I do accept a limited number of self-published books for review, depending on how much the premise interests me. Unfortunately I usually find them to be rife with mistakes that could have been eliminated had the book had an editor, or even a second glance. That being said, one of my favourite Canadian chick lit authors, Heather Wardell, is self-published. I have read almost every one of her books and have yet to find a mistake, plus they flow so well. So there are exceptions to the rule!

    • There definitely are! And it’s always really great when you find a fantastic new author, whatever way they’ve been published. :D

  3. My stigma is more towards trad. publishers. I love independent authors. I even came up with my own definition for independence,

    Independence depends on the size of your audience. In the beginning you have no audience so you are completely independent, then as your audience grows you move towards the mainstream part of the spectrum. It applies to all situations and it is good.

    The problem as you mention is that many people just toss their work out on the net for everyone to see, without going through any kind of filter.

    That’s just patently ridiculous.

    We can imagine a group of people getting together to edit and critique each others work. We can even imagine the incentives that can be given to these people, in the form of cuts from future sales, the problem with books specifically is that they tend to be long, they are not something that can be looked at and judged in an hour or two. At least not usually.

    I found your site through a google alert and noticed that you recommend books to read, your genre choices don’t really coincide with mine which is just another thing to think about when it comes to the future of book distribution and public acceptance of books.

    • Yeah, but I can see why people would take the easier/cheaper way out and just stick stuff up instead of sending it through a filter (or two). It’s way less stressful! I’ve been reading about all the different stuff indie authors have to do just to get their books ready for publication, and I can totally understand why people would give up early on and just fling whatever out into the aether. Although I wish they wouldn’t, but whatever. Just makes me admire even more those authors who DO take the time/effort/money to make sure their book is the best it can be. :D

  4. I’ve read several self-published books and many of them have gone on the be published by “real” publishing firms and become major successes. Abigail Reynolds comes to mind. There’s another self-published book that I am dying to read — Black and White by Tiffany Madison.

    I read a few chapters of the book on the authors’ website before she pulled them to edit and publish. What I read was fantastic, but I’ve been waiting since 2008 for the book to be published and the publishing date continues to be pushed back (Feb. 2009 to Nov. 2010 to Feb. 2011 to the ubiquitous fall 2011). And I find that incredibly frustrating!

    I wouldn’t really say that I have a stigma towards self-published books. I just don’t really hear about them and therefore they don’t come up on my radar.

    • Wow, that’s a really long time for an indie book to be in editing! Something must have happened to push the release day back so far; hopefully when it finally comes out it’ll be really, really good.

  5. I think I do have a slight bias against self-published books, just because I feel like they haven’t necessarily had the benefit of a professional’s eye, or the eye of several professionals. That they weren’t published by a publishing house doesn’t mean they’re worse books, but I am leery of them because I’m concerned they haven’t had the same vetting. I know I’m missing out on some good books, but I’m depending on book bloggers to let me know if there’s something I absolutely CANNOT miss. :p

    • lol, that is the problem: if publishing houses aren’t vetting indie books than readers have to do it, and readers are quite lazy about reviewing and/or book bloggers are kinda of unsure about indies. So…you kind of have to just go with it and try stuff out? Indies actually tend to be quite cheap, anyway, so it’s somewhat “less” of a risk to spend $0.99 on something and hate it than an $8-15 book (like with some trad. published books I’ve read).

      I’ve actually downloaded a few indies that look good (based on reviews/chapter excerpts/etc), so I think I’ll be reviewing a few more than I normally do. So, yay?

  6. The only self-published books that I have read have been by someone I know. I just don’t really hear about them. At this point, most of the books I choose are based on a recommendation I’ve picked up somewhere.

    By the way, that lolcat picture is just adorable.

    • True! Lack of wide (book blog) exposure makes it hard to find good indie. Some indies are becoming so popular, though (especially YA paranormal romances), that I wonder if that’ll change in the next couple of years?

  7. I sort of do, because it forces Sturgeon’s Law into effect for published fiction in a way I’ve only seen with fanfiction. But if I hear of a good book that’s self-published, I’d investigate—I just wouldn’t seek them out on my own, know what I mean?

    • That was what I did, mostly, but now I’m kinda really interested in indies so I have been trying to find good ones on my own? But yeah, now I’m having bad flashbacks to the days when I used to troll Fanfiction.net, trying to find ONE DECENT FIC. Those weren’t good days.

  8. the main reason i don’t accept self-published books is that they are usually pitched by the author him/herself and if i don’t like the book it can make writing the review a bit dicey. i don’t want to offend the author but still want to be honest. it’s just easier to review books i buy, borrow, or receive from publishers.

    • Exactly! I mean, when I get a book from the publisher it’s still kind of personal but it’s LESS personal than when the author sends me a pitch themselves, so I feel less awkward writing reviews (good or bad). So, yeah.

  9. I obviously read indie authors (since I’m the “places” link in your “some places” lol). I think it’s fantastic when an author can do well self-publishing.

    It is hard, sometimes, to be totally honest when an author has pitched his/her book to you and it’s near and dear and close to the heart for that author. But I also figure that anyone requesting a review from me has surely done homework and seen the types of reviews that I’ve written (and if they haven’t, that’s not my fault). I actually find that most authors who ask me to review are truly looking for my brand of honesty. But, as a non-confrontational person by nature, I definitely had to step out of my box to be able to point out things I didn’t like about a book.

    I have found some indie books that are much better -or at least as good as- traditionally published books. I’ve also found many “so-so” or not-so-great books, too. And a few books that made me feel like I’d been punked. The best thing about reviewing indie books is that it pushes me outside my normal comfort zone of genres, and I’ve found some fantastic reads in genres I normally would have looked right past.

    Good post!

    • I’m also very non-confrontational, and I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point yet where I’m comfortable saying “sorry, but I thought your book sucked” directly to the author. I know it’s something I need to work on, especially if I ever start accepting indie books for review again.

      Or I could just only review books I’ve bought myself, and not have to worry about it! A wuss, me? Hell yeah. ;)

  10. I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m up in the air with self publishing myself, especially since I considered it, but many people still turn thier noses down at it. I liked reading bout your perspective.

    • I think self-pub is really good for some people– the people who have the ability to run their own business and be good at it, basically– but I think it’s also a kind of pit, luring unarmed wannabe authors into its vile depths. Which book reviewers then have to plumb to see if anything good accidentally fell in.

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