Monday, April 25, 2011

Independent writers deserve respect

I've been having a lot of conversations in person and online lately about independent writers—also known as "self-publishers." The field is growing quickly. Last year, Amazon sold more e-books than paper books. And Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, two established writers, reportedly both turned down six-figure advances from conventional publishers in favour of self-publishing.

But I keep reading the ideas that the editors at the major "New York publishers"—the Big Six publishing conglomerates—provide a level of professional editing and quality control that is missing in self-published books.

I admit, there are a lot of poor self-published books out there. But there are a lot of poor books from the major publishers, too. And as for books that really need editing, just look at Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy.

The Big Six have no monopoly on the English language, or on the ability to edit.

Commercial publishing is getting increasingly risk-averse. And it's a business. Writing, however, is a craft and an art, as well as a commercial venture, and most writers do not write just to make money.

We need to start talking about independent writers, those who control the publishing function themselves, in the same we we do about independent filmmakers and independent musicians. "Indie" group Arcade Fire, after all, won a Grammy.

Which means that book reviewers need to stop excluding independent publishers from their in boxes and review those works.

No matter how much the conventional, established publishing industry resists, independent publishing is growing fast and strong. It has already changed the publishing industry and will continue to do so.


  1. Scott,

    I also think the problem with traditional publishing is the agent. Today, agents are the gatekeepers, and most won't even read a book. Most seem to reject just based on query letters. I'm happy to trying the Indie publishing route.

  2. True. The hardest part about getting a book published by the conventional publishers is getting someone to take that first look at the manuscript. Most publishers don't even accept manuscripts from unpublished writers, and agents just want a description.

  3. As for quality, recently proofed my 1989 novel, Gold, published by Dutton, for possible reissue as self-published and found more than a dozen typos in the original. An indie with that many errors would be branded sloppy...

  4. Anonymous3:20 PM

    These are the twilight years of the novel AS WE KNOW IT. I think of what novelist Philip Roth said in 2009. In 25 years those who read novels will be a small group of people, perhaps slightly more than now read Latin poetry. So we've got 23 years to go. If you want to know what novel publishing will look like tomorrow, just check out the state of poetry publishing today. (Hint: It's ALL going to be indie)

  5. Thanks Scott. I concur. I worked with an indie publisher for my last two books after five earlier ones with commercial publishers. My indie publisher provided excellent quality of editing/proofing, creative design, efficiency in turn-around time, and cordial professional service. I have no complaints. Further, I'm getting very positive feedback from readers/reviewers about the professional look and error-free production of these two books - my memoir "August Farewell" and my novel "Searching for Gilead". Best wishes, David (

  6. I'm Indie publishing and working with professionals such as editors and graphic designers (The Bones of the Earth has a very professional looking cover!). This is because I respect myself as a writer and respect the Indie publishing industry.

    I don't want gatekeepers to start crushing Indie dreams as well, but it will be great if the Indie culture continues to influence all self-publishers to produce the best quality work they can.

    I do think there's a place for traditional publishers, but I think that place is shrinking.

    Wagging Tales

  7. You give me back my optimism, which was sadly and easily bend by a big-house agent's view (why you need an agent like me) that I read yesterday on a blog. Love your quip that no one has a corner on editing. We all have too dang many typos and boo-boos in our eBooks. Must improve. Yesterday. And can.

  8. When I first wrote Gray Justice I sent it to half a dozen agents expecting 6 rejection letters but only got 3. And no, the others didn't want the book, they just didn't reply. At that stage I was on Smashwords and a Twitter friend told me to try publishing on Amazon, too.

    I did, and now don't see a need for a 'big six' publisher. I am getting 70% of my royalties, which would drop to about 12% if I gave control of my book to someone else. Okay, I might get more exposure, mentions in all the right places, but readership is about recommendations from friends. I wouldn't have picked up a Tom Clancy book if a friend hadn't convinced me, and now I've read the entire series.

    I'm not surprised Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler have decided to go it alone: they have the following, and no amount of 'big six' publicity is going to be worth 60% to them.

    I sent out my query letters last year, and I won't be sending any more.

  9. Anonymous6:36 PM

    I agree. I am glad to see independent writers get as much respect as musicians, filmmakers and other artists.

    I argued this point even before Kindle... Why can a person take their own money and make a movie and they are artists, but a person that takes their own money and publishes their books are not worthy of our time?

  10. I think the indie movies have some of the same problems as indie writers. There are quite a few horrible indie movies out there that are not considered Art and they just quietly fade away, just as books that are horrible (either content or editing) fade away and don't get the readership.

    1. The problem is not the horrible movies (and books and music) that fade away, but the good ones that are kept away from audiences from the start.

  11. It is true that some indie writers are too quick to self publish and do not take enough time to copy edit, but there is no need to condemn all indie self-publishers out of hand, as many reviewers seem to do. Self-publishing is a new phenomenon, and, like with anything new, it takes time for people to learn from their mistakes and put themselves right. What self-publishers really need now is not copy-editors---copy editors are already available, and should definitely be used by those who have more money and less time (and even those with less time should make sure they do not publish stuff that is full of mistakes)---what we need now is little organisations where you can go to have your book marketed over the internet in return for a percentage of the royalties. This is the way of the future. Self-publishing is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my writing life.

    1. I don't know if self-publishing is that new; stories are that Dickens self-published. However, what is new is the scale and the tools that make it so much easier.

      As for "little organisations" - watch this space for news!

  12. Well said - some indie books are every bit as good as mainstream - some are also not very good, unfortunately. Indie writers must see the importance of using a professional editor & must ensure that their books are produced to a quality standard. Want to indie publish? Then do it properly.
    I also wish that more Indie books would be included in awards(Romantic Novelsits Association- Crime Writers etc) The Historical Novel Society does review Indie books - details here:

  13. Excellent post and discussion! I don't have anything new to add, just to agree with what has already been said: there are good indy books and bad ones, just as there are well-written traditionally published books and terrible ones. It does seem, in the past two years, that indy books have earned a better reputation, and I think that in a few more years, they will have a similar standing to indy films and music, and will be included in awards, etc...

  14. The indie vs industry publishing divide is much like the self-taught vs academic divide. You have a group of people who have enriched themselves by convincing creative and knowledgeable individuals that they must align with the institution and accept a smaller cut in order to have credibility and marketability.

    The quality of education certainly hasn't increased over the last five decades, but the academics have convinced the majority of the western world that without a degree individuals have no competence nor capability. At least they can count on over a decade of childhood and adolescent indoctrination to support their position.

    The industry publishers don't have the benefit of pervasive brainwashing though. They fumbled ebooks pretty badly, much as they did audiobooks previously, and now they face a crop of new writers who never relied on industry options as well as pedigreed best sellers who are branching out of industry and pursuing indie options.

    Their hope is to cling to the vestigial pride of humans everywhere. So far that is working. When I speak with writer peers who have published through even small boutique publishers and talk to them about my success operating as an indie, running my own publishing and marketing, and penetrating new audiences... well, many of them turn up their nose immediately.

    That's the last bastion of the publishing industry. It reminds me a lot of those professional typists we used to have at work. They were convinced giving everyone a word processor and access to a printer would immediately justify their existence because of all the typos and grammatical errors. I haven't seen a corporation with a typing pool outside of marketing in ages.

    Cheers and good luck with your writing!
    ~Max~ Cherish Desire