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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Top Five Reasons Nobody Likes Indie Authors (Including Other Indie Authors)

The self-publishing revolution is a revolution no one asked for, except for frustrated writers. It's not like we had a shortage of books in the past. Now, anyone who can scrape Wikipedia has the ability to get an ebook in front of an audience, and maybe even sell a copy.

Amazon alone has released what seems like 1,000,000 new ebooks last year. That includes over 100 good ones. Ereaders like the Kindle and Nook have turned the reading experience from something tangible and meaningful into the world's largest slush pile. Imagine a bookstore full of rejected manuscripts. Yeah, I don't want to shop there, either.

But don't blame the hardware. Just because you can publish a book doesn't necessarily mean you should. Indie authors have become the new spammers of the electronic age, and their own worst enemies. Here are five reasons why.

1. The endless self-promotion. We get it. You wrote a novel. Yippee! Once you've announced this to your family and friends on Facebook, they really don't need to hear it again. Instead, they can expect to hear about it every day, for the rest of their now miserable lives. Twitter feeds for most authors have become wastelands of promotional links, with nothing interesting to contribute beyond that. Failing to find a larger market, most self-publishers are reduced to cannibalism, trying to sell books to other self-published authors. Junk mail and spam are not effective business models. Perhaps indie authors should read a book on the subject.

2. A lack of gatekeepers. Yes, writing a decent novel makes you pretty bad-assed. Do you know who's even more bad-assed? The man or woman who can read your novel, and tell you how much it sucks, where, and how. They're called editors. Many amateur authors seem to have decided that they don't need no stinking editing. Or spell-checking. Or formatting. An entire cottage industry has sprung up with websites pointing out how bad some of these book covers and stories are. For the first time, books are being read ironically. Say what you will about New York, but at least they knew the difference between 'their' and 'there'.

3. The scamming. When you get a glimpse inside the indie publishing world, you learn that it is a seething snakepit of competition. Your book's not selling? Give everyone else in your genre a snarky, one-star review. That'll teach 'em. In the past year, Amazon has removed tags, the 'Like' button, dropped erotica from most searches, and set new minimum word counts for releases, all due to abuse by indie writers. That just might be an indicator that someone is doing something wrong somewhere. It's now common for one 'entrepreneur' to download an ebook, change the title, and re-release it. You don't see anything this awful happening on Etsy. A lot of awful stuff, sure, but not blatant theft.

4. Writing as a business. Remember the romantic concept of writing as an art form? It's dead. As soon as you release an ebook, and often before, you turn into a marketer. Once upon a time, those issues were handled by companies with marketing budgets and strategies, leaving the writer to, well, write. The truth is, many ebooks written today are based on what's selling. Vampires are hot? No, but for the sake of argument, we'll say they are. I'm going to write a vampire novel! Who cares if I have nothing new or original to add to the topic? The end result is thousands of sub-Twilight ebooks. Read that again. Sub. Twilight. Ebooks.

5. The successes. The exceptions to all of this that prove the rules are some truly great pieces of fiction. Wool by Hugh Howey, for example, is by all accounts a startlingly fresh and original sci-fi novel, currently a best-seller, and optioned for film by Ridley Scott, of all people. Amanda Hocking (I don't know anyone who's ever read an Amanda Hocking book) sold something like 600,000 ebooks in 2012. These one-in-a-million success stories only serve to spawn a sea of imitators. Everyone wants to get rich quick and retire, even though that never seems to happen, even for traditionally published authors. Well, perhaps J. D. Salinger. Trust me, you're no J. D. Salinger.

So, damn. What are you waiting for? Get out there and crap out a novel. You can't do any worse than what's already on the market. Just be prepared for a lot of failure and alienation as you annoy everyone on the planet into ignoring you. Forever.