You Probably Have An Unfair Bias Against Indie/Self-Published Authors (For No Actual Reason)

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“Indie authors… there’s a reason none of them have been traditionally published. Most of them need to…leave the writing to the writers who are actually good at it.” — Actual quote from a book group I’m in.

When it comes to writing, criticism is easy to come by but difficult to receive. And given that writers are a notoriously delicate, brooding bunch, it’s not hard to understand why sorting through the criticism chaff to get to the good advice wheat is one of the hardest things to do as an author.

You’ve created this book baby. You birthed it from your own head, fed it all of your fears and hopes and dreams, watched it grow, helped it overcome obstacles and form into a coherent being… and then handed it over to a group of people with eager red pens and asked them to tell you all of the ugly, bad things that are wrong with it.

It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through it.

And if that weren’t enough, you have to keep going through this process, day in, day out, for the rest of your life, facing criticism, backlash, and yes, bad reviews. And some of these reviews might be nothing more than a misunderstanding or someone who is the polar opposite of your target audience buying the book and making your day suck, but some might have valid points. And those are the ones that will really keep you up at night, wondering if you’re a crap writer after all.

In the writing world, some people are so incredibly eager to cut down someone else’s book, it’s astonishing. And many of these unhelpful remarks get unfairly pointed toward indie and self-published authors by people who have never written a book themselves (or take their job as an indie book reviewer a touch too seriously). It’s completely, totally, unabashedly unfair.

And it’s also an accusation that’s fully baseless.

Just because a book has been published by an indie or self-published author does not automatically make it crap.

It doesn’t mean that the book couldn’t stand the test of going through a traditional publisher. It doesn’t mean that it’s not any good and shouldn’t ever be read. And it’s not even just readers that have this unfair bias against indie/self-publishers. It’s also other writers who look down their noses at self-publishers with scorn because they haven’t “passed the trials” that other writers had to.

“But,” you might say, “there are some really, truly, 100 percent awful self-published books that the writer had no business sharing with the world.”

To be perfectly honest, I agree with you. Some of the self-published books I’ve seen and edited are so bad they could curdle milk. But does that bring down the self-publishing market for everyone? No. Does it flood the market? Sure. Does it make it more difficult for your book to be seen? Not if you’re marketing, no.

That’s like saying because some indie movies sucked, that all indie films are awful and lesser than their blockbuster compatriots and not worth watching. But this isn’t true. Amazing indie films get released all the time while the not-so-great ones continue to pour in around them. That’s just the creative process. And once upon a time, your favorite director or author might have been down among those “lesser” indie creations, trying to learn how to get better.

It’s the same thing in the book market. The only reason that you might struggle to make room with indie or self-published authors is if you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct, which encourages everyone to make their books as cheap as possible… But that’s another discussion entirely.

The truth is that traditional publishing doesn’t rest entirely on the merits of your work. Maybe you really struggled to get the words out in your query letter and the reader trashed it immediately. The agent or reader might just have a migraine and not really focus on your work that day. They could read literally the first line and hate the way you’ve introduced your character without reading further than thirty words into your entire 80,000-word manuscript.

This is 100 percent a real issue. I have talked to agents and publishers I’ve met at conventions about this. Yes, it really happens. There is literally nothing more inspirational than remembering that Harry Potter was rejected by publishers twelve times before a kid ended up reading it and loving it. But these stories of inspiration are few and far between, and it’s usually rejection for the majority of writers trying to get their work seen for a myriad of reasons — only a small portion of which might be their actual work.

In the real publishing world, it isn’t just that you’re competing with other writers and vying for that golden pedestal position. It’s a battle against timing, opportunity, and sheer dumb luck. Sometimes you’ve got a great book but you can’t get it in front of a traditional publisher. Maybe they aren’t accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Maybe they’re not accepting new work, period. Maybe they’re full up on the genre your book is written in and don’t have plans to publish more for about a year.

An indie author’s writing and effort aren’t the only things affecting their rejection from traditional publishers. And when you want to publish your book and your traditional options are limited, it’s great to know that there are hundreds of indie publishers with great authors and support staff that can fit your needs and get that wonderful story out to the world at large.

For others, self-publishing is the best way. Sure, it costs more money up front, but it gives you complete control over your book’s content and production, marketing, and even art choices. Plus, there’s no one to split royalties with!

So next time you hear someone suggest that indie and self-published authors are all failed writers who couldn’t cut it, remind them that they didn’t stop watching movies even though they’d seen a few bad ones. We all saw The Phantom Menace, and yet somehow Star Wars is still hugely popular.

Don’t judge non-traditional writers on the failures of others in their same field. Give them a chance. Who knows? You might just find a new favorite author you never knew existed before.

Writing a Novel: Choosing Your Audience

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So you’ve got the vision for your next (or first!) great story, and you’re aiming for getting it published. Go, you!

You know the over-arching plot, you think you have the perfect ending, and you just want to get it out there and have the world salivate all over it. But when you describe the story to people, they just nod all non-committal like and say, “Oh… sounds pretty cool.” And maybe they’re quick to change the subject after your verbal pitch.

So… now what?

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Believe it or not, when you first start describing your book to people, their reactions are actually really important. Why? Because they’re letting you know what they think of your book—or at least what they think of the idea of your book. And, based on their age, gender, and even economic or political status, they’re showing you whether or not they are part of your target audience.

“But people will buy my book because it’s awesome!” you might shout.

And firstly, don’t shout, ‘cause I’m right here and already battling some tinnitus from my clubbing days. And secondly, some people will buy your book just “because,” or even to give it a chance to demonstrate its own merit when you’re having a .99c sale… but those people are usually the ones who come in all back of the bus ‘n shit, well after your book has had its chance to make it (or break it) out there in the world. And if you’re not reaching your target audience, then your book sales are going to flail around like a fish on the shore.

And those “buy it just because it’s cheap” people aren’t the people you are marketing to. So just exactly who are you trying to reach?

If you answer, “Well, my book is for everyone,” then… (LOUD BUZZER NOISE):

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There is literally no way in hell you can pitch, market, and reach everyone. There just isn’t. It isn’t possible.

So, you need to decide early on several things about your book:

  • Which genre you’re writing in
  • Who this book might appeal to
  • How you can reach that audience

Quick!
Describe your book in one to two concise sentences.

Most people flounder here (including people who have already written, published and promoted the book), so don’t worry if it starts out somewhat like:

“It’s an awesome YA/urban fantasy/sci-fi/middle-grade/new adult/romance/rom-com/supernatural thriller with werewolves that turn into humans on the full moon that hunt down and attack other people. My main character is 14 years old and single-handedly ends up saving the world from this destruction.”

Like I said, this is a problem that many writers have, because when we have an idea, it burns within us. We focus so much on the writing of the idea that we have that we forget sometimes that we’re not just writing a book—we’re creating a sellable product. And that sellable product needs a well-defined audience. We need to know who we’re writing to, which means we need to develop something called the “proto-persona”—that is, the exact “type” of person we want to reach.

So first things first, we’re going to need to pare down that over-share spiel.

Since we’re talking mythological creatures in what sounds like an urban environment, I’m going to assume right off the bat that we’re not aiming for say, someone your grandpa’s age.

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Something of interest to note when figuring out your audience: Women not only read more novels than men, but they also are more likely to read fiction than men are.

So immediately, we already know that if your book is fiction, then not only are men less likely to read it, they’ll also be less likely to enjoy it if they do. So we’re probably going to gear more toward the female side of our audience. But your character is 14… do you really think that someone 40 or older is going to want to read about a middle-schooler’s problems?

The age of your characters are IMPORTANT. Typically, people like reading about characters who are also in their same state of life. Whether that’s age, situation with a job, single- or married-dom, or anything else, it makes us feel good to read about people from a walk of life that we can relate to and understand. One of the easiest ways to do this is to focus on the age of your characters and have them in situations that are relatable to your audience. So if your character is 14, you’re probably appealing more to younger kids, but if you don’t want to write that young, then don’t! Let’s say your novel is looking more YA than middle-grade at this point because you want to include adult themes like sexin’ and swearin’.

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So, let’s move the characters’ ages from 14 to around 18. Typically speaking, you will need to aim your character’s age right around the same age of the people you hope to reach. That means if you want to write about a 18-year-old girl, you will probably appeal most to people right around that age group (give or take about 10 years).

This will of course vary, but essentially, you’ve just defined your market as appealing to 15-25 year-old ladies who enjoy supernatural or urban fantasy tales.

This means your themes, ideas, and the drama within the pages needs to be relatable to this type of person. If your character is still in school, then younger readers will relate more, but older readers can still appreciate it. If your character is struggling with their lycanthropy while working a shitty job with low pay and inconsistent hours, then your older audience will relate more, but younger audience members might still enjoy it.

Either way, you’re creating your market as you write your book, which is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to figure out who will buy it, read it, and tell all of their friends about it.

While creating your proto-persona really isn’t too hard, it can seem utterly daunting. Knowing your audience is important when you’re figuring out who to market to, but really, your book can speak for itself, so just let it guide you!

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