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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Independent Thinking, Part 1: Changing Times for Authors, or "Why DIY?"

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” This is the third of this month's posts on "indie authors." All opinions expressed here are my own, although some may be supported with links to related posts elsewhere.

"Thoughts From My Reading" theme icon www.3rsblog.comI don’t usually think of it in these terms, but it seems to me that if anyone could be described as a “self-published author,” it’s a blogger. The writer who stakes out his or her own plot for self-expression on the Internet is the very definition of “indie.” Some of us use our staked-out plots to write about what other people write. We’re “independent book bloggers.” If anyone understands the value of personal connections in discovering and promoting books, we do.

And yet, many of us independent self-publishers hesitate to discuss or promote books by independent, self-published authors; some bloggers decline to read and review books from “indie authors” at all. (On the other hand, many of us eagerly support “indie bookstores”...some of which won’t stock books by indie authors. That’s not today’s topic, however.) With very occasional exceptions, I’ve been one of those book bloggers, but I’ve recently been rethinking my stand...and please note that “rethinking” does not mean the same thing as “changing” (although sometimes it leads in that direction).

I’m opening up to taking indie-author risks less “occasionally” than I have,  and as the conditions that produce the books we love keep changing, I wonder if more indie book bloggers will come around to that as well. If writers are finding new ways to adapt to a shifting publishing industry, it makes some sense that readers would follow their lead.

As the barriers to entry for traditional publishing seem to rise ever higher, it feels like self-publishing products and services are a real growth industry--and public acceptance and respect are growing alongside. (Self-publishing can also yield better financial outcomes for an author than traditional publishing, but it may require some of the author’s financial input to get there...and, again, that’s not today’s topic.) With those conditions in place, there are certainly practical reasons for authors to publish independently, and some cases where it makes sense creatively as well:
  • their book is quirky and doesn’t readily fit any particular genre
  • their book fits very well into a particular and popular genre (romance, for example)
  • their book is more likely to find its audience slowly and gradually 
  • they have some name recognition, but in a field other than writing
  • they have some name recognition for writing, but in a specialized niche and/or not for books
The answer to the question "Do book bloggers affect book sales?" still seems to depend on who you ask, but indie books may offer opportunities to assess it. Self-published authors may welcome blog reviews, but they realize that many of their potential readers may not read book blogs, so they especially appreciate seeing those reviews shared in social media, cross-posted to Goodreads, and submitted to the websites where they actually sell their books. (Yes, this means that if you review an indie-published book, the author may ask you to re-post it on Amazon.com.)

BEA 2010, Javits Convention Center, NYC (www.3rsblog,.com)

As DIY publishing opportunities expand, traditional publishing grows increasingly consolidated; the “Big 6” are on the verge of becoming the “Big 5” next year with the creation of Penguin Random House, and industry insiders expect more sales and mergers to follow. Like many large-scale businesses, Big Publishing relies on “name brands” for the bulk of its sales, and its interests may not always align with those of readers. As J.C. observes at The Biblio Blogazine:
“Later in the article we get to what I feel is the true reasoning behind why these giants of the trade fail:
'They had the responsibility to shape society by providing it with books worth reading, to create a cultural legacy for our generation and generations to come. And instead, what did they give us? Ann Coulter, Navy SEALs, and Fifty Shades of Grey.' 
I cannot disagree with this statement. I truly believe that the bottom line has become more important than providing a quality product that people want, even demand, and would be willing to pay for...The devil is in the details, or in this instance, the quality of the content. Concern about the bottom line carries little weight with a reader. If you want them to buy your product, produce one worth paying for.”
(Mobylives, the blog of independent publisher Melville House, produced a good roundup of reactions to the merger.) The emphasis on “big names”--names sometimes better known for activities unrelated to books--at the highest levels of the industry will likely make it even more difficult for new writers to break in--and for readers to find them--than it already is. While the changes at the big publishing houses could present new opportunities for smaller publishers, more authors may come to feel that the indie-publishing route is their best option to get their work to readers. And if those works are embraced by readers, a successful self-publishing track record has been known to “establish” some authors enough to get industry attention and the larger audience it affords (Fifty Shades of Grey is far from the first or only example of this happening).

Today's thoughts ponder why more authors are publishing independently. Tomorrow's will be about how that affects me as a reader and book blogger. I'd love to know your thoughts on both sides of the story.