A Negative Indie Image?

What do you perceive is the general image of indie authors? Good? Bad? Ugly?

There is certainly some loud criticism:

  • Some nefarious websites have developed large followings by criticizing indie cover art.
  • Publishers and authors (including indies!) disparage a growing “slush pile” of self-published books that lack editing, formatting, or well thought-out storylines.
  • The reputation of free-promo books is on the decline.
  • People are speaking out against shorter and shorter eBooks, including those that are just the first chapter of a book.
  • Then there are the infamous authors who have abused the system with fake reviews. Who hasn’t heard about this?

Loud voices do carry much weight. The complainers are marketing a bad image for indie authors.

There are easily a million indie authors out there. They have many friends and family. Almost everybody knows an indie author, or at the very least knows someone who does.

Complaints and disparaging remarks affect all indies. The reputation of self-publishing affects the sales of all self-published books. The reputation of eBooks, in general, affects the sales of all eBooks.

The more people blast eBooks, the more customers won’t want to purchase eReaders, which affects all eBook authors – including traditional publishers that make eBooks.

Yet there are many authors, editors, and publishers out there contributing to the negative image of eBooks. Every time they refer to the “slush pile,” disparage free-promo books, or remind us of past review abuse, it affects the image of eBooks in general, which affects everybody’s sales.

Even some indie authors participate in the complaining. All of the work these authors do to market their own books is negated by the advertising that they do to bring down the image of indie authors.

Indie authors are not powerless. There are things that every indie author can do to help restore our image. I’m not saying that we should just call an “orange” and “apple” to change the image. Part of the solution has to do with marketing, but part also has to do with product. Yet every indie author can impact both – creating a positive perception through both marketing and product improvement.

Here are some ways that all indie authors can help to improve our image:

  • Don’t disparage other indie authors or indie works. Every time you do this, you contribute to the problem. It doesn’t just affect those at the bottom; it affects everyone.
  • Don’t complain about the slush pile, free-promo books, or review abuse. When you mention things that create a negative connotation in people’s minds, it reinforces a negative image.
  • Strive to paint a positive picture for indies, rather than a negative image, when you discuss self-publishing with others in person, in your blogs, in community discussion forums, etc.
  • Bring attention to great indie covers, great indie books, and indie success stories. Anything positive you can say about indies goes a long way to establishing our overall credibility.
  • Don’t give good reviews to lousy indie books. Do give good reviews to good indie books. Be careful what you say in any bad reviews of lousy indie books – or at least the way you say it.
  • When you hear someone disparage indies, refer to the slush pile, etc., make a quick, positive, tactful, “Actually…” comment. Don’t get in a debate, don’t sound defensive, keep it short.
  • When your friends and acquaintances self-publish, give them honest feedback and help them improve their covers, blurbs, Look Inside, storyline, and writing (e.g. suggest finding an editor).
  • Do your best to perfect the covers, editing, formatting, and storylines of your own books.
  • Highlight quality indie books in your blogs and on your websites.
  • Once you have achieved mild success, occasionally lend a hand to help a newbie start out on the right foot and avoid some common mistakes.
  • When someone asks you, “Don’t you hate the effect that all of those lousy self-published books have on your image,” politely and quickly refute this without sounding defensive.
  • Take a moment to think of things that you like about being an indie author, and about other indie authors. This will help you focus on painting a positive perception.
  • Think about some good indie books that you’ve read and what you enjoyed about them. These ideas may come in handy in your interactions with others.
  • Recommend quality indie books to others.
  • When you’ve gained ample experience and have become a formatting expert, offer some advice or instruction to newbies.

With a million or more indie authors, there is potential power in numbers. If we want to improve the indie image, we need only make a few changes in what we do and encourage a few friends to do the same.

To those of you who are already doing these things, you have earned my sincere appreciation. J

Who holds the mightier pen – the critics or the authors?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

14 comments on “A Negative Indie Image?

  1. I personally, do not distinguish between indie authors and traditionally published authors. The book and what it entails and whether or not it is “well-written” is what I find to be important. I have seen just as many traditionally published authors pull nasty little tricks to ensure their place in the standings, so I don’t see that anyone can just pinpoint indies as the cause. I do have to say, that I have received some really funny requests from indie authors, like one I will be posting about in a bit, but overall it is the book that matters to me, not the venue. excellent post.

  2. Thanks for another interesting and helpful post 🙂

    I’m just starting out as an indie author, after many years of collecting rejections from traditional agents and publishers. This whole movement feels so powerful and it gives me optimism that I CAN publish my work myself, and that there are people who will read it and enjoy it. From the other indie authors that I’ve met on Twitter and the KDP forum (where I met you, Chris) I sense that this is a supportive and welcoming community. As one indie author put it, we’re not in competition with each other, because our readers want to read more than one book! Thanks to the internet, and the tools avaiable to us, as well as the support from each other, I would say that NOW is the BEST time to be an indie author! Yay! 🙂

    • When the super-successful indie authors describe how they made it, they often begin with a large stack of a rejection letters and mention tools that were available to them (they often said that they did extensive research and studied business models in depth, too). I hope you have a similar success story to tell after your book is published. 🙂 I also say, if we’re going to wear the self-publishing badge, we should wear it proudly (for better or for worse). 🙂

  3. Excellent post, Chris!

    Although I feel the indie stigma is collectively deserved, I consider it unfair to place one label on all indies. In my opinion, for every 10 indie books published, one will be a good read. Well, okay, maybe two. But unfortunately, most people–especially legacy publishers and their authors–will stereotype the two good-quality books because their publishing methodology often results in low-quality books.

    The seeming abundance of low-quality books produced by the indie world comes from inability and stubbornness. In other words, if someone doesn’t know how to write or design a book well, they still insist on doing it THEIR way, nevertheless, and they shun advice and constructive criticism from more experienced authors. The same people often provide lists of reasons and excuses, usually self-philosophical, as to why their way is best. The result? Books with no page numbers; text set in a script font throughout entire books; dialogue without quotes or attribution; light yellow text on a white background; misspelled words; and incomplete sentences. No problem; just chock it up “style!” It seems as though people focus 99 percent of their resources on marketing and promotion, and only one percent on quality control.

    An indie book’s “discoverability” is very important, but I feel many indie marketing and promotional strategies, or “stunts,” in some cases, are misguided and downright unethical. I’ll agree there’s nothing wrong with good sales numbers and raking in a few bucks to help with the bills, but the lengths to which some indies go for the almighty dollar are shocking and deplorable. When one’s lustful desire for the almighty dollar outweighs the importance of one’s integrity and reputation, he or she is writing for the wrong reasons and embarrassing those of us who strive to do what’s right. Practices such as rating one’s own books, creating sock puppet reviews, trashing the works of competing authors, and spamming the entire internet with “buy this awesome book NOW” ads, gives ALL indies a bad reputation in the eyes of the masses. One rotten apple ruins the barrel.

    I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Any time a “field” comes open, where anyone can join, and which isn’t regulated in any way, you’re going to get people of all different persuasions, intelligence levels, stabilities, opinions, and motives.

    • As always, Pat, you make some great points — especially, some unscrupulous things that some indies have done to contribute to our overall image. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your insights. 🙂

  4. I’m more supportive of the self-publishing author. I’ve met many during my blogging and have read about a dozen books I would never have found otherwise. If I like the book then I will leave a positive review. I’ve only left a slightly negative review (score wise), but I enjoyed the story and said so.

    If I read something and really (really) don’t like it then I won’t leave a review. I probably should, but I don’t want to trash someone’s work. I’ve seen some reviews where it was “I don’t like this genre” and 1 star. If they didn’t like the genre WHY buy the book?

    Self-publishing authors do have a responsibility to ensure their product is the best it can be. Well written, very well edited with a good cover. Still too many out there who don’t do all three.

    • Thank you for sharing a little of your philosophy. I agree, the better we, as a whole, perfect the writing, editing, and cover, the better our image will be. It’s certainly our responsibility. (Who else’s?) Thank you for stopping by. 🙂

  5. You never heard such whining about indie musicians or film-makers as you do about indie writers! There’s something so snobby about the book world and it’s absurd. Most books that sell the most are and always have been mediocre, in terms of the “quality” of writing, the editing and even the cover art. The traditional publishing crowd is (and long has been) a self-perpetuating clique of self-congratulatory, self-important insiders and wannabees. Who let the rabble in? Oh, dear. But you know what? It’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be the death of literature or the end of the world. Most indies are just trying to make money, while the rest are actually writers, whether they are “professionals” or not.

    • You make a very good point! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂 You’re absolutely right; very successful indie books, like Fifty Shades, Amanda Hocking, and Wool seem to receive far more than their due criticism — yet evidently the public loved them well enough to support them very well. We should look up to their success as it represents the ultimate indie potential, and be grateful that they have shown the world that indies can succeed in this business. Some of these also show, as you pointed out, that you don’t always need perfect editing and a fantastic cover to do well (although Amanda herself recently stressed the importance of repeated editing and appealing covers in her blog).

  6. As I’ve said on my blog, what finally got me to sit down and write my first book was hearing about the success of Hugh Howey. Before him, I was very wary of self-published authors. Why? Because of the reasons you talk about. I heard the criticism and was convinced that all indie authors were a bunch of cowboys that had no idea of structure (I laugh as I am about to become one of those cowboys).

    When I was a grad assistant, my job was editing my professors books and journal articles. There is nothing I find more aggravating than coming across obvious spelling and grammar errors in supposed “final” works. That is what worries me about self-publishing, but I know that is not all indie authors. It is only the ones that are convinced they can go it alone with their stuff. Even with my background, I will still be giving my book to my professor friends and a few rounds of beta readers.

    I’m looking forward to making the jump into the self-published world. A few years ago I would have never had the chance. In a few more years, I really think the indie book market will clean up. Until then, lets all help one another. Give praise publicly and criticism privately (leadership 101).

    Take care!

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