The Indie Journey

Buddhist monks chant at Pongour Falls, the largest waterfall in Dalat, Vietnam.
Monks at Pongour Falls, Vietnam – Photo by Dang Ngo (used with attribution)

Tricky Footing
The journey of an indie writer can be a perilous one. It’s really not a trip for the faint of heart … at least not if you expect to make a living at it. The number of indie writers who’ve made it big can be counted on one hand.

Several predictions during 2011 said the year 2012 would be “The Year of the Indie Author.” After all, 2011 saw some awfully big indie moments all by itself:

John Locke became the first indie author to break the Amazon Kindle million-seller mark.

Amanda Hocking, the new Queen of indie vampire/zombie romance books (and already a multi-millionaire indie writer), signed a contract with St. Martins Press (who obviously wanted to ride on the coattails of her hundreds of thousands of independent sales).

And The New York Times deigned to include indies on their best seller list. Every week at least one title – often more – are listed.

From all indications, you’d expect readers and traditional media would both be rushing to wrap their arms around indie authors and their books.

Except … it didn’t happen.

Circadian Rhythm
So why do I bring this up? Well, I was thinking about it again, but not because I’m an indie author. It was because I couldn’t sleep.

The time change last weekend (damn that Daylight Saving Time nonsense) has my circadian rhythm all messed up again, so I got up and wondered what to do with myself.

Sitting alone in the dark, I contemplated the reasons it’s so hard for an indie author to make an impression on the literary world (yes, there are certainly some strange things that flit cross my mind, alone in the dark).

Then the reason many indie titles are such poor sellers hit me….

Big Reason #1: Bad Editing
I think there are several big reasons people complain about indie book quality and one of the biggest ones is the lack of editing.

This has changed in the past couple of years due in part to better, more diligent authors and the growth of inexpensive proofreading services. But the lack is still evident … and here’s a scary thought about why: there are independent authors who don’t believe their work needs to be edited.

Yet every writer can benefit from a good editor (even the most prolific of best-sellers). Writers are often too close to their work to make critical structural and grammatical changes that might make the story better.

Big Reason #2 – No Gatekeepers
The problem is compounded by the sheer number of badly written and hardly-edited indie books that taint the category, making it more difficult for good authors to get recognized.

Having a trusted place to find credible reviews would certainly help separate the good from the terrible.

There are a growing number of outlets which will review indie titles (like Readers Favorite or Kirkus Reviews). Readers Favorite will do it for free but Kirkus, probably the most respected indie review site at the moment, has a $495 basic fee … more than most indies can afford to pay.

Big Reason #3: Quantity Over Quality
The rise of self-publishing has caused a huge surge in the number of books available each year. Indeed, some indie authors seem to toss off multiple titles with ease.

Many so-called indie “reference” sources … and I use the term lightly … recommend having several books available for sale, claiming “If a reader likes one, they will look for another.”

That’s undoubtedly true. But writing a book shouldn’t be a race.

The model of pumping out several books a year might be fine for someone with available editors, but for indies the idea of putting out multiple books in a short time often means skipping important steps … such as editing … trying to go straight to the payoff.

Big Reason #4 – Crappy Covers
As with many things in life, first impressions are 90% or more of the game. You won’t sell a thing if no one will pick it up.

For indie authors to be taken seriously, they need to present themselves in a professional manner. Strong cover art, exciting blurbs and a professional author photo, are all must have items.

The decision to skip these important steps can hinder current and future sales. While there are many incredible indie authors out there, in order for them to be taken seriously by readers and the traditional media, they have to first take their own work seriously.

Just as every writer deserves the chance to write and publish, every reader deserves to receive an edited – and polished – book.

The Journey Will Continue
You may have reached the end of this blog entry … but it isn’t the end of the indie journey. I have another novel in the works, a sequel to my award-winning Reichold Street, tentatively titled One Way Street. I hope to have it done before the end of the year.

In the meantime, I’m off to Miami this month to receive the Readers Favorite Silver Medal in the Young Adult Fantasy genre for my collection Zebulon.

Blogging about the indie journey, however, will most likely never be done. Every day brings a new challenge and a new discovery. I hope you’ll continue to share it with me.

I’ll look for you on my next sleepless night …

—————

The marvelous photography of Dang Ngo can be found here.

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