am I an Indie writer?

In his memoir on writing, Stephen King said: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

Of course, he said this before the days of no-cost self-publishing.

To date I’ve sold 45 copies of my book. I’m pretty sure I could pay the light bill with that. But this does not mean that I’m talented.

While I would love to be respected as a writer, one thing I definitely do not want is to be known as an “Indie” writer. Because while I have met a lot of really cool self-proclaimed Indie writers, there are some habits within the community that I find pretty intolerable.

The first is the complete lack of integrity exhibited by some people. Yes a lot of these people have far more book sales than I do, but that doesn’t mean they’re more talented. Mostly it means they’re better at marketing and networking.

The thing I’ve noticed about a lot of Indie writers is they really band together. They ‘like’ each other’s Facebook pages, they follow each other on Twitter, and they write 5-star reviews on Amazon for each other. Unfortunately, the quality of the writing doesn’t seem to be a factor in any of this. They do this for each other regardless of how good or bad any particular writer is just so they’ll get the favor in return. The worst thing I’ve seen so far is an instance where one writer grumbled about getting a 1-star review on Amazon, so they all banded together and complained until Amazon removed the review.

Yeah, a bunch of Indie writers—who may not have even read the book—used their strength in numbers to shout down the voice of an actual reader.

I think it’s pretty sick, and I don’t really want to be a part of it.

Another thing that annoys me is the inability of some of them to take criticism. I mean, I can understand why they don’t like it when I criticize their lack of integrity, but if someone wants to have any hope of being a successful writer they need to be able to accept criticism on their writing. The way some of these delicate flowers wilt when you try to help them a little with their prose you’d think they’d been physically assaulted by a gang of rabid gorillas.

Which I would totally foot the bill for if someone could find a way to make that happen.

Because while they may have this little incestuous thing going where they ‘like’, buy, promote, and 5-star review each other’s books, in the long run they’re just hurting themselves by putting out poor-quality products with inaccurate and misleading reviews. Most readers are already wary of self-published books, and it’s only going to get worse if this trend continues.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten all that negativity out of the way I do want to say I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with Indie writers. I’ve had people edit my work and give helpful criticism, and I’ve edited stuff for other people as well—which helps me see my own writing through the eyes of an editor. And personally I think this is the best possible way for so-called “Indie” writers to support each other. By giving criticism, by editing, and yes by networking and promoting, but not in an insincere and superficial way. A high-quality book review is an invaluable thing for a novice writer, but it has to be sincere, and most importantly it has to be accurate. I wrote a piece on the importance of a good 4-star review, and I’m already getting some flak from elements in the Indie community.

I do want to be a writer, and I do want people to think of me as a “good” writer, but with the way things are going right now I really don’t want to be considered an “Indie” writer.

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About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

47 Responses to am I an Indie writer?

  1. Will Bevis says:

    That’s not a hat. It’s a beanie.

  2. Liza says:

    Great post. Good insights. Critically awesome!

  3. candidmentor says:

    E-books are both the future and the now. I’m a vet of more than 40 years as a professional writer, but my 16th published book is a kindle, and my 17th will be a kindle, too. These novels represent some of my best work, but they were orphaned by agents and publishers who refused to read them because they were out of my recognized genre. Today, with kindle books on Amazon outselling print copies, publishers and agents are worried. I know that my agent is. She could end up representing film rights, and not books at all.

    When I was told that I had to “blog”, I didn’t want to do a “how to” or anything political. I just wanted to share the writing life and the people you meet along the way and the lessons that you learn. Here’s a sample about keeping faith with your talent.

    http://writingasaprofession.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/keeping-faith-with-william-faulkner/

    By the way, my best friend from high school has a Princeton PhD in Chemistry, and he almost drowned me on a sail in a 16-ft sailboat. After a safe haven lunch on Hilton Head Island, we sailed back into the Port Royal Sound in 20 knot winds and a trailing three-foot sea. I am now afraid of advanced-degreed chemists who own boats.

    • Thanks for posting that piece, I read it and really enjoy it. I can’t believe you got to meet Faulkner!

      I like what you’re doing with your blog. There are plenty of “how to” and political ones. It sounds like you’ve had some great experiences, and you have good insights to share.

      And yes, we PhD chemistry people should not be trusted in anything but our research–not even that, unless it’s peer-reviewed.

  4. MB says:

    But if you’re not an Indie writer, then what are you? Did you make up some new term? Do I have to start calling myself that too?

    While I agree with you, I hate those kinds of tactics, I don’t believe they are the majority, at least not from what I’ve seen. Yes the few may give us a bad name, but that’s when we have to strive harder to prove that we are actually talented. We’ll be the ones to sell books and they will be the ones to flop. They are digging their own graves. Remember, they are also the ones who are doing more promoting (read: pushing) their wares than actual networking and intriguing people to buy their books. I stand firm in my notion that you need to be friendly and personable, one of them, in order to interest people into checking out your work. If they feel they know you, if they’ve conversed with you, found you entertaining, I think they are more likely to buy your book, with or without a million reviews and stars.

    Remember the “community” is a fairly new thing as well. Those people will soon find out their tactics don’t work as well as they have hoped. Besides, all people need to do is get the sample sent to them to see if the writing is up to par.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if this hasn’t happened in traditional publishing as well. All those ARCS that get sent out? I find it hard to believe that everyone reviews them favorably (or perhaps honestly). Especially those by first time authors. I have a feeling those that aren’t liked juuuust don’t make it Amazon or where ever else. Haven’t you read some drivel that leaves you shaking your head wondering how in the hell they managed to get an agent and someone to publish their work? Meh.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being known as an Indie writer so long as you’re not following in those tactics. I think the fact that you’ve said here what you dislike about it shows your readers that you may be self published, but you’re honest about your work, unlike some others.

    BTW, point me to some of these people and 5 star fake reviews would ya? You know I’ll have to blog on this topic soon myself 😛 I’ll link this post as well 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments on this one, MB. I think a lot of different voices should be heard on this topic. I admit I’m pretty new to this game so I honestly have no idea how widespread some of these issues are, but I am afraid that even a small minority could poison the well, so to speak, for all of us. All it takes is a few well-marketed but poorly edited books to put a large number of readers off self-published works in general.

      Sure I’ve seen books from traditional publishers that weren’t great. But there does seem to be a minimum standard of quality that is generally met. On the other hand there are some eye-bleedingly bad Indie books out there with multiple 5-star reviews. And I’d bet an unsuspecting reader who buys one of them will be pretty unwilling to take another chance on an Indie author after that. I have a sort of unofficial policy where I don’t name names on this blog so I won’t be pointing fingers at anyone specifically, but they know who they are.

      And yeah, while I may be a “self-published” author, until things change dramatically I certainly won’t be referring to myself as an “Indie” writer any time soon.

      • MB says:

        Writing & books are two topics you can always get me to talk about 🙂 I think this is a good topic though. I’m going to do a blog post on this myself (someone else pointed me to a very interesting post I’ll have to share with you too) and then link it to the #amwriting blog next month. I’ll be sure to link folks here too since you’re my original source on this.

        We’ll just have to come up with our own term and pimp it out to become popular 😛 Non-traditionalists? Autonomous authors? Emancipated authors? Sui juris (although people won’t know how to pronounce that & will have to look it up…)

      • Yeah I look forward to the post, MB, and yeah, definitely share the other post you found as well.

        As far as coming up with another name, I don’t think that’s necessary. I think “self-published” is fine because it’s more about the action, the process, where to me “Indie” is more about the outlook or the mentality.

      • “I am afraid that even a small minority could poison the well, so to speak, for all of us.”

        I definitely agree with this statement and most of the points you make in your blog. I tend to look at reviews on books, especially poorly written Indie books, and if they’re overly gushy, you have to wonder who wrote the review and why.

        I love that the Kindle versions give you the option to “Look Inside.” I will attempt to read the opening chapter of a lot of Indie books. If I see critical mistakes within a couple of sentences, I stop reading. On one such book, I noticed a 1 star review posted. An honest review about how poorly written the book was. When I read the glaring mistake in the 2nd sentence of the novel, I had to agree.

        Well, someone left a comment to the review and venomously slammed the reviewer with almost pure hatred. Hmmm, you have to wonder was it the author under an assumed pen name?

        I love Kindle and Createspace. I’m an Indie author. But the one thing that has been on my mind lately is how “easy” it is to write a novel, quickly submit it, and say the hell with edits and revisions. That’s dangerous. Never send out work that isn’t polished. The author’s reputation is on the line. Once tarnished, it’s very difficult to gain back readers.

  5. danniehill says:

    I have to say I do like your post and the truth in some of the things say, That’s kind of a joke.You are in danger of stinging too many butts with what you say about indies. But you’re right about a lot of us. And it’s sad.

    I started writing and it became an obsession of sorts. I found out I had a talent- no matter how small it was. I wrote four manuscripts before I even tried to see if I could get someone to publish them. I’m a long-writer (novelist) and I am just now learning to write short stuff. Not so much because I want to but of necessity. The same goes for the indie route. If you can’t write these short little quips that make an agent wet then you can’t get past the delete button.

    The thing you said about reviews is so true in some cases. I have finally decided not to let anyone know what I am reading until I decide if it’s worth reading. Giving and getting are part of the indie lifestyle and many times it works out for the betterment of both parties. But there are way too many people out there that write a manuscript without editing or relying on Word to do the work– which is the dumbest thing anyone could do. Rewrite? What is that?

    I try to give a decent review if the author is willing to let me critic their work in private emails. I had one who had a pretty good story but after the first chapter I had to stop because of all the obvious errors of grammar, spelling, and poor structure. And when I told the writer that I wanted to discuss the problems I was told to forget it. That book was out and it would stay that way. And on Amazon there was nothing but 5 star reviews for it– all except one who told the truth. I’m sure he is still in hiding. The really sad part is the writer is selling these books and people are judging us from crap like that. It hurts everyone.

    The thing I’ve noticed since entering the social media is so many people giving advice on how to write and publish that haven’t written more than a 500 word blog. They don’t have a clue but they do have a book coming out in the next year or two. And they’re pre-selling it.

    I’ve often wanted ot flame about this and I hope you don’t mind. We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to reputation.

    I have also read some outstanding books that have been edited and as a reader I can tell how much effort they have put into their work and many times they get shoved into that “indie” category and are lost in the junk. It’s just too bad.

    Okay. I’m though and don’t spread this around or I might be blackballed, lol.

    • Nah I think you’re ok. But seriously, shouldn’t we care more about what readers think of us, rather than what other Indie writers might think? For what it’s worth I’ve actually gotten a lot of positive responses from people on this topic, and so far only one negative one. Regardless I think you’re on the right track, and I’m certainly going to follow your lead when it comes to reading and reviewing Indie books.

  6. Su says:

    I think I’ve already expressed what I feel about the current trend of indie publishing and about the behaviors of these “authors” in Lee’s blog (your guest post). I just wanted to say that everything you said here and there is true. Why? Because I believe so. And what I believe is always the truth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I enjoyed reading your post. I don’t consider this as a rebuke of indie writers. I see it as a good analysis of what needs to change in order for Indie writers to earn the respect of the readers.

  8. danniehill says:

    Andy, Su and C.Y.B. said in a few words what I tried to say! If we don’t set our personal standards to a higher degree then we will never rise above those that just don’t care what is presented to the readers! Great post.

  9. Thanks guys! Well, guy, girl, and dog. I’m pretty happy to see people commenting on this.

  10. I honestly see nothing particularly shocking, offensive, or aggressive with this post, other than maybe the silliness about not calling yourself an indie. There’s plenty of bad apples. Most have very few sales, but there’s a few who sell well that I know have review traded, faked their own reviews, promoted with sock puppets. The world isn’t fair, and I refuse to let people like that bother me. My success is my success, my sales my sales, and let everything else go as it will. In the grand scheme of things, as long as I entertain my readers, SockPuppeter352 can go trumpet another book and it’ll have zero relevance to me.

    Oh, and anyone who claims a 4-star review is bad you can just quietly slip onto your mental ignore list…

    • Okay, so they do bother me a little when I see sock puppetry and fake reviews. But I *try* to not have them bother me. I usually succeed 😉

    • And I genuinely wish you–and people like you–all the success in the world. What worries me is that perception is a powerful thing, even if it’s not accurate. Ask a random sampling of readers what their first thought is when you mention “Indie writers”. If you get a lot of responses along the lines of “dishonest” or “poor quality” that means that the actions of a few really are hurting everyone, even if these labels are completely inaccurate.

      • Which is why you don’t give them any reason to think you’re anything but professional. You get solid covers, write a good book, have a well-made product description, a well-formatted file…and then it just doesn’t matter. I’ve had plenty of fanmails from people who had no clue I was self-published. I’ve had plenty that say something to the extent that they were stunned when they *did* find out, because they felt like there should be some clear shocking difference between indie and non. Entertain people, give them no reason to doubt you, and then just keep on writing and hoping you get your own time in the sun.

      • I have to say your book covers are indeed fantastic. I’m really glad you decided to leave a comment here, because you seem to be a perfect example of someone who is doing it right. And from what little I’ve seen it seems to be paying off for you.

  11. apple1parrot says:

    I think your post is very insightful. And agree with CYB–it’s what self published authors need to change. My human says they have to stop focusing so much on how many stars they have or don’t have and stay focused on writing quality books that can compete with anything the trad pub houses put out.

    • Ah, the wisdom of dogs and parrots 😉

      I was probably way too harsh, but I just got frustrated by what are indeed the actions of a very vocal minority. There are, without a doubt, a lot of truly exceptional Indie writers out there writing quality books that are just as good–or in some cases better–than what’s coming from traditional publishing houses.

      I think in the long run the ones who are doing it right will survive, while the rest will fade away.

  12. You already know I agree 100%. But just thought I’d say so here 🙂

    I have not self-published a book, but if I have no luck down the traditional route, many of the issues you have pointed out would make me hesitant to self-publish. I would not want to be slapped with the label ‘indie author’ for the reasons relating to integrity you have mentioned.

    • And you know I agree with what you’ve said on your blog. I think some people dislike the fact that I’m reluctant to call myself an Indie author (or at least think it’s silly, which is fair enough), but I still think self-publishing is a viable option. Self-publishing is simply a process, while “Indie” is more of an outlook or mentality. That’s how I see it, anyway.

  13. danniehill says:

    Andy. I am so excited to see the great responses to your post. Word will get out and talent will shine through for authors who write well and produce a well edited book!

    There is so much talent in the ‘indie’ group and many have chosen that route rather than deal with agents and big publishers who want it all for themselves. It’s a hard road but it’s getting better. The pricing of ebooks is one place a big publisher can’t compete or doesn’t want to.

    It is up to the readers to decide what is good and what isn’t and they are showing it through genuine reviews at places like Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a great time we live in and I only hope those that refuse to put out quality books will be weeded out by readers and peers alike.

  14. declanconner says:

    Indie writers banding together?

    You mean like Lee Child, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen and Harlen Coben all providing one liner quotes for Gregg Hurwitz’s “You’re Next.” front and back cover.

    Or like the New York Times, who recieve advertising budgets for marketing new release trad published books and then go on to review the same publishers books and always highly rate them (Whilst refusing to review indie books)

    You forgot to mention that the 1 star was from someone who admitted to not reading the book.

    • The use of unsavory tactics by some does not excuse the use of unsavory tactics by others. I didn’t forget to mention anything because I mentioned everything I was aware of at the time. We might not even be talking about the same incident.

  15. You’re right – there’s a lot of mutual back-slapping (or MBS as I called it on my blog, to make it seem more like a stigmatising medical condition) and I want no part of it. But I think the best defence against it, rather than highlight the bad is to highlight the good – point the readers to the 4/5 star self-published books out there. The authors who write rubbish don’t need any more potential readers directed towards their books, even if it is saying how bad they are.

    If anyone’s interested here’s the post I did on MBS:

    http://jameseverington.blogspot.com/2011/06/indie-publishing-mutual-backslapping.html

    • I read your post and I liked it–and I’m not just saying that 😉

      Seriously, I agree. I’m happy to support people I like and thrilled to spread the word about books I’ve enjoyed, but one thing I will not do is be dishonest. It’s nice to see I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  16. So someone from London should deny being a Londoner because he doesn’t approve of riots?

    If you are an indie writer then you are. My reaction? You need to man up and admit what you are whether you like or approve of everything other indie writers do or not.

  17. K. A. Jordan says:

    Good post, good comments – a lot of truth to what you say.

    There is a vocal and visible proportion of Indies who are thin-skinned and will do nearly anything to promote their books – except learn the craft and get help with editing. Bad apples and all that are a cliche for a reason.

    IMO there are more Indies who work harder and take the bad with the good criticism with class and grace. Those who know that ‘talent’ is 99% persperation are going to keep publishing.

    Each of us is responsible for our own behavior – sometimes it is very hard to watch the vocal, visible and annoying do what they do while doing the ‘next right thing’ because it IS the right thing. However, as long as I have to look in the mirror every morning, I’m going to do the right thing. And so will the majority of writers who have ‘gone Indie.’

    This is such a great time to be a writer!

    • I agree. This is absolutely a wonderful time to be a writer, and like you said each of us is responsible for ourselves. I think I did just get frustrated by the actions of a vocal and visible minority, but I’m happy to hear that you’re going to do the right thing.

      I plan to do the same. 🙂

  18. Bob Mayer says:

    99% of readers care less whether the author is indie, self-published, traditionally published or a wombat. 99% of readers don’t post Amazon reviews, most don’t read them, they could care less about an author’s blog or Kindleboard presence or any of that.
    In essence, a lot of this is a lot to do about nothing, because in the long run it will be readers who determine an author’s fate, and readers will do that based on the quality of the book.
    In fact, despite being a large champion of Kindle and Nook and making far more electricity money than I did as a NY Times bestseller with traditional publishing, I don’t see the indie movement lasting intact as the industry morphs. Any writer not looking two or three years down the line and not realizing that people working in this industry are often smart and savvy, will see that the future will be different but the same.

    • I dunno, I think I’d be pretty excited to find a book by a wombat.

      When I first wrote this post (2 weeks ago) I was just venting my frustrations. I never really expected it to be read by a wider audience. I think you’re right though. I think in the long run it will come down to the readers, and the success of any writer will be based primarily on the quality of their writing.

      I have to say what I find most interesting is that you’re the first person I’ve seen to suggest that the industry will adapt. Seems like almost everyone else I’ve found is ready to declare it dead.

      Regardless, thanks for commenting! I appreciate your insights.

  19. Z.L Arkadie says:

    You know what’s funny? I’ve come to this same conclusion… I mean, I’ve bought someone’s book who makes a lot of money doing this and it was sooo bad, no really, SOOOO BAAAD–on the nose dialogue and expositional writing. I could’ve cut the first part of what I read out of the story and showed her where to start and how to keep moving forward with the action in a way that weaves the exposition into the plot line. I just concluded that she hadn’t learned how to fully tell a story yet. Anyway–I totally agree… You sound frustrated but you know, there are always those who know how to make $$$$. And writing is one of those glamorized fields–so it’s going to attract TONS of people who aren’t very gifted at it–like acting, producing, singing and so forth. I used to go to these mixers years ago while in the entertainment business. And 95% of the people there were people who played the best social game. The other 5% were quiet, in the background, checking it all out and vowing to never come to another one of these things EVER. That’s the same thing I see in the Indie game. But when readers find that gold nugget written by one of the 5%, it makes wading through the 95% of crap so WORTH IT.

    • I agree. I have no idea what the percentages are, but finding a really great Indie author makes sifting through all the bad ones totally worth it. And I can’t help but think that five years from now all the good ones will still be around, while all the bad ones have simply faded away–to be replaced by new bad ones, of course, but still worth it.

    • A literary agent told me this some years ago. “Everyone has a computer, and everyone thinks they have a novel to write, and they all send them to us. So we have to filter through all the crap, but not everyone IS a writer.”

  20. danniehill says:

    Literary agents look through rose colored glasses and see what has been. If they would open their sieve a bit and look ahead at what’s coming from time to time they might discover talent where they least expect it.

    The future may trip them and of course they’ll blame the low writers for tripping them.

  21. oldsalt1942 says:

    Sure there’s a lot of crap put out there by “indie” writers, but there’s almost as much crap put out there by “traditionally” published authors, too.

    And as far as reviews are concerned, if you’re (generic ‘you’re) so thin-skinned that a negative review sends you into a sulk then you shouldn’t be putting stuff out to be read. Go look at some of the reviews by famous authors on Amazon for example…The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner has 29 one star reviews. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea has 65 one star reviews. My own book, http://www.amazon.com/Despair-ebook/dp/B004LLIXT4/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1314885119&sr=1-2, got a five star review from your dad and a one star review from a neighbor (who I no longer talk to) here in Potrerillos Arriba. Admittedly I like your dad’s review better and the one star reviewer didn’t even read the whole thing so I take it for what it’s worth.

    And aren’t ALL writers, regardless of whether “traditionally” published or “self” published indie writers. There are few collaborative efforts when it comes to writing. We shut ourselves off from everything and everyone else and put words on paper or a monitor. Alone and independent.

  22. Derek Flynn says:

    Very insightful article, Andy. Personally, I like to see authors help each other out, but I agree, ‘blind’ blanket praise helps no-one. And I don’t know whether you’re an indie writer or not, but I do know – as someone who’s been on the receiving end of it – that you’re a very supportive writer!

  23. What Indy writers need is some sort of “Good Housekeeping” type of seal of approval on things. Basically where a number of other Indy writers actually look at the book objectively and if it has terrible dialogue, poor formatting, etc. It does not get the seal of approval.

    Doesn’t mean it has to be a good book, just not crap.

    I volunteer not to head this up…I’m just part of the peanut gallery.

  24. Pingback: #Amwriting (dot org) - The 5 star controversy

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