THE POSSIBLE DARK FUTURE OF INDIE-PUBLISHING

Posted: June 15, 2017 in Blogs, Books, Ebook, Kindle, Reading, Series, Writers, Writing
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Before I get into this, I want to make my intentions clear. What follows will sound horribly arrogant for a guy like me. I only have two novels published so far, I have under ten reviews for each of them, and I’m lucky to sell two copies a month, if that. I write about vampire gangsters and punk rock Peter Pans. In no way am I saying that I write Great Literature and the rest is garbage, on the contrary. What this post is meant to be is a warning of a growing trend in the indie-publishing world that has me deeply concerned about its future.

     So, if you’re like me and have self-published a novel, or about to; you’ve probably done the same research as I have. You’ve listened to the same podcasts, watched the same YouTube videos, and read the same articles giving advice on how people can buy your work. The problem that I have with this is that aspect is dominating the majority of the conversation.

     I was listening to a podcast several months ago that was interviewing a self-published author about how to be successful at it. He went into detail about how he thinks of his books like MacDonald’s does of hamburgers. That is to say, they aren’t his “babies” but “products.” Just write it down, sell, repeat. To be quite honest, this sentiment made my skin crawl. Look, if writing easy to read stories in mass quantities earns you a lot of money and makes you happy, go for it. I am in no way going to tell you what you should and should not do with your creativity. But let me ask you this:

     If you’ve published twenty-five books in five years, are they really the best books that you can write?

     Everyone’s process is different. Stephen King writes a book or two a year, whereas George R.R. Martin writes one every few years. There are no “rules” to writing, each of us works at a different pace. But if you’re coming out with that much material that quickly, I can only think of three ways that could work. You’re either hiring someone to write it for you, the life you live is spent most of the time at the keyboard and your fingers have been reduced to bloody stumps, or you write very quickly and churn things out just to make a dollar.

    Again, not saying writing for money is an inherently bad thing, but that’s not how I work. My goal is to write one novel every year. Now, that would be considered a lot by some standards, but I think it pays off greatly in the long run. Is the first novel I published clunky? Sure. Do I have a tendency to rush things out too quickly when the editing isn’t done and I have to revise it once or twice? Absolutely. Part of being an adult is owning up to your mistakes, and I’m working on those flaws. But one thing that I will fight for is that I never phone it in. Every story I write, I ask myself, “how can this change the reader?”

     Now I mean that in both the micro and macro side of things. If my work makes you reevaluate something big about yourself or something as simple as reevaluate your opinion of Captain Hook, then I’ve done my job. Because stories aren’t just entertainment. Stories, like all art forms, is a way for us to use our creativity to talk about how we see the world around us. It takes me a year to write a book because it’s an endurance test. I put everything I have into it to make sure that, by the end of the book, the reader’s perception has changed. I don’t think I would get that result if I was writing five a year.

     There seems to be a reality distortion field of sorts when it comes to this industry. “Oh,” you might say, “I’ve made hundreds of dollars on my books! So, that has to mean that I’m now considered a real writer in the world!” It breaks my heart to say that it doesn’t. I’ve had one person outright refuse to look at one of my books because it was published online and, during a podcast that I listen to frequently about bad books, the hosts mentioned that they wouldn’t mock self-published work because it was “too easy.” In 2012, if you were to say that you published your novel by yourself, you’d either be laughed out of the room or greeted with a raised eyebrow. today, you’d probably get a pat on the head.

     There have been a few exceptions of course. Both Andy Weir’s The Martian and Hugh Howie’s Wool have gotten quite a bit of notoriety since their release. But, mostly, the market consists of multi-book series of romances, dystopias, and action-thrillers. I’m not saying that these novels don’t have compelling prose, exciting plots, or interesting characters. But, frankly, writing a “page turner” is the bare minimum of being a great writer. And great writing is what we need in order for the industry to survive.

    We’re living on the cusp of a huge technological shift. Netflix is making the Hollywood studio system panic, YouTube is rising in rapid viewership, and the music world has nearly been swallowed whole by Spotify and the ilk. But what does this have to do with books? Well, considering that Barnes & Noble is closing numerous locations and that I bought the recent Stephen King novella a whole two weeks before it hit the stores, I’d say that in about a decade or so, people will be buying books strictly from the internet like they do with all of their media. Sure, they’ll still be small indie and used book shops, but by and large, that’s where people will be getting their content.

     The big reason why some indie authors can make a living off of their writing is because they’re great at marketing and they’re catering to an audience that is looking specifically for them. Once the big name publishers roll over completely to digital spaces, that means their big name authors will be sharing the same cyber shelves with the indies.

     This radical shift will come with a slew of problems that will have to be addressed, not least of which is that the self-publishers will have to step up to the plate. Indie-publishing has to do what Quentin Tarantino did for indie-filmmaking in the 90’’s in order to survive. It needs to plant the flag in the sand and prove to the world that not only can it be monetarily successful, but artistically successful as well. Time is the greatest critic of art, and if we don’t start taking this seriously, than the people who laughed us out of the room before will be right in doing so in the future.
-A.B.

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