I made my first Tweet on my book author Twitter account. As a result, I was served up some “Who to follow” suggestions. One was an indie writers’ group-blog Twitter feed. I followed it—why not?
I shortly found out. I was shocked by the levels of blame, bitterness, and shame among my fellow indie writers, as well as outright misinformation being spread about. I will not contribute to this toxic stream, but I will write down my own impressions.
Blame and Bitterness:
For the record, I am not yet even making Starbucks money with my book release. I do not think this is because Amazon or CreateSpace, or any of the retailers reached by Smashwords is ripping me off. I do not think this is because Amazon has too liberal a return policy. I do not think this is because my fellow indie writers are pricing their books too low and underpricing me. I do not think this is because Amazon Unlimited is Evil Incarnate.
I think this is because releasing a short novella—by itself—was not the best decision I could have made from a pure marketing perspective. I released because if I waited to have my second, or even third, novella ready to publish, I might have lost my nerve. I don’t think this is irreparable, and I will be taking vigorous marketing measures when my second episode is ready for publication. This is exactly as I expected. I am not disappointed, and there is no one to “blame”—not even myself.
It’s the definition of independent publishing that, well, anyone can. That means that people who are not qualified to be authors are nevertheless publishing. For all I know, that category includes me.
But there’s a lot of shame out there among my fellow authors. Shame that we don’t have—or couldn’t hold—a traditional publishing contract. Shame that we might be judged by contamination with the, er, less-qualified of our fraternity. It seems to me that this manifests in a few ways:
- Pushing hard to get books into brick-and-mortar bookstores. This is one thing that traditional publishers can do much, much better than indie authors. I’m not going to even try. My effort will be much better spent getting recognition in ebook channels.
- An insistence on hiding every possible evidence of indie-ness. This includes (but is not limited to) buying a big block of ISBNs lest someone notice that the entry in Books in Print for our work lists CreateSpace or some other entity noted for giving indie authors free ISBNs. It can include getting incorporated and/or building a “MyPublishingCompany.com” website. (NOTE: I’m not saying that any of getting a big block of ISBNs, getting incorporated, or building a publishing company-type website is a bad business decision. It depends on business circumstances. But if it’s because I’m ashamed of being indie—well, I doubt I’m fooling anyone but me.)
- [Aside: An ISBN is an international stock number for books. Almost all booksellers use them instead of a private SKU.]
- A corollary of the Books in Print entry shame is the belief—often voiced but unsubstantiated—that every independent bookseller has a massive resentment against Amazon.com. This resentment will lead them to refuse to stock any book that has “CreateSpace” listed on its entry in Books in Print. The truth is that CreateSpace has a different, less-advantageous offer to booksellers than the standard offer—one that includes a lower discount for retailers and doesn’t allow returns. It’s therefore a rational business decision for a bookseller to not stock CreateSpace books—though of course they will special-order on request. If bookseller stocking were important to my business plan, yes, I would use a different printer. But as I am focusing my business plan on electronic sales and sales through Amazon—no. Not now.
There is almost a cult out there insisting that taking free ISBNs offered by CreateSpace, Smashwords, and others is tantamount to condemning one’s work to indie Hell. That no matter what these companies say, they’re really getting rights to my book forever. If one of them should go out of business, I would never, ever, be able to sell my work again, because I couldn’t do another print or ebook version. Again.
Nonsense. If that were true, no one would ever be able to republish a book that had gone out of print. ISBNs exist to connect a given product with a given wholesaler—usually but not always a publisher. The name “CreateSpace” is in the ISBN description because CreateSpace is the entity that a retailer (bookstore) would contact to order my book, in a given (paperback) format. Smashwords is a distributor—again, retailers (Kobo, iBooks, Barnes and Noble et. al.) contact them for the electronic version of my book. So if I want to take my print book out of wide distribution by CreateSpace, then assign my own ISBN to a new edition that will be available from, say, IngramSpark, I’m free to do so. I’m free to fire Smashwords as my distributor and develop a new edition with my own eISBN that I put up on each platform separately. I’d have to wait until the distribution channels clear, and I might be well-advised to do a cover (and trim size for print) change at the same time so the different editions are distinguishable—but as long as only one ISBN connects to one place for a retailer to buy an edition/format combo at a time, I’m good.
I’ve (largely) rooted out this shame-and-blame addiction from my marriage, but I’m still hypersensitive to it. So, I run like a deerhound from indie author sites or groups that indulge. Sad.