Are You an Indie or an Outie?

Mission Impossible #4 (Bonus Blog-5th Monday)

Many of us have dreams and aspirations that seem so close, but something crops up that pushes them further away. These things that crop up are just a part of life like simple menial tasks that pile up or huge things such as illness or losing someone we love. It seems only those who are diligently determined and lucky to have that thing called free time can accomplish them. Over the last few years my determination to become a published author has never wavered nor abated, but the slippery little minx called time has eluded me. My job is such that I have spurs of intense workflow so much to the point that I hardly have time to be a mother, wife, friend, let alone clean my house. Therefore, taking the time to attempt to find an agent and/or publisher is at times almost impossible. When I do have free time, there’s the incessant muse who seduces me with inspiration that I must get out on paper lest it escape me forever, and then I fail to bother with the business side of things. This said, in the last few months I haven’t gotten very far in my dream but that doesn’t affect my motivation. I just need to fight my way through the busy time and then pick up where I left off. In the meantime, I intend to spare a few moments researching and reflecting on what I learn along the way in hopes to help myself and others. Recently, I’ve been pondering on the idea of self-publishing but many things I've learned shows it isn't for me.

There are many factors that make this not a fitting venue for me to use and I thought I’d share with others who may think about this avenue. The main reason I’m not doing it is because of time and/or money. You have to do all the work yourself from revising, developmental editing, copyediting, cover art, printing or formatting, and much more, but most important is the marketing. You must sell your books. If you cannot do all of this, you should pay someone to, but that’s not what a lot of authors are doing. In a sense, if they embark upon self-publishing (as a choice rather than a last resort), then they’re assuming that they can be better than (or as good as) the professionals and not only in the one field of writing but also are attempting to be professional agents, printers, designers, and marketers. I am not that naive or egocentric to assume that I could do all this — not even the editing— and I’m a college composition instructor that teaches grammar and is constantly forced to review it. It takes a lot of chutzpah to do something like this on your own, as well as talent.

I don’t want this to seem like I’m attacking the indie literature industry. I’m not. Some self-published authors are very successful and employ the help of others to cover the areas they feel they aren’t experts in (it is rare that someone can do everything well). Those who employ help until they have fully learned the craft usually find success and get good reviews; however, many self-published books, especially the free or cheap ones, are atrocious from the covers to the grammar—oh, the grammar—to the plots to character development—oh, God don’t get me started. I really could go on forever.

Why do I read these books then? I read as research, to observe trends, to see the ideas people have, since a lot of these poorly written books have been generated quickly, thrown into digital format, and slapped onto the internet. In my last spell of free time, I gave my first 1 star review to a “piece” of a book (plot-wise) marketed as an entire novel (was in length), and didn’t finish two others because I just couldn’t handle the unbelievable characters, lack of plots that actually went somewhere, and grammatical errors. Seriously, one YA paranormal romance novel went something like this (changing it slightly to keep the author’s anonymity): “‘Your immortal? Wait give me a moment to process this.’ He shifted his weight form one foot to another. ‘Alright. I’m OK with it. It’s cool.’” WTF? Beyond the grammatical mistakes, people process bombshells like that, his crush is immortal and dated his great uncle in the 40's, in one second…yeah, okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I did read a few self-published authors that I befriended on Facebook and the quality of their work was outstanding. There are some great authors out there doing it all by themselves, those who have mastered the arts of being writer, agent, marketer, and more. Their work is just as good, if not better, than some of the stuff that publishers churn out. To me these authors are like superheroes; I cannot fathom how they have the time to do it. And then there’s everyone in between—those that need a learning curve or perhaps a little polishing. What bothers me is how can successful indie authors stand the monstrosities in the same industry as them? I feel that these poor writers tarnish the industry altogether. Maybe I’m being too hard on them, or no one cares about narrative style, character development, or grammar as much as I do. I wanted to know if I was just too much of a grammar-Nazi who loves her capital L literature and only dabbles now and then in commercial fluff (I’m a sucker for YA paranormal romance), so I made a survey and posted it on Facebook. Considering I have a lot of Fb friends who are indie authors, I was astounded by the results.

About 54% of people proclaimed they never read a self-published book, which leaves me wondering. Do some readers not know whether a book if self-published or not? If it is a well polished product, it shouldn’t matter really, so overlooking where it came from could be an easy thing to do.

When asked, “How do you feel about self-published texts? Do you feel it is a viable way to get work to the public or have inexperienced, under-par, grammatically challenged authors destroyed the venue?” Most people admitted that grammar issues really bothered them in these novels, but about a third of the people said it is a good idea if you know what you’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing, in some responses again, fixated to be the grammar. Does perfect grammar mark a good from bad author? Of course it is a defining trait, but I’d hate to think that that is all. My issues with a lot of novels (because I can shut off my professorial brain if needed) are with narrative voice and character development. If I cannot empathize with the protagonist and/or do not like the sound of the narrator’s “voice,” then I put it down. In the survey, someone busted on the “Sookie Stackhouse books” in reference to why people should self-publish (if publishing companies are putting that out, then better authors should have a platform) and I’m with them; I couldn’t get through six pages of one of those novels (although what HBO has done with it is interesting). I couldn’t handle the narrative voice, and therefore never gave it a chance. We’ll leave poor Sookie behind and move on to the rest of the survey.

 An overwhelming 75% of people read novels that are published through traditional means rather than indie.  My survey takers also had varied responses when asked how they felt about publishing houses, showing an interesting paradox—they make well polished, trustworthy products, yet great stuff is overlooked for the marketable drivel and fads.

I asked a few more questions and learned a bit: fantasy seems like the leading genre, and actually 70% of readers prefer print books, which I found interesting with all the digital devices that make purchasing books faster, easier, and cheaper.

Most importantly, I learned that what I believed was true—those with time and determination will become proficient enough to make self-publishing a lucrative career. Others who publish these under-par texts that tarnish the industry aren’t doing it right according to some. The mentality of doing things the right way has escaped a lot of people. A perfect example is a guy’s manuscript I read and critiqued for a colleague. She was too closely associated with him to tell him how bad it was. The guy was determined to be a writer, although not well-trained or educated, and not an avid reader himself. He insisted grammar didn’t matter nor did any of the other issues his friends and family told him about. He was ignorant to the industry's expectations or just in deep denial. The manuscript was so bad, the grammar so flawed, that I was completely lost on what was going on. Character development was almost nonexistent, no narrative voice (so objective it was like a movie), and it was a series of action scenes. I was nice as I could be about it, but he found my review scathing and disheartening. I insisted he turn it into a movie script and ditch novel writing. As a movie, with some revision to correct the clarity issues, it would be like inserting biblical undertones into Avatar (and this was before Avatar was out). It was extremely creative and a good story. But these two things don’t make an author. An author has to have a great story and tell it well too. I think the indie and the traditional industry should remember that.

I'd have to say that I'm not an indie, I'm an outie, as in not going to try that venue--at least for now. I won’t be self-publishing, but mostly because of time and money constraints. Indie authors should recognize that authors must tell a great story and to do so well in order to clean up and elevate the entire industry. This is a reminder to all authors as well as myself. Better writers make better readers.