I actually prefer “indiosyncracy” but you might have thought I’d simply misspelled something else. Also, my preferred spelling gives no clue as to what I’m talking about. Which could turn out to be true of the rest of this post, as far as you know, and I wouldn’t blame you for the suspicion.
Ahem. Indiosyncracy is, I say, derived from “indie” and “idiosyncrasy,” with a nod to the movie Idiocracy.
Don’t hate me quite yet: I’ll give you better reasons soon. Though if you’d rather just read fiction than think about its creation, I recommend you skip this post entirely.
Thing is, I’m an indie author, or an indie publisher, or both. This means I take full responsibility for my books: cover, blurb, and story included. Quality by any and all measures included. Sales to date and in the future? Included. It’s all on me.
There are lots of other writers doing much the same. And there are many, many folks trying to make a living or score ego-points off their (our) backs. Worse: we often encourage them, or find other ways to sabotage ourselves. Here are a few examples of self-sabotage:
- Review trading. I have nothing against this in principle, if done fairly and honestly, but in many cases authors are simply hoping to boost their ratings with a lot of 5-star tomfoolery. This may actually be helpful in some cases, for all I know. But (even when it doesn’t go so far as semi-extortion) an endless string of over-puffed reviews tends to turn me off, and I suspect it does the same for many non-me readers. And then there’s the thing about Amazon deleting reviews by authors…it’s put me off on writing reviews, which is a shame because I actually enjoy it.
- Speaking of reviews, we get upset over “bad” ones, sometimes to the extent of arguing with them. I’ve written before that I don’t share this response. A couple of points here: First, a book that’s truly bad ought to be, at some point, so labeled as a service to everyone. Second, it’s impossible to write a review of any length without revealing quite a bit about yourself. I often read over one-star reviews of books I’m considering, and frankly I’m looking to be amused at the silliness of fools who didn’t understand what they read. Sometimes I’m not so amused, though, and I may decide not to buy a book based on such a review. Which is…really…a good thing.
- Cross-promotion. This is a lot like review trading: it’s fine if a group of authors (or even a pair of authors) actually like each other’s work. Just today I was a guest on a very funny blog that’s not mine. This blogger liked some of my posts, I liked hers, and–it struck me as reasonable when she asked. OTOH I once (very briefly) joined a Facebook group that had the goal of scheduled cross-promotion among a group of writers. Ick…hey, I was pretty new to this stuff. I got out fairly quickly when I realized I didn’t actually like the books I was expected to endorse, and in a couple of cases I didn’t like the authors either (self-absorbed prats, in my opinion). Does this stuff really fool anyone? My guess: not many, and not enough to justify the time. Plus it may well offend our “real” readers out there that we’re so disrespectful of their attention.
- An endless stream of promotional tweets, or Facebook posts, linking to our books. Very annoying. Let me admit this right off: if you follow me on Twitter, I’ll likely auto-DM you with a link to a free sample of my writing. Other than that, though, I mostly hang out and play with the 140-character limit. It’s fun to write very very short stories & assume odd poses/positions for a bit. Although there are two writers who promote their stuff often and do it in such a funny way that I make sure I watch what they’re up to: Troy Blackford and Robert Bevan. I’ve bought and read books from both of them, and I’m glad I did it. Another admission: about a third of the traffic on my site comes from Twitter. Readers from Twitter tend to engage (meaning read multiple pages & sometimes comment or contact me) roughly twice as often as readers from other sources. So I think seeking them out is worthwhile, but I can’t swear it leads to book sales.
Then there are the folks who appeal to our insecurities, sometimes seeking to make a living directly from us. Examples:
- Various vanity-publishing scams. There’s so much info out there I don’t know where to begin to link. Nonetheless: they work. People send them money.
- Predatory editing services. These are the people who immediately trash whatever you send them in the hope you won’t realize they’re full of shit. It’s probably a very profitable tactic, as anyone who continues past the free sample stage has self-identified as a prime sucker–a victim almost begging to be fleeced. Nothing good happens afterward. How could it?
- Various authors’ groups. Alliances and such. I won’t link to any of these, but they know who they are. So do you. These people tend to appeal most strongly to writers who are insecure about something…their sales, their “recognition,” whatever. Writers in seek of validation they’re not getting directly from readers, in other words. Some of the perpetrators say they’re trying to get indie writers “a seat at the table” (whose table, exactly, and to what end?) or claim that they’re going to negotiate great deals on “our” behalf. You know what? Validation in this business comes from readers. We have to earn it. I’d like more, but paying somebody to let me put a badge on my site–thus enhancing the badge-seller’s SEO strategy–won’t help. We’re doing quite well, in the aggregate, as it stands. Better every year, too. Though I suppose some will feel the urge to take credit for it if they can.
- Folks out there who tell us exactly what we need, without knowing us or our books. The ones who say we can’t edit our own material. We can’t make our own covers. We can’t find our own typos. We’re only professionals insofar as we’re willing to hire other people’s judgment and trust it over our own. We need, need, need. Poor little authors…pat ’em on the head; they mean well but don’t know what they’re doing.
You know what? Indies are independent, which is not only a tautology but also the primary source of our strength. We already have a great deal of bargaining power (roughly as much as we’ve individually earned), and our existence–especially that of those who are successful–has improved the bargaining position of every writer out there. We don’t have a single unifying belief or set of beliefs. There really isn’t anyone out there we need to negotiate with as a group.
I know there are good people out there who are really trying to help indies. Guess what, though? I don’t need or want it. Because this is my job. My career. And chances are excellent that if you ever do get the power to start dictating some sort of change? I won’t like it. Or others won’t. And you’ll be claiming to represent them. Which is…scammy and wrong.
Please get off our backs? We’re busy enough, conflicted enough, and in general working hard enough already. After devouring Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith (among others) (no, I didn’t actually eat them, but I’m thinking about it) I’m convinced that what I mostly need to do is write a lot of fiction and get it out there. Following Heinlein’s Rules, or most of them, will probably help. All else is dross.
A few caveats and additional thoughts:
- I don’t claim my book covers are awesome. Of the four I’ve created, I like one of them. I dislike one. Two are semi-okay but in need of work. I’ve tried to hire a highly-recommended pro to design a cover for my upcoming thriller…but he was supposed to start on Monday and I’ve heard nothing. Meanwhile I’ve enrolled in a six-week online course on book covers. Whether I end up doing them myself or paying somebody (or multiple bodies) I need to learn as much as I can. Because it’s my responsibility.
- As far as catching typos goes, for the non-dyslexic it’s not a complicated process. What I do: I start at the end of a book or story, and go backward one word at a time, then check each sentence when I reach its initial word. It’s time-consuming but so far seems to work well. And I occasionally find an issue beyond a typo that’s worth fixing. Again: I may eventually hire someone for this. But if so, it’ll be because I’ve gotten better at my job and become less likely to find worthwhile changes to make along the way.
- We all start off writing crap. Whether I am past this stage is open to debate. What is not open to debate: if I don’t learn to recognize my own crap I’ll keep putting it on the page for readers. And I won’t be able to judge the validity of editorial input. This is key for the performance of my job, and can’t be farmed out.
- I haven’t had a lot of trouble finding beta readers who give useful feedback. Now…I only care about the feedback from people who loved or at least liked my story. Because I want to strengthen it for them, not for people who were turned off to begin with. Meaning: if an editor tells me I shouldn’t have tried something, or should have written essentially a different book…well, perhaps the editor’s vision would be useful for someone. But that has fuck-all to do with me and my book. If an editor likes what I’ve done and offers suggestions to strengthen it–well, maybe the world will end right there. Hasn’t happened yet, though I’m in favor of the eventuality. Er…well, not necessarily in favor of the end of the world, though if it includes zombies I might be convinced. Zombies are way cool.
- Regardless of personal opinions and preferences, distributed systems are more robust than centralized systems. More diverse, too. Meaning: we’re stronger as a group if we behave as responsible individuals. And grow a pair (or…well, I don’t know what the female equivalent would be, but I like the phrase anyway so I’m using it).
There. Now you can hate me. Meanwhile, I have more work to do.
Have fun out there.