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Old 02-29-2008, 04:52 AM   #1
Richard Herley
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Showcase for indie writers

I have been corresponding with April L. Hamilton, who is garnering some super reader reviews (here and here) for her two novels, and we have been discussing the difficulties an indie ebook author faces in getting his or her work to the notice of readers.

There is not just reluctance, but resistance, on the part of newspaper critics to acknowledge, still less assist, the revolution in reading habits that is taking place under their noses. I don't know whether this is down to snobbishness or an understandable, but entirely misplaced, fear that the internet threatens their livelihood. Maybe it's just that dead-tree publishers tend to make the critic's life as easy as possible with support material that an independent can't afford to rival.

Book critics haven't yet woken up to the fact that their expertise will be crucial in the years to come. Good critics will become stars in their own right.

Whatever the cause of the present roadblock, an indie writer finds it all but impossible to get noticed by the mainstream channels. This hardly seems fair: it's the content that should be judged, not the means of distribution. Do motoring journalists ignore the products of small factories making hand-built cars? Of course not -- if the cars are any good, they also make for great copy which car enthusiasts are eager to read. But with ebooks, it's as though there's a silent agreement only to take notice of cars made by Ford, Toyota, and the other mainstream manufacturers.

I am planning a non-profit site where readers can come to find indie ebook authors. To begin with it'll just be a blog. Each category of books (literary fiction, thrillers, romance, crime, SF, etc.) will have its own blog post. Authors will be able freely to add a comment to the category-post, saying what sort of books they have to offer, how they're being distributed and where they can be found. A well written, pithy and professional pitch will encourage the reader to explore further, in quest of hidden treasure.

If the idea works, a proper site could be set up, though I lack the expertise and indeed the time to get involved in that myself. What little funding it needed could be supplied by some discreet ads.

Before investing too much effort in this project, I would like to seek the help of MobileRead members, both readers and writers. First off, do you think the idea has any mileage? If so, what suggestions do you have? What categories should there be? Should there be a place for reader feedback? If you're an author who has experienced resistance from the mainstream, share your experiences: maybe we can find strategies to win the critics to our cause.

Or if you can think of a better scheme altogether, let's hear about it. The end result could be better, more varied and cheaper ebooks for everybody.
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Old 02-29-2008, 08:34 AM   #2
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I like the idea of the site but I'm wondering if the motivations are a little off.

Who cares about mainstream media? We're living in a world of New Media with new rules of engagement. The market for eBooks should be people, not mainstream critics, and the authors that will be successful in this arena are the ones that can build a following and community themselves. A great example of this is Jon Coulton, a musician that has been able to build a strong following on the internet and has began touring over the past year due to fan requests. There's a great interview with him about his business model on the last TWiT episode. His main "marketing" has been his blog and his good music. From there, it's word of mouth from dedicated fans and now he's making a comfortable living doing what he loves.

In this day and age, all an author really needs to do is create good content and then connect with their readers in a meaningful way. I think the site you're looking at doing could be an amazing way to do that, if you keep in mind that the goal is author to reader connection and not a way to just promote authors to critics or "mainstream" press. I would be all over a site that allowed me to find new authors and then talk with them about past and upcoming works.

But that's just my opinion.
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:09 AM   #3
Richard Herley
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the goal is author to reader connection
Yes, absolutely -- I should have made that more clear. It would just be a gateway, so readers could find new authors. After that, it's up to the authors themselves.
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:22 AM   #4
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Playing devil's advocate, I think that for many authors, "indie" is just another word for "not good enough to get commercially published". One of the most valuable roles that publishers play is to filter out the garbage, which, quite frankly, accounts for the overwhelming majority of stuff that they receive. Even the good stuff is very often in need of extensive work from a good copy-editor before it's in any fit state to be published. Who's going to do that for an "indie" author?
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:43 AM   #5
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I was involved for many years in writing, editing, and publishing poetry. That market is primarily controlled by academia, and there is even less financial reward/incentive for writing poetry than fiction today. I was "successful", in that my work won awards, was published, etc. and I was even sought out by a textbook publisher, who published some of my poems in school textbooks and poster series. I continue to write, but no longer submit my work for publication.

I was a sysop on the pre-internet CompuServe for LitForum and Poetry Workshop. Anyone could upload poetry, and anyone could critique it. There were a lot of people who couldn't take the critiques, took immense offense, "all poetry is beautiful; how dare you judge me", and left never to reappear. Thankfully. (We quickly took to referring to certain work as "another 'Love's Anguished Shards' poem", abbreviated LAS. Earmarking a post LAS saved a great deal of time.)

More or less by popular acclaim, certain members took on the role of Editors, others provided considerable education in meter, rhyme, and form. Well-known poets were attracted and enthusiastically joined.

However, and this is my point, no one ever got published as a result of the LitForum experience. We had many published poets and authors (I remember particularly Diana Gabaldon was there, frequently uploading works-in-progress. Judson Jerome...Barry Fogden, who occasionally went by the charming anagram "Barfy Donger"), but they were already published poets and authors regardless of LitForum.

So, while I think the idea of an online community of independent authors and readers is a worthy idea, in my similar experience it will not lead to commercial success for an author.

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Old 02-29-2008, 11:04 AM   #6
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Harry -

I can tell you how *I* do it - I pay a professional editor for her services.

At one time, I would've agreed w/ you absolutely, Harry. Self-pub, until fairly recently, has been the province of the also-ran. However, since consolidation began in publishing, the major houses have turned to a business model that matches that of the film industry. All they want is blockbusters, prestige titles, and genre fare that earns predictably. The midlist is all but dead, and there's *lots* of really good work out there that's been shoved to the margins just because 1 person in the publishing chain has decided it won't earn enough to suit the megaconglomerate's profit requirements---in other words, hundreds of thousands of copies. Publishing houses are no longer the best judges of quality, but they're very good judges of profitability. And I don't fault them for it, they will always be there and will always dominate, just as the mainstream music labels and movie studios do.

Even so, filmmakers whose work doesn't fit into any of the 3 (extremely limited) desirable categories can go independent, but what options do authors have? Film enthusiasts who want more variety can seek out indie films, but what options do readers have? Hopefully, now that authors have the tools at their disposal to go independent, an indie movement in authorship can take shape at last. And sure, there will always be a certain amount of not-ready-for-prime-time stuff out there, but the same is true of the indie film and music movements and it hasn't slowed their progress or hurt their accomplishments.

To stifle an entire independent movement on the basis that *some* of its product is likely to be of poor quality is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
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Old 02-29-2008, 11:56 AM   #7
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You're obvious taking absolutely the right approach, April, and I applaud you for doing so. I am an author myself (nothing "creative", I'm afraid - I write physics textbooks ) and for me, the very basic "prerequisite" for writing is the purely "technical" skill of writing correctly-spelled, grammatically-correct English. If I see writing which doesn't meet those criteria then I'm afraid that for me personally its literary merit is irrevelent - I find it "painful" to read and won't do so.
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Old 02-29-2008, 12:21 PM   #8
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Harry-

I'm also a stickler for detail, having done a great deal of technical writing in my former career as a Software Engineer/Web Developer. I've found that those years of daily efforts to keep everything I wrote clear, concise and on-point at all times has improved the quality of my fiction immensely.

And what a funny coincidence that you're a Physics guy; my favorite among my novels is called "Adelaide Einstein," comic fiction about a middle-aged wife and mom facing empty-nest syndrome who's convinced to return to college to study Physics. She eventually goes on to be part of a team that's nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Like most Liberal Arts majors, I had a great fear of Physics and delayed taking it till the last possible semester of my program---but once I was *in* a Physics class, I liked it so much that I often think I would've switched my major if I'd taken Physics sooner. My surprise enjoyment was part of the inspiration for that novel.

P.S. To others reading this thread, who may be interested in Indie Author matters...an interview I gave to 'The Writing Cast' podcast is now live and can be heard here (no iPod required):
http://thewritingcast.com/blog/?p=39
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Old 02-29-2008, 01:08 PM   #9
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HarryT, you're right. About 90% of unpublished authors are unpublished because they can't write. The insidious thing about writing is that everyone thinks he has a "book in him"; maybe he does, but getting it out is the hard part. Writing is a craft which must be learned, predominantly through reading. Every writer I know has always read voraciously. Beyond reading, the mechanics of the thing require much skill, from the overall structure of a piece right down to the minutiae of the prose.

But the craft is the least of it. You must have an ear for language. It's like music. More than that, you must be born with an urge to tell big, fat, whopping lies -- otherwise known as stories.

It's as April says. If a writer is any good, he or she will succeed. Spelling and grammar are just one part of that. It's bad manners to present a piece of writing (any piece of writing) to another person without making sure you are communicating as well as you can. Thus if an independent writer tries to sell you a story which is riddled with elementary mistakes, you won't persevere and that writer will have lost your confidence and your custom.

As she also says, new talent is getting squeezed out by the economics of scale. When I started out, it was common for publishers to carry a backlist of most or even all of their authors' titles. No more. Lots of writers are so despondent, worn down by years of struggle, that they are just giving up. It's a shame, it's not right, and the new technology might provide a cure.

Last edited by Richard Herley; 02-29-2008 at 01:10 PM. Reason: Fixed typos. See -- I practise what I preach :-)
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Old 02-29-2008, 02:52 PM   #10
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It will be interesting to see what Tor's fiction/social networking site is like when it launches, and whether it bears any resemblance to what's being suggested here. Obviously it will be for Tor authors, rather than independents, but it might be interesting to see where it succeeds and fails.

MySpace (much as I hate its design and its ownership by Rupert Murdoch) does a good job at promoting up and coming musicians (at least it does in my home town, where there's a thriving live pub music scene and much of the promotion happens on MySpace). Perhaps something similar could work for author/reader interaction, since its a version of "word of mouth".

A lot of science fiction and fantasy writers hang out on LiveJournal, though in a semi-anonymous sort of way. Some of the people I've befriended there because I've seen them commenting in my friends' journals have later turned out to be writers who I've heard of but not associated with their screen names. I've often gone on to buy their books because they come across as interesting people.
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Old 02-29-2008, 03:32 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Richard Herley View Post
Or if you can think of a better scheme altogether, let's hear about it. The end result could be better, more varied and cheaper ebooks for everybody.
I don't know exactly about better, but Alexandra Erin's project Pages Unbound tries to do something similar. Her efforts are geared more towards reviving the serial novel á la Charles Dickens on the net, but she might be worth getting in contact with.

(For those keeping track, she is the author who makes roughly 200 bucks per week from her tip jar, whom I mentioned elsewhere on this forum.)
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Old 02-29-2008, 06:49 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Taylor514ce View Post
I was a sysop on the pre-internet CompuServe for LitForum and Poetry Workshop. Anyone could upload poetry, and anyone could critique it. There were a lot of people who couldn't take the critiques, took immense offense, "all poetry is beautiful; how dare you judge me", and left never to reappear. Thankfully.
I saw that on various writing forums pre-Internet. It quickly became apparent that most participants didn't want criticism. They wanted to post stuff and be told how great they were. Any comments aimed at helping them to actually sell work were not greeted with enthusiasm.
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Old 02-29-2008, 06:55 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Richard Herley View Post
When I started out, it was common for publishers to carry a backlist of most or even all of their authors' titles. No more. Lots of writers are so despondent, worn down by years of struggle, that they are just giving up. It's a shame, it's not right, and the new technology might provide a cure.
Look up the "Thor Power Tools Decision" for background on that. A Tax Court decision in an unrelated industry affected how publishers valued inventory. A lot of stuff went out of print suddenly.
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Old 02-29-2008, 06:57 PM   #14
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I like the idea, I'm just not sure how you'd differentiate yourself from Fictionwise, Baen, Tor and so on. Possibly by being more open (publish anything) and trying to do a social networking style site like mp3.com where anything can be uploaded and it's the user reviews that count.

An alternative might even be to extend this site in the direction you prefer. If you made the ebook collection different in your preferred way that might be all you need to get started. Perhaps something as simple as adding a payment system that linked to your sites shopping cart software. That way you have an instant audience and the site gains a little more revenue to cover costs. But that would require some discussion and you'd need to know what you want to do...
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Old 02-29-2008, 07:00 PM   #15
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HarryT, you're right. About 90% of unpublished authors are unpublished because they can't write. The insidious thing about writing is that everyone thinks he has a "book in him"; maybe he does, but getting it out is the hard part.
I tend to quote the late Robert A. Heinlein's rules for writing:

1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you write.

3. You must submit what you have written to an editor who might buy it.

4. You must continue submitting until the work either sells or is bounced by every conceivable market.

5. You must not make changes in what you write unless an editor commits to buy the work with those changes.

Most aspiring writers get stuck somewhere in the first three...
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