Updated: Dec 8, 2020
"Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer." Kurt Vonnegut
I’m an Indie fiction author and blogger.
To be honest, I don’t make a living selling ebooks and I’m guessing that very few Indie fiction writers do. Why? Because with the advent of Amazon KDP, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and other ebook marketing platforms, everyone and his dog is becoming a published author. That’s good. And that’s also bad because 99% of those authors have not bothered to learn the craft of writing.
That’s not to say that I’m an accomplished writer. The reading public will be the final judge of that. Like many Indie authors, I invest a lot of time in promoting my own work on social media like Twitter and Tumbler and Instagram. In the main, it’s been a very poor investment in time. Sure, I get a few retweets and occasionally sell a book, but I suspect my sales pitches are merely reaching the eyes of other Indie authors who don’t buy ebooks.
While cruising the social media, I click on a lot of Indie authors’ links to Amazon and visit their author websites. I first read the ‘look inside’ (free sample) of their novel or poetry then sometimes purchase a copy, but to be honest, not many. More often than not, the book title and theme have intrigued me, along with the impressive twenty-five 5-star reviews, but spelling and grammar errors in the opening paragraphs tell me it’s going to be a rough ride. If an author isn’t skilled enough to table a clean manuscript, then I’m not going to fork over my hard-earned Amazon royalty money to wade through his/her miasma.
My daughter introduced me to Wattpad. Among the four million mostly teen and pre-teen authors whose work drives this excellent and free platform (you have to watch the occasional advertisement, but they aren’t too annoying), there are thousands of promising new authors cutting their teeth here. When I encounter one, I sometimes offer to spell/grammar check and critique their work gratis. It’s my contribution to supporting the arts in the firm belief that only art can save the world. These kid writers are the future.
Then there is the dark side of Wattpad. I recently encountered a series of crime stories written by a middle-aged ex-cop. Same deal, spelling and grammar errors galore coupled with an overly preachy attitude but there were some good yarns there as well. I could overlook the literary shortcomings in favour of content. When I started to receive nasty author responses to my largely constructive commentary, I had to block the guy’s access to my page. He informed me that the vice squads were trolling Wattpad for child molesters and predators (like me?), so I’d better be wary (he spelled it ‘weary’). Shit! The police state all over again! The first thing the dictators always do is shoot the artists and writers. Ignoramuses like him on Wattpad are like undercover narcs playing drug dealers to ensnare innocent kids on elementary school playgrounds.
I sent some encouraging messages to a young poet whose writing intrigued me. After reading all his Wattpad uploads, I assured him that he had great talent but suggested he now move away from the ‘angry young gangsta’ mode (guns, whores, money, hate Whites) into other thematic areas to ramp up and mature his art. His response was: “Go Fuck Yourself.” Then I started getting messages from his Wattpad homeboys threatening to beat me senseless and kill me. Guess I’m just too old for the teeny-tweeny sandbox. It's too scary. Maybe that cop guy was right: talking to strange children can be dangerous.
Rejection letters I can take. Threats of physical violence, well....
The internet has created enormous opportunities for some organizations (read Amazon et al) to earn a fortune simply on numbers but, with a few notable exceptions, Indie artists and writers generally won’t earn big bucks in their lifetimes. The positive side of e-publishing has been pointed out to me by a reader of this blog: author gets most of the royalties, your book never goes out of print, no need to deal with snarky literary agents, etc. But what if your ebook falls into a black hole where nobody can find it amongst the millions of other self-published ebooks, many with better covers and more 5-star reviews than yours? And how about the mega-hours spent self-promoting on social media when an author should be doing what he/she does best, that is, writing?
I don’t know what’s the solution here, if there is a solution. Side by side with the ebook publishers are the ebook promoters, folks like BookBub, Book Butterfly, and Book Barbarian, with new ones sprouting faster than a crop of bad weeds, all promising to make the Indie author a bestseller; for a price, of course. The promoters - who all claim to be authors themselves, although the books they author are all about how to author books - offer to blast your masterpiece's cover across thousands or even millions of readers' screens. Some even guarantee downloads or your money back, although their refund can only be applied to the purchase of more services on their site.
But use your critical and analytical skills when scanning all the positive users' comments on their websites. The author pays the promoter to tweet his/her title across their follower data base and associated sites and blogs, then scores thousands of free downloads. The cost amounts to maybe a penny a download which seems okay. But these are all free downloads; fine if you're publishing a series and wish to give away the first book, a kind of lost-leader in the hope of hooking readers who will later purchase the succeeding books for money. But too few readers ever purchase the second book in sufficient numbers to break even on the cost of the initial promotion. It just doesn't make economic sense, except to the promoters who can't lose. Do they rely on bots to generate all those free downloads? There's no way the author/customer can determine this, as the identity of a downloader is not shared.
This post extracted from the Goodreads Review Community board:
"While I had over 300 people sign up (for my giveaway), I have yet to get a single review. Goodreads made me remove my discreet, professional request for reviews at the end of my book description which is absolutely unacceptable. What is the point then? It's not like I said review my book or I break your kneecaps.
"Also, I thought the 100 downloads would register as sales on Amazon = increase my rank. Natha. Forget this. Goodreads told me they don't work this way and no, this will not show up as sales directly on Amazon.
"It was $119. Until GR's allows us to explicity request reviews, link to Amazon sales data, don't do it. Find some other way to promote your work, and you can, and it doesn't have to cost you over $100."
Having scores of 5-star reviews on your Amazon listing is always better than few or no reviews. There's a paid fix for this as well. Any number of sites will provide the neophyte author with positive reviews and post them to the Amazon listing and to Goodreads. There's no way Amazon can prevent this, regardless of the book's actual merits, so long as it's a paid purchase; however, when my partner - who makes a great many book purchases on Amazon - tried to post her review of one of my own books, it was challenged by the Amazon e-police. Why? Because she habitually used my credit card to make purchases and their data base linked it to me.
Worse yet, the system will not allow you to post a review for an ebook that you have legitimately purchased until your Amazon account tops $50 in purchases. I couldn't post a review for a very good ebook recently purchased on my new account because I had previously shared my partner's account (which bills to my credit card) and had no previous purchasing track record. Now, I agree that Indie authors need to be protected from each other and from scammers but please...
I haven't personally used any paid ebook promotion services but I once used a paid service that provides email alerts for literary contests. The experience wasn't positive. The small print in the contract said that the service would be automatically renewed each month, ad infinitum. I couldn't cancel it except after a war of hostile emails with the site accusing me of trying to steal their information, and I had to revert to PayPal for assistance in blocking future billings. I know a few good Indie authors and they don't use paid promotions either. The value-for-money just isn't there.
So, what’s the whole point here? I'll say it again: I hate Indie publishing. Few among the millions of self-published authors seem interested in learning the craft of writing, and the serious ones who have learned it aren’t selling tons of ebooks. I suppose it's the nature of the e-beast. At least, when you approach a legitimate hard copy agent or publisher, they either respond to the query or ignore it. If the response is positive and the piece is published and sells, the author receives checks. That's it. The author can spend more time doing what he/she does best and leave the marketing to an expert. You still need to self-promote to a certain extent; book signings and presentations, but it's the same with Indie publishing only the marketing effort is 24/7.
Hard copy publishing through an agency is a harder club to break into because your book needs to meet some standards, but I believe it's still worth every serious author's effort. Agents also provide feedback and assist the author in making the book everything it can be. This is patently not so with Indie publishing, unless one pays for such services. Again, how do we best spend our creative time and energy?
Perhaps we just need to see what evolves during the next phase of the publishing revolution. It will always be a game of connecting authors with readers. The scary part is that literary agents now favour authors with large ebook audiences, a fact that query writers are advised to state upfront (Have you ever self-published? How many books did you sell? What is your Twitter handle? What is your Wattpad handle?). They troll the free platforms for books that start out as fan fiction with large follower bases, which isn't hard to accomplish if your focus is graphic depictions of sex with Harry Styles on almost any teen-oriented platform. In fact, it was through this process that Fifty Shades got to be the blockbuster it is today.
I'm a bibliophile. I still visit bookstores and purchase many more hard copy books than ebooks. The experience is more satisfying and there's some human contact there as well. Browsing the book racks, I sometimes doubt that Hardy, Tolstoy, Hemingway, or F. Scott Fitzgerald would have become household words if they’d launched their careers on Amazon KDP.
Readers’ comments and criticisms are very welcome. Come on. Prove me wrong!!!