I get a lot of e-mails from fellow indie authors, mostly cursing me or telling me I’m a dark stain on the profession, but some discussing trends in the business, such as it is.

While I try to avoid making predictions, primarily because I’m usually wrong (or the clowns use the information against me in their ongoing persecution), it’s hard to be in this business, if it can be called that, and not try to divine the future.

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NEWS: I was listed as one of the top 50 indie authors by IndieReaders.com for March. I wonder if I get a ribbon or something?

UPDATE: A great new book review of The Voynich Cypher.

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So here are a few random ramblings, in no particular order.

Free is the new .99 on Amazon. Last year, .99 was the attention-getting gimmick some author used to propel themselves to all-too-brief stardom. This year, if you want to get noticed, at least in the first 100 days of the year, you gotta go free. It’s a very odd formula, but one you either adapt to, or die.

The rub is that the giddy sales high from free days is getting weaker and weaker, and doesn’t last. Books that were in the top 40 following their free days are now right back where they were before the bump they experienced. So free can buy you fleeting increased sales and visibility, but it’s a false God. The downside for readers is now obvious to me – there is so much content out there I can download free it’s shameful, but at the same time, there isn’t enough time in the day to read even a third of what I’ve downloaded. I’m just now getting to things I got in DECEMBER. I suspect that 99% of all books downloaded for free go unread. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s my gut feeling, at least if I’m anyone to judge reading behavior by.

The market is getting more cluttered. Everyone, from third graders to octogenarians, are writing “books” and publishing them. That means there are now millions of books out there, with all the authors making noise to get noticed. Not surprisingly, few of them do. Why? Because your chances are better of being struck by lightning than of making a living as a writer. Really. But nobody wants to hear that. That’s a big party pooper, and doesn’t play into the whole “The Indie Road” mantra that seems more akin to a religion for some than a business decision.

The content glut doesn’t really bother me much, just as the millions of blogs out there don’t really impact my enjoyment of writing this one. I write it, whether hundreds of people read it a day, or just a couple. Just as I am writing my books, just as I was when I sold 30 in a month. Because, as I said in a blog long ago (maybe six months ago, maybe eight), I write first because of love of the craft and a compulsion to do so, as well as to tell stories, and yes, out of ego that gets stroked when I get a few miserable sentences right. But I don’t write to be a commercial success, because I have no idea what will be commercially successful. Nobody does. If they did, they’d be writing it, and we’d all be reading their books in awe and wonder, not going, “Why is this crap selling?” Likewise, if the trad pub apparatus did, companies wouldn’t do six figure deals for duds. Lots and lots of them. The truth is that even the pros have no idea what will sell, so the notion that they only sign “the best” books is flawed. Scott Nicholson, a great writer, says something to the effect that “if the 100 best books of all time hit NY today, only 10 would get signed, and the other 90 would get rejected, because the industry didn’t have a slot for them that day.”

Having said all this, I had an idea that seemed like a good one. Of course, I can’t do it, because I’m busy writing. But check out the concept. Are you ready? Sitting down?

Consumer Reports for Indie books, including the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Maybe you have to submit your work with the contact info for your editor, so it can be verified as having actually been edited, and the name of your cover artist, so it’s clear that a pro team was used. That doesn’t mean the book will be good, but it increases the chance that it will be decent, at least, as in relatively free of typos and incoherent gibbering.

Why would this be good? Because in spite of all the hyperbole, most authors don’t use pro editors, and most don’t use pro cover artists, so their offerings range from mediocre to beyond terrible. That turns readers off to entire price points for books – “Oh, not another $2.99 screed filled with lousy writing, grammar and typos.” How many times have¬† you read authors saying, after getting a host of terrible reviews on the editing or formatting, “Now I’m sending it off to a real editor, and it will be fixed within X period of time!” Really? Given that it’s near impossible to succeed, you wanted to wait until your readers, few as they might be, confirmed that un-edited work is, er, lacking, to say the least? That’s your plan? Let the readers tell you it’s sh#t, and then fix it? “This tastes like dung.” “Thank you for your patronage, sir. We will now be closing the restaurant while we hire a real chef to fix our recipe, which largely consists of dung at the moment. Bud don’t worry, in the meantime, we will still be offering our dung sandwiches for sale through the front dining room – we have a lot of them left. Please come back soon.”

Is it just me, or is that nuts?

I pay an editor – a Brit, who is a talented writer himself. I also pay a copy editor once he’s done, and then a proofreader. I do this because if I am going to charge for my work, whether it is one person reading, or 10,000 a month, they deserve the best I can do. Not the best I can do with no investment. Not the best I can do without taking the steps that are necessary to create a quality product. The best I can do. My reasoning when I started publishing was simple – if I am to be taken seriously, I need to pay to create quality. I want to be taken seriously. So whether I ever recoup my investment, I have to bite the bullet and do what it takes.

The point is that it would be nice if well-edited, professional books had a seal of approval that recognized that they had been put through at least cursory quality control. I would gladly pay to receive that seal. I don’t know, maybe $20 per book. Whatever. If it makes it easier for the readers to decide to try my work, it’s worth it. Then, it’s up to the writing. You can put all the lipstick on a pig you want, but in the end, it’s still an oinker with ruby red smackers.

I have a friend who has put out a bunch of books in the last year. I tried to get through two of them, and just couldn’t. The editing was non-existent, and it was obvious that he hadn’t even gone back to do a second draft or polish – he is just spitting out words and then uploading them as books. His philosophy is that once he makes money selling the books, he will have adequate funds to have them edited, and presumably, more desire to polish his work. That’s sort of like a business plan that says you’ll start a taxi company, and then buy gas for the cabs once you’ve done your first 100 trips, because then you’ll have that money. It ignores that cabs without fuel don’t get paid. Seems obvious to me, but that’s what he’s doing, and so far, guess what? Almost no sales. It is mind-boggling that someone would waste their time in this way. His stance is, “Hey, look at X, his work sucks, and he’s experienced success, so my work can suck too, and I can be successful.” That’s quite a model.

So that’s my thinking at present, and my rant. The world of indie publishing is rapidly changing, in terms of what promotions work, what social media has an effect, what pricing is optimal, etc. What doesn’t change is that badly edited and produced books don’t get a second chance. If you’re an author, look at yourself hard in the mirror, and ask yourself whether you made the investment, or figured you were somehow different and didn’t have to. I’d say most fall into that category. Which is partially why the odds are so long of being successful. At least, that’s my hunch.

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Comments

  1. Thu 12th Apr 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I’d say you have it mostly right. QUALITY is Job One. Period. Then comes CATALOG. In the process of building catalog, of course, one must adhere to that high quality standard.

    In the end, a QUALITY CATALOG will solidify a writer, or at least give him a good chance.

    Still, shedding that self-publishing reputation with readers, convincing them that you’re one of the 5%-ers, or 3%-ers, or 2%-ers (whatever number of self-pubbers are actually doing it right), is no simple task.

    Consumers of any product have always tended to throw the baby out with the bath water. Unfair? Whatever. Consumers don’t have time to wade through the mess.

    Good article. Let the screamers scream. It’s what they do best.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Apr 2012 at 9:13 pm

      I think you are completely right. If you create a compelling body of work that has no excuses connected with it, then once a reader discovers you, he/she can find a whole world of your invention. If the reader likes your voice, then you build loyalty through the work. That’s why the promotions are nice, and trying to be topical or timely on genres works for some, but for me, the quality of the work is key. I don’t really care whether it takes two weeks, two months, or two years to get it right.

      We shall release no book before its time. Hmmm. Wonder if that’s taken?

      Reply
  2. Samuel Heller
    Fri 13th Apr 2012 at 9:06 pm

    I started “Night of the Assassin”. This is a great story. I hope many more are in a series. I found this site while searching for more of Blake’s books.
    Sam Heller

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 13th Apr 2012 at 9:11 pm

      Oh good. I hope you like it. King of Swords, the real first book in the series, is one of my personal faves and probably one of my best. I’ll be launching Revenge of the Assassin soon, the sequel to King, and then will launch Return of the Assassin in late May. Be sure to let me know what you think.

      Reply
  3. Sun 15th Apr 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I agree with you about quality control. What constitutes a good “story” is subjective, but it’s easy to tell when a book has (or has not) been professionally edited or formatted.

    My books were copy and content edited prior to publication but I created the cover art myself for the first book.

    It didn’t suck. I even got a decent amount of compliments from strangers (as opposed to my family and friends). But … as soon as I paid for professional cover art, my sales increased dramatically, paying for the initial investment many times over.

    Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  4. Sun 15th Apr 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the post! You are absolutely right! I have grown more and more uneasy at the number of indie books that have obviously not been edited. This glut of less-than-stellar reading material makes it so much more difficult to find the gems. I like your “seal of approval” idea. :)

    Reply
  5. Mon 16th Apr 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Love the quality control seal idea!

    Reply
  6. Mon 16th Apr 2012 at 9:47 pm

    What I have also noticed is that pretty much everyone has five star reviews, even the trash writers. So there are folks out there getting their family and friends to write good reviews on Amazon so that they can look like said tarted up pig. It’s treating a serious business as facebook likes. Especially infuriating as I am trying to gather reviews.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Apr 2012 at 10:07 am

      Well, the five star review problem is infuriating, as are the one stars from people who pick up a book for free, have no idea what it is about, and then dis it. Invariably, the review will read “I hate X genre, and this exemplifies why. So much X in it. Just terrible.” When people pay $4 for a book, they generally are, A) interested in the genre, and likely familiar with it, and B) had to devote at least slim thought to spending their money. With free, you have thousands of people who just click all the free stuff in the top 40 or whatever, and then read a whole slew of stuff they aren’t the target market for, and predictably dislike the work, because THEY AREN’T THE TARGET, and they don’t get it. That’s not to say there aren’t a ton of crap books out there. But I can’t tell you how many good ones I’ve seen get slagged after they go free for that reason. Equally unfair as stacking the deck with 5 star.

      Reply
  7. Grant Cole
    Tue 17th Apr 2012 at 1:51 am

    My wife picked up VC for me b/c of my Voynich fetish. After reading ZS, and halfway through VC now, I can easily see your desire for quality work in your wordsmithing.

    While the quality seal of approval idea would be wonderful in a truly merit-based world, I like that your work stands on it’s own merit. I look forward to plowing through your body of work in the next few weeks.

    Reply
  8. Tue 17th Apr 2012 at 10:14 pm

    RB-
    I think Amazon is in a platform fight so low priced content is in their interest. I think the best thing they could do for authors is not “sell” free books. $0.99 should be the floor and the royalty should be 70%. I can’t imagine how they came up with the current free/paid “best-seller” formula, but I assume massive quantities of alcohol was involved.
    W4$

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 17th Apr 2012 at 11:37 pm

      Yes, it’s rather obvious that they are expanding kindle’s popularity at the direct expense of authors, who are footing the bill by providing their content for free. But we, like lemmings, continue to do it. It’s a vicious circle.

      I would love it if you could see 70% on .99. I’d consider having a couple titles at that price point so I was capturing all audiences. I just can’t see doing it on any decent book – why see only .35 cents royalty on 100K words that if a big house released it, would command $12.99? I think that the Locke phenom drove this rush to undervalue content, where increasingly desperate authors are willing to do anything to get read. I just don’t see that as a good deal for authors, and I’ve been told time and time again by readers that whether it is $2.99 or $4.99, they could care less – they still want to read my books. So we’re back to my old standby – a tired but familiar refrain: write quality, invest in a quality product, and value it appropriately. McDonalds sells lots of $1 burgers, but most of their PROFIT comes from the higher priced menu items. If your business strategy is to have a restaurant that misses that part, and only sells $1 burgers, you’ll have a hell of a time the second you try to increase the price to a point where you aren’t taping a quarter to the top of every burger you “sell.”

      I’ve bucked the trend, and so far, am pleased with the result. But we’ll see. I’m here to get readers, not change the world.

      Reply
  9. Thu 19th Apr 2012 at 12:36 am

    I like your idea of Seal of Approval. This would involve an awful lot of reading for someone. Books used to end up in a slush pile and trad pubs would strain for what they thought were the best, or that would sell.
    With so many self published books, it’s hard to pick out the well written ones. Or stand out from all the rest.
    It’s a good thing not to be writin

    Reply
  10. Sat 21st Apr 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Great post, Russell. I agree 100%. IMHO, Amazon is trying too hard. It’s fallen into a trap of its own making and now it must gnaw off its own feet to get out. All those free books! Yikes! I’m seeing posts by readers that say their Kindles (reading devices) are full, and they’ll never have to buy another book. How is that good for authors or Amazon?

    I like your ‘seal of approval’ idea. I was guilty of uploading books to Amazon filled with typos, only to later scramble to correct those books. Most of those novels were published by trad publishers, so the typos were merely glitches in the print-to-digital conversion. Didn’t matter. They were still flawed.

    The times they are a changing. We have to accept that. I, for one, am happy to be a part of the change. Good material will always rise to the top.

    Reply

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