Indie publishing: perspectives on abundance

01 Jul

Last night I was all prepared to write today’s blog post about how to use commas effectively. The comma topic was prompted by a discussion on another blog, and I know that these pesky punctuation marks can cause headaches for even professional authors at times, so I figured I would add my two eggs to the mix. However, late last night, or, rather, at 1.24 in the morning to be precise (yes, like the majority of writers, I am an incurable night owl), as I checked for new posts on Indie Writers Unite Facebook page, I had a change of heart and decided to take an entirely different tack today.

Before I begin, let me tell you that I am not a big fan of inspirational, NLP, feel-good or “how to” manuals that deal with the subjects of eternal happiness, staying positive, time-management, success, or acquiring wealth or inner peace a la The Secret.

To me, most smack of slightly self-righteous high-fivin’ marketers turned authors profiteering from stating the bleeding obvious (You are responsible for your own happiness—well, duh!) or snake oil sellers peddling hocus pocus. It’s safe to say that the only “how to” guides on my shelf are about writing, editing and publishing, along with a brick-sized tome on DIY home renovation. That is, I’m a pragmatic, rather sceptical sort who doesn’t really spend too much time dwelling on what “the universe” owes me or might promise me. I am a “go out there and pinch the universe on the bum and see how it reacts” type of gal.

However, many years ago I remember being forced to read something, as part of a publishing/marketing position I held at the time, that dealt with the concept of “abundance”. To be truthful, I can’t even remember the name of the book, but subliminally it must have impressed something upon me because last night it popped into my head.

What struck me—and, let’s face it, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise given the verb in the name of that facebook page—was the difference in attitude and in altruism between self-published or “indie” authors and traditionally published authors, and how approaching publishing with an attitude of abundance, rather than of paucity, makes a massive difference in author happiness. What I have discovered is that, because anyone can now publish and become an independent author, the mindset and the buzz around self-publishing is largely positive, in contrast with the negativity that has traditionally dogged the trade publishing industry.

Now, I am a trade-published author too (if you “count” non-fiction, children’s/YA books and creative non-fiction, and let me tell you I’ve met some who turn up their literary little noses at these genres) and I’ve met hundreds of delightful, clever and generous published authors in my time in the industry. I’ve edited for many, and I’ve hobnobbed, latte-sipped, champagne-fluted, workshopped and industry-evented with others for more than a decade. Many of these authors repeatedly go out of their way to assist new writers, to act as mentors and to help promote others work, bless them. So let me make it clear that I am in no way casting aspersions on traditionally published authors. However, the problem with traditional publishing, to my mind, is that it has always operated on a platform of exclusivity and elitism. In some ways that can provide a remarkable sense of achievement, which is wonderful for published authors. A feeling of “I’ve arrived” (usually followed by a long and frightening pause then a panic of “where to now, and please point me to the bathroom”).

In the traditionally published world (let’s call it the “scarcity model”) for every manuscript accepted by a big publisher or represented by an agent, hundreds more receive a big fat rejection letter. For every wriggling, squawking, naked newborn author success story hauled screaming from the slushpile, thousands more sank below the sludgy surface without a trace. Every author who was picked up represented one more of the coveted publishing “spots” denied to another author. Every book published was just another demand on a publishing house’s marketing staff. Every single new release became a competitor for shelf space in bookstores, another shark circling in the sea of words. In some circles, anything less than publishing award-winning literary fiction was small fry or didn’t count. “Oh so you publish non-fiction?” Cue eyebrow raise. “You won a short story contest?” Brow wrinkle. “You write for children.” Careful snigger partially concealed by a sip of Chardonnay.

Now perhaps I’m playing up the comparison for the sake of being Devil’s advocate, and, as I said, many trade-published authors, recognising how damn hard it is to get a publishing contract, are lovely, caring, talented and supportive folk. But the thing I’ve noticed about indie publishing is just how perkily encouraging everyone seems to be. “Yeah. Way to go. You can do it!” They chant. I can tell they aren’t just saying it; they really mean it. And what is more, now it is true. You can do it. I can do it. Anyone can do it. Does that lessen the “special” effect—the experience of arrival? That depends on how you look at it.

Let me also qualify this by saying that I am hardly a seasoned indie publisher. Many years ago, when I was a  green willowy sapling of an editor (at least that’s how I like to remember my slimmer 24-year-old self) first trying my hand at freelancing, I helped several authors “self-publish”—a task that involved negotiating printer quotes and contracts, recommending and briefing cover designers, providing editorial services and generally project managing and dodging landmines on behalf of authors wanting to self-publish. I’ve been watching the self-publishing “market” grow for a decade since then, taking the occasional sneak peek at self-published products, noting the emergence of Lulu, Bookpal, Createspace and PoD and then the explosion of independent e-books. And, just this week I uploaded my first self-published book, Growth (a poetry anthology), on smashwords.

Since then, the indie writers I have connected with on twitter, facebook and other sites have been overwhelmingly welcoming and encouraging. Few hold themselves up to be paragons of teeth-grinding hardwork or publishing martyrdom (although there are few bitter and twisted individuals who castigate agents, editors and publishers alike) and they don’t necessarily clothe themselves in the thick skin of those suffering years of patience and rejection. They freely and openly champion the simple courage of putting your work out there—out where its merits alone will determine whether it sells or fails and whether it fullfils publishing dreams or leaves its creator feeling deflated.

It’s a marketplace of sheer abundance. “Come one, come all and the more they merrier,” they chorus, and I for one, find that a very merry proposition indeed. An abundance of words. An abundance of authors making money, however small, out of writing. An abundance of productivity. An abundance of encouragement. I ask you, what’s not to like?


19 responses to “Indie publishing: perspectives on abundance

  1. Brian D. Meeks

    July 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I agree, I have found nothing but encouragement from others. The world of the indie writer is a friendly place, were we cheer for the Hockings and Lockes, while we dream of our own day in the limelight. All are welcome, even established authors, who want to join the ‘I did it myself’ party. There will be cake!

    • karincox

      July 2, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for commenting, Brian. I have been astonished (pleasantly) by the level of support. It truly is a different mindset.

      And cake—even better.

  2. Mark Williams International

    July 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

    A lovely post, and oh so true.

    With e-publishing especially there is infinite shelf-space and plenty of room for all. All are welcome, and all are welcome to try. And we love to support one another.

    As for the bitter and twisted individuals… Bitter I can often understand.

    Many of those will be writers who tried the traditional route for years and got nowhere, and have now e-published and found the public like what the gatekeepers did not.

    The twisted are, of course, just twisted.

    • karincox

      July 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Too true, Mark. The infinite shelf space makes such a difference.

      As a publishing industry professional, I do find the bitterness towards the status quo a little wearing at times. Particularly when it is directed at editors, because it is still the case that a lot of the indie books I sample are unpolished and could really benefit from an edit. As an editor, I am, of course, very picky about what I buy and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

      While I understand the bitterness, I also recognise that no ever said publishing the traditional way was easy. Sometimes it can appear as if published authors are actively trying to discourage newbies when they go on about how hard it is to break in, but, in fact, they’re just being truthful. Many of them received loads of rejections too. Perseverance is a virtue, but hanging in there for years, living on a dream, does not suit everyone.

      And yeah, the twisted are just twisted. Lol. Thanks for commenting.

  3. cheryl shireman

    July 6, 2011 at 6:12 am

    LOVE this post, Karin! And I have to say I have found the same to be true. As a card carrying member of the FB group, Indie Writers Unite (hey – wait a minute – I never did get a card…), I am delighted at the support and encouragement I have received from other indie writers. This group is a perfect example of the ideal – writers from varying backgrounds writing various genres and with varying sales records – all supporting one another and ready to give advice or consolation when needed. There are members who have sold thousands of books, members who have only sold a handful, and members who have yet to publish. And yet, we all gather over a virtual cup of coffee and talk shop about the thing we love most – writing.
    I have wondered, is there such a place for traditionally published authors to gather? Or are they all competing against one another – one publishing house against another. Or even competing within the same publishing house for the marketing budget. As indies, we rejoice at one another’s sales. If we were traditionally published, would we do the same? I don’t know. I would like to think so.
    I am currently involved in a joint project between several indie authors from the United States and the United Kingdom. It is an anthology entitled Summer Book Club and it is available through Amazon and Smashwords. This happened as the result of indie writer, Mark Edwards (co-author of the bestselling Killing Cupid) emailing a bunch of other bestselling indie writers and asking them if they wanted to get together and create an anthology of our work. As simple as that. Cooperation among indie writers from across the world. Abundance indeed. I love being part of this writing community.
    I have been so inspired that I have created a twitter hashtag – #WritersEncouragingWriters. Yes, I know it is long. But it conveys the spirit perfectly and it doesn’t take many characters to tell another writer congratulations on your new book and then add the simple hashtag. I hope we will see more and more encouragement between ALL writers – however published.
    Thanks for the wonderful post, Karin.

    • karincox

      July 6, 2011 at 10:10 am

      Wow! I am blown away to have you comment, Cheryl, and so glad you enjoyed it! To have an indie success story such as yourself stop by my humble little blog and comment just serves to highlight my belief that Indie authors are incredibly encouraging and engaged.

      I love the idea of the Summer Book Club. What a fantastic idea! In fact, I love it so much I’m planning on contacting Mark Edwards to see if he’ll comment about it on my blog and run a little promo for it. Once I finish off a few edits I have on at the moment, I’d even love to offer my editorial services, free-of-charge, for a similar concept for brand new indies, either putting in their first chapters or including short stories. So watch the blog and Indie Writers Unite for more about that in future.

      Great idea on the twitter hashtag too. It is so exciting and inspiring the amount of encouragement going on between authors and, like you, I really want that to be all authors and bridge the divide between self-published authors and trade published authors. I think the gap between the two is slowly closing up and that’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. Thanks again for dropping by, Cheryl.

  4. Ben White

    July 6, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Great post! I’ve been writing for a long time, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt that there could be a place in the world for what I create. I was part of a young writers group when I was, well, a young writer, and I just heard so many stories of how tough it was to get any kind of foothold even for people who lived in places like London and New York–coming from New Zealand, I always felt that my chances of getting anywhere were so small as to make it not worth trying. Even now, I don’t think I was wrong in thinking that 🙂 But the destruction of barriers that digital publishing has created–barriers of geographical location, barriers of distribution, barriers of duplication and initial costs–have really opened things up. I feel like we stand at the threshold of a renaissance, that the future has never been brighter. This is the best time in the history of mankind to be a writer of ANY kind, and I’m so happy to be riding the indie author wave 🙂

  5. Lindsay Edmunds

    July 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I like this post a lot. I, too, am part of Indie Writers Unite and very happy to be there.

    When I lived in Washington, DC, I discovered that I love bluegrass music (indie to the core and always will be, because this music flies perpetually under the radar). I blogged today about being indie in spirit long before I self-published.

    • karincox

      July 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks Lindsay. I’ll pop on over to your blog to check it out. I’m so glad you liked the post.

  6. Heather

    July 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    What Cheryl said 🙂

    Karin, this is a great post. I also agree that the indie world we have found ourselves in (namely IWU) is a wonderful, encouraging place. The connections and friendships we have forged and will continue to forge over the many years we all follow this indie pub path will be rewarding. I’m looking forward to reading more from your blog 🙂

    • karincox

      July 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks Heather. It is very rewarding isn’t it. I am so glad I found Indie Writers Unite. It’s been wonderful.

  7. Bob Mayer

    July 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Traditionally published authors don’t compete against each other. Most come from a time before there was a lot of connection on the Internet.
    My first book came out in 1991. I’ve got over 40 titles traditionally published and hit all the bestseller lists. I have been an indie author for two years now and have over a dozen titles in the top 1,000 on Amazon and PubIt. I’m selling over 40,000 ebooks a month. So I have experience on both sides. I think it’s a great time to be a writer. We have more opportunities than ever before. We also have the medium of social media in which to network and market.
    I’ll be in Australia next month at the Romance Writers Conference in Melbourne and am looking forward to it.

    • karincox

      July 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Bob,

      I wasn’t really implying that the authors directly compete with each other, rather that the way traditional publishing works, with publishers able to accept a limited number of titles per year, has forced authors to compete for publishing deals and contracts, whether they want to or not. I, too, am a trade-published author. Both my memoir and my more than 20 non-fiction titles and six kids fiction books are published by trade publishers here in Australia, but I can see how the exclusivity of traditional publishing leaves some very fine authors out in the cold, sometimes just through bad luck or poor timing rather than anything else.

      Self-publishing is giving those authors, as well as authors like us who may have been published traditionally in the past, the chance to make their own luck with the reading public. That’s a lovely thing.

      Have you been to Australia before, Bob? I am up in sunny Brisbane, a solid 18 hours drive from Melbourne, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the conference. Aussie authors are, in general, a supportive and inspiring lot: self-published or otherwise.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. It is indeed a great time to be a writer.

  8. Dan Holloway

    July 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Karin. I don’t think it’s been mentioned so I should point out the absolutely wonderful #amwriting community that originated on twitter and thanks to the tireless altruism of Johanna Harness has grown into so much more for thousands of writers.

    I “went indie” at the end of 2008, and my experiences were wholly positive for the vast majority of that. I have met thousands of incredible people online desperate to help not only other writers but, through projects like 100 Stories for Haiti, New Sun Rising, and the extraordinary Escape Into Life, society at large. What is most exciting of all is the ezine scene – amazing people doing incredible things in seemingy tiny niches yet with a professionalism, passion and come-as-you-are attitude that puts the rest of the arts world to shame – and live circuit, where audiences show genuine warmth to everyone regardless of where you publish.

    Just recently, especially as indies see some of “their own” do fabulously well, like the wonderful Saffinas and Mark and Louise, I’ve seen more than one or two indies start to get pound signs in their eyes, though, and the results are quite unpretty (to quote the great TLC) – downvoting and reporting any negative reviews, pressuring friends to review books, creating sock puppert accounts to give themselves 5 star reviews, openly badmouthing anyone who criticises their book. I notice it more because it’s rare, and because I feel betrayed that a great scene is being spoiled, but it’s there – and increasingly so. I think it’s what we should expect from any “second wave” (as with feminism, gay rights etc), and in a way it’s a symptom of the success of indies.

    • karincox

      July 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Hi Dan.

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. You’re quite right I forgot to mention #amwriting. I do follow Johanna Harness and it is a wonderful initiative and a community I should check in on more often. (I forget to use hashtags all the time. Must remember that is the point of twitter!)

      It is wonderful to see the support writers give to worthy causes worldwide. Here in Queensland the Writers on Rafts fund-raising by @RebeccaSparrow and the Queensland Writers Centre had really good involvement during the recent floods too. Writers are, whether “indie” or trade-published, empathetic, generally supportive types and I never wanted to make it seem it was trade-published authors to blame for competition, merely the system.

      I have also seen a few promo ideas from the indie community that, although well meaning, could have been seen to be a little bit too “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. I don’t think the intention has ever been to be underhand, merely to be helpful and encourage sales, but I agree with you that being genuine is vital for any author. As an editor, I know I am a harsh critic and don’t believe in sugar coating or back-slapping, but at the same time I love to give praise where it is due. Paying for reviews, or reporting negative reviews, or creating fake review accounts is rare, but there are going to be a few bad apples trying to make a buck. The best way to combat them is for the majority to keep on showing integrity and denounce the pretenders in their midst. Success will always bring with it it’s fair share of wannabes, but I believe integrity will always win out other unscrupulousness.

  9. Mike Cooley

    July 7, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Great post! I agree about the positivity. It’s wonderful to be among such talented individuals like I am meeting on IWU and Twitter these days.

    Another thing I think is lessened by the advent of indie publishing is genre snobbery. It’s still there, but not as entrenched as it is in traditional publishing. ( “Oh you write Sci-Fi? Well that’s not literature!” )

    I see lots of good changes coming out of indie publishing. Even things like short story collections (which traditional publishers seem to shun) becoming more popular.

    • karincox

      July 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

      Too true, Mike. I’ve definitely experienced “genre snobbery” in the past when it comes to my non-fic natural history books, but for some genres, particularly short stories as you note, e-publishing has been a godsend.

      That’s part of the reason I published my poetry e-book first up (plan to follow with some shorts and perhaps even a “drawer” novel when I find time to sort it out), I wanted to see whether people might still be reading poetry but just not wanting to take a change on paying $12 or more for a new poet. So far I’ve sold 7 copies in just over a week. Small fry I know, but as an “experiment” in e-publishing and an exercise in getting my poems read, it’s a positive start.

  10. Belinda Pollard

    July 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I love this post. Another comment that’s often made by the Caution Lobby is that “there are so many more books and people still only have the same amount of time to read, so they can’t possibly read them all” (abundance of books, paucity of time). Now, that’s a very plausible statement, but I don’t think it’s actually true.

    People are continually redistributing and re-prioritising their time. When television was invented, I’m sure nobody thought anyone could watch it for as many hours a week as most people do today. (Whether or not that’s a good thing is a whole different debate…)

    Perhaps the availability and portability of ebooks will see the whole planet become voracious readers! Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s hear it for positive thinking (and cake).

    • karincox

      July 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      Yes, there are so many books and so little time, but that has always been the case so I think it is a moot argument from the “Caution Lobby”. And you’re right, Belinda, people will make time for things the really want to do.

      I think the way people read is changing because e-books are able to be squeezed into tighter “pockets” of time. For example, I was the doctor’s surgery the other day and downloaded an e-book on my phone to read while there. Also, if you hear promotion on the radio or notice a book in a magazine or online, you can usually sample it or buy it instantaneously for very little, whereas in the past you would have had to go down to a bookstore or remember it next time you passed by one. I know that I have started more books since I began reading on the iPhone (and am reading more books at once) but haven’t necessarily read them to the end.


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