Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

One Indie Disadvantage

There are only a few disadvantages that I’ve spotted from the indie side of the authorial fence. They don’t begin to dent the mountain of positives, but I thought I’d point out a few.

One is the difficulty in getting bloggers to accept your book and review it. I’ve given up even trying. The last time I reached out was before WOOL 2 came out in November. Maybe I would have more success now, but the crazy thing is that it’s happening on its own. Every now and then I’ll get a Google alert that points me to a new review out there. It still stinks that I can’t even submit Wool to most websites because they’ve stopped accepting self-published works.

Another downside with being indie is not getting to attend book conventions and feature on panels as easily. It’s possible, especially with smaller conventions, but you can have the #1 book in your genre and still be a pariah. I hope that changes in the future. It gets in the way of the author/reader connection at book and SF gatherings.

The disadvantage I started this post to discuss is another I hope will change one day. Amazon might be working on it, in fact. I’ve heard rumors. I’m talking about the ability to pre-order a book, which right now we self-pubbed peeps can’t set up. It creates an uneven playing field, and here’s why:

Books are ranked on the Kindle bestseller lists by an algorithm (a secret one) that we’ve somewhat deduced through shared stats. It mostly has to do with your hourly and daily sales rates (and borrow rates). When books are pre-ordered, that gives you a huge bump on release day, which increases visibility, which gives you more of a bump, and so on. Indies do silent releases by comparison. We have to make announcements and wait while the trickle builds into any sort of flow. And readers have to constantly check to see if their favorite indie author (here’s hoping they have one) has anything new out.

I pre-order books all the time. I see an upcoming work mentioned and I throw it in my cart and pay for it. I’m not billed until it ships, and it usually shows up on my stoop the day of release. I love this system. I’m hoping I (and the rest of my fellow indies) can be a part of it one day.

23 replies to “One Indie Disadvantage”

I wonder if there would be a way to get an Indie Book Convention off the ground. Think Sundance Film Festival for books. Like I said, it would be cool to get together with other Wool fans / Hugh Howey fans from across the country and discuss the books

I think Bob is on to something with the Sundance example. An indie based book conference would be a great way for authors to gain exposure, benefiting them and the readers alike. We have a nice convention center in Galveston and a great artist community. It might be a nice place to get started until the convention takes off and gets too big.

I’m going for it. I contacted the NOTO Arts District here in Topeka, KS. This is the kind of thing I think they could get excited about it. So Justin, get moving, let’s see if we can get Topeka or Galveston to host one of these events!

http://notoartsdistrict.com/

I’ve also started bugging a friend of mine who is a manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County public library. We’ll see if we can get them to partner in this effort. I sent her a link to your blog…Stephanie if you are reading my post…know, I’m going to keep nagging you about this until you relent… ;)

http://tscpl.org/

I can kind of see where the blogs, cons, are coming from. I’ve read quite a few self-published works, (including many that have made it near the top of the Amazon SF bestseller lists), and unfortunately many (most?) of them are simply not very good. Not unremittingly horrible, mind you, but lacking the polish present in books I’m more likely to enjoy.

If I run a blog that regularly reviews books, I’d also avoid unsolicited self-published works, for the simple reason that there are only so many hours in the day, and life’s too short to spend it reading a book where it’s highly likely that the book simply will not be that good.

If I have bad enough luck with the books I read (which mostly come from Amazon suggestions and the SF best-seller list) I can only imagine what the average quality is of the books at the bottom of the pile.

Does it mean that many worthy works never get noticed? Sure. But the books have to be chosen somehow, and an author getting signed on with a publisher is as good a criteria as any to start; it’s an “implied” review that at least a couple of people have read it and judged it worthy for public consumption.

I completely understand that. I reviewed books for a website before I started writing my own stuff. I was swamped with books and had to pick and choose. All I’m asking for is a chance to be in the pile. I think if I could submit my book with a letter detailing the publishing history, the success, the reviews on major national outlets, I might get a fair reading. But the rule has become a hard and fast one for most sites. No amount of supporting data will bend that rule.

You brought up a ton of really good points. As a fellow indie author it took me two years to write my first novel in 2009 and I finally published it last summer. I had really no clue what I was doing in terms of marketing, I work a full time job and have a family, and school, I didn’t have time to blog or wait forever on agents, publishers or reviewers. I finally find a good editor and re-released my book Jan. 2012. It’s much better and I’ve been active on Goodreads and a few other sites as much as I can. The big positive for me was I still own my work, I’m not making a ton of money and I’m ok with that because I spent two years on a book and it’s all mine. Too many people get stuck in making it big, but look at you; you’ve made it big on your own terms. Think how many indie authors out there have amazing books that just don’t fit the market *cough* (Wool), but change how people read, what they read, and their thought process. I’ve talked about Wool to my friends and it turned into a debate you could easily confuse with philosophy or social psychology. Books can be fun and pure entertainment but at the same time really make you think about life and the world around you.
Indie authors still get a bad rap, we’re on the social outcast list in terms of publishing, we’re the Gladiators of ancient Rome just fighting to get noticed and survive while so many traditional published authors are pushing out straight garbage in forty book series on the same boring character, and these authors forgot long ago to connect with their readers and that their readers are who really matter. I don’t think traditional publishing will die but it has so many negative aspects that just aren’t in favor of the author who puts in the hard work and labor. From what I’ve seen TOR doesn’t seem all that bad with its authors but the cut publishing companies take is way more than what Amazon takes.

Speaking of the crap that comes out of traditional publishing, there’s a new article on Cracked that quotes a line from a George R. R. Martin book that supposedly is written from a woman’s point of view: “”When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest…”

Yes, because everything about my life centers on what I’m wearing and the current status of my breasts.

Hugh, your readers are a particularly rabid and motley bunch…try stopping them

And I think others would enjoy it also. I could see this being a great way to give aspiring authors a forum, and give authors like you an opportunity to pass along advice. As well as give you an opportunity to meet your readers and discover new fans…let’s see where this road goes…

I think readers would definitely show up for something like this. It may start small the first year or two, but I’m sure it would spread quickly. If you host in a writer’s or artist type community, all the better. If done well, it could really turn into the “Sundance” of writing.

LE Modesitt has a blog post a few days ago (and a couple before that) ranting at the self publishers. He had no good answer when I pointed out that logically there will be declining standards with established publishing houses due to a smaller and smaller revenue stream for that industry. As I said there, I think the self publishing stream is a perfect alternative to getting works out there. It simply shifts the burden on filtering that content to the public.

Hmm. I wonder if you work with a big distributor, perhaps you can pre-sell. I’m deeply involved in the community of independent authors that has grown up around knitting and fiber related hobbies. Folks mostly use Unicorn Books ( http://www.unicornbooks.com/ ) to handle distribution, including working with Amazon. I don’t know but I would hazard to guess they could arrange pre-sales.

I know from listening to many folks’ hard won experience there’s an order of magnitude more $$ for the self-published author than folks who go through a major publisher, at least in the craft book market, and from my misspent youth in SF fandom I’m pretty sure those folks aren’t doing any better.

Unicorn may not be the best match for you and what you want to do, but I expect they can point you in a good direction if they don’t want to pick up WOOL themselves. I expect there are similar distributors for other niches, and you might do well to look for them.

I notice Daniel Suarez (Daemon and Freedom) signed with Dutton. I know he started indie- I found him early through Kindle books, similar to your work, though I heard of you through others and I found Suarez browsing the Kindle store.

Might be worth looking into his experience and perhaps chatting him up. I don’t know him at all, but his series similarly had independent success as a self-published SF series, and has a unique dystopian viewpoint. If you aren’t familiar with it, you may enjoy it.

Yeah, I interviewed Daniel a few years ago and reviewed Daemon for a crime/thriller website. I just emailed him recently after receiving an ARC of his newest book. He had great success as an indie and signed with a trad. press.

I think a lot of conventions like Boskone in Boston would be happy to see you .. John Scalzi went from publishing his books on his blog to being a Guest of Honor at many conventions. Could see the same thing happening to you, Hugh.

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