The Wild West of Indie Publishing

I call it the Wild West because the self-publishing of indie books is in its early, westward expansion.  Companies like Amazon launched their KDP Select program to bring the bees to the honey, and away from their competitors.  Anyone with a computer can write and publish something, even a ten page document you can charge for $50.  Formatting, proof reading, and editing are all over the place.  There’s no standard because there are no gate keepers for quality assurance anymore.  We are all gold miners hoping to strike it rich.

Just like those early years in California, the first miners could pluck gold straight out of the riverbeds.  As more prospectors flooded into the state, the gold became harder and harder to find.  You had to dig deeper, it took longer, and eventually you had to work together with other miners to get at the gold.  Who really made the money during the gold rush?  The lucky few who did strike it rich, but primarily the merchants of the time.  Those supplying the miners with tools, supplies, and whiskey (don’t tell me you never wrote while a little buzzed!).

The Amazon Community boards are rife with personal vendetta’s, as I’m sure other indie boards are, with indie author’s giving one-star reviews out of spite.  Or, more often than not, an indie author gets a one-star review and is flabbergasted that someone would think their story isn’t worth the digital pixels it is written on.  They lash out at Amazon, at the person who reviewed it, and to anyone who will listen.

Amazon recently culled thousands of online reviews of books, and in the process, wiping out a lot of legitimate reviews as well.  Fake reviews, poorly rated reviews with barely an explanation, and even vague positive reviews that add nothing but a “star” to the book rating, are not new problems.  I used to write on Fanstory which suffered, and to some degree, still suffers from those exact same problems.  Fanstory alleviated the problem by creating its own author/reviewer ecosystem, which allows both sides to properly reward the other for good writing and good reviewing.

What we’re witnessing right now is the formation of a new, organized publishing/reviewing experience for the Indie author world.  From the chaos of the Wild West, stability and organization will slowly form.  I have a distinct feeling it is going to come from the established publishing houses that the indie world has enjoyed circumventing.  Random House and Penguin, for example, have recently merged in response to the digital book explosion.  Self-published works have increased by 287% since 2006.  This doesn’t even count a lot of the Amazon KDP books.

Let’s face it, most indie authors would welcome a publishing contract with Random House or any other big name to legitimize their work.  I’m not talking about the big sellers in the indie market, who are making plenty of money and don’t necessarily need Random House’s or Penguin’s stamp of approval anymore.  One of the biggest draws of indie publishing is being able to get your work out there now, and not waiting a year to hear back from the publishing houses.  I think more potential authors would attempt to send their work through the mainstream publishers if it were easier, and the turnaround time to find out whether you were accepted or not was much faster.  It still wouldn’t necessarily mean you would have to take whatever deal they offer, if they did, but it would open up a legitimate route other than automatically going straight to self-publishing.

As the indie world swims in free and cheap books, we will all cry out for a way for us to crawl out of the slush pile and have a greater opportunity at being noticed without feeling as if we need to give our work away for free, or cheap.  I am more than willing to sell my book at what the market value is, even if that ends up being .99 cents, but determining that value isn’t easy without hurting potential sales (or underselling a well written book).  Maybe indie books could have the option of doing an e-bay like system, where the price starts low and “floats” higher as people purchase it, until it hits your “max price”.  So I could start off selling it for .10 cents, but each purchase would increase the price by x amount, until the price reached $5.99, at which point the price would lock in (or begin to drop once sales slow, to a pre-determined “stop” point like $1.99).

I’ve noticed some small-time review sites are popping up.  I think this is a great idea, but many of them are people working out of their home and they can only review so much, and eventually get tied up in real life and stop reviewing altogether.  Indie authors even consider, and sometimes do, pay for reviews because they are so desperate for them.  Having a review from a 3rd party is a great way to place some authenticity on your book description.  Having it from the LA Times is golden, but no “slush pile” indie author (slushies? haha) will ever get a book reviewed by them.  We need some middlemen, who are willing to take on the slushies’ work and review it, and review it honestly and in a timely manner.  These are the merchants who stand to make more than the gold miners.

As authors have shootouts with each other in the forums, and attack each other’s work with poor reviews, and slushies desperately try to fight for recognition and revenue, I’m convinced order will arise from the chaos that will not only keep the indie world strong, but it will accelerate the process in which “popular/good” books will rise to the top, and the truly undeserving ones will disappear into the nether regions of the world’s electronic library.

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