Mainstream vs indies…
I’ve never really wanted to get into the mainstream vs indie argument that has waxed and waned over the Net for the last couple of years. To me all writers are just that – writers.
How they are published is immaterial. What matters is if either have readers and if they can entertain. But this is Read an E-Book Week and somehow it seems appropriate.
Today I read a comment from a highly respected mainstream author, one of my favourite writers. It said that it is possible to write your first novel and publish it on Amazon Kindle without any idea of intrinsic weaknesses within the work. Whilst it might not be construed from the comment that there is an anti- indie sentiment, I looked at the statement and wondered about my own process.
I, like that writer, have written stories since I was a child. As I’ve often said, I kept writing through my life just like an artist sketches. It was an interest, something that took me away from myself. As a corollary I was and remain a devoted reader. At the end of school, I won a state-wide prize for a short-story. At sixteen, I wrote my first novella, a spy story based in Europe. Whilst I still have the prize-winner, sadly I can’t find that first longer story although I remember it well.
As a mother, I had little time for more than a short-story or a page of prose. But the urge remained and I always had a pile of paper, a pen and a folder close by and managed to write three childrens’ stories.
Finally time was mine and I completed a writing and editing course and then wrote a YA fantasy trilogy. That story was my trial by fire and I still have it. I worked at it, learning, re-shaping, having it professionally assessed. I submitted it and had positive feedback, something that is rare from mainstream editors. But I knew it just wasn’t me, it didn’t fit. I needed my book to feel like a well-worn coat.
And then I wrote The Stumpwork Robe. I worked with a leading UK literary consultancy as it developed and was contracted as one of the Hot 25 Writers they felt had enough élan within their work to sell on. I came close rather a lot … one agent loved my work but after hard thought declined to take me. Then rang the consultancy back later in the week to say that she knew she’d kick herself for the decision she’d made.
Nice words. But they were just that … words.
A day after I was notified of this, I received an invitation to POD the novel which had accrued perfect comment on a peer-review site. By this time, I had been writing seriously for ten years and was approaching a milestone birthday. I realised simply that if I kept to that narrow mainstream path, my chances in my lifetime, despite all the reports and the praise, were slimmer than nothing. Editors told stories of slush piles being thinned cruelly with little care for merit and that some work was signed or not on grounds as subjective as bad-day PMT or a hangover.
POD meant I could take charge of my writing life and I thought, why not? Give me one good reason why not?
So I did … using professional services such as assessments, editing and cover design. A niche following ensued. With additional titles, my readership grew. Nothing world-shattering, just comfortable and steady.
So you see I am a writer, an indie writer.
Does it matter that I or any other writer is independent, not mainstream? Does it make us second rate?
In this day and age, many readers have become tired of paying high prices for mainstream work. They can go to any of the online suppliers and find truly brilliant authors that may have been bypassed on a PMT day and whose books are a fraction of the price – authors who rank #1, 2 and #3 for weeks on end.
So I guess what I am saying is that there may well be writers who throw their first ever piece of work on Kindle. Unless they are totally gifted, they are probably just a little silly but given time they might be #1.
What I am also saying is that I wish that there were no ‘them and us’ attitude between mainstream authors and indies, that they could read an indie author quite happily, the way we read them.
That we could all just exist comfortably in the knowledge that we are all writing for the same reason – to tell stories and entertain.
Sadly, Prue, the us and them mentality is fostered by self-interested groups on both sides, and reasoned argument rarely results.
There are good and bad aspects to both indie and mainstream publication, and the sensible approach is to try enjoy the benefits of both.
Print publishing may be in decline, but the big publishers aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many times the self-appointed indie spokesmen and women announce their imminent demise.
We’ve tried to embrace all angles, with indie success, print deals and our own small press. Just because we can do well as indies does not mean that is always the best option.
There is no us and them unless we choose to segregate ourselves as writers. Those that do, on both sides, will find future opportunities lost.
I sooo agree, Mark. As a reader, I enjoy both totally. My library shelves both digitally and in print have expanded.
What I will say is that the kind of digital books i am reading are so outside the square, so clever, so pacey, so … different!
I love that. I love that homogeneity is a thing of the past. I love that there are small mainstream publishers out there who are visionary, who will take risks and put all sorts of books in the reading domain.
I especially like that readers get to read, yes, READ, for a fraction of the price they used to. To me that seems to be democracy and good business, all in one!
Agreed–I don’t understand the “them and us” attitude, either–especially as more and more writers move between the two realms depending on what suits their career at that moment, what suits the work they’re releasing, etc. There are some writers who pop their first book up on amazon without much honest thought to its weaknesses–that’s a fair statement, and I’m sure we’ve all seen those books. But it’s not a statement that encompasses even close to all of the indie writers producing and publishing work–not at all. Especially as–and you’re so correct–mainstream publishing is not some magically failsafe method by which the best are published and the rest are not–a PMT day could mean the difference between published and not.
I nearly choked on my lunch the day the former editor told me of the rejection letters she had to send when a junior, for work that she felt would have sold like hotcakes and all for those nefariously subjective reasons mentioned above.
It’s why I love small presses … because they are risk takers and what is business without those with vision?
There’s plenty of schlock published on both sides (unfortunately), just as there’s plenty of great stuff published on both sides. What’s essential to me as a reader is that you don’t just push whatever you have into ebook form — other, critical people need to read it, and you need to take their feedback seriously. I think some people think that mainstream publishing is more likely to guarantee a revision process, but I read plenty of mainstream books that could easily have been edited it into something better — all mainstream publishing seems to “guarantee” is copyediting, and even that is becoming questionable. Honestly, the thing that’s pushing me toward reading more indie stuff these days is the price and convenience. I get it easily, if I didn’t like I’m not annoyed at what I spent, and if I don’t want to keep it, it’s a matter of a mouseclick.
Servetus has hit the nail on the head – my book group often comment that an author (often prize nominated) is in need of a good editor.
Cost and convenience have been major factors in my move over to buying ebooks – a paperback in Australia costs around $30 which is a lot to pay even if i do enjoy it – and extremely galling if i don’t. In addition, the choice in bookshops seems quite limited these days – or perhaps my expectations have changed with the choice the internet provides.
So i buy both indie and mainstream books electronically and once i’m reading, i barely give it a second thought – either a book is well written and has a story i want to continue with, or it doesn’t. The net result is that i’ve probably become more adventurous with my choices (particularly with indies that cost the price of a coffee as opposed to mainstream which are about 1/3 of the cost of a paperback).
In this time of GFC, I figure we have two options: the library or indie writers if one wants cheaper reading. I do feel though that it’s no reason for a division
between indie writers and mainstream writers and the thing I like about the commentary here so far is that it comes from readers who read both.
I am now at the point where I’d find it hard to pay $30 for a paperback. Not with my Kindle. It would have to be one of my all time favourite authors: an undiscovered Tolkein or Dunnett. A ripping bonk-buster from Jilly Cooper. Something along those lines!
I agree, Servetus. Over the years I have spent a fortune … possibly more than I shall ever earn back, on critical assessment, editing, professional design, you name it.
Professional assessment literally took a year or more with each title … each phase of the draft (First, second, third, whatever.) meant accepting critique until the assessor (often a retired editor from someone like Random House) deemed it commercially viable.
There are editing faults everywhere, indie and mainstream. I recently read one of my current favourite authors and counted 7 errors in the first three chapters and gave up then, deciding to enjoy the novel instead. It’s not like it used to be … I don’t know why. Maybe we are all more knowledgable, more demanding. Whatever the case, i much prefer to pay $2.99 for an e-book with edit faults than $30 for a mainstream paperback with the same!
I agree. Us/Them thinking is such a waste of time. An awful lot of trad. pubbed writers are also self-pubbing some of their titles. As the other commenters have said, there are idiots on both sides. People who get three rejections on their first novel and throw it into an ebook are just as guilty as the snarky reviewers who give all self-pubbed books bad ratings without reading them because they hate indies. Avoiding morons can be difficult, but we just need to ignore them.
One of the most beautiful authors I have read, Ann Swinfen, is published in both ways and survives with respect for both sides of the argument. It can be done!
Actually, readers don’t care who publishes books. If they like the sample, they’ll buy it anyway. I wish the self-publishing stigma would go away today, but I’m afraid we have a few more years to struggle… especially against mainstream authors – who might be afraid of competition. But let’s do it for our readers, shall we?
Hallo Barb. As I mentioned above, I am happy to write and be read. How I am published is immaterial. To me.
The analogy of painting and artists has been used elsewhere on the net this week and so I should venture to say that I have beautiful artworks on my walls from printmakers and artists who have never had a gallery showing. Their work is as sensitive, as perfect and far cheaper than their mainstream, gallery-hung peers and I welcome it and am proud to busting to display it.
That is not to say that artists and writers who go down the traditional paths and are marketed as such aren’t as deserving of our attention. They are, and then some. To have managed to make a mark on the bastion that is mainstream proves they have the strength and capacity of a mangonel or trebuchet! I will always read both trad and indie works … there is a place for us all.
I agree that the story is what matters. I’m just glad that there are so many options now. With indie ebooks, readers can find stories that traditional publishers couldn’t afford to take a gamble on. And as a very frugal reader, I’m thrilled. I hate to spend a lot of money on stories that end up boring or annoying me. I’ve been going to the library and used book stores for years, but now I don’t even have to leave home. Click. Click. Ah, I love this digital age.
I love to write. Always have. Don’t have the confidence to try anything serious, indie or mainstream. But keep writing, anyway. Little brother is a published, and award-winning writer. He has paid his dues, and is still always searching for a publisher. Writing is not an easy path. But it is a wonderful one. Salut! all writers! Whether one is published or not, it is well worth it. The non-mainstream is a super avenue.