Tag Archives: indie literature

Why Indie Literature

Adirondacks October 2009 029

While some writers are still driven by anger and rejection, for me, going indie was business decision made after a good deal of research and soul searching. It was not a decision I made lightly, and it was not a simple decision, but in the end it was not a difficult decision. Here’s why I decided to go indie:

Because I realized I could.

There was a time when I thought it was impossible to self-publish literary fiction successfully, but I gradually became aware of the advances in technology that are empowering writers in the same way film makers and musicians were empowered by technological advances in their respective fields.

Between print-on-demand technology and the social media revolution, I realized there was nothing standing between me and my audience. Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming At Amazon clued me into the wonders of Lightning Source Inc.’s international printing and distribution services and my friends were beginning to drag me kicking and screaming into their 21st century, social media based world of uber-connectedness. Despite the fact that the majority of self-publishing success to date has been in the non-fiction and commercial fiction arenas, I could see that there was nothing between me and my audience expect my laptop and an internet connection.

Any doubts I had once I realized what was possible were rooted in the bad reputation self-published fiction has amassed which is not unfounded.  It’s true that many self-published novels are downright embarrassing but I saw an opportunity to bring a new level of quality and professionalism to the self-publishing arena.

I could see I had a lot to learn, but I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of girl and Google has made it possible to learn anything. I’ve also had the good fortune of working in a wide range of industries which has given me confidence in my ability to learn new skills and become fluent in new technologies. When I considered the various roles that go into the production and promotion of a novel, there weren’t any rocket scientists on the publishing house org chart.

In the past, if you wrote a novel, you needed a publisher (preferably a big one) for printing, distribution, and publicity—but given the evolution of technology, the established publishing industry really has outlived its usefulness in all three arenas.

Because the publishing industry is in shambles.

There was a time when a writer couldn’t complain about the publishing industry without out sounding whiny, but those days are long gone. The demise of the publishing industry has been on the front pages for years now and long before I realized what was possible, news coming from the book world had become increasingly frightening for wanna-be writers.

The publishing industry which once harnessed the economies of scale is now being crippled by the diseconomies of scale and the horror stories of writers caught up in the turmoil are well known. Books are being orphaned, industry professionals are changing jobs like it’s a game of musical chairs, and the big publishers are paring down imprints left , right and center. The corporate scramble to restructure and remain viable has left writers in the lurch.

While some writers are attached to the dream of the book deal, I wasn’t sure if I wanted decisions being made about my book by conference rooms full of disgruntled publishing industry professionals who have been through pay cuts and layoffs. While many of them may be well meaning book lovers, they’re still in conference rooms and they’re similarly caught up in the scramble to restructure and remain viable. By the time Black Wednesday happened, I had already decided to go indie, and now, bad news from the publishing industry isn’t frightening at all.

Because big publishing isn’t selling literary fiction well.

Aside from the general instability in the publishing industry, the plight of literary fiction is also well documented.  News from the book world has been frightening for writers in general, but it has been downright horrific for authors of literary fiction. And it started getting scary for literary authors long before the publishing industry was in obvious turmoil.

Given my desire to actually make a living as a writer, and given my desire to continue writing literary novels, I had to face the facts. These days, a literary author can get a book deal with Random House, and still not make a living as a writer.

It’s no secret that the majority of the publishing industry prefers properties it deems more commercial and when advances went through the roof for those properties, they got lower and lower for the literary ones. In the literary arena, advances have gotten smaller and print runs have gotten smaller and publicity budgets have gotten smaller. Given these trends, the limited print run model has been particularly devastating for literary authors. This model doesn’t give writers a long enough window in which to build an audience and too often literary novels end up remanded and go quickly out of print.

That’s not to say traditional publishing isn’t selling some kinds of literary fiction well, but at the moment their successful titles seem to be international/immigrant fiction which I love reading, but don’t write. My fiction leans slightly towards the avant-garde side of literary fiction and the publishing industry doesn’t think there’s any money in it.

The publishing industry blames a mythical shrinking literary audience for their business decisions but it’s simply not true. The film and music industries tried perpetuating similar myths but the popularity of indie films and music proved them wrong a long time ago.

Because readers are ready for indie literature.

The indie business model is about individual artists and entrepreneurs leveraging available technology to bring products or services directly to audiences and markets. Indie ventures are having success across a wide variety of industries because they bring a level of originality and quality to otherwise homogeneous markets. This holds true for all kinds of indies, from film makers and musicians to crafters and coffee shop owners. Where they can, people across the country are opting for Local Grinds instead of Starbucks, the band you’ve never heard of instead of the band everyone’s heard of, the movie that plays in one tiny theater instead of the movie the plays in every theater in America, and that t-shirt on Etsy instead of that t-shirt at Target. Not everyone, but there will always be a segment of the population that is dissatisfied by the homogeneous albeit multitudinous variety of products provided by large corporations.

Readers are no different, and in my opinion literary authors are particularly well positioned at the moment to be the next industry to go indie in a household-name kind of way.  We forget sometimes, but “indie film” and “indie music” were not always part of the American lexicon. And there was a time when no one thought an indie film could win an Oscar. But now, “indie film” means something and we all know what it means. And now of course, the film industry, and the music industry, are scrambling to reproduce and emulate the increasingly popular indie films and indie music. Even Target is trying to bring an Etsy-esque motif to their products.

We are bound to see the same progression in the publishing industry. Indie literature is not a household word yet, but it will be. For sure. And when I took a step back and looked at my own writing career, the writing on the wall was so clear and easy to read.
In defense of their own business decisions, the publishing industry attributes its abandonment of literary fiction to a shrinking literary audience but readers are ready for indie literature.  I knew that when I decided to go indie and since the debut of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken I’ve realized readers are even more ready than I thought they were.

And those two little words say it all – Indie Literature. Indie literature is exactly what I write. Sometimes That Happens With Chicken is indie literature. Volume Two is indie literature. And indie literature explains everything about my business model. And my audience, my audience loves indie literature. And when they hear those two words together, they know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s why, in the end, going indie was not a difficult decision.

I’ve been called a pioneer, but I’m always a little uncomfortable with that description because to me the word pioneer connotes risk taking. And when I took a long hard look at my writing career, a book deal with Random House looked a whole lot riskier than becoming my own publisher.