Monday, 26 November 2012

How Indie Publishing is Saving the World

There's a lot of crap talked about indie publishing. That the books are substandard; thrown up without care for craft or product or consumer. That so-called 'authors' just want to turn a quick buck. It's the new vanity publishing.

Let me be the first to call bullshit. Yes, sometimes all of the above is true. I have spoken to some of those so-called authors, the people who've read about the massive successes of Amanda  Hocking and Colleen Hoover and the 50 Shades of this world and think that they can emulate them. The mainstream media has a lot to answer for there, because pick up any newspaper with an article about indie publishing and that's what they'll tell you - that we're all millionaires waiting to happen, if only we write a book and publish it on Amazon.

The truth, of course, is far different.

The truth is that all of those authors will find their books dying an ignoble death. They'll languish, unread and unloved, slipping ever-lower in Amazon's rankings. The authors won't understand it, they'll whine all over the internet that their book is a masterpiece, so why doesn't anyone read it? They feel like the Great Misunderstood, the next-best artist of the new millennium, only the buying public are too dumb to realise. Any attempt at constructive criticism is rebuffed because when they ask for feedback, what they really want is praise. These people have the paper-thin skin of someone in their nineties and the aggression of a mamma tiger defending her cubs.

I despair of them, but they're not the majority. I promise, they're not. They're just so vocal and so visible that sometimes it seems like they represent all of us. Believe me, they do not.

Most indie authors care very much indeed about their books. They take writing seriously, whether it's a career choice or a hobby. For most, it's the culmination of a lifelong dream; they've spent years on their book and they want to get it right. They understand the importance of good grammar and punctuation, of making a book look like a book, of getting the editing and the formatting and the design as right as possible; as good as anything you can buy from an established press.

That kind of product can't be created in isolation. The boom in indie publishing has had a ripple-out effect on a number of other industries, both creative and technical. Sure anyone can type up a manuscript, but in order to turn it into a viable book, able to stand on its own two feet and compete in an open marketplace, other things need to happen. Someone needs to format it for a start. While that's relatively simple for someone with a bit of time on their hands to learn, some people have neither time nor inclination. They're artists, not computer programmers. But that's fine, because a whole army of people have sprung up who will format and mould your book to fit any file type you want, for a small fee.

But before that, there's editing. Not sure when to use an apostrophe; what the difference is between a colon and a semicolon; or how to correctly tag speech? It's okay, because lots of people do. And again, they'll share that knowledge, for a fee.

Then there's covers. For every person who fancies themself an author, there's someone who fancies themself an artist. From watercolours to CGI and everything in between, anyone who wants a bespoke cover can have one - for a price. And even if you don't, there's photographers galore uploading their images to stock sites like Dreamstime and Shutterstock and licencing them for use, and then there's graphic designers who are offering to manipulate those images to create the perfect representation of whatever it is you've written.

This is a booming industry, and it's breathing new life into every corner of the arts. Want a book trailer? Speak to an indie film-maker. Want some publicity? Speak to all those people with PR qualifications. Want the perfect website? There's designers falling over themselves to offer their services. Whoever you are, whatever your talent, you can play a part in this mini-boom.

Let's just stop and think about this for a minute. We're in the middle of the worst recession since the Wall Street Crash. People are supposed to be strapped for cash, losing their jobs, struggling to make ends meet. But that's not what's happening. More and more I hear reports from indies that they're earning serious cash - they're out-earning their day jobs, or even quitting them completely to write full-time. They are literally living their dream. Since What He Wants hit #1 in genre on Amazon in five of its six Kindle domains (damn you, Spain!) and a plethora of iTunes store, I too managed to out-earn my day job, at least for a period. It's a giddy feeling.

It's a curious fact that in times of financial hardship, sales of escapist media - films, computer games, books - actually increase. People want to be taken out of their humdrum lives, away from the worries about money and jobs and all the boring stuff that keeps us all awake at four in the morning. But times are still lean: you can't justify spending a fortune on entertainment when you're not sure how you're going to pay your electricity bill. Hello, indie novels. Given an option between spending $15-$20 on going to the cinema - a one-off experience that will provide maybe 3 hours' entertainment, at a push - you can spend $5 or less on an ebook that will take you a week to read, and can be re-read as many times as you want. Win! And given that indie authors can earn up to 70% royalty, that's win-win.

The ebook model works brilliantly from both sides. The consumer gets genuine value for money from a product that they can return to again and again without it ever wearing out; the artist gets a real return for their investment - not only in time spent creating it, but the serious financial investment in some or all of the things I've mentioned above: formatting, editing, cover design, marketing, etc. That model of small-outlay meets (potentially) big-income is a wonderful one, not just for the indies who are seeing real financial benefit from self-publishing, but for all those other 'behind the scenes' people that also benefit from the trickle-down effect. When you buy an ebook, you're not only giving the retailer money, you're providing a genuinely viable revenue stream for both the author and a plethora of artists, graphic designers, web designers, marketers, editors and formatters.

It gets better. The boom in epublishing has seen a rise in a new wave of reviewers - ordinary people who love books, and who now run blogs dedicated to the genres that make their toes curl. Thanks to Amazon and Google's affiliate programmes they can monetise those blogs, earning themselves a tidy income in their own right.

These days most people are doing something extra to earn a little bit of money, whether that be car boot sales, selling on eBay, working foreigners if you have a trade, whatever. We're all working longer hours for less reward in day jobs that aren't as secure as they were even five years ago. Well isn't it a wonderful thing that people have a chance to make serious money doing something that makes their heart sing? That some of them have turned that into a viable career?

Most of us dream of doing something we love for a living. Some of us are lucky enough to do just that. Thanks to the epublishing revolution, more and more of us are in a position where it's at least a possibility.

Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
Find all her books on AmazonAReB&N,  iTunesSWSony & Kobo


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