What's Wrong With Indie Authors?
Yes, there is plenty that is wrong with us indie writers. But there are just as many problems with the "traditional" path to publication.
1. We indie writers frequently don't edit and proofread our books carefully enough. Our books are often riddled with poorly formed phrases in addition to grammar and spelling mistakes. If we can't afford a professional editor, we should hire a high school English teacher to look it over. English teachers know grammar and spelling better than college English profs, probably because they actually teach it. If we can't afford to hire an English teacher, we should start saving our money for it rather than publishing prematurely.
2. Spamming. Spamming. Spamming. Getting the word out about our books can backfire: we can become a name people recognize, but recognize as something to avoid because we've bugged them so much. All of us are suffering because we are seen as relentless spammers and self-promoters. We need to come up with less intrusive ways of marketing. The best suggestion I have heard is cross-promoting: guesting on people's blogs, exchanging website information, and publishing the first chapter of another writer's book at the end of yours, and vice versa. This needs to be done judiciously, of course.
If you choose the traditional route to publication, your years of hard work as a writer will be quickly judged by an inexperienced and unqualified individual.
3. We have no gatekeepers. This is a blessing and a curse. Everyone can publish. But that means a lot of crap gets put out. Who divides the wheat from the chaff? Well, we have thousands of book review blogs out there, some of which do not review self-published books and some that do. They provide something of a gatekeeper function. A few other things are happening. Amazon is creating imprints for successful self-published books and are thereby becoming publishers in the traditional sense. The indie authors serve the same function as the slush pile at a traditional publisher. More importantly, there are various organizations for indie's that are popping up. So far, none has begun a "seal of approval" process, but I think something like it is coming. A group of respected indie authors would decide which books meet several criteria for being named worthwhile. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be something.
What's Wrong With Traditional Publishing? (Big Publishers, Not Independent Small Publishers)
1. Editors and agents can make a book a lot better. But sometimes they can red ink the life out of it. There is a uniformity of style that comes from the books of the major publishers. The one exception is authors who have a name and can write in any style they please because the books will sell.
2. They do not choose which books to publish in a fair manner. Guess who looks through the slush pile at most big publishing houses and literary agencies? Poorly paid young people in their early 20's. They might even be unpaid interns. They lack the experience to be able to divide the wheat from the chaff. In fact, they are no better than authors who choose to self publish. If you choose the traditional route, your years of hard work as a writer will be quickly judged by one of these inexperienced and unqualified individuals.
3. Many, if not most, of the new authors published traditionally are not chosen from the slush pile, a contest, or anything else that seems "fair." Rather, they are chosen for personal connections — sometimes banal, sometimes sinister. I know of an author who got an agent to read her book and choose to represent her through the help of a friend of a friend. Yes, she impressed the agent. But if not for the intervention, it's unlikely her work would have risen up like yeast from the slush pile. I also know that some publishers have made promises to aspiring writers in exchange for sexual favors. Yes, it's true. Enough said. Given that the channel to publication is not based on fairness, it is ridiculous to believe that jumping the hurdles of agencies and publishing houses adds legitimacy to your work. Self-publication is probably less cynical and more legitimate than the traditional way.
Self-publication is probably less cynical and more legitimate than the traditional way.
A lot of classic authors did not follow what we now consider the "traditional" path to publication. Walt Whitman not only published himself, but printed himself and wrote good reviews of his books under an assumed name. Other authors have strategically critiqued and reviewed each other onto the literary map. Still others have written bad reviews of themselves under assumed names, then, under their own names, attacked the review. The manufactured exchange stirred up the desired controversy and attention. Were they ethical in stooping to this level? No. But the point is that authors have aggressively self-marketed books for centuries.
Some writers feel that legitimacy is earned by waiting for literary agencies and traditional publishers to discover their "talent." They treat this discovery as a necessary obstacle to getting "truly" published. It's a little like a person thinking the only way over a tall hurdle is to jump it when a perfectly good path goes right around it. The hurdle created by literary agencies and traditional presses is smoke and mirrors, and I pity writers who spend their energy trying to get over it. They would be better off making connections with good writers in the indie community and working to market their books there — as long as they don't fall to the level of spamming.