Indie Books: hidden gems or not worth the time?
I’ve always been open to reading books from any publisher, from the Big Five to the self-pub. In fact when I first began this blog over three years ago and was first contacted by self-published authors to read/review their book I didn’t think about them being self-published at all (it was still a relatively new thing back then anyways so I wasn’t aware they’d be different from traditional books) I simply was bowled over that someone wanted my opinion and asked for it directly.
When I review a book I don’t take into account whether or not it was self-published or given the royal treatment by a big brandname publisher, I review it based on the product a.k.a. the story and how well it resonated with me. Over the years that I’ve been maintaining this book blog as well as since I was a little kid first learning to read, I have read many fantastic books, many average books, and many disappointing books. And you’ll find that self-published, small house published, and big house published books all fall within each of those rating categories.
Amazon purchasing/running the publishing platform Createspace as well as Kindle Direct Publishing has changed the publishing game for writers entirely. No longer does your hard work have to decay in a desk drawer forever unseen and unappreciated just because an agent and/or publisher didn’t feel it matched the projected market trends. Now they can put in a bit more elbow-grease, add a few more hats to their resume, and publish it themselves. Authors can find their own readership and writing satisfaction. Do they get as much publicity? Certainly not. Do they make as much money? Actually some have even been known to make more (when you self-publish you get to keep the bulk of the royalties which is fantastic assuming you can, uh, sell any copies), but admittedly most, I think, do not. But if it’s the story that matters then the money shouldn’t be first anyhow.
Of course with this growing trend of being able to self-publish a book, the pool of published authors has swelled exponentially. For the worse? Is the published pool diluted with poorly written swill? I don’t think so, or at least not to the extent most people assume.
There are professional freelance editors, publicists, cover designers, etc. out there to aid these self-made authors. While there are obviously still a large number of books out there that make you question why they bothered to go through so much effort for their book that perhaps should have been set aside in a dark drawer somewhere easily forgotten, I think the strong surge of self-published works comes from a battalion of authors who refuse to deny their passion simply because it does not suit the business/publishing market or because a small pool of industry officials chose to pass over it. They’re taking matters into their own hands, willing to put in the extra work if only to give their efforts the chance they believe it deserves. It also allows some hobby writers to give their passion a purpose.
Now don’t twist my words and think I’m putting down traditionally published books. I’m sure it’s incredibly exciting to sign those contracts and have industry leaders officially declare faith in your work. It must be overwhelming to have your name and novel shouted to the corners of the earth and boosted by your idols. And some of my favorite books are traditionally published indeed. I’m only saying that being traditionally published does not necessarily make an author or book better than a self-published one. Not always, anyway.
Despite this truth (for it is a truth well-known by those who’ve willingly dived into the book world only seeking good stories and not limiting themselves to only those found in Barnes & Noble) there remains a disappointingly strong stigma against self-published books, a stigma largely (although admittedly not entirely) born from assumption. Now I won’t deny that there are a shudder-inducing number of shoddy books available in the self-published market (which makes sense seeing as there is not a series of gatekeepers to tell an author to go back and edit or toss out an idea until it’s far better and ready for an audience) but honestly I’ve met some self-published authors who’ve been wonderfully kind, actively engaging with their readers, and who’ve written books that I simply could not put down. Maybe some of them had a couple typos, or perhaps a few could’ve used another round of edits to really strengthen the storytelling, but even those held me captivated with the intrigue of their ideas.
Lately I’ve found myself a bit bored with the traditionally published books on my radar. I’ve become skeptical of hype, I leave books on my TBR list for months if not years before reading (if I ever decide to read it at all), and I’ve generally become less enthused by them. Now perhaps the industry will strike with a fresh revitalizing wave of fantastic releases, but for now I’m rather disappointed and I do not possess the wealth required to purchase every traditionally published book that might be a knockout.
Opposingly I’ve found myself getting more and more wrapped up in the indie/self-published sphere of books. Whenever I’m in need of a new read I simply look there and easily find something new (and affordable) to try. Sometimes it’s a disappointing dud, but other times I find myself hooked to a series and/or author. I’m not saying I’ve given up on traditional books by any means, but I do find myself leaning towards the supposed “riff raff” of the literary world whenever in need of a reliable story to pass the time. More than that I’ve gotten more easily hooked onto series through indie authors than I have with traditional (but that could be at least partially due to the fact that these authors can control how often they crank out books and feed the “binge culture” of today while traditionally there’s typically about a year between installments of a series by which time I’ve usually forgotten or lost interest).
The entertainment world is ever changing. Not only with books but even with movies, which is evident with the semi-recent announcement that the Oscars have finally added a “Popular” category for film nominations. (Have you ever noticed that books and movies that win these fancy prestigious awards often seem to be dramas that are dead depressing, enjoyed by a minority, and/or generally so dull they work better than an anesthesia? They have high critics’ ratings but low ratings from the masses. Now either that tells us that the masses are uncultured idiots, not an entirely implausible theory ha, or that it’s time to realize that a good story is a good story no matter the genre or intellectual depth or financial backing it possess. When the majority don’t recognize almost any award-winning film, and that most don’t even bother with these old award shows anyhow, you know there’s a problem. How many times have the required reading lists in school made you groan? Well made they may be, but well received they clearly are not.)
So dot your i’s and cross your t’s, but even that can’t save a story told a dozen too many times (Has anyone else grown bored by the storytelling formulas the trad. industry keeps churning out? Maybe I only notice these plot trends because as a reviewer I read 100+ books a year, which is more than the casual reader, but it’s almost like if you’ve read one YA Fantasy, for example, then you’ve read them all). Sometimes (most of the time, if I’m honest) it feels as if the industry has become not only far too corporate but an exclusive club, a clique, and people are quickly growing tired of being left out. With the rapid pace of the internet and its capabilities there is finally something to be done about it for those determined enough to try.
I don’t know… I’m aware that I’ve been babbling and rambling on and I’m unsure if I’ve made any point at all or if I really had a point to make to begin with. I simply find myself curious at this snobbish stark line drawn between publishing worlds and how I’ve found myself straddling the line first in ignorance of their differences and later in support of both paths. I find it infuriating when people slam the door on a book simply because it’s self-published. If the plot or genre do not interest you then by all means put it aside (with Amazon you can even read the first few pages for free!), but if you’re stopping yourself only because it wasn’t handled by dozens of “official” hands then I’m sorry but that’s not good enough. As a reader I seek books that whisk me away, make me feel, enliven my imagination. Just imagine if no one gave Andy Weir and his story, The Martian, a chance. And he’s just one famous example of a self-published writer earning a spot on the pedestal.
Like what you like, read what you want, and don’t let prestige or opinion sway you. Inform, yes. Sway, never.
As for myself I just want to discover amazing books that cause time to slip past unawares and keep me up long past my bedtime because I just can’t bear to pause the story. Whoever writes it, however it’s published, I couldn’t care less. ♥
If you don’t read indie/self-published books please tell me why not. I’m genuinely curious to hear what you have to say. If you do read such books, then why do you enjoy them and please tell me some recommendations for what I ought to read next.
Until the next time my brain feels the need to write out its random spiraling thoughts…
A few indie authors I’ve taken note of:
Sarah Ashwood (fantasy)
Leylah Attar (women’s lit.; romance)
S.M. Boyce (fantasy; horror)
Kelly Charron (crime)
Lola Dodge (sci-fi; paranormal)
Grace Draven (fantasy; romance)
Sarah Lyons Fleming (sci-fi)
Angie Grigaliunas (fantasy; dystopia)
C.S. Johnson (fantasy; historical)
Talis Jones (fantasy; post-apocalyptic)
Caroline Peckham (paranormal)
Gita V. Reddy (Indian short stories)
Suzanne Rogerson (fantasy)
T.L. Shreffler (fantasy)
Laura Thalassa (paranormal; romance)
Susanne Valenti (sci-fi)
…and I know I haven’t even begun to really discover all the potential waiting out there!
(Also I’m noticing that I don’t have any guys on that list so definitely hit me up with some recommendations on that front too)