Amazon ads? Scam. Bookbub? Allauthor? Awesomegang? Scam. Scam. Scam! What about review sites like Goodreads? IndieReader? Kirkus? All scams.
I have spent the past several years trying to game the indie scene, but it simply does NOT work. Having wasted God knows how much money, I’ve had to rationalize these expenditures, telling myself it’s a long-term investment, that it doesn’t matter whether Amazon earns hundreds of dollars from me because it will all ultimately pay off. Once I pick up a big-name publisher, it will have been worth it.
But what, exactly, am I supposed to do after giving Google nearly a thousand in cash only to see no appreciable difference in sales? Sure, if I worked for a household name like Coca-Cola, spending millions on marketing would make sense. But a struggling author? I might as well have watched those dollars burn. Take Goodreads, for instance. For the low-low price of only $99, they let you give your books away for free! Instead of, you know, reaching out to people and asking them, “Hey, would you like a free book?” which is against their rules and might get you banned. Of course, you also pay to print and mail the book, all in the hopes of earning reviews.
Companies like Goodreads couldn’t exist if they did not milk authors’ wallets; that’s their whole business model, as is Amazon’s, their parent company. Capitalizing on desperate, wannabe bestsellers wasn’t even a thing before the Internet age, but here we are. And it isn’t as if you have ZERO chances at achieving fame and fortune; you do, but you might as well be playing the lottery. Trying to win it big in the independent publishing casino has everything to do with “going viral.” It’s a slot machine of secretive algorithms that profits from writers, NOT readers. They imply value in what they offer, but the value isn’t there, and they know that.
Now, you may think I’m just no good at this storytelling business, which might be the case, but you have no idea how badly I wish that were true. At least then, I could work on improving myself. Look, I’ve wanted nothing but to be an author since I was six, was treated like a prodigy since elementary school, queried an anthology of short stories to publishers at fourteen, and completed my first novel in high school. Up until graduate school, where I earned my English degree, professors assured me I was destined for success. My fellow classmates, also aspiring writers, never stopped raving about my work, and I won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for three separate stories I submitted to a fiction contest. The Princess of Aenya has been compared to The Night Circus, a book Barnes & Noble frequently includes in their must-read section. Now, perhaps a lifetime of praise doesn’t mean a damn thing in the real world, but at the very least, you’d expect my writing to fare a little better than this drivel:
This book, by the way, holds 186 reviews! Mostly with five stars! Not only does this person write like I did in middle school, he can’t even be bothered with proper formatting. Meanwhile, a masterfully written novel like Stephen Swartz’s, A Girl Called Wolf, stands at a 4.1 rating with a measly 13 reviews.
Clearly, quality isn’t the issue here.
Ask Google for independent publishing advice. You’ll be told to invest in a professionally designed cover, hire an editor, and make a book trailer, all things I’ve done, without seeing a damn bit of difference. The cover for Ages of Aenya was made by Zenghi Yu, an incredibly gifted artist, and it cost me $1k. I spent another six grand on editing. I even hired a guy to make me a custom font. Add to that my thirty years of writing experience, and you’d assume my books could sell better than dino-porn.
Why do so many crap books succeed while quality work goes unnoticed? I have agonized over this puzzle for years, and I think I am beginning to piece together what is happening.
First and foremost, the books in the Aenya series do phenomenally well in actual bookstores. The owner of Emerald City, a warehouse-sized mecca for comic book aficionados in my area, was so impressed with my sales he created a section exclusive for novels without pictures. I’ve made nearly five hundred bucks from his store alone and can only dream about the $ I could earn selling the Aenya series in Barnes & Noble locations nationwide. The reason for my brick-and-mortar success, I suspect, has something to do with the fact that readers don’t know the book is indie. They’re judging it the way they would any real novel released by Tor or Bantam or Penguin.
Indie books cater to niche groups. So if you’re looking to satisfy your male power harem fantasy, you’re not going to find it next to Stephen King’s latest bestseller, and you won’t care much for literary value either. Subject matter means everything when it comes to the indie scene, which is another way of saying it’s supply meeting demand. Personally, I don’t read indie books, and I most likely would never buy my own book if someone else had written it. Why? Because I value the art of storytelling above all else, and the best-written stories can almost always be found in brick-and-mortar bookstores.
What gives me faith in the future of literature? This:
Cloud Cuckoo Land holds 146,791 reviews with a 4.3-star average, more than any dino-erotica you’ll find on Amazon by a factor of a hundred, and the book, I am happy to say, deserves the love! But here’s the rub: Anthony Doerr isn’t an indie author, and his readers know that. I suspect they picked up his novel for the same reason I did: masterful storytelling. And this has been my goal since childhood. Maybe I am not there yet, and maybe I have a ways to go before I reach Doerr’s level, but it ain’t the indie road I need to follow. I suspect that when indie fans pick up Ages of Aenya, expecting some pulp-fiction romp to satisfy their softcore fetishes, they are ultimately disappointed.
I don’t belong in the world of indie publishing. I knew I didn’t belong when I attended the Florida State Book Festival, and the author next to me said, “This guy is on another level,” while another woman, also a writer, told me she wanted to “touch me so my genius would rub off on her.” I haven’t spent a lifetime mastering the literary arts to play Amazon’s lottery, to compete with middle-school grade writing. So I’m done. Done being scammed. Done being taken advantage of. If you want to be a real writer, you’ve got to do it the old-fashioned way. Get an agent. Get a publisher. Learn to write well. Prove your worth.
I strongly agree that there is a huge number of groups trying to skim writers.
In the past, it was publishing companies, agents and bookshops. Living off the back of these people were editors, cover designers, copywriters, advertising agencies and salesmen.
Today, these are still there for the traditionally published author.
The Indy Author can get to choose which of these services they feel they need … in exchange for 30% Amazon will allow the author to ditch the lot.
The BIG problem is when the author makes a choice of any of the services listed above, “they” make the choice. The chance of them having an ongoing relationship with, say, a cover designer is slim. Unlike the old-fashioned Publishing House, which had the time and volume of work to demand quality or loss of custom. They would know that X was good at Sci-fi but poor on Westerns … today X is grabbing for every gig to make ends meet.
Then we hit the adverts. I thankfully do not need to make money, I write as a self-financing hobby. I have only spent a few hundred pounds sterling on adverts.
1, A Facebook advert … That Facebook withdrew because … I have no idea, I assume the cover image violated “Community Standards,”
2, A Freebooksie deal … I gave away a thousand copies (e-books) assured, by a minor publisher, that pages read would be paid – they weren’t. I sold a few copies of the second in the series and got several 1, 2, and 3-star reviews in exchange for a month’s Amazon earnings.
Sadly, I think you are correct in your post, Nick.
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