Supporting Indie Authors

Image of rock climbersGenerally speaking, many mainstream published authors dislike Indie authors and self-publishing. They are inclined to believe that traditional publishing is the only viable means through which the best and brightest authors get represented, published, and get their books sold.

A candid quote from mainstream author Sue Grafton during an unguarded moment in an interview with Leslea Tash for is one example of that view. For those who may not be familiar with Sue Grafton she is a contemporary best-selling American author of detective novels perhaps best known for her “’alphabet series” novels (“C” Is for Corpse, etc.) featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Here is what she has to say about Indie authors and self-publishing:

“The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.”

It isn’t my intent to take Sue Grafton to task here for her unflattering comments towards Indie authors and publishing. There is no argument that she did the hard work she spoke about―suffered early rejections of her manuscripts, learned lessons the hard way, and worked hard to master the writing craft before earning fame and fortune. It’s quite easy to understand why she has the views she expressed. The fact remains however that her views expose not only a serious lack of understanding about Indie publishing but perhaps the current state of traditional publishing as well.

It may have not been easy to break out as in author in the 1960s when Sue Grafton first got into the business, but it’s imminently more difficult today. Along with the growth of the Internet and Amazon came plummeting profit margins and declining sales for legacy book publishers along with a decline of the primary drivers for those profit margins and sales, brick and mortar bookstores. In response publishers cut staff and marketing support to lesser known authors.

The days of generous advances and book tours are over for all but a select few. Publishers are less willing and financially less able to make bets on new, unproven authors. It takes more than a great manuscript to get a book deal these days. Many publishers won’t even look at a new author without an established audience, social media savvy, and the willingness to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing their own book. Then along came viable self-publishing in the form of print on demand and eBook publishing platforms that permit virtually anyone to economically publish and offer for sale his or her own book. The Indie author/publishing movement was born. It filled the void, the growing gap between the huge number of writers who wanted to publish books and the relatively small number of writers that legacy publishers were willing to acquire.

The phenomenal growth and success of self-publishing has put even more pressure on traditional publisher’s sales and on their outmoded pricing models. Indie authors have become real competition for the legacy publishers. Not only has self-publishing attracted aspiring authors but many mainstream authors who haven’t reached star status but who have an established fan base are choosing to migrate to Indie publishing due the favorable economics and better royalties. That has resulted in a good bit of chaos in the publishing industry that has already yielded significant benefits not only for budding authors but for readers as well. From a reader’s viewpoint, what’s not to like about being able to pick from an almost infinite number of good novels in your favorite genres that are available at a fraction of the cover prices demanded by traditional publishers?

As Sue Grafton observed, some self-published novels are amateurish. Some are definitely bad. But not all, not even in my opinion most. In fact there are self-published books every bit as good as their traditionally published counterparts as the sales numbers prove. Indie author John Locke sold over two million copies of his books before signing a limited book deal with Simon & Schuster to gain wider distribution for some of his novels. Hugh Howey, an Indie science fiction author sold more than 200,000 copies of his dystopian novella Wool in the U.S. alone. He has since sold overseas rights to the novel in fifteen countries and the novella has been optioned by Ridley Scott for a movie. Many Indie authors these days regularly make best seller lists.

While economical self-publishing opportunities abound today and literally anyone could publish a book and get it listed for sale on Amazon or one of the many other eBook retail sites, it certainly isn’t easy to become a break out novelist as an Indie publisher. Anyone who believes that he can simply write a great book, publish it, and then sit back and watch the royalties roll in is in for a shock. It is after the book is published that the real work begins. To sell books an author regardless of whether a book is traditionally or self-published must find an audience. To be successful he must grow that audience.

While there is a plethora of book promotion companies that promise to help Indie authors grow an audience and sell books, for a price of course, the truth is advertising is not really what drives book sales. Primarily book sales are driven by personal recommendations from satisfied readers. This may be a simple as one person recommending a book she liked to a friend. But today, thanks to social media―Twitter, Facebooks, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc. a person can recommend a book to lots of friends all at the same time.

All of us self-published independent writers need your help and support to grow an audience. For most of us, success is not defined as much by royalties earned as by the number of people who read and enjoy the stories we tell in the books we write. Certainly buying and reading our books is one means of help and support, and we all deeply appreciate that. But there are some other ways that you as a reader can help and support your favorite independent authors that don’t cost anything beyond a few minutes of your time. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Post a book review on Amazon or Goodreads.

While all authors love getting positive reviews, I’m not suggesting you write and post a glowing review of a book you didn’t like. If someone doesn’t like a book I’ve written I want to know that too and why. I appreciate the opportunity to learn what others believe I’m not doing well as much as I appreciate hearing about what they think I got right. Experts say that other readers give more credence to book reviews written by their peers than to those written by professional reviewers. That’s why reader reviews are so helpful to independent authors.

2. Recommend books you enjoyed to your friends.

As mentioned that can be as simple as a recommendation from one friend to another but recommending a great read on your Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, or Pinterest board will go much further towards helping and supporting your favorite Indie author. Social media is sort of a two-edged sword for authors. Tweeting a “buy my book” advertisement, no matter how tastefully done by an author runs the risk of alienating potential readers. Tweet too infrequently and your book may not even be noticed in the noise of all the other tweets in competition for people’s attention. Tweet too often and people can actually become annoyed. We would all rather see a satisfied reader of one of our books tweeting about it than to tweet about it ourselves. That goes for all the other social media platforms too.

3. Visit, follow, and subscribe to author websites.

These days nearly every author maintains a web presence in the form of a website or blog. Authors love to connect with their readers and that is one reason these websites and blogs exist. Visit the sites, follow them, post comments where you can, and subscribe to author newsletters. It helps to build visibility for your favorite authors and really helps him or her build an audience.

If you really enjoy reading a particular independent author, it is really just as much in your interest as their interest to help and support him or her. Most everyone longs to be successful in something they are passionate about and for authors that means gaining readers. The failure to attract an audience can make a writer feel that all the hard work that goes into crafting an entertaining novel is just not worth it if no one is going to read it. So if you enjoyed your favorite author’s last book and you would like to make certain there is a next book, why not take a few minutes of your time to lend them your support? You can be sure he or she will be grateful for your help and support.


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