Why Read Indie?

Why read indie, indeed? Aren’t self-published authors losers who couldn’t get a big publisher contract? Won’t I get a better book from a mainstream big corporate publisher?

As a reader, I can say one thing for sure: you’ll pay more money for the book you’re buying from the big corporations. And that is about it.

A few days ago, Jack Tyler posted on the Facebook public group, The Steampunk Dominion, his thoughts on the subject. Before we go any further, let me give you Jack’s post in its entirety:


A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, re-envisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never wearing makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.

As a reader of my fellow indie authors, I have to largely agree with Jack. Self-published authors, or Author-Publishers as I like to call them, can write and publish works no major or even small press would touch. Not because of quality, but because the publishers aren’t risk takers, or they have no idea how to market the book.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t indies who ride the current waves, for there are and their name is Legion. They are also the ones, who tend not to be very good.

Several of my current favorite authors are indies and I look forward to their new releases, because I know I’ll get a good read. One that will be entertaining, fresh, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by too many big corporate-published authors. A writer who perhaps starts out promising and then fizzles by book three. Or a writer who never really starts out at all and I close the book only partly read and ask, “Why the heck did they publish this?”

By way of example: I love the TV series Midsomer Murders (well, until John Nettles retired). So I bought the first three books of the series on which the TV show was based. Carolyn Graham’s first book was great. The second book was so boring I put it down with only a quarter of it read. I loved the TV episode, though, which was based on the book.

Another example is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I stopped reading when Aimee Leduc (the detective) just so happens to have a neo-nazi outfit in her closet to wear when she tries to infiltrate a neo-nazi group in Paris and the group readily accepts her! Obviously Ms Black has no concept of how closed extremist groups are, and we all have neo-nazi outfits in our closet just in case we might need them. Right? Sheesh.

Yet, the Big 5 accepted Death of a Hollow Man (as boring as it is) and Murder in the Marais (as preposterous as it is) and published them. Why? Because they are easy to market. The fit conveniently on the bookstore shelf.

One more example. I love SJ Rozan’s private detective Lydia Chin. I’m less enthralled with her PI Bill Smith. The Chin books are fresh and interesting. The Smith books are typical and I’d even have to say average PI fare. Yet which books garnered the awards? Why the Bill Smith books, of course. Go figure. Not even the award givers want to go out on a limb!

I know readers frequently bash indies for typos. But seriously? Have they read current Big 5 books? Typos abound! And we get to pay big bucks for the privilege to read them!

Good indie books are out there in abundance. And they are very often at least half the price of the books put out by the Big Boys.

Take Jack’s suggestions and go hunting. A few of my favorite authors are J. Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Chad Muller/CM Muller, Janice Croom, Ben Willoughby, Crispian Thurlborn, Erik Ga Bean (he’s not on Amazon), Renee Pawlish, and Sophia Martin (her Raud Grima series). And there are more!

Jack Tyler makes a great case for readers to venture outside of our little boxes and to read books written by indie authors. Independent author-publishers. The writers who are responsible only to themselves and their readers. Instead of the corporate bottom line.

You can find Jack’s series Beyond the Rails on Amazon. Here are links:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, Happy Reading!

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6 thoughts on “Why Read Indie?”

  1. Great post(s)! Before I ramble off onto something else, I would say that until indie published authors are able to get themselves onto physical bookstore shelves, we will always largely be spoken of with a sigh and a roll of the eyes.


    The desperate need for fame that has arisen in the past 20 years or so draws many to the path of self-publishing. It’s easy. Writing not so much. Still, that doesn’t matter, does it? In the age of mass-media and social networking, a book on sock colours will still make the best-seller list if enough spin is applied (or paid for).

    There are good and bad books on both sides of the fence. Unfortunately, it is true that there are some very ugly books out there, too. Most of them fall on the indie side. Deep down we know that. These are the five-minute get rich quick books looking to ride whatever wave is currently mainstream. People often focus upon those that fail, for in being worse than themselves it makes them feel better. At least, that’s what we are told even if it is only hinted at.

    Indie authors are the trailblazers. We sit in good company with some great independent authors that have gone before. However, the freedom that we have is also the prison of our own making. We have no ‘rules’ or ‘gatekeepers’. There are no guidelines to say what is to be considered good or bad, and so we often find ourselves fighting a war on two fronts.

    A general impression I’ve gotten from talking with readers: traditionally published float along on their angelic clouds whilst the independents dwell in the dark recesses of the earth amidst brimstone and fire.

    In truth, we all trudge along through a grey limbo, our backs laden with paper and quills dangling from callused hands. You can’t see where you’re going or even where you’ve come from, but very now and then you’ll stumble across a trail of paper that belonged to some writer or other.

    There are a lot of books out there. Most will only be read by a handful of people. Some will remain unread.

    [end of rambling]

    I nominate CW’s spam filter to regulate the indie market. It usually does a good job at blocking me (unless I distract it with tea and Jammy Dodgers).

    1. Ah Crispian! Thanks for stopping by. What a magnificent ramble! Very much on the mark.

      There are those indies who (so they say) are making a living from their writing. A lot of marketing effort has no doubt gone into the making of that money. At least from what they have said in Facebook chats. Even so, you are right: there are books that will get read and those that won’t – for whatever the reasons. And we writers, whether traditionally published or self-published, have to realize that. There are also those who will get their 15 minutes of fame and that will be it.

      My model, Anthony Trollope, was at the end of his life passing into obscurity. For whatever reason, people weren’t reading his books as they once were. He died before he’d fallen completely out of favor. Perhaps that was a saving grace. Herman Melville wasn’t so fortunate. After Moby Dick he disappeared from the field of literature. He died in literary obscurity.

      Some of us will never get out of obscurity. That is reality.

      Nevertheless, as an indie, I can see my work in virtual print. I can market it and do what I can to find my audience. And once I do, if it’s small, then it’s small. But at least I know I have one. Something our tradionally published friends often don’t get the chance to discover because a small audience doesnt bring in enough money for their big corporate masters.

      I see you brought along enough tea and Jammy Dodgers this time. Glad you did!

  2. To be honest, as a reader I don’t much care if a writer is trad pubbed or indie, I just care he/she’s a good writer with a good story.
    Most of what I read comes from mouth-to-mouth suggestions, which is the best way to get good suggestions, I’d say 😉

    I agree with you and Jack, publishers of any kind don’t like to take risk, so they will refuse a story even on the sole base they don’t knwo how to advertise it, because they can’t pin down a neat genre (know this by experience), but honestly, I think self-published books have the same problem. You may put it out anyway, but readers will hadly come, they want to know what they’re buying before they buy it. That’s why the indie market is so heavy on genre: if you write in a specific genre, reader will instantly know what to expect. And if you ask me, this is a limitation of our creativity.

    And there’s one thing to say about indies: maybe because there are so many (any publisher does have limited resources to publish their catalogue, so they are forced to choose. Nobody choose not to publish on the indie market), it’s a lot more likely to stumble into a sub-standard indie than a trad pubbed book. Sure, traditional publishers also publish bad books, but the percentage of indie authors I’m not going to read anymore because I’ve tried one of their books is a lot higher than the same with trad pubbed. I have to be honest here.

    So, in the end, I think it’s the same for indie and trad publishers: we need to capture the reader’s trust. And I’m sorry to say, but it’s a lot harder for indies, because, as authors, we always have to start from scratch in a saturated market.

    Just my thought.

  3. C.W., you rock! I don’t have anything profound to add here. I said what I said, and you saw fit to pass it along, which is the best result I could hope for. We need to find a way to break through this prejudice against self-published authors. Some of live independently and know how to use the English language, and there has to be a way to get the word out. What you’ve done here is an excellent start; maybe it will go viral, not because I want that credit, but because readers and writers alike would benefit from it. Thank you for your efforts in passing it along and adding your own feelings on the matter. It would be superb if more bloggers picked it up and ran with it.

    Thanks again; the longest journey is made up of single steps.

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