Anarchy in Indie World

I have a friend who says, “We always are, what we were”. And, she means it. I’ve known her since we were thirteen years old and she says there’s a part of us that stays the same no matter what age we are or how much we try to change. She might be right.

I always wanted to be a punk. In the seventies, growing up in small town Canada I listened to music no one had heard of, had a funny haircut, wore the wrong clothes, and from time to time got into a little bit of trouble. Due to the fact that my mother may read this, and there is no parental statute of limitations, that’s about as specific as I’m going to get, but suffice to say, I know a little bit about breaking rules. Really, I do.

So, when I was told that in order to be a successful self-published author there are certain things you can and can’t do I immediately wanted to prove “them” wrong. You know “them”. “They’ve” been telling us what to do our whole lives. I listened to “them” for a long time but now that I’ve found my dharma and I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing, I’m going to do it my way. These are some of the rules that an Indie-gone-rogue punk author like myself breaks on a regular basis:

Indie authors should pick a genre and stick to it

I don’t disagree with this, in fact when I look at some of the most consistent, top Indie authors each month, that’s exactly what they do. They write thrillers, or romances, or vampire/zombie/apocalypse stories and their readers don’t get confused. They know exactly what to expect. I just can’t do it. My first book-“My Temporary Life” could be classified as a thriller/romance/suspense/coming of age novel. And, my second book, the next one in the series, is more of a straight thriller with a bit of romantic/suspense thrown in. Maybe I can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up, and I don’t know whether I want to be a literary fiction writer or a genre fiction writer. Either way, this is one of the rules I have broken and will probably continue to break.

Keep some secrets

I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve had other authors mentor me right from the beginning and they’ve been very generous in letting me know what works for them and what doesn’t, but I’ve also had a number of authors tell me that if they find something that works, in terms of marketing their books, they keep the information to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it might be a good idea, I just haven’t done it. If I come up with something, and it works, I share it. I talk about it in the Facebook writer’s groups I belong to or I share it in a column on the Indies Unlimited site. I have this belief that positive energy creates and finds other positive energies. So, another rule broken.

Continue to query the traditional publishing industry

I’d love to have some help. I’d much rather spend more time writing and less time marketing but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably not going to happen for me, and I’ll tell you why. I won a contest at a writer’s conference late last year. Two agents from fairly well-known literary agencies told me they were going to be fighting over my latest manuscript, which would become my new novel-“My Name Is Hardly”. They’d read the first section and wanted more. So, I let them have the almost-completed work and waited. And, then, I waited some more. After three months, one of them declined and the other wanted substantial changes. Plus they suggested a re-write on my first book-“My Temporary Life”, so that it could be marketed as a Young Adult novel. In its present form, “My Temporary Life” is downloaded by new readers every single day, and during its busiest days last year it was being purchased and downloaded over one thousand times a day. So, I’ve given up trying to interest the traditional publishing world in my work. It doesn’t seem to work for me, and I will no longer query. I consider that another broken rule.

Don’t respond to your reviews

Elle Lothlorien wrote a very interesting article last year detailing how she responds to positive and negative reviews. Most authors don’t do this. They let the chips fall where they may. I break this rule, and I’ve responded to some of mine. I’ve mainly focussed on the positive ones but I have commented on a couple of negative ones also. Amazon has a section where you can comment just below the review on your book’s product page. I’ve left comments in this section thanking the reviewer for taking the time to read my book and post their review, and I mention how much their comments, and those of others, helped encourage me to continue writing, and then I post a link to my new book. When I’ve had the courage to respond to negative reviews I’ve thanked them for their time, and told them that as a new author all comments and criticisms are welcome. Since I’ve started doing this I’ve had several emails from the readers who left the reviews thanking me. Another rule, gloriously broken.

I’m sure there’s more and if I think of any I’ll let you know in upcoming blogs but I just wanted you to be aware that I am a rule-breaking, punk, indie author and you can be too, because really, there are no rules. None of us really know what we’re doing. This is new territory and as long as we respect our readers, and each other, and play fair, we can do whatever we want. So, I’m going to turn up my music a little louder, have a long, hard pull of low-cal G2 juice, and think back to the times when I was a punk. ‘Cos, I am one. Really, I am.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of BookDoggy.com and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

49 thoughts on “Anarchy in Indie World”

  1. Nice essay, Martin. And congrats that you have folks buying your work so consistently. It’s pretty clear that at least some of us do the fiction thing because we’ve been rebels all our lives and the arts is the only place for folks like us. You can’t break rules in the arts ever. All you can do is remind people that what they think are rules are actually reasons for twisted and freakish innovation.

  2. Nice.
    As a scattergun writer, I’ve always known that sticking to a genre–especially a popular one–is a big help. And has doomed writers in the past. Thomas Berger, for instance, has nothing similar to his biggest hit, “Little Big Man”… and is unknown compared to lesser writers.
    I doubt the popular writers stick to genres because of rules, or even venality–I’d say it’s because it’s what they like to write. Lucky them.
    But to call that a “rule” is a silly as all the other damned rules. Even in this case, where doing it can actually help you, and breaking it probably hurts. A thousand flowers…

  3. LOL, Love it, thanks David, I agree.
    I always told me kids as they were growing up that the last thing in life you ever wanted to be was normal. Normal is just so boring, “twisted and freakish innovation” sounds like way more. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Lin, I’m sure you’re right. I just can’t seem to find a genre that interests me enough that I’ll stick to it. It used to be that you wouldn’t pick a genre or subject that’s currently hot because by the time you publish the world will have changed again. That isn’t the case anymore of course because you can be up and running so quickly. Again, the rules, or whatever you call them have all changed.
    I always enjoy your comments, thank you.

  5. I, also, have never played by the rules. I’ve written SciFi, mystery, literary, short stories, horror and even a romance. I like what you have to say, Martin, as I find most of your essays insightful. One day, God willing, I will have a break-through indie book, and it’ll be because of all the swell guys like you!

    1. Thank you, Jim. I listened to Don Maas speaking at a conference last year and he said that in the future fiction will not be categorized by genre. I don’t really know where that leaves us and I’m sure that’s a whole other article in itself, but it sure would open that door a tad wider for writers like you and I, wouldn’t it.
      I appreciate your comments.

  6. So refreshing, Martin! I followed rules my entire life then waited until I was forty to break some pretty big ones!! Although I market my ebook as historical romance, it really doesn’t fit into any clear genre. I am working on a YA novel, a thriller and the story of my life and after that whatever comes into my head! Kudos to you for passing on your knowledge and helping others along the way! We can all learn a lot from you – Here’s to breaking rules!

    1. Right on, Megan, and yes, I’m with you, let’s keep breaking rules. I don’t like sci-fi; I never have, but after reading Hugh Howey’s “Wool” last year I realized that all I want is to read a good story that’s told well. It’s as simple as that. And, I don’t think I’m alone. I believe readers will follow a good storyteller regardless of the genre, so just like you I’m going to keep telling stories.
      Thanks very much for your comment.

  7. Thank you, Martin. It gives me the courage to go on, seeing there are other punk writers out there who dare to do it there way.
    I write several different genres. Sure I’ve banged my head against the wall, but in the end, it’s all good.

    1. Yes, Michael, we have to go on and I have no problem banging my head against the wall or walking down roads that sometimes don’t lead anywhere. It’s growth, isn’t it, and you’re absolutely right-it is all good.
      Thank you for your kind comments.

  8. I’m a bit of an anarchist because I question everything but…there are some rules I do stick to. One of them is the one that says ‘Be generous’. Spreading your knowledge will never make you poorer. Those who hog information for short term gain lose out in the long term.

    Congratulations and keep on breaking those rules!

    1. You know what Lynne, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do it. I have now responded to all of my Amazon UK reviews from my first book and the response was immediate. Readers commented back or emailed me and told me they didn’t know my new book was out and they were going to download it. I’m slowly moving down the star rating scale. I’ve responded to the 5 and 4 star reviews and now I’m going to start on the 3’s. I’ll let you know how it goes, wish me luck.
      Thanks for commenting, always good to hear from you.

  9. I love your article. You’ve put a smile on my face. I agree with everything you’ve said, and I’m also breaking rules. I’m so happy with the success of my self published book and can’t believe I wasted my time trying to get traditionally published. I too will follow your route and respond to reviews.

  10. Thanks Martin! It is always to encouraging to me to read about what you have been doing, even if what you did didn’t work out like you thought. Keep breaking the rules, I am right there with you!

  11. It’s SO nice to know I’m not alone. I break all three of these rules on a regular basis, including responding to those reviews. I often get more feedback and find out that there was something wrong with the conversion or formatting rather than my writing, and I can fix it! Welcome to my little boat filled with rebellion and those who wish to celebrate it as I do.

  12. Rules? What rules?
    One of the many perks of going Indie is the right and creative-freedom to rebel against the rules: so be that punk, free-spirit, anarchist, brat, mutineer, eccentric, stubborn-mule, insurgent, crank, misunderstood genius, crazy cat-lady or what ever else floats your boat.

  13. Great post Martin. YOu are a great writer and willing to help others. I have recently started a book marketing blog to also help out my fellow writers. It’s great you comment on reviews on Amazon, but I’d prefer not to. We all have our own do’s and don’t’s that are more curtailed on how we want to do business.

  14. I agree. The feedback I’ve had from the readers who’ve taken time to write a review has been really helpful to me. Shortly after I published my first book a reviewer commented on some formatting issues and said they loved the book but could only give it four stars. I corrected the errors and re-sent and they revised their review to five stars. So, I totally find it worthwhile. Thanks for allowing me onto your boat, I’m very glad to be aboard.

  15. You’re right, Madison. We’re all running our own small business and we can elect to do that in whatever fashion we desire. It’s a very cool thing.
    Thanks for your comment.

  16. Hey Martin:
    You’re right, of course, and I say this as a fellow breaker of rules in every endeavor I’ve ever undertaken…and I succeeded at all of them, I would argue, precisely because I understood two things you hint at more than say outright:

    1. At all times and in all places, take the route your considered gut tells you is the right one. One caveat: never go off half-cocked. Think, then act in accordance with the quality of that thinking, and be aware of any spots in that process that required interpolation or simple guesswork. They are the likely weak points in your operation…

    2. Be yourself. I think for writers and artists, ironically enough, this is the most difficult virtue to come by and hold to. Our examples and models are ready made, and the impulse to want some version of their success is strong and natural. To make matters a bit stickier, our audiences have ears and eyes already tuned to these predecessors, and it is just plain old human nature that something distinctly new runs the risk of being dismissed precisely because it is out of the run of the familiar. Writers everywhere hear some version of this: “At first I didn’t know if I liked it, but then you seemed to catch your stride…”. These same well-meaning commentators never seem to indulge that moment of self-aware circumspection that might, just might, cause the epiphany leading them to understand their ears are as much an initial source of inertia as anything the artist is doing, whether out of defect or excellence.

    You’re right in giving folks help. The world tends to operate on the long-haul proposition that our acts tend to circle on us. Besides, the expansive soul, by definition, need never worry he’s out of the business of discovery for having given some of it away. The expansive soul tends to see the world with freshened eyes.

    1. Very nicely said, George, thank you.
      I had a writing teacher who said “listen to everything I tell you but if it doesn’t make sense throw it out the window and follow your instinct”.
      I’ve always tried to do that. If the little voice in my head is telling me to take the road less travelled then I usually listen to it. For after all, nobody knows our story as well as we do, and, hopefully by following our instinct we’ll find that connection with our readers.
      Thanks for your words, George, you summed it up very nicely.

  17. I’ll expand on her thought, Christopher. She means that there’s part of us that never changes. So, if you were that rebel/punk at some point it’s still inside you somewhere. It’s a good thing, really.
    Thanks for commenting.

  18. I remember that article on responding to reviews. I’m still on the fence on this one as so much can go wrong so quickly. On the other hand you are the 3rd person I know who does this and has had positive responses.

    Great post as always. You were a wonder to watch as your sales crazy wild good. You are one of the authors in indie circles that is great at paying forward and taking time out to help others out.

    With genre I think in some ways we are moving back to the roots of novel writing, especially in YA. I’ve read a few books over the last year that were written in the early days of novels and they don’t fall into any genre category.

  19. I have been reading all the comments as they come into my inbox and thinking about points being made here. The genre thing is one that has always bugged me – I disliked putting music into a box when I was reviewing music and I dislike putting my novels into a box. Because it deals with psychics and stuff like that, my books are classified as paranormal but when I say paranormal I have to clarify that I don’t write on vampires. There is also mystery but Missing Flowers isn’t exactly a mystery. And a touch of romance but it isn’t a romance! Arrgh!

    1. “My Temporary Life” falls into the same non-category, Karen.
      I think it’s important to remember that it was the gatekeepers who put up the walls and from where I’m sitting that just don’t matter no more.

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