Indie News Beat: The Shifting Stigma

Indie News BeatUnless you were living under a rock last month, you’ll have heard about Hugh Howey’s incendiary new website in which he and an anonymous friend collate a mass of book sales data to show that self-published titles are taking more and more of the spoils. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth from nearly everyone (it seemed), given that so much data analysed in such depth was perhaps bound to be open to selective interpretations.

Over on Publishers Weekly, Smashwords founder Mark Coker took a more sober approach, pointing out that: “What matters is the directional trend, and the strong social, cultural and economic forces that will propel the trend forward in a direction unfavorable to publishers.” In an excellent article which is a must-read for all Independent Authors, Coker goes on to describe how the perception of stigma is shifting. From just a few years ago, when self-publishing had “failure” written all over it, we’re now moving to a point where traditional publishing is getting its share of negativity: the lousy royalties on e-books and their own vanity imprints ready to fleece the unsuspecting Indie, which Coker politely calls “misguided”. The more heated the debate gets, the more useful it is to listen to a cooler head.

Possible proof of self-publishing’s progress comes from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, which has started a two-year MA in self-publishing. On the surface it does all appear very impressive, until you click on the details. Whoever wrote the course description could really have done with researching a bit more and thinking a bit longer. Much of this description would not be out of place on many of the vanity sites: “If you are serious about self-publishing and want to learn practical skills which will be valuable for life, meet like-minded people who will be a good network for you and gain advice from industry experts and successful self-published authors, this course is for you.” The only thing missing is the smiley emoticon on the end of that sentence. And anyway, if you are serious about self-publishing, pretty much all you need is right here on Indies Unlimited – and it’s free.

Elsewhere, NewRepublic carried a smart, well-written story about everyone’s favourite online retailer, who shall remain nameless in this post. Apparently, no one in the publishing industry will talk on the record about it because everyone’s so scared of it. Oh dear. I can understand employees not wishing to go public about the less savoury aspects of working for it, unless they can afford to lose their jobs. However, when others outside it become so terrified of retribution, what does this say about the behemoth which features to some degree in every author’s life?

But if all of these stories about the industry leave you a little out of breath and no surer whom to believe, I’ll end this post with a link to a delightful feature about what really matters: creativity; in particular, the ten steps of the creative process. Although this is written by a filmmaker, authors and other creative people will find much in common. Maria Popova describes ten steps to making a movie which easily apply to writing a book. My favourite is number seven: The Love Sandwich: “To give constructive feedback, always snuggle it in love – because we’re only human, and we’re vulnerable…”

Right, I’m going to grab something to eat.

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

27 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: The Shifting Stigma”

  1. Consider the following snuggled in love. It probably won’t make me pretty and popular, but it is realistic.As with many of the great social, cultural and economic revolutions of the past where individual artists and groups thereof rose up in great numbers,self-published authors tend to fall into very specific factions. The rugged individualists (tend to be rebellious), the utopians,(tend to be escapist, “if you write it, they will come) and those who want to make their enterprise big and prosperous enough to sell it to a traditional house eventually because the administrative work is very very hard and removes time from creating.

    Yet each of these factions, especially when they are successful, also serve however inadvertently, to reinforce the established order, such as the popular online retailer who shall remain nameless, making them bigger and more powerful than they were before, if only because they are supplying an abundance of product,

    What’s a writer to do? Consider that not all traditional publishers are evil. If there is good news here, it is that at least some of us in this industry actually care about getting good books out there and making money at the same time. It requires a business model that departs from the all powerful corporate “bottom line” mentality; thinks outside the box of traditional distribution channels and views the author/publisher relationship as a long-term partnership, not a power struggle.

    In the midst of change there is always struggle, but real and lasting change involves not only playing the game but a realistic assessment of which rules you’re willing to play by and which you’re not. It doesn’t mean that the Big Kahunas hold all the cards and it doesn’t mean poorly written and presented self published works will succeed. It means we need more creative business models, more protection of author rights by independent publishers who know what they’re doing and authors who understand that the industry is not necessarily the enemy.

    If we are only human and vulnerable, it’s worth remembering there is strength in numbers. We can certainly change this industry and for the better, too. But not if we’re preoccupied fighting battles we can’t win.

    1. Thank you for this well thought-out comment, Teresa, you make extremely good points. I’d only add that on balance, I feel it’s better to be an unknown Indie Author than an unknown traditionally published author. When I think about how much creative time I “lose” because I don’t have a traditional publisher taking care of all the side issues, I doubt if I’d use that time to create, as opposed to staring out the window…

      Another thing which no one seems to talk about is that with the self-publishing revolution, the fiction market has been saturated now for a couple of years. Unlike others, I believe there are a finite number of readers with limited reading time, and it’s this saturation which makes gaining new readers so difficult for Indies as well as traditionally published authors. But of course, this is going to hurt the trads much more than Indies because of their business model. We can’t really blame trad-published authors for getting upset with Indies and trading on their perceived “ligitimisation” because Indies are damaging their sales.

      The great thing about being Indie is that we stand or fall purely on our own efforts.

  2. Thank you, Chris. Excellent wrap-up. The idea of the MA in self-publishing amuses me. After you’ve ponied up your tuition and put in your two years, the entire marketplace could change. Think back to 2012 and see how far we’ve come.

    1. I didn’t mention it in the post because I wasn’t 100% sure, but I read somewhere that the fee is £5,000 (around $8,000 I think), and while you probably will get access to experts, etc., it still knocks me out when you think how much is available for free right here.

    1. Thanks, Lynne. I’m going to try to remember to keep an eye on it, because I’m curious if that course will succeed.

  3. Bon appetit, Chris! Hugh Howey isn’t the first to provide sales/earnings figures, but he is certainly the first to provide lashings of data that cannot be dismissed as purely anecdotal. I believe the wasp’s nest is well and truly stirred. 🙂

    1. Thanks, ac! It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? We all know things are changing, but when someone points it out and says: “Hey, look! Things are changing!” suddenly people start running around like headless chickens – amazing!

  4. I always cringe at the term “stigma”.
    Because it’s a kind of self-fulfilling thing that forces the perspective to some advantaged “side” of things. As soon as it’s mentioned, and invidious dichotomy is invoked.
    This is not seen in other endeavors and I’d love to see it played down. Have you ever heard of the “stigma” of a guitarist who plays in local lounges, but doesn’t have a contract with a record company? Is a weekend painter, who sells his work on the park shows “stigmatized”. Is the star of a softball tournament or church basketball league “stignatized” because he’s not playing for big leagues on TV?
    Even thinking in these terms is harmful to writers, and encourage people not to do it.
    There was a time when I was presenting at writers conferences about reasons for self-publishing. I don’t any more because that “battle” is over. The last conference I went to, every single writer there was sold on SP and interested in how to do it well. None of them worried about “stigma”; they’d made their call and were all about getting it done.
    If you’re even THINKING about the “stigma” of publishing your own work, you’re admitting defeat to a system beyond your control.
    The way to deal with that non-problem is simple: forget about it. Put your work up for sale, figure out how to sell more and better, see how far and wide you can get it read.

    1. Thanks, Lin, you make a very good point and your comparisons are valid. However, the perception of stigma is caused by two things: first, that Indie Authors are taking money from the trads. The trads have the money to be very vocal, they spend advertising with media who will thus report the trads’ position as fact. Second, if the guitarist in the lounge plays a bum note, no one will remember, but the fact is a lot of poorly edited Indie books are out there for the whole world to see (and deride), which supports the trads’ position. Every Indie needs to remember that a lot of readers know English as well as the author, and sometimes much better.

      Ultimately, it comes down to each writer producing the best product they can, in terms of content and presentation, and then the stigma will go by itself.

      1. I seriously doubt this “stigma” thing came from indies “taking money from trads”. It was a factor long before that started happening, is not a factor now unless you want it to be, and readers/buyers don’t care about that. Only trad publishers would care about that. And if they have a “stigma” against writers they don’t publish, I’m afraid it just doesn’t really matter.
        People are no more likely to “stigmatize” based on a typo than they are to stigmatize all coffee house singers because some guy hit a clam one time.

        These are not reasons for this. A really, really good reason to stop fretting about the “stigma” monster is because it only exists as long as people keep talking about it. So the best way to cope is not to try to get all the indie writers in the world to shape up, but in just not tossing the concept around in public and acting like it’s real.
        MUCH easier to pull off.

  5. I love the ‘Love Sandwich’ expression. I did hear that term used, many years ago, but not in this context.

    Excellent post, Chris.

  6. Wonderful, info. I will read the Coker piece later.
    Everyone here at IU already has a MA in self-publishing. What we need is an official seal. 🙂
    I feel no stigma. I am proud that I can, with a little help from my friends, move forward with my dream. What concerns me is those writers who continue to fork over major bucks and get little in return. Very sad.

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