In the years since indie publishing has gotten a toe-hold, there has been a debate raging in the industry about the quality, viability, and even the right of this form of publishing to survive. Traditional publishing has trumpeted the importance of selectivity, of professional gatekeepers who keep unskilled or ‘not-ready-for-primetime’ writers from taking up readers’ valuable time and physical bookstores’ coveted shelf space.
Indie publishers, who are themselves authors, have decried a system that depends on just the right story in just the right genre crossing the desk of just the right gatekeeper on a day when said gatekeeper hasn’t had a fight with his/her spouse or child or family pet…you can see where this is going. The odds of getting struck by lightning often seem higher than those of being plucked out of writing obscurity and dropped into a publishing contract. It is not only poor writing keeping writers out of the market, indie supporters argue; it’s also publishers with myopic vision who tend to chase one trend to death, then drop it like a hot potato for the next must-have trend.
And even for writers who’ve made it past the gatekeepers once, what are the odds of getting struck by lightning twice, in the form of a decent marketing budget and time to build a name and a following? Not great, and getting worse by the day, along with the onerous terms and conditions of publishing contracts.
And among all this hub-bub and hallabaloo are the readers, who have taken a firm stand in the traditional versus indie…Hold on. Wait. Something’s not right about…Oh, yes. *Has quick conversation with a non-writing/publishing reader.* Turns out, readers aren’t taking sides. They’re in bookstores and online and on Goodreads and Facebook looking for good books! The audacity of those saucy readers.
You can test this theory for yourself. Next time you see a friend who is not a writer/editor/somehow involved in the writing/marketing/selling of books (you still have one or two of those, right?), ask them about the last great traditionally-published book they read, and how it compares to the last indie they read. Wait five seconds. See confusion turn to questions turn to boredom as you try to explain it to them.
In the end, readers want to talk about the good books they’ve read, and they want to hear about the good ones you’ve read. That’s not to say that trad and indie publishing are the same in the end, at least not from the writer’s perspective. Each is fraught with its own difficulties and its own joys. You can read Chuck Wendig’s take on those here and here. But of course that leads to the next question, which is, what makes a good book? The bad news is, there’s no one answer. The great news is, there’s no one answer! Genres and tropes and characters and settings can run amuck in this crazy, terrifying, new publishing world order. Even the questions of what makes great storytelling or solid craft are up for debate.
While there is nothing that is truly universal in all of this, one thing comes awfully close. As writers, we can get better. We can be lifelong students of storytelling and craft. It’s probably why you read this blog. You might also take online workshops, attend conferences, buy writing how-to books, or do something crazy like the thing that brought the 8 ladies together – complete a writing program/certificate/degree.
Last week, I read this article about traditional publishers reducing their e-book prices to compete with indie-published books. It remains to be seen how this will affect book sales and writers and income on either end of the spectrum. But we’ll be here, in our little corner of the internet universe, working on making our own books the best they can be.
What are you currently doing to improve your storytelling or craft in your quest to write ‘good books’? And is there a ‘good book’ (IYHO) that you’ve read lately, trad- or indie-published, that you would tell your non-industry friends to read?
On a non-writing-related note, our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones of the weekend massacre in Orlando, FL. It’s an important time to remember that the antidote to hatred and bigotry isn’t more of the same; it’s love and acceptance. Be good to each other, and hug someone you love.