British indie author and journalist Catriona Troth provides a constructive riposte to the media's often over-reductive response to self-published authors' success. She also generously offers an excellent opportunity for all self-published authors to draw attention to the quality of other indie authors' books.
One of my recurring frustrations is that 95% of the media coverage given to self-published authors is of the ‘Oh, my, what big sales you have’ variety. Too often the tone echoes Samuel Johnson on Quaker women preachers: ‘It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’
Of course many wonderful book bloggers review indie books. But on the rare occasions an indie author is included in the wider publishing discourse, the focus is inevitably on sales and chart positions. Can you imagine an interview in the New York Times or the Guardian in which Gillian Flynn or Kate Atkinson was asked only how they had achieved their sales figures? Where is the discussion of indie authors in terms of voice, style, inspiration? Is this another, subtle example of how things can be skewed against the indie author? If so, what can we, in the indie community, do about it?
Making the Case to Porter Anderson
A little while ago, the journalist Porter Anderson challenged indie authors about their attitude to their self-published ‘heroes.’ Do we actually read their book, or are we blindly taking their advice in the hopes of increasing our own sales? Porter was quickly disabused by a slew of up-and-coming indies (many of them from ALLi) who made it clear that they DID read other indie authors that they sought to emulate – be they big-selling genre novelists or more modest selling literary authors.
But small wonder Porter has that impression if, even within the indie world, so much of the public conversation focuses on sales – who’s achieved them and how they did it. Are we overlooking the thing that ought to matter most – how well an author tells a story?
Putting the Spotlight on Great Content
One of the regular items on the Triskele Books blog is our monthly Book Club, where we review books we love – usually alternating trade- and indie-published – and interview their authors. We make a point of discussing style, voice, inspiration – all things that are too often ignored when indie authors are discussed. We’ve also launched the new book review site, Book Muse. And of course, like most of us, we review books by indie authors on Goodreads and Amazon. But is that enough?
It’s tricky. Many of us try to keep the articles and blogs targeted at authors separate from those we write for an audience of readers. Perhaps when referring to the success of other authors, we could remind our audience (in concrete, specific terms) why it’s worth reading their books as well as emulating their tactics. But might that risk blurring the point we are trying to make in a limited space?
Offering to Share Great Indie Books
I do have one concrete proposal to make as a contribution to the Open Up to Indies (#PublishingOpenUp). In November, ALLi and Triskele Books are hosting an Indie Author Fair at the Chorleywood Literary Festival. Of course, only a relatively small number of authors will be there selling their wares. But I would like to bring the wider indie community to the Fair by creating the equivalent of the ‘staff picks’ you see in bookshops these days.
I invite any of you to send me your top three Indie Picks. At the top of the page, give me your name and a line about yourself. Then for each of your three selections, write the title, author and a killer paragraph about why people should read this book, and email it to me at catriona.troth[at]gmail.com. I will print them out as posters and on Sunday 16th November, paper the walls of the hall at Chorleywood with your suggestions.
To make it easy to share this excellent call to action with others in the self-publishing community, here's our suggested tweet:
“Why indie authors should talk about content, not sales: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/lets-talk-about-content/ by @L1bCat for @IndieAuthorALLi #PublishingOpenUp”