I love that this conference has the word “Indie” in the title. That’s been a source of contention among writers and publishers of late. There are indie presses out there that have a rightful claim to the term. For a long time, they were seen as the alternative to the major publishers. But times change, and the meanings and uses of words change with them. We writers have to care what words mean, but we also have to respect the process by which words slough their meanings and don new ones.
With the rise of self-publishing as a viable means to a writing career, the differences between small publishers and large publishers nearly vanish. Sure, those differences are the same as they’ve always been, but this new path veers wildly and goes its own way. It differs from the others in kind more than degree. Which is why it’s only natural for the freedoms inherent in self-publishing to make it the new indie. The word is short for independent. What could be more so than publishing on one’s own?
Look at the similarities with the music industry. Indie labels and indie musicians share half of their compound selves, but there’s no mistaking the differences. I don’t see anything wrong with an indie press calling itself an indie press. Those in the business know what that means. Same goes for someone saying they’re an indie author. We know that means a self-published author. But it means so much more. It means someone who cherishes their freedoms and the complete ownership of their works. If I heard someone say “I’m an indie,” I’m going to assume the unspoken half of the compound phrase is “author.” If someone says “We’re an indie,” I’ll assume it’s a publisher. No harm. Group hug.
This is all preamble to another thing indie authors have in common with indie musicians. No, it’s not the groupies and the wild, drunken orgies – it’s beyond that. What we have is an audience that will suffer an album, but what they really want is that one single. I learned this by accident. But what I have concluded from my lesson has played out with so many other indies, that I can no longer consider it anecdote or exception. Dean Wesley Smith laid this out better than anyone (enough so that the method now bears his name). The idea is that we should be laying down more tracks and seeing what gets the most air time. And then play more of those tunes that makes the crowd bang their heads or break out their Zippos. We should be releasing singles.
For three years, I wrote with physical books in mind. I was creating full-length albums, because that’s what the bookstores were looking for. There were print costs to consider. Heft-to-price ratios customers make while weighing a book (literally). Those distinctions and needs have eroded with the rise of e-books. It’s similar to what mp3s did to CDs.
I had six novels out in the wild before I learned my lesson. It was a short story that I never promoted that took off. The best decision I ever made was to play more of the tunes people wanted. I listened to the reviews, paid attention to the banging heads. The luckiest thing I ever did was write works that were completely different from each other. This increased my odds of having a hit. For every album, I could have released a dozen tracks. Lesson learned.
Erotica writers, if you pay attention to the highest-earning indies, have this figured out better than anyone. They release at a furious pace. They keep their works short and digestible. They pack in the entertainment value. They price their works in the maximum earnings G-spot of $2.99. They vary their work across several series, but when their audience signals something feels extra-nice, they listen like a good lover should.
I admitted earlier that I learned much of this by accident. But other authors have attacked the process more deliberately. I’ve since watched this method work for a lot of indies. It seems to benefit readers as well. They get works they can finish amid their busy lifestyles. They get variety. They have reduced wait time for works from their favorite authors. And dollar-for-word, they are still paying less than they would for a hardback.
Right now, I’m still riffing on my chart-topping tune. Soon, my audience will get sick of hearing this song. But I’m prepared. As soon as this winds down, I’ll be writing Western shorts and erotica shorts and mystery shorts and all the great stories percolating in my imagination that I’ve always wanted to explore, all the genres that I’ve enjoyed as a reader. And I won’t use pen names. I won’t have any expectations that any of my stories will be read or enjoyed. I’ll just write them the way an indie musician strums a guitar, looking for something pleasing to his or her own ear. And if I happen to get an audience – if a crowd gathers – then I’ll jam that tune for a little while. I’ll just have to suffer the inevitable groupies and the wild and drunken orgies that come my way.
Hugh Howey's the Wool series became a sudden success in the Fall of 2011. The Omnibus has spent considerable time in the Amazon top 100, has been a #1 Bestseller in Science Fiction on Amazon, and was optioned by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian for a potential feature film. The story of its success has been mentioned in Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and Deadline Hollywood among many others. Random House is publishing the hardback version in the UK in January of 2013.
When Hugh isn’t writing, he likes to go for hikes with his family, take a stroll on the beach, and keep up with my reading. He currently lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and his dog Bella.