A few years ago, I wrote my first book in a matter of months, quickly followed by the sequel. I had so much momentum going that I started a third. I then stalled, and decided to start sending my work out to agents in order to begin the publishing process. After all, my writing was solid, very funny, and a “great read”. My drafts were free from errors (for the most part—I still find some details that irk me, having developed an “eye” for editing in the last few years; I also will note here that an author is his/her own worst editor. Our intent is clear to ourselves, but to others? Debatable!), I thought I had an excellent, publishable product. Apparently, I was dead wrong. Agent after agent told me that my work was not what they were looking for, and that they hoped I would find my market elsewhere. I gave up for a bit, pursuing another dream of education leadership (which ended up mirroring some of the thoughts that I expressed about the field of education in Lucy Stands on Her Principal and Lucy Cracks Her Head years before. I actually underwent a makeover as Lucy did, but I would say the results were disastrous for me. Yes, there is a novel in the works....), and decided that upon receiving my doctorate in that field that educational change was not going to occur in my setting in my lifetime, particularly because I feel that the leaders that are chosen to lead schools are appointed out of nepotism and politics, not due to experience and qualifications. The current tenure system allows incompetence to exist, as well as the standardized assessment system abuse that holds student achievement hostage. I feel that the old world of publishing is quite similar to our education system.
While I was pursuing the dream of running my own school (and it is not a dead dream, just on hold out of sheer exhaustion from the absolute (Thesaurus says “waste matter”) I have been through), the world of publishing changed a bit. The playing field was leveled somewhat when the “indie” publishing/e-book realm was introduced by Amazon (or whoever started it) a few years back. Everyone was invited to self-publish, but many authors (and many still do) considered this“vanity publishing” and a sell-out. In some ways it is, but I also believe this type of publishing is what we make it to be—if an author presents him or herself seriously and has a credible product, then there is no shame. If we make money at it, we are professionals, no less than those who have agents and publishers behind them. As an added bonus, as I watch bookstores closing down due to the waning print sales, I also see literary agents becoming a dying breed. In my last response to an agent who rejected my work, I blasted her for her rationale of receiving 300 submissions per month, in a firm that employed at least six people as far as I could tell from the company website. Since that was their job, to read books, I informed her, that meant that each person in the company would read 2.5 books per day and I did not see how she could pass judgment on mine so quickly. I stated that print books were a dinosaur that were dying a slow death, bringing literary agents with them. I have yet to receive a response. Shortly thereafter, I published on Kindle.
I tend to jump into most things with wide-eyed naiveté. For all of my age, wisdom, education, and experience, I have expectations that can be not so much unrealistic, but somewhat higher than they should be. I can’t help it; why go into anything without being optimistic? However, I found that posting books for sale through any of the big markets, such as Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords, was like throwing a needle in a haystack and trying to locate it in a field full of haystacks. Not only that, some of the haystacks were messy, while others were fluffed out and pumped up by their owners. Some of the haystacks were reviewed by friends and relatives, and I also discovered a somewhat dumb practice of “trading reviews”. So, even though a haystack was messy and did not contain much in the way of hay, the reviews might all be 5-star! I found myself falling into some of these haystacks myself at first, but actually was stuck by the hidden needles!
Pushing aside this haystack metaphor, let me bluntly say that I will probably lose some Twitter followers for stating that I want people to read my books because they like the subject matter, not because they feel an obligation to repay me for a review of their work. And, I would like to feel a sense of enjoyment when reading the work of others, rather than the feeling of a gun to my head. No fun there!
I have been doing all right in sales on Kindle, but it does not appeal to the leader side of me that who would like to make change. I advocate change through collaboration, but I have seen a great deal of trashing and backstabbing that is permitted by Amazon by authors to other authors. Amazon does not attempt to protect their authors, nor do they help them sell their work. The environment, quite frankly, stinks.
It seems to me that the millions of works posted on Amazon do not allow the truly quality ones to shine through. There is no quality control, as people continue to be their own editors. Reviews seem to be the measure of success, but to me, they are usually faulty and based upon politics perpetuated by the authors themselves! I would like my work to be recognized for its merit, not for my ability to garner reviews. I am happy when a reader actually lets me know that my work has been enjoyed, via email or Twitter, or other means. The review is a bonus, and certainly I would love all 5-star ones, but that is not realistic. I think paid sales are actually a truer reflection of success, which leads me to my views on free promos....
Free promos are the equivalent of “why buy the cow when the milk is free?” The freebies have become a glut on the market, and again, no kind of quality control is involved. The free promos take away from the sales of books and now the readers expect free books. Many readers have remarked that they will only “buy” free books. KDP Select is a farce: the author is held to an exclusive agreement in order to be able to run free promos. As a current and soon to be freed hostage of this “program”, I have noticed that the free promos no longer pull in as many “sales” as they used to. This phenomenon has occurred within the last few months! I believe that the free “sales” have rebounded upon themselves and have burned out. I think, if I am any indication as a reader, that many of the downloads that are downloaded free are never read, or else they are partially read and then forgotten, often because they lack quality or entertainment value. The freebies cheapen the written work.
The future of indie publishing has the possibility to become very dim, due to the lack of support from these large outlets, the failure of authors to evaluate each other sincerely, the need for quality control, and the free promo smoke screen. My feeling is that outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble are going to institute new systems of publishing, even requiring screening by agents. The thought makes me sad and glad; glad that there might be a system of quality control in place, but sad that that this would of course bring back nepotism and politics to publishing.
My own cure is evident on this website. I am inviting others to walk with me: I will edit their work, review it, post it for sale, and promote it with my own. I think this is truly what authors helping authors means. I want to offer a quality product for sale and allow those products to be visible. If I feel the work is not quality, I issue a polite letter to the author, after taking time to read it and say it is not what I would like to post on my site. Yes, I am charging for all of the work I do, but it is a one-time fee, not the blood of the author (metaphor for the work put into promotion and kissing up to others in the form of a “royalty”). In return, I give support and a deep discount on my other services. I hope others will join me so that readers can easily find quality work from indie authors.