Over the past few weeks I’ve seen some interesting articles talking about the “Us vs. Them” battle lines being drawn between indie authors and traditional publishing. Though I have recently been known to tout the benefits of indie (both as author and as reader) I do not believe one is better than the other—just different. As an author, one can decide which approach fits their writing and publishing style. As a reader, the existence of new author opportunities broadens the consumer’s selection from which to choose.
I like this new breadth!
I have recently written articles on the benefits of indie books. I’m not meaning to say that these are altogether better books, but have attributes the traditional houses cannot duplicate, such as writing for niches the traditional houses won’t accept at present, and–let’s face it–price tag. As an indie, it makes sense to tout these things. That’s just marketing. It doesn’t mean the other guys are BAD. It means we have something to offer our particular target audience. If the reader is not looking for that “something” (and some are not) they are free to buy the other books. It’s like in Dan Barlow’s computer example (see blog article)—creatives got the Mac and accountants got the PC. I’ve tended toward indie reading myself only because I relate more to novels about Christians clashing in very secular worlds. I’ve found more stories like where I live in indie works, than what I had been finding in traditional Christian publishing lately. There are some. Just not as much as my reading schedule requires :).
Many reading this may think I defend indie publishing because I am an indie author. That is not true. It is mostly as a reader that I defend it. I’ve followed a number of authors who were once traditionally published who decided to indie pub because the story of their heart was said to be “not marketable.” Then, I read the story of their hearts—Wow! It was like watching a star being birthed. That’s when I finally got it.
Why the Division
So let’s talk about the “Us vs. them” and where it comes from. In order to remove it, one needs to understand its origin. It is a two-headed beast! Many indies have chosen this route not because we didn’t want to work harder to hone our craft so that we could be noticed by the industry. In fact, we have to work pretty hard to overcome the industry obstacles in order to be seen by readers. Many have chosen this route because they are writing to a niche not covered by the traditional houses—ones begging to be reached (and even ministered to). However, some within the traditional publishing world still sneer at books uploaded to Amazon by individuals as though they must be of lesser quality. And yet much of that work is standing head-to-head on Amazon bestseller lists with that produced by the traditional houses. Really! Go check the lists now. The indies I know realize the only way to sell books is to produce a quality product that readers want.
So, what do we do when we see the sneer? We respond. Sometimes among our friends, we vent—it’s human (we are sinners just like everyone else). Sometimes on blogs, we choose to correct misperceptions. This is not only to defend ourselves and our work, but it is also meant to inform authors of the greater breadth of options in an ever-changing (and traditionally contracting) publishing world. I can’t speak for all indies, but the vast majority of us do not have an “us vs. them” mentality. Though many feel it is the best choice for them, they have no problems with others choosing a different path. However, we are continually reminded that others in the industry look down on us. Maybe we should turn the other cheek … but that would leave a lot of untruths on the table that need to be corrected.
I, personally, want everyone in the Christian publishing industry to succeed—publishers, editors, agents, authors. This is an important ministry—from books meant solely to entertain Christian readers with works written from a biblical point of view, to those meant to inspire and encourage us to grow in our spiritual walk with Christ. My heart aches when I hear about wonderful, and talented, people losing their jobs, or professionals scrambling to face the challenges. We indies know what it’s like to scramble, and the really great thing is that we are willing to help all involved find a new place in this economy as it evolves.
Whether we like it or not, it is changing. That will require adaptability from everyone. Professionals in the industry should not believe they can do things as they always have and make it work. I don’t say these things as a threat or chide. I am concerned for the wonderful people who have been the source of the reading material I’ve loved, and needed, over the years. I want them to succeed, but the old model will not allow them to do so for long. Rather than lament the loss of old days, one should be looking at what the future holds. Opportunity! However, everyone will need to retool to some degree in order to grasp it.
Publishers should pass on the savings of ebook production, storage and dissemination to the public, and give authors a greater cut. This is not a new idea. Many industries have passed on savings garnered from low-cost technology to their consumers. Look at video players (remember Beta at hundreds of dollars?), to long-distance phone bills (that once touted a “cheap” 25 cents per minute), and let’s not forget computers and laptops (remember what you paid for that clunky machine with the black and white screen?) Why not pass on the savings, which it is shown will increase sales? Those who used to make trips to libraries and second-hand book stores, or loan books among friends and family (which took in ZERO dollars for publishers and authors), now find it much more convenient to download cheap books to their ereader devices. Take advantage of that shift! Publishing houses can also look for innovative ways to upgrade the tablet reading experience (ie. multi-media technology). They are in the unique position to invest in new ideas here. Agents can help in indie distribution to Christian retailers. This is most important in the Christian publishing world which requires an extra gatekeeping role due to biblical content. Editors will be needed more than ever! With more books produced and more indie authors working to provide a polished product, there is a lot of opportunity out there.
We will need to help each other through this time!!! If you are part of indie author groups, you will see that helping each other is exactly what we are doing there! … At least after we’ve grumbled a bit about not getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T (see Z-snap, here).
So what is the answer to the “Us vs. Them” problem? It can be found in the words of Jesus (Love your neighbor as yourself), or the ideas of Paul (Different parts of the Body of Christ). However, we can begin by consulting the works of Aretha Franklin. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that last line)
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