There’s been talk about indies taking up space on Twitter and one of the Discord servers I’m in. This was about indie games but I’ve seen people talk about this in the book scene as well. I’m leaving the discussion of who is indie and who isn’t aside. Is a small publisher with less than five authors and thirty still indie? Is it dependent on who owns it? Or where their funds come from? What about authors who publish their books through the publishing company they own? You can’t always tell from who the publisher is if the book is indie or not.
Indie books on Amazon
There are thousands of books being uploaded to Amazon by self-published authors every month and so far, it’s the biggest market for self-published books but not the only one. It’s so easy to upload your book, anyone can do it. And everyone does. The quality of indie books ranges from unedited first drafts to high-quality manuscripts that rival or are even better than traditionally published books. Browsing through the new releases can be overwhelming for sure, even when you stick to your favourite subgenre.
By having no gatekeeper, Amazon now has a ton of content that only a handful of people will ever see, and even less will read. Some books will never sell a single copy. There are authors for who it doesn’t matter either. Some books are so niche, you can’t find them unless the keywords you use to search are the same as the ones the book uses. But does that mean they don’t deserve to sell their work? Does the quality of the work or the ability of the artist have to cross some kind of bar before they’re allowed to sell it?
Talent is a strange word and one that can’t be measured. When is someone talented? When they play one of Mozart’s pieces at three years old? When they can paint a perfect likeness of their dog at nine? We’re all made differently, and raised differently. Our innate abilities help us learn certain skills better than others. That’s what I would call talent. If you’re familiar with Dungeons and Dragons or the Sims, it’s like an extra skill point or passive that can help you out. But like in those games, if you work hard enough, if you focus on certain skills, you will be able to surpass the baseline of that talent. Even if you start out with zero experience in that skill. That’s why ‘being talented’ doesn’t mean much to me. A talented person who doesn’t work to develop their talent will never be considered ‘a great artist’, not on the merit of their art alone.
I do believe that privilege comes into play here. This privilege can come from appearance, socioeconomic status, or environmental advantages. Someone’s who never learned to swim might not know they have all the right abilities to be a great competitive swimmer. Someone who didn’t have the money to go to school might miss out on making breakthrough discoveries in quantum theory. By writing someone off before they’re even given the chance to show what they can do feels wrong.
The artist and the consumer
I think everyone should have the opportunity to sell their work, no matter how talented or advanced they are in their craft. I’ve seen people offering commissions after drawing for only six months. It’s not nearly at the level where I’d put it on my wall but who am I to deny them their opportunity to grow? Every artist started out at the bottom. By sharing their art, either paid or unpaid, it’ll give them a chance to get feedback and thus grow. Indie authors who publish their books on a budget get feedback through reviews. And the next book will be better. But only if they put in the work.
And if they want to succeed, as a tiny drop in a vast ocean, they’re going to have to work hard to make themselves known. And that’s not something ‘talent’ can get you for free. It either costs money or time. Unless, of course, you have the privilege. In that case, it’s easier to find that success.
Now as a consumer this can be overwhelming because how do you know where to find the good stuff? You’re looking for that one book that fits your mood and has all your favourite tropes. If you’re lucky, your friends will know which book you’re looking for. If not, you’re subjected to the algorithm. you enter the keywords and hundreds of books pop up, dozens of pages to scroll through. Now, how do you find the ones that are high quality? You check the cover, the blurb, and possibly the reviews. Maybe the sample or preview might convince you to buy a book. But there are ways to find out the production value and if you’re willing to pay for that quality.
Not everyone cares about the two grammar mistakes in a book. Or the simple vocabulary. Some people are specifically looking for short books with a formulaic structure that’s easy to understand. Not all products have to be high art, made to win Pulitzer prizes or win awards. On the same scale, authors can choose to produce highly experimental books and see if anyone is interested in them. That’s how new genres are born, like litRPG or choose your own adventure books. We don’t have to adhere to all the rules as set by faceless people before us. But we need that space to express ourselves. Having storefronts like Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords, who allow anyone and everyone to upload their books is great. It allows more art to be produced in many different ways. In our own ways. By being indie, regardless of medium, you’re helping an artist with their dream. Supporting them is crucial for the survival of their art. And whether you like their current product or not, without support an artist can’t do what love.
So I’d like you to think about indies, artists, and how you can support them. Consume their work, buy it, share it, review it. Talk about it with friends. Talk to the artist. Make space for indies to exist in your world and soon their world will grow too.
4 thoughts on “Being Indie in an Ocean of Books”
I’ve thinking about this lately and your article is the perfect answer to my doubts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tessa!
Please don’t stop writing! Your stories are worth sharing and I definitely want to keep supporting you ❤️
I completely agree with your paragraph about vocabulary and grammar. While it’s something I notice right away and do care about, not everyone does and that’s perfectly ok! I really dislike the pressure to read “high literature” that win prizes. I’m not sure if that’s society as a whole or something I picked up because of what I had to read back in high school. But not everyone wants to read that. Having so many reading (and writing styles) options is amazing.
I think you’re right in that because Amazon has no gatekeeper, there is a perception that Indie books are all terrible. I follow a bunch of Bookstagrammers and rarely do any Indie books pop up on their feeds. It’s all about the high-profile works published through traditional publishing houses. And it’s a shame because some of the best books I’ve ever read are Indie books.
My opinion on Indie books is that you need to read them with a degree of tolerance. Most Indie authors don’t have the financial wherewithal to plow thousands of dollars into editing. The simple economics of self-publishing for most people means that they would NEVER make back that outlay.
But if you can look past that, then some of the stories that are told, and the imagination at play, are some of the best you’ll ever experience. I have, admittedly, read a few Indie books that are badly edited or formatted, but even in those, there is often a gem of an idea or story that just needs a little polish. And it’s a shame more people won’t read them.