Fast forward to 2011 and already the stories are hitting the news. Indie authors are on the bestsellers lists, indies are crossing over from self-published ebooks to mainstream deals. The digital war has been fought, the armistice signed, and we won.
But hang on. “We” won? Who’s we?
It’s my contention that what we have here is a classic semantic slippage, and it’s one we should have seen coming (no one likes a smart alec but forgive me for mentioning that I was writing about it well over a year ago), so when I hear “indie” writers gang their jealous asses up on Amanda Hocking or complain that it made her rich and famous but what about them, I have as much sympathy as a badly-constructed simile about turkeys.
What has happened? The word indie has remained a constant; its usage hasn’t. It has gone from being a term that related in some way to content (if someone was an indie author you kind of had a very rough idea what they might be writing), via the fact that content was delivered in a particular way – direct and DIY – to referring now entirely to who owns that process of delivery. If it’s you then great, you’re an indie.
So what? Well, so for one we’re writers, we should get our use of words straight. And for two, and this is the real thing, when we say something’s a game changer – and “we” do, because it is – we should be clear what game has been changed, and who the beneficiaries are. In other words, what’s it done for us and, as we spout our e-revolution gospel, what’s it going to do for those we’re proselytising?
The game that ebooks have changed is the delivery game. The people who stand to gain from delivering a marketable product to the market are the same people who created the product. What that product is remains essentially unchanged. What we have, as I pointed out eighteen months ago, is a new way of delivering the same old same old, not a new product being delivered or, importantly, demanded.
It’s true there *is* a longer tail than there was (those old Chris Anderson debates have gone mighty cold, haven’t they?) for alternative fiction – you can sell some of it rather than none of it, but it isn’t an alternative fictioner’s paradise.
And that’s really what I want to address. Those of us from the early days who called ourselves indies, the writers of literary or urban fiction, experimenters, seekers after the non-traditional and non-linear. We were indies then, but when people talk about the success of indies now, it’s not us they mean. We are still on the outside. Our audience is tiny on Kindle, and it will remain so. So where DO we fit?
Well, rather conveniently I don’t have the answer to that. In part, and this is the point when people start jumping on bandwagons, because there isn’t one answer, because we are each different, and we write different things with different appeals. But what we must do is remember the streets aren’t always paved with gold, not every bandwagon blah blah well you get the idea.
By all means Kindle your book – in fact there are very few reasons not to (there ARE reasons, for some of us – I Kindle my books but I don’t put my paperbacks on Amazon, for example but that’s a whole other story, and I imagine others will have reasons to do neither – not being able to give your work away is one good reason for some). But think what you can expect to get out of it, remember that when you say you’re indie what you mean is something more than the indie aspect of process, and – and these are the biggies
- Don’t put in an effort disproportionate to what you could ever get out of it – if you do and you don’t get what you want, it’s not the fault of the system, it’s the fault of your wonky prioritizing.
- Don’t let what you’re doing keep you from carrying on looking for the best way to find your audience
- If you are indie for the art (what that means is more than one blog post in itself but you probably know if it means you) don’t get carried away by sales, especially if you (naturally) find yourself liking them – it’s a very interesting question whether your success is because your audience is getting edgier or you are getting more mainstream. I find it really helpful writing two completely different kinds of material – one for sales and one for live performance, which is where my alternative material finds its audience
So yes, we indie authors are seeing great indie success with ebooks. And that really IS great, but indie in that sentence means two different things, and we forget that at our peril.
Dan Holloway is a spoken word performer, touring his own show, The New Libertines, at festivals and fringes this summer under the banner of his literary project eight cuts gallery (http://eightcuts.com). He is also a writer of alternative fiction such as the novels Songs from the Other Side of the Wall (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Songs-Other-Side-Wall/dp/B003LN1UBG) and The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Who-Painted-Agnieszkas-Shoes/dp/B004QGYH6M). He is also author of The Company of Fellows (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Company-of-Fellows/dp/B004PLMHYC), a thriller set in Oxford University