And what exactly is this “indies” thing all about…? What’s an “indie” when’s at home…? And an “indies” corner?
Well, my “Indies” Corner is where I’ll be talking about, and recommending, titles written and published by self-publishing authors, i.e., authors that choose to develop and commercialise their books outside the traditional publishing sector. Thus “indie” titles and “indie” authors”. Simple? Of course. And much better than meerkat insurance, I can promise you that much.
There have been, I think, enough arguments pro and against both such publishing practice and the authors themselves, traditional publishers being seen as “the gatekeepers” of the industry and therefore its guarantors of quality standards, and indie authors as writers who somehow do not meet the required standard, and therefore fail to secure that most coveted of all things, a publishing contract. Before I started working with ‘indie’ authors, I had often wondered myself if that was indeed the case.
The truth is, however, more complex than that. I have come across unpolished little gems of outstanding creativity and inventiveness and which, if picked up by any ‘trad’ publishing company and have thrown behind it all the editorial resources available to the industry, could have easily turned into titles of unquestionably high quality.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have come across works of amazingly polished quality, the author having clearly invested, in their development, a lot of time and resources — by which I mean of course all the publishing expenses these authors sustain themselves, but also and most particularly a network of dedicated, voluntary beta readers who will do most of the proofreading, editing and critiquing of the manuscript. And one such network needs, of course, to be seeded and properly nurtured.
A few years ago, a blogger I used to follow wrote at length about something he had arguably witnessed in a Paris bookshop, where an elderly couple had wandered bewildered between the shop’s stacks and all the books piled high and covering almost every surface and available floor space — until the wife had exclaimed to the husband, somewhat horrified: “But, my God, they no longer read, now they write!”
This blogger’s post came at a time when I was beginning to consider such issues as the pros and cons of self-publishing and to debate, inside my own head, such issues as gatekeeping, literary quality, and authorial validation, and just as I was about to begin my journey through the world of self-publishing and “indie” authors. That is quite probably why I found the story so timely, and why it managed to stick to my memory.
Three years, give or take, have elapsed since. During this journey of mine through the self-publishing world, I have often thought of this old Parisian woman who could not come to terms with the current amount of literary output, and her rather peculiar, and rather amusing, interjection. Mais mon Dieu, qu’ils ne lisent plus, maintenaint ils écrivent! And I have to confess that at times it has felt a bit like that: the sheer volume of “indie” output is indeed quite overwhelming, especially in the so-called “fan literature”, or what some others call, accuracy quite aside, “genre literature”. Moreover, sometimes it feels like some “indie” authors have indeed forsaken that which can — and will — make them not just a writer, but also a much better writer: to read prolifically. All the other times, though, I have been left in absolute awe of the creativity and literary competence of many of the “indies” I have been privileged to meet and read.
I am however a very picky reader — not in terms of genre, as I read quite eclectically, but in terms of the literary merit of what I am reading. I like a well-built story, with characters I can either identify with or love to loathe, where both the plot and the characters have been competently developed, and where the whole lot has been put down on the page in a competent-enough level of English. I like a well-edited text, where the typos and punctuation are not hindering my reading speed or my enjoyment of the story. And I definitely like something that demonstrates a good degree of creativity and inventiveness — and I don’t think I am alone in any of this. For who wants to keep reading repeated remakes of the same story, over and over and over again?
I have given a lot of consideration — meaning mostly that I have long agonised over it — to the issue of assessing an “indie” author’s work against that of an author whose book has been signed up by a “trad” publisher. Considering an indie’s general deficit in resources, should I be less demanding with their writing? Should I apply a less stringent, more benevolent review scale? Maybe. Or maybe not — for surely, if a literary work aspires to ‘being out there’, in equality of terms with all other literary works before and after it, then it has to jump as high, and over as many hurdles, as all the other works.
The fact is, I have not yet cleared the woods of that there thorny issue. But having read the work of many of the “indies” I’ve engaged with over the last three years, all I can say is that it is possible, as an “indie” author, to meet the standard of quality the “trad” press has taught the public to expect and demand over all the decades they’ve had the monopoly of the industry. It is not guaranteed, far from it in many cases, but it is indeed possible, and thankfully it does happen, perhaps even more frequently than many might think.
Therefore, and given all that I leave written above for your consideration, not all of the “indie” authors I have met and read and engaged with throughout my journey will make it into my scribbles’ corner. Some because they did not meet my expectations, some because I simply cannot bring myself to like their literary genre, or their style. Some because I simply cannot get inside their creative heads, and understand what they are about, and writing about.
But the ones that I will write about, and interview, and review, and publish short-stories or guest posts from, or write feature posts about, those I can most earnestly say that I recommend you give them a little read. So seat yourself comfortably and grab a cushion or two, lean back, and depart on this brand new book journey with me. “Indies”, here we come!