Some more random musings on the self-published and indie scene

* Music and film have both had Indie scenes without the sky falling in or society falling apart, and both have ultimately changed their artforms for the better. Punk ploughed into the dormant disco scene and a prog-rock and metal scene that had grown smug and almost unbearably macho. People with just enough music knowledge to form a few chords and chord progressions kicked the music scene into submission. Magazines and sub-cultures sprang up around the music of the late-Seventies. Then it happened again in the late-Eighties and early-Nineties. Factory Records, Madchester, Rave culture (and in the US – Rap and Grunge) all came from independent sensibilities. Yes, they had their opponents (especially Rap, because it gave black culture a mass-market vocalising of anger that it didn’t previously have), but time and cultural upheaval have shown these musical and cultural movements to be hugely valid artistically. Spotify and other streaming services have pretty much democratised music making in the modern age. Anybody with a modicum of musical knowledge and a laptop or iPad can produce chart-topping work (streaming charts, at least), particularly with some clever social media networking and marketing.

* Then there is cinema. Film-makers have written, produced and directed films themselves for years without studios saying: “Who the fuck are these people? And how dare they step on our toes.” Well, maybe they did, but they had the decency not to voice it out loud. Stephen Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, John Cassavetes, Kevin Smith, to name but a few, have all come from independent backgrounds. Hell, Scorsese and Brian De Palma worked for Roger Corman (who for a long time was pretty much the King of the Indies). And with high-speed broadband VOD has made it much easier for fledgling film-makers to get their work out there.

* Okay, so what the fuck has that got to do with self-publishers? I hear you ask (in my mind at least). Well, since you’re throwing the question out there, I’ll bite…

* Self-publishers and Indie Publishers work within the same spirit of upheaval as the indies working in film and music, but there’s a complete lack of respect from the publishers, agents and the mainstream media. How many newspapers review Indie or self-pubbed work? How many agents or publishers take any notice of Indie or self-pubbed writers until they have shifted enough units on Amazon or Barnes & Noble? How much mockery do self-published authors get from those in publishing and the mainstream media? There’s this notion that what self-published authors put out is simply the infamous ‘slush pile’ – basically, all the shite that publishing houses deem unsuitable for the general public. Some of the work is rubbish, but there are plenty of novels and novellas that aren’t slush but are rejected anyway.

* Novellas tend to be rejected unread, especially if they are from unknown writers, because the length doesn’t suit a publisher’s bottom line. Also, anything that can’t be easily pigeonholed tends to be rejected, because publishing is a business and marketing people are essentially lazy. Marketeers like dealing with demographics and boiling down humanity into groups. They prefer not to think about the folks that fall between the cracks, because it involves hard work on their part and, as stated above, they don’t like hard work, but they really should: it’s one of the reasons why Big Publishing seems to be behind the trend in the eBook age.

* Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity was self-published, Andy Weir’s The Martian was self-published, Hugh Howey’s mega-selling Wool trilogy is self-published. EL James’ 50 Shades books are Indie, but they started as a self-published experiment with transposing Twilight’s Bella and Edward into erotic fiction. Big Publishing wouldn’t have touched her with a fucking bargepole. And yes, based on what I’ve read, her work isn’t very good, but on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis it’s not much worse than Dan Brown who is touted by Big Publishing. Rachel Abbott’s huge sales are from self-publishing – big enough that she doesn’t need to sign her career away to Big Publishing. These writers are just a few of the many self-publishing success stories. There are plenty of others out there who write excellent work on a regular basis that doesn’t sell in these kinds of numbers but have enough of a following to get by financially or to at least supplement their regular incomes. They don’t get many/any column inches in the regular press. This is a real shame because a lot of superb work is being missed.

* The Indie and self-published scene is awash with fine writers (and some brilliant ones, too), but the publishing world feels their work is too dark or too raw for mainstream publication. That’s not the fault of the writers – because that’s where their muse takes them – that one is on the publishing houses. Again, marketing. The publishing world is about money, not art, and don’t let anybody ever tell you otherwise. They’re not protecting you from terrible fiction, they’re protecting their profit margins. Bottom line, baby! If they truly want to protect readers from dreadful meaningless books then why are they releasing Zoella’s or Katie Price’s ghostwritten novels? Why do they shovel poor quality celebrity memoirs down reader’s throats? Why did they publish Morrissey’s turd List of the Lost? Hell, why did they publish his memoir as a Penguin Classic? Money, that’s why. The next time one of these publishers or agents trots out the old ‘We’re gatekeepers protecting readers from badly written books’ trope then please feel free to call them out as the cunts they are.

* I’ll take this one step further: I’ve read some seriously good fiction this year, with quite a few candidates for my top ten/top five year-end list. Some of the candidates are Ryan Bracha’s Ben Turner is a Dead Man, J David Osborne’s Black Gum, Tiffany Scandal’s Jigsaw Youth, Paul Brazill’s Guns of Brixton, Ray Banks’ awesome Angels of the North, Les Edgerton’s The Rapist. They are all Indie published or, in Ryan’s case, self-published. Yes, I’ve also got some traditionally published authors vying for a place on that list; but the fact that these authors can mix it up with the likes of Caryl Ferey, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Don Winslow and James Crumley in my list is a testament to just how strong the Indie scene is. Good writing is good writing regardless of how it is produced and what genre it occupies. Authors of psycho-noir, neo-noir, transgressive/bizarro and gritty crime fiction in all their weird glory are producing works of astonishing imagination, ferocity and quality. Authors like those named above and the likes of Jon Bassoff, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Jedidiah Ayres, Anthony Neil Smith, Ian Ayris, Keith Nixon, Gerard Brennan, can all stand tall against Big Publishing and its authors.

* Another thing I’ve noticed in the press recently is the mainstream media crowing about the fall in folks reading ebooks and paperback sales rising. And stories about Waterstones removing Kindles from their stores because of poor sales. However, in typical mainstream media style this is only part of the story. They seem to ignore the fact that e-book pricing of many Big Publishing novels are so high that readers find it easier and more convenient to simply buy the hardback or paperback. The Media ignore Indie e-book originals and self-publishing because they don’t fit the narrative they are trying to sell. And the Waterstones story also makes little sense under scrutiny. When I go to Waterstones it isn’t with the intention of buying a fucking Kindle; I go for paperbacks. Why would anybody go to Waterstones for a Kindle? You buy it from Amazon, usually at a discount, and then browse for books online. Waterstones’ decision, and subsequent failure, to sell Kindles says much more about them than it does about the Kindle.

* I love my Kindle, I use my Kindle regularly, it gives me access to fiction that wouldn’t otherwise be easily available. But when I don’t have access to my Kindle I use my smartphone. Plenty of people who don’t have a Kindle read on their phones or on high pixel-density tablet screens. That probably also contributes to poor Kindle sales anywhere other than Amazon. Just a thought.

2 thoughts on “Some more random musings on the self-published and indie scene

  1. Having been an indie writer since 2007, I agree with everything you said in the article. Really nice to see someone finally telling it like it is. Some of the most entertaining books I’ve read over the past couple years were authored by indies. Really good stuff that the big Pub houses would likely have tossed into the can.

    • There are certainly benefits to Big Publishing – I certainly don’t hate them – but those benefits are tempered by lazy marketing and greed. The problem with lazy marketing departments is they have no idea how to deal with something new. EL James’ 50 Shades (poor as it is) threw a curveball at the publishing houses who fell over themselves to throw money at any old ‘Mommy Porn’ tome. Likewise with psychological thrillers, which have made a comeback with writers like Rachel Abbott and Mark Edwards. I doubt either writer would have been snapped up by a Big 5 company or subsidiary. Would Ryan Bracha be picked up by a major publisher, even now? Doubtful. Even something like Neil Cocker’s Amsterdam Rampant, which is a very entertaining (and well reviewed) tale that has sold very well, was rejected by various publishers. I’m genuinely excited for 2016 as an Indie. There is a lot of good stuff coming from writers I genuinely enjoy. If publishers don’t want to come along for the ride – more fool them.

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