There’s a big hullabaloo about indie authors these days. But how is self-publishing impacting readers? Will the phenomenon contribute to the next generation’s literary heritage in a good way or bad?
I’ve been asked to give a talk at a book club on what the evolution in the publishing industry means to readers. As a recently-published indie author, my main focus at present is on marketing my book, so the challenge to examine this particular aspect of literary progress is timely and appropriate. Besides, I am a reader too.
Writers have always made their mark on history and always will. Even though the latest trend was spearheaded by e-books, self-publishing is hardly a recent development. Since the eighteenth century, celebrated authors like Thomas Paine, Beatrix Potter, Stephen King, and Virginia Woolf resorted to this option because they could not get publishers to sponsor their works. But no indie has received more praise and earned more money than Amanda Hocking—an unknown part-time writer who, after numerous rejections from traditional publishers, decided to self-publish on e-book platforms only and is now a millionaire.
Any growth these days, though, should be understood in the context of the shape-shifting world we’re living in, where the rules and roles in every sphere of life seem to change on a daily basis. It’s overwhelming, to say the least, so it might be more helpful to use a life-coaching approach (the other hat I wear for a living) to try and make sense of the indie book world as it relates to authors and readers.
As a life coach trained in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I work with individuals who want to make positive changes in their lives, careers, and relationships. NLP is a behavior change model that assumes the way we experience our reality (life) is shaped by the way we take in information through our senses (neurology), translate it into language (linguistic), and make mental patterns (programming) that influence our behavior.
Literary agents are omitted from this discussion and, naturally, so are publishers, even though the e-book format now forms part of their repertoire of services. It’s no secret that the traditional system’s bottom-line values created a subjective vetting environment that made a lot of talented authors, especially newcomers, feel disregarded, thus leading to their actions that resulted in a new system—that’s the history of self-publishing, albeit an oversimplified account as technology clearly played a role too. So, let’s see where the game is at now.
According to the NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Behavior, change occurs in natural hierarchies that are arranged from low to high: environment, behavior, capabilities, values/beliefs, identity, and spirituality (a big-picture perspective beyond the Self). The main premise of this model is that change has to be affected on a level higher than the level where the issue resides for the new behavior to be sustained. However, change can really be initiated on any level and will have a distinct impact on the way a person thinks and acts.
In analyzing the indie landscape according to the above-mentioned model, it’s easy to understand how authors’ behavior (taking control of their products) is dependent on improving their capabilities (copy editing, manuscript formatting, book distribution, and marketing), and how all that is driven by valuing their work and believing in themselves as being worthy of success (identity). And in the big picture, surely it seems right that authors are acknowledged on the merits of talent and hard work, and that such favorable outcomes are not reserved only for some and not others?
Symbiosis: a relationship of mutual benefit or dependence—authors need readers, and readers need authors.
To focus solely on the symbiotic relationship between indies and their readers, and assuming their identities are intact (one being the producer and the other a consumer of books), I see change taking place more rapidly and is, therefore, most noticeable on the four lower levels: environment, behavior, capabilities, and values/beliefs. Having said that, I do see the biggest challenge and risk occurring on the big picture level.
Some might say the world has suddenly become awash with books (especially e-books), and not just books—weird genres: sci-fi, fantasy, chic lit, gay & lesbian biographies, and…um…erotica, for goodness sake! While this means no holds barred for authors in terms of when, where, how, and what they publish, readers are obviously spoiled for choice too.
When products and concepts are mass produced for commercial consumption, it can easily give rise to trends and lead to popular culture, thus permeating our everyday lives—these days, on a global scale. Literature is no different. WHAT authors publish and readers read, should be seen as important choices in terms of where literature is headed.
IT’S A ZOO OUT THERE ! ! !
Confusion is a big part of the mix (on both sides of the divide): authors are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory made up of manuscript critics, copy editors, e-book formatters, cover designers, typesetters, aggregators, distributors, retailers, blog tours, book reviews, and heaven knows what else; readers have their eyes on stalks watching for free downloads, price reductions, and giveaways, without knowing (or maybe even caring) if they’ll ever get to the library of freebies on their Kindles, NOOKS, iBooks, Sony Readers, etc.
Clearly, the production and consumption of literature in a self-publishing era where fast-changing technology plays a big role require new skills. Authors and readers need to be flexible and open-minded yet mindful of how their actions impact the future of literature.
There’s evidence of authors rushing to get their books on the market, often compromising their quality or making mistakes that have practical and financial consequences. There’s also evidence of readers with a freebie mindset that favors price over quality, thus diminishing the value of authors’ hard work and talent.
Believe me, there’s a fair amount of mayhem out there as everyone’s scrambling to secure a part of the action. And maybe it’s a good thing, so that new things come out of an old order that had it coming. But something tells me it could be the start of a new nightmare, unless authors and readers adapt their behavior to make sure quality literature is their top priority.
I will certainly make it my mission to advocate that sentiment, but without dismissing the need for equal opportunity too—for that’s real progress.
PS: As per my interview with Eric Wyatt at Stories I Read, Stories I Tell, if you do decide to self-publish, my advice is that you don’t rush into it and compromise the quality of your book, because you’ll end up with a bad reputation that will haunt you, sooner or later. If you want to be an author, don’t just do it to stroke your ego and inflate your bank balance—stretch the envelope; make a worthy contribution to the literary heritage of the next generations.