Reviews of indie books

In the comments to the last post, mesadallas asked another question I thought deserved to get moved where it would be seen more. (I’m going to come up with a title for mesadallas along the lines of New Topic Inventor in Chief.)

“With more and more authors having no choice but to go the indie route I would think the site reviewers would realize that the publishing world is changing and that they need to change with the times. * * * Why do you think romance book sites have this policy?”

McD gave an answer, which is part of the reason: “I think review sites try to avoid a flood of self-published work.”

I’m going to give my take, but keep in mind I haven’t made any study of the subject. This is just my opinion after hanging out on indie forums and reading blogs by a good many authors for the last 15 months since I first self-published Rottweiler Rescue.

There is a considerable stigma attached to self-publishing. It comes from the days when the only way to self-publish a book was with a vanity press that charged a fortune and left the author with 5,000 books in his garage. He then sold maybe 100 to family and friends and was left with a garage full of moldering books — probably until his wife had hysterics and he had to pay another fortune to get them hauled away.

And why did anyone do this in the first place? Well, the term “vanity press” kind of describes it. Someone who couldn’t get published in traditional ways and who was determined anyway, self-published. And mesadallas’s comment carries a little of this thought: “With more and more authors having no choice but to go the indie route….” But the truth is authors always have a choice. Anyone can choose to pursue traditional publishing as the One True Way. Many still see giving up as more respectable than self-publishing.

So IMO the review sites that won’t look at indie books aren’t doing it so much because of quantity as because of quality. They cling to the idea that self-published = dreck. And there’s a whole lot of terrible self-published work that anyone can bring up to justify their position. The traditional publishers are gatekeepers, they say, and save us all from the “tsunami of crap.”

The problem is when Amazon opened its digital publishing platform to indies, they started a different kind of tsunami in the publishing world. Amazon announced the other day that indie John Locke (never traditionally published) has now sold over a million ebooks. He sells his books for $.99. That’s still $350,000. At what point does everyone admit that considering an author who gets a publishing contract with a $2,000 advance and actually sells 200 books worthy of review and ignoring John Locke is silly?

Amanda Hocking is a millionaire because of her self-published YA paranormal romances. She’s going to continue self-publishing but also signed a deal with St. Martins for $2 million for, as I remember, a series of 4 books. How does anyone say we’ll review her St. Martin’s books, but the indie published ones, which sell like hotcakes, are dreck and we won’t look at them? Those barriers and rationales just aren’t going to hold up much longer.

My guess is in the near future we’re going to see more and more review sites modify their policies about indie books. In the meantime, since indie reviews at some respected sites are rare, it’s a real thrill for someone like me to have my books reviewed by sites that resisted indie books in the past, and I’m grateful that they’re in the forefront of the changing book world.

Tidbit: I never read any of John Locke’s books because they didn’t sound like my kind of thing, but recently I saw that he had a western out. Not a romance, but a straight western, and for anyone who reads westerns, it’s a darn cute read. He’s got a follow up to it I’ve just started. The first one is “Follow the Stone,” and the second is “Don’t Poke the Bear!” The covers made me hesitate because they make the books look like contemporaries, but they’re set in the Old West, and of course even at $.99 I’m a confirmed sampler. “Follow the Stone” made me realize why he’s sold those million books. I paid a heck of a lot more for Robert B. Parker’s Appaloosa westerns, and the enjoyment level was very equivalent.


8 Responses to Reviews of indie books

  1. mesadallas says:

    Not being an author I’m certainly not in a position to judge a lot of things connected to the publishing world but I have read and heard that right now it is almost impossible for a new author to get a publishing firm to even look at their manuscript much less agree to publish it. That’s one reason why I felt that many new authors are turning to the indie route- they’ve tried and tried to get a publisher to consider their manuscript but can’t even get past this first step.

    Another reason I think we are seeing more indie authors is that by self-publishing they are able to maintain more control over their work. Example- covers. I’ve heard that published authors have no say-so in the covers of their books. What a crock! Why shouldn’t an author have the right to decide what the cover of THEIR book will look like?

    Another reason I think we have more indie writers is the money aspect. There are some indie writers who by self-publishing are making more than they may have made with what they would get from a publisher. New writers are seeing the success stories and are willing to take the gamble for themselves.

    I do think that with the changing technology available to make self-publishing both possible and profitable more and authors will turn to self-publishing.Will all of these by good writers with well-written books? No, but there are plenty who are and as a reader I know that self-publishing has nothing to do with talent. Heck, I can’t tell you how many company books I’ve read that were just ridiculously horrible. (The Italian Billionare’s Secret Virgin Mistress) I am awaiting the day that the reviewer sites begin to realize this and come to the conclusion that they need to re-evaluate their policies.
    If I, as a reader, can figure this out it makes me wonder why site reviewers can’t.

    Ten years ago I subscribed to the newspaper and had it delivered daily to my home. I don’t today as I can get the same news on-line. Newspapers are realizing this and now print an on-line edition. They realized where readers were going and changed as the technology and customer’s reading habits were also changing.

  2. I’m not sure the truth of the new writers can’t break in any more stories. I see it said often, but then I also see it contradicted with examples often. What I am sure of is that publishers (and agents) are now putting more and more onerous clauses in contracts. For instance, non-compete clauses to keep authors from self-pubbing, clauses that all but give agents ownership rights in the work, etc. If anyone’s interested in knowing more about that Kris Rusch has been putting out astonishing information on her blog.

    If you remember, the reason I turned down the contract to write the Rottweiler book for that one publisher was an indemnity clause that I thought maybe was something they just tried on dumb newbies, but evidently that kind of thing is standard.

    The technology has made all these changes possible, but in the end the money is what’s going to be the driving force behind the changes. I’ve seen several authors who put up backlist books on their own say things like – I’ve made more money from my backlist books on my own in the last 6 months than I made through my publisher in the last 6 years.

    It’s harder for people who haven’t been traditionally published before and who are starting from zero (like me), and I think some of the people who were only published by small presses have no real advantage over us pure indies, but even ignoring the outstanding (and rare) successes like Locke and Hocking, enough of us are doing well to give people who do some research pause. The supposed average first advance for a newbie author is $5,000. All 3 of my books have brought in more than that. The romances way more.

    Control is also a factor, although a lesser one, I believe. Many of the old time authors (and a lot of new ones) are willing to give up control (and the lion’s share of the money) if someone else will do things like covers, editing, promo, etc., for them. And a lot of newbies going in don’t realize that these days they’re going to have to do their own promo unless they’re seen as the Next Big Thing. Traditional authors don’t only lose control over covers but titles and to some extent content. A lot of those rape scenes in the old bodice rippers were there not because the author wanted them there but because the editor insisted. I’ve seen stories about instances of agents or editors actually doing rewriting on books.

    One way or the other, the book world is in the middle of a sea change. It’s going to be an interesting next few years.


  3. You might be interested to know that a Harlequin/Silhouette author posted to Kindle Boards today. H/S is uploading all their 1990s titles as ebooks in July. Evidently attorneys have looked at the old contracts and advised that H/S can do this and that it keeps the books technically “in print,” which means rights don’t revert to the author after a specified time out of print.

    The usual royalty for these authors has been 6% of the cover price. On these backlist ebooks, they will get 3%. The particular author posting said her book is being sold for $4.79, which means she gets 14 cents per ebook sold.

    Contrast that to my indie self. I get 70% on each $2.99 ebook sold in the U.S., UK, or Canada and 35% for sales outside those countries.

    This what is going to drive more and more authors to go straight to self-pubbing. Does the person who wrote it really deserve only 3%? For that matter did she ever only deserve 6%?


  4. mesadallas says:

    3 and 6%? That’s criminal on the part of the publisher. So could a well-known author, (Lorraine Heath for example ) ever begin to self-publish, or has she signed her life away to her publisher?

  5. It very much depends on the contract a particular author signed what routes are open to her at this point. A lot of authors are getting rights reverted on older books that are now out of print, but if books are popular enough that they are still in print, an author isn’t going to be able to do that and is stuck with whatever piddling royalty she gets for the books, including any digital version the publisher puts out. I think most authors could indie publish new books, but it sounds like some companies are now trying to sneak non-compete clauses into contracts that might even stop that – if the courts don’t nix that kind of thing, which they might. My guess is we’re going to see some big, fat lawsuits.

    The Kindle Boards thread on this topic has gotten heated, with the usual of people making generals statements and others choosing to take it personally. Some have pointed out that everyone knew even back in the 80’s what the Harlequin contracts were like. The old “you knew it was a snake when you took it in.”

    I just finished a Lorraine Heath book, “Always to Remember.” It’s an older one that was available from the library as an ebook. (I purchased a Kobo ereader just so that I could get ebooks from the library, but the selection is underwhelming.) Have to say very few romances can give me a lump in the throat any more but this one did. Confederate conscientious objector and war widow. I liked it enough that my “I’d do this instead” even turned off – right till the last 20 or 30 pages when heroine’s dialog turns into a speech which makes a whole town shape up. Still, one of those that makes the Kobo, which is IMO terribly inferior to the Kindle as an ereader, worthwhile.


  6. mesadallas says:

    I read “Always to Remember” about six months ago and enjoyed it. Very unusual plot element and although I like all of Heath’s westerns this one stands out. My Heath tear-jerker is “Parting Gifts.”

    I don’t have an e-reader so I’m not familiar with the term “kobo.” Does it mean a keeper?

    I am wondering how much sway readers will have in changing site policies abut reviewing indie books.Independent books do have fans- and these fans also write reviews. Sometimes more than for traditionally puplished books. Heck, eyes now has 78 on amazon and about 20 on goodreads and most of them are very positive.

    More and more readers are discovering indie books and authors at an increasing pace. If a reviewer comes across an indie book that is getting a lot of positive attention from readers perhaps they will be be more inclined to rethink what they limit themselves to reviewing.

  7. If Kobo has a meaning, I don’t know it. It’s a Canadian company.

    Revision of Locke books comment: I finished “Don’t Poke the Bear!” and didn’t like it the way I did the first western, “Follow the Stone.” There’s a mystical thread in both books about a character who’s a witch. In the first one I was able to ignore it, but in this second one it’s too much there and too ridiculous for me. Also the book isn’t IMO a complete story. Maybe series books are that ways these days, but this strikes me as the kind of thing you’d get if you were downloading something being serialized and this was one segment. So the first book hooked me, kind of, but the second one lost me.


  8. mesadallas says:

    O.K. that answers my question about a Kobo.

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