ZOMG, Don’t Taint My Readers!

This post is in response to a very nice post by my awesome man-twin, Andrew Mocete. His post is in response to a recent ABB (author behaving badly) incident that erupted on Twitter last night. If you want to check that out, I believe the link is in Andrew’s post. Basically, it was a book blogger review of a self-pubbed book that contained some criticism. The author showed up to argue with the reviewer and the whole thing exploded. You all know not to do that, so I’m not even going to talk about that.

I was touched by the thread that ran through some of the comments to the post in question, the sense of desperation lurking just beneath the surface, and at times, in one comment in particular, peeking through and all but imploring the author to cease her unprofessional behavior for all our [indie] sakes, and for the readers and reviewers present not to judge us all by her actions.

Deeeeeep, cleansing breath; shake off the drama, mama. Whew. I’ve been there, and it hasn’t been so long ago. [I have to interrupt myself to tell you that the soundtrack in my head right here is “Cool It Now” by New Edition. It’s…Kind of evil, actually. I’ll provide video below.]

When you’re starting out there’s this sense that this is your shot, and it’s such a long one, the odds are so stacked, and most of all (at least this is the way I saw things) that your pool of potential readers and reviewers is both very big and very small. Too big, in the sense of how will I ever reach all these people so they’ll even know about my book? [cough]answer: read Kristen Lamb[cough], and too small in the sense that I have so few potential readers that not a single one can be wasted! And it’s the latter that makes reading a thread like this one–or the why I don’t read self-pub in general–feel so tragic.

It’s a math problem. You take your view of the world. You look around and watch people’s habits. You get a sense of how many people are actually reading books as opposed to watching TV, playing games, immersing themselves in the internet. Of those, you look at the tattered paperbacks with the used bookstore labels, the people reading in Barnes and Noble and not buying the book, and of course, you stay up to date on all the incredibly scientific numbers thrown around regarding ebook piracy. And this gives you a really accurate picture of how many people are out there buying new books.

Not. Incidentally, and you may know this, using your own experience in this way is known as “anecdotal evidence.” It’s when you use one or two cases from your personal experience to “prove” something. Such as…I believe we all heard of someone who claimed a relative had taken a pregnancy test and it was wrong, so DNA evidence is obviously a bunch a bunk. Or some shit like that. One or two cases is not statistically significant, and making decisions based on anecdotal evidence is often a recipe for crazy.

Moving on, you take your non-scientific sample of what percentage of the English-speaking population reads new books, and then you have to correct it for the ebook market. Because ebooks only count for, what, 20% of books sold? On every third Wednesday, anyway, but check back if you’d like a different statistic. Ok, so you just lost 4/5 of your readership. Yeah, it’s feeling real important to reach all these people and make a good impression!

And then, of course, you have to correct for demographics and genre. Because those ladies over there in Paranormal Romance just have it so easy, don’t they? They can crap 50,000 words about vampires, and as long as their heroine has two hot guys to choose from and the readers get to be on a hunky guy team…right? (I’m pretty sure I read that recently, damn my vampire-free writing lifestyle!!)

And, you know, it’s not all even hardly about the money. Especially in the beginning when you’ve still got your day job. You need to sell copies to every single one of those people in the dinky little pool you’ve got left after your mathathon (you mathlete you) so that you can prove you don’t suck. So that you can prove, not only that you didn’t go indie as any last resort, but so that you can legitimize indie for all indies coming up after you! Because somehow that’s on YOUR shoulders!!!

:flail:

I know I had a point when I started writing this post in Andrew’s comments. I think the point was that if you recognize your own thinking in anything I said above, you should breathe. It’s really not so dire as all that. One of the many things I have learned this year is how truly small my world-view is. There are so many more readers out there than realized.

If the reviewer you’d LOVE to have review your book doesn’t accept indie submissions, just shrug and move on. Tell yourself that someday you’re going to be so much talked about that she’s going to pick up your book because she just HAS to know if it’s as good as everyone’s saying, and then put that aside. Does it seem like every book blogger has a NO INDIES ALLOWED sign? It can feel that way some days. Google other indie books and you’ll probably find book bloggers reviewing them. And I’m probably not the only indie who keeps a list of reviews that you can use as leads.

I consider myself to be a very small, little known indie. I have not been asked to join the cavalcade of stars on Konrath’s blog nor even mentioned on a list of successful indies. I have not been approached by an agent. I have not been contacted by a traditional publisher. I have not been asked about my movie rights. I have never been asked to do an interview for a print publication. I have never made the top 100 on Kindle or BN. Many of my friends and colleagues have achieved these things, reinforcing my small-fish view of me.

That’s okay, by the way. I’ve had one tiny little title out there for several months now. I haven’t built to what they’ve done. The above mentioned are things that may be in my future, after I’ve done the work, so don’t feel like you need to make me feel better about that. I’m not exactly crying in my soup over here.

Because the point is, despite being a small fish compared to my friends, I’ve sold thousands of books. You can sell thousands of books too. What got said in that comment thread ultimately does not matter. It is not statistically significant. Any time you stumble on a comment thread like that, any time you start to feel anxious, as though ALL readers are going to be turned off indie before you can get your awesome book out there, there are things you should remember:

Humans are storytelling creatures. It’s the way we’re wired. No matter how the formats change, if you possess the ability for story, there will always be a place for you and you will always find an audience.

People are excessively mercurial. All those readers who are attached to the paper and ink? Not all of them will hold out forever. If Kait Nolan can be swayed into buying a NOOK, honey, there’s hope out there. The ranks of the ebook buyer will continue to grow. Those people who “don’t read indie”? Not all of them will stay that way. All they need is to be intrigued enough to to read one good indie book and they’ll start to re-learn to judge books on book stuff, rather than publication stuff.

Most importantly, there’s a basic sanity issue here: You can’t control other people. You can attempt to influence, but ultimately you cannot control what anyone wants to read, the prejudices of others, nor how other self-published authors choose to act. What you can control is the quality of your own book. So stop reading crap on the internet and go finish it.

I have to go take my own advice now.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “ZOMG, Don’t Taint My Readers!

  1. I think another important thing that indie publishers need to remember is that their books might not sell as many books as their fellow indie publishers (which you mentioned slightly in reference to your friends). It’s very important to be patient and understand that your book may not sell as quickly or as many overall as your friends. You are a big fish in comparison with me, which at first I found discouraging, but then learned that everyone’s book sells differently. It’s just a matter of reaching out to the right audience(s) and being respectful of our readers. I think it’s important for indie publishers to have a few blogs or articles they can fall back on when they are feeling discouraged or angered about a review to remind them of why they published in the first place and that it isn’t the end of the world, everything will work out. Thanks again for the encouraging blog post. I read over a portion of that author’s reaction to that review and was appalled.

    • Thanks for your comment, Renee. YES! We hear it and say it over and over that everyone’s path is as different as everyone’s book. Direct comparisons are often painful and painfully inaccurate. And as much as we know that, it’s still REALLY hard sometimes to keep ones eyes on ones own paper. Just as one example, one of my friends hasn’t had the success that I’ve had in terms of sales numbers. And yet she has an agent–one who came to her–and I don’t. Which goes to show, amongst other things, that even sales numbers aren’t everything.

  2. She’s totally right. I was a “you can pry my paper books from my cold, dead hands” kinda person and now I’m a rabid Nook fangirl. It could happen to anyone. 😀

    I think personally that I never gave much thought to the math and the number of potential readers. I sort of imagine a relatively endless pool…I’m just still stretching out my tentacles to poke them all :buymybook: poke poke.

    Mostly I think the important thing is that no matter what kind of crazy goes on out there (because there will always be speshul snowflake authors who give self published AND traditional published authors a bad name) is to maintain the utmost professionalism so that when your name comes up in industry conversation, it’s in a good light.

    • That’s because a) you’re a scientist and you know crap math when you smell it, and b) you’re ever so much more rational than I in general.

    • Tom used to say he’d never read ebooks. Then he decided he’d like a Kindle for work-related documents. So I got him a Kindle and then he started reading fiction on it. Now he hears about a book, looks on Amazon, and says stuff like: “I wanted that book but it’s not on Kindle”. I’m like… “Who are you and what have you done with Tom?”

  3. Dawn G

    I’m a reader and the young lady who got sooooo upset over what really wasn’t a bad review embarassed me. I read a lot of self-published work and enjoy a lot of it. Some, not so much, but I’m not about to go yell at the author for disappointing me. I personally don’t think she ‘ruined things’ for other self-pubs. She did, I’m sure, ruin things for herself. I think most of us readers make up our own minds about what books to read or not read, we don’t normally allow one person’s bad behavior influence us to the point where we won’t read certain genres, publishing houses or all self-pubs or indies. We don’t normally roll that way 🙂

    • Dawn, thanks for the voice of reason! It makes sense when you say it. But then, we’re writers, we ARE drama. So one person in a thread says, “See, this is why I don’t read self-pub,” and a dozen writers fall on the floor with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many of us need constant reminders to think rationally. Thanks so much for commenting.

  4. I’m trying to get off the “this is a great post” repetition thing, but this is a great post. Thanks for being a voice of reason.

    Really, I think this whole thing is a non-event. The people who already read indie stuff will continue to read indie stuff. The people who use this event as a reason or justification NOT to read indie stuff are probably very few, and they weren’t our audience, anyway. The only people this really affects much are the author and the book blogger, and he’s on the benefit side because he was so gracious and humble through the whole thing.

    I think a lot of the reaction on the indie side of this stems from the misconception that the outside world cares so much about what goes on in our little corner of publishing. They really don’t. They have lives and they have things they go about doing, and one author melting down just really isn’t that big a deal to them.

    News flash: Our indie world just isn’t that important to most people. They just want to read good stories.

    • ^This!
      Seriously, Amy. I was just telling Kait that I MUST go out to the yarn shop and knit once a week just to keep some kind of normal perspective on life. Because otherwise the writing and the internet writing community becomes pretty much my whole experience. And then next thing you know I’ll have a chance conversation and find myself SHOCKED by someone who’s never heard of Smashwords, who doesn’t know what an ebook is. And then I’m totally taken aback, realizing I have stumbled out of my tiny, narrow world into R-E-A-L-I-T-Y.

      Reality is freaky. But then, people are strange, when you’re a stranger.

  5. I actually mentioned you, along with Kait Nolan and Amanda Hocking today on Twitter as three successful indie authors. Sorry 🙂 You were the only three I could think of at the time who had had success as indies without first going trad. For the purpose of the discussion, I couldn’t count Konrath, Eisler, et al.

    And my experience and knowledge of this field is small – I don’t tend to focus on names in any part of life – just people that I interact with. So you and Kait are successful indies who talk to me and that’s why I remembered you. Amanda is so damn successful that I remembered her name anyway. She’s like the Brad Pitt of indie publishing. For me, anyway. Everyone can disagree, I don’t care 🙂

    • Well don’t do it again, Anne-Mhairi! LOL. Thanks for the mention. Amanda and Kait were definitely included in my thoughts as I was writing the above. Also HP Mallory and Zoe Winters. And there are a lot more I don’t think of by name, even though I recognize them. They’re part of that pool of bigger than I. Just scan Konrath’s blog for his guest stars lately and you’ll find more. Some of their posts are very inspiring.

      Or don’t. Because you’re approach of nothing focusing names is probably very healthy.

  6. By some fluke, I happened to catch yesterday’s blog and comments referenced above. And yea, a few of the comments about “indie authors/books” kind of stung. Not so much because I plan on going the self-published route, but because I love reading indie books. It was almost as if some of the readers were looking down on me for my choice in books.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Amy, if there are readers like me that enjoy indie books(hello?? who wouldn’t? there’s so much more imagination and creativity to be had with indie books), a few comments aren’t going to change our minds and this little incident won’t effect those (reviewers/readers) who prefer to stick with more traditional authors…they aren’t reading indie anyway.

    And just remember there are indie writers (like me) who are just a few keystrokes away (next month) from publishing their first book that look up to you!

  7. Lady-twin, I gotta disagree. I want more wailing and teeth gnashing. That way I can release my book unchallenged, watch it explode and sign my own 2 mil deal. Then all our friends can retire to my private island where the word “sellout” doesn’t exist. Where we write all day and talk about important shit, like smashwords and sales rank. Reality. Bah! Overrated.

    • …and Buffy, and Firefly. And we’ll listen to great covers all day, and there will be comics. (And if I can have a small amount of success too, possibly a Hall of Hunky Guys life-size cardboard cut-out museum. Because inspiration is important.)

  8. Amen! What a great read and so very true. Congrats to you and your thousands of books sold – writing a book is a great feat, selling even just one? Phenomenal.

  9. Bad reviews? Just say thank you and go on with your work. If what they say actually tries to improve you, maybe you can incorporate it in your work. If it just tears you down, then ignore and move on.

    The author tried to argue? Maybe the author is new?

  10. Thanks Claudia and Michelle!

    Marilag- Yes, I believe the author was very new.

  11. I believe there is something else that authors need to take into consideration. WE are also the product in how we conduct ourselves and react to people (readers) around us. Regardless of a review, and yes, there are individuals who deliberately trash books, we, the authors, must maintain a level of dignity. Bite the tongue, shrug it off, and move forward. Not everyone will like the same books, but people DO remember temper tantrums and that makes it harder to find others to review books. Our reputations do precede us.

    Great post!

    Leonard D. Hilley II

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