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Indie Publishing: The good, the bad, and the downright hideous

Greetings everyone,

This blog post has been a long time coming. Heck, any blogs from me have been a long time coming, but *cough* I digress. This is something that I have been commenting on in various Facebook groups, and quite passionately so.

Let’s discuss publishing, and in this case, indie publishing. Although, truth be told, I’ll be touching on both. I will hold no punches in what I am about to say, so brace yourself… reality is coming.

I’m sure you have all heard of indie publishing. Heck, it’s probably why you’re here right now, right? Because you’re an indie author, an aspiring author, or maybe you’re a traditionally published author, and you’re just curious as to what this post is about. Or maybe you just stumbled here, or like funny animated GIFs. In any case, welcome 🙂

As a side note, there is a really good blog about the ugly truths about book sales, and it follows a traditionally published author. But again, I digress.

Back on topic. Indie publishing is essentially self-publishing, but with less stigma.

We live in a wonderful world of technology, where you can surpass the traditional publishing world to publish your amazing novels that should be best-sellers in the NY Times and take over the world! I mean, it’s the stuff of dreams, right?

Yes, it sure is the stuff made of dreams. So, you can now publish your own book! That manuscript that you slaved over, finished so proudly, and are ready to share with readers world-wide, can now be released!

Sadly, so can the rest of the writing planet. And as you will discover, the indie publishing world is filled with manuscripts that are rushed, jam-packed full of errors, have terrible book covers, have been proof-read by a writer’s friends, family, and co-workers… so it’s sure to be a hit, and BAM! They are a published author.

Problem: You’re now competing with a sea of published works that should never see the light of day.

You see, the big issue with indie publishing is that there are NO QUALITY CONTROLS.

Yes, you heard me. You can, in theory, publish a steaming pile of excrement, with a cover of actual excrement. And NOBODY WILL STOP YOU. After that, you are competing in the same sea of crap, against the minority of authors who actually publish commercially viable work.

Because the majority of indie authors I have seen do NOT take the steps necessary to do this. I have a solid group of authors that do, mind you, and god bless the fact that many of us care about quality. However, they are a minority number compared to the masses that self publish every day.

In fact, I will challenge you. Sign up to some of the many free ebook aggregator sites, then you will notice that most free ebooks are indie, and they are running promotions. Go ahead and grab a heap of them. Open and read the first few pages. Now, as a writer who appreciates quality work, I will be SERIOUSLY surprised if most of them don’t make you look like this:

Shit Indie books EVERYWHERE


This is why I posted a long time ago, about making your manuscript publishable. It is an older version of my methods, but most principals still apply.

Let me make this very clear to every indie author out there, who is going to publish books, or already has. And no, I will NOT bullshit you.

If you are going to publish a book:

1) Make sure it is of actual commercial quality. Yes, this means editing it. Yes, this means getting DECENT proofreaders/beta readers. Yes, this means you should get a professional editor. However, if you cannot afford a professional editor, then you can do your best to better your work with a bigger team of proofreaders. It will not be the same, but that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. Yes, this means having the patience to get it right BEFORE publishing

2) Do the work required to make it publishable, from the results of step 1. Do NOT just publish it to “update it later”

3) Get a professional book cover. Yes, really. It matters. People DO judge books by their covers. If it looks like it was slapped together in paint, then the likelihood is that the internals will be too. If you cannot afford a professional book cover, then download a free image editor like Photoshop CS2, GIMP, etc, and start googling tutorials. Then spend a long amount of time googling commercial covers to give you ideas. Hard work, remember?

4) Spend the time to build relationships online. They matter. How you talk to other writers, readers, and groups…. matters. These people are your market, your possible readers, and are there for you to engage

5) Make a marketing plan. Yes, you are going to have to market your own book. This is going to take HARD WORK. There is no other way around this. This means talking to people, this means getting involved with groups, and this means genuinely caring about other people

6) Listen to feedback. Ideally, you have already done this during steps 1-2. But if you have gotten this far, and have started to get reviews, and they are critical… then open your ears to what is being said. Not everyone is a “hater”, and generally speaking, you need to embrace criticism. If you can’t, then you are in the wrong business. As writers, we need to hear what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.

7) More than anything, be prepared to WORK YOUR ASS OFF on everything that you do.

When you publish a book, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The market is harder now than it has ever been, because we are swamped with crap, but we also have a higher number of decent authors who compete for the same market!

You need to differentiate yourself. Be the great author with a social media platform that engages with their market / peers. You’re not going to magically attract readers, and when you do, you don’t want them to find a manuscript that gets destroyed in critical reviews.

Indie publishing is NOT an excuse to be lazy and publish sub-standard books. Apply strong quality guidelines to your work and aim to make your books comparable to those by some of the best authors out there, like Stephen King, J K Rowling, Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, and endless others. They all work their asses off on their books, and if you want to call yourself an author, in the same light as the big names, then start acting like them.

Just doing this until you’re done writing, and then doing some basic editing doth NOT an author make, even if indie publishing channels won’t stop you.


Because if you can’t work hard enough to make your work of a commercial quality and worthy of publishing, then why should any agent/publisher be interested in you or your work? And why should readers want to read your stories?

If you already do all of these best principles, and are doing your best… Then welcome to the club of decent indie authors. We need as many of you in the market as we can get.

All thoughts and comments are welcome.

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  1. Also, build anticipation before publishing date and make sure you get lots of good reviews in the first weeks, otherwise your book is going to end up unknown in the mass of mediocre Indie books. Great article, Peter.

    • Absolutely 🙂 anticipation is important, as is building a following. It was hard for me to do that when I had not published any books yet. That changed quickly.

  2. I agree- you’re spot on here! US author Chuck Wendig described the issue of anybody being able to self-pub – so they do – as producing a ‘shit volcano’. And as you say, it’s multiplied the difficulty of being discovered. Kind of weird: the hurdle that authors used to rail against – entering the publishing industry – has gone, only to be replaced by one that is as difficult to overcome, perhaps more so. I agree completely with you – commercial quality, backed by professional proof-editing, line-editing, cover artwork and so forth is essential even to self-pubbed books. The problem is paying for it on a self-pub budget; at a time when the average lifetime return on an e-book is US$500-$1000, it’s too easy to spend more than a book will earn on producing it. I expect people might, because the motive to ‘be published’ is higher than the motive to ‘make a living from it’. On the other hand, the existence of the ordure mountain suggests maybe they won’t… 🙂

    The other problem is that even if all this is done, that’s no guarantee of discovery. Despite the adage that quality will out – that it will (if you pardon the phrase, given the metaphor I’m using) float to the top, I suspect that actually the good stuff gets buried, far too often, beneath the rubble. Is there an answer? Not sure. Yet. Other than to keep working and pushing out the good stuff.

    • I love the shit volcano lol agree with everything you said too. It is a tough thing. If we are serious about producing quality books, then we must be prepared to make it so. How we do that can vary wildly, but the money invested should be looked at as a lifetime commitment to our work.

  3. Great points. One doesn’t have to be wealthy to get a decent cover and editing done. Networking and spending enough time on writing related communities in social media opens many doors. People exchange favors and help each other out, there are many starving artists who will do free covers in exchange of critiquing their writing or help promoting their site/book/services (especially if you took the time to build a follower base on social media or have a blog with decent traffic)

    There are many ways to get top notch help, if you don’t have money to invest then you need to invest a lot of time to build connections and also your social media presence.

    • exactly right, Rita 🙂 many ways to get things done. If we are determined, then we can achieve our goals.

  4. Fantastic article, Peter. This aligns perfectly with a discussion in one of my writer groups this morning that was kicked off by the admin. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a member there….

    Re: the starving artist thing. I’m a little edgy about that. I’ve heard a lot of blowback from artists about how they are constantly bombarded for “spec” work. I’ve self-published a couple of short stories, and both have pretty decent artwork that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Instead of buying exclusive rights from the artist, I paid them a right-to-use fee. My fees were in the $25 – $35 (US) range. Deviant Art is a great community for finding this sort of thing.

    Have I made that money back yet? Heck no. But I have a day job, so I look at it as an investment in my “catalog.” It’s nice to have actual published work to flesh out my website, bandy about on social media and so forth. To one of your points, these shorts definitely offer an effective vehicle to introduce people to my work, let them know that I’m an actual writer who can finish a decent story and, hopefully, push my “floater” a little farther toward the top of the pile.



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