It’s a crazy book-buying world we live in right now. Far from the days where we’d have to travel to a store and purchase a physical product, we now have access to millions of books at the tap of a finger. For those of us who still prefer paper and ink (let’s face it, most of us do even if we’ve moved on to a hybrid of physical and e-book), we can order from websites halfway across the universe and have them delivered in a week.
Just as our purchasing options have increased, so to have authors publishing options. No longer confined to submitting to the gatekeepers and restricted to tight criteria (those that add up to maximum sales) or prohibitively expensive self-publishing costs, authors can now easily create saleable products at no cost to them other than what they choose to spend on editing and cover design.
What does this mean for the consumer? Ultimately, more choice. That urban fantasy with an ‘unsaleable’ gay protagonist? The wheelchair-bound superhero who might only appeal to a narrow audience? You’ve now got a much higher chance of that book getting to print.
Costs are dropping too. Because Indie publishers make a much higher percentage of each book sale (and maintain their own rights, along with other benefits), most charge a lot less per book than major publishing houses- who are now also starting to drop prices a little to stay competitive.
This sounds like god news for readers, right? Well, yeah. For the most part. It comes with a drawback though- by removing the gatekeepers, any author can now publish anything. Literally anything. A one-page ‘book’ consisting of incomprehensible words can be sold as a self-published e-book if you boil it down.
This means that readers are getting caught out. They’re buying books that… well, they’re not that good. They feel ripped off, and burned, and they stop giving indie authors a shot. In some ways, it’s just not fair- not on the authors and not on the readers. Rather than ditch self-published authors completely though, there are ways to seek out excellent quality books and reduce your risk.
- Read the preview. Seriously, read it! If it’s riddled with errors that suggest an editor hasn’t been used, if the style or flow don’t suit your taste, if you just plain don’t like it… don’t buy it. Save your money and support someone you’ll love. The upshot is that it’ll encourage that author to write more of the stuff you got so much enjoyment out of.
- Unsure about the preview or it’s unavailable? Read the reviews. Read them with a critical eye- if an author has only a handful of reviews and they’re all gushing, 5 star ratings it’s entirely possible that all those reviews are from friends and family. Though Amazon is trying to crack down on those gaming the system like this, try for a book that has a lot of reviews, or a balance of insightful, less-than-five-star write ups. If a book got 3 stars because it has too much prose and you LIKE a lot of prose, that can be more useful than the traditional ‘5 stars because it’s just really good’
- Check the authors website and social media. This can give you a clue as to their leanings, writing voice and personality. Though this doesn’t guarantee their fiction-writing voice will be the same, it does give you a feel for the person writing it. Someone who goes on a four page tirade because they got one less-than-stellar review? Yeah, that arrogance might come through in the book as well.
- Read Indie Review sites. There are so many out there, both on websites and as podcasts or youtube channels. Find a couple you like and follow them. It can be a bit of trial and error- some reviewers will only be out to support friends- others will give a 5-star review to anyone who pays for it. Make sure they have a balance of good and bad with each review and that the things they rate highly are the ones you care about.
- Buy from a site with a refund policy. Most major book retailers like Amazon will let you return a book within a certain time if you don’t like it. Easy as that. The other option is signing up for a subscription service like Amazon Prime or Overdrive (where I am, it’s available through my local library’ that allows you to ‘borrow’ e-books for free.
Authors decide to go down the self-publishing route for many reasons. Sure, sometimes it’s because they can’t get traditionally published; but other times, it’s so they have creative control over their work, or because they have an excellent book that only has a small target audience. Sometimes it’s about money- self-publishing is fast and a prolific writer can often make a lot more by pumping out novels a few times a year under a self-publishing setup than by waiting for publishers to release books annually. As long as they’ve done the work, sourced quality editors and beta readers, invested in quality art and formatting and produced a quality piece of writing, indie authors are well worth your support.
Go on, buy an indie book today.