Independents Supporting Independents and Trying Not to Suck

I am an independent author/publisher. Some will call that “self-published,” which is accurate. But I actually have an imprint (SAME ink), one I started in 2006. Back then, the choice to go out on your own was still considered “vanity press”, working with the likes of iUniverse or Lulu. It was something that suggested you were a subpar writer, turned down by even the smallest of publishers and failed to accept your lot as a talentless hack who would rather pay/lose good money self-publishing than let your writer dream die.

Some still hold that belief.

I’m just really independent. I was never turned down by a publisher because I never sought it out. When I saw all the work involved in getting an agent and writing a book proposal and how small the advances were and that I would indeed have to keep my day job while working with an editor to mold the book to fit with a certain demographic, then argue over cover art and still not have the book out for over a year (or more), waiting even longer than that before I’d see any royalties (if there were any to be had), I would rather just save the headache and do it myself.

And so I did.

The world was smaller back then. I was able to get my first book into Virgin Megastores and a few Barnes & Nobles as well as on Amazon. Cosmo quoted me and independent bookstores placed orders. The book was profitable and popular but then the economy crashed, bookstores closed, and I went off to work on other creative endeavors.

Ten years later, when I released my first novel, a lot had changed.

Since then, I’ve been studying the independent book world more. As one who is not a genre writer, there are a few more challenges in getting my books noticed. I am but a chick lit drop in the Women’s Fiction bucket. Still, with the release of my fourth book/second novel, I’ve come to believe that the only upside to having a traditional publisher is an inroad into bookstores.

Bookstores are tough!

I get it. In all fairness, they have a limited amount of shelf space and it’s hard to hold a spot for someone who is not a big name. But one would hope that local independent bookstores would be more open to and supportive of local independent authors, whether that “independence” comes from a smaller press or those self-published. And perhaps many are.

But I live in Los Angeles.

Getting your book in (on consignment) is possible. Getting an event to promote that book is a reach. Again, I get it. Who am I? But even when I’ve pitched events with authors who are established, with the likes of Random House behind them, I’ve been turned down. Usually, it’s because it’s not for a new release. “It’s hard to get readers in for something that isn’t,” I've been told. Besides, they are busy preparing for Chelsea Clinton’s in-store. An author event for someone like me is more trouble than it’s worth.

That’s their assumption.

In a place like Los Angeles, where books are regularly turned into movies or a television series, a lot of folks wait for the adaptation. Those who do “read” listen to audiobooks on their commutes. Others keep their tomes on their tablets. There are a few who’ve forgotten independent bookstores still exist, believing that Barnes & Noble ate them all. Even niche stores who are wildly popular don’t have the market cornered.

A friend, having driven by the shop multiple times, thought The Ripped Bodice sold lingerie.

So, even in a small town like Los Angeles, there’s a reason for local independent bookstores to work with local independent authors because we do have something to offer.

New customers.

While bookstores may presume that smaller authors are hoping to benefit from their clientele list, we have lists, too. Indie authors are pretty good at promoting ourselves. Fans and friends who want to support us would love to support you in return!

But that seems not to occur to them.

These bookstores have their relationships with publicists, their calendars set with bigger names from bigger presses. It’s an understandable business decision to ignore local authors, but one that should be reconsidered.

All it does is force local authors to turn to the likes of Amazon.

Today on Twitter, Nick Petrulakis called out authors for only linking to Amazon when announcing their pre-orders in a wonderfully on-point thread, starting with:

Authors — I love you all, I do. But when your Book is about to come out and you ask people to preorder the Book but you only link to Ama*on?
You suck.

Amazon serves as a double-edged sword. It is all sorts of evil, especially to independent authors (scratch that; especially to its employees). Amazon is known to change its algorithms on a whim and always in a manner that hurts indie sales. But it’s where people shop, a way to reach readers around the world and, more importantly, it’s a place for folks to leave and read reviews.

(It also pays $0 in Federal taxes.)

I have always encouraged readers (be it on my website or social posts) to support indies all around. I do link to IndieBound! I do remind readers that you can get ebooks from local independent booksellers!

But even IndieBound isn’t promoting indie authors.

Imagine my naïve excitement when I saw IndieBound’s link to Indie Bestsellers. How wonderful, I thought, to find a place that susses out independent and small press books, and shines a light on the best and the brightest! Then I clicked on it.

It’s all big-name authors from big-name publishers.

Same with the Indie Next List. And — yes, again — I get it. Bookselling is a tough game and they have to go toe-to-toe with Amazon, too. But where is the indie spirit in that? If it’s all big names, where do independent authors go?

Back to Amazon.

Bestselling author or newbie independent, a book sale is a book sale, no? To a bookseller, yes. To an independent author, not really. If we are able to corral our sales (pre or otherwise) into one place, it seems bigger — not just to us, but to readers who look at rankings and reviews.

Reviews help authors sell more books.

Without a machine behind us, indie authors have a tougher time getting legit reviews. We can pay for them (why?) or we can trust actual readers to share their true feelings with the world. And where do most people go to read book reviews?

Amazon reader reviews.

Do we see the problem here yet? Well, I have a solution. It’s a bold request, one that would cost a bit of money to do but would end up benefiting all involved — IndieBound, independent bookstores, independent authors, small press publishers and book lovers:

Give readers a place on IndieBound to review books.

I know! Why didn’t you think of that?! Maybe you did, but why didn’t you do it? Think about it: Local independent bookstores would have a link on their websites to connect the reader/reviewer to IndieBound (giving the bookstore a shout-out/store link on the review). Readers would be able to rate and share their insights on the book (something they kind of love to do and don’t usually get to when buying from an indie store). Reviews help authors’ sales and would likely drive more readers to those local independent bookstores when the book is searched for on Google and/or shared on author websites and social posts. Not to mention all the hits IndieBound would get!

Who needs Amazon?!

Well, until that time, Nick and IndieBound, authors do. Especially independent ones. The real reason authors push Amazon for pre-sales is not because they suck; it’s because those sales have the likelihood of turning into reviews, something that local independent bookstores don’t offer. Something IndieBound does not offer. Not even Nick’s store offers! And you know what?

That sucks!