Moving the Velvet Rope – by Stephen Hise

There are and have long been exclusive clubs. Some exert their exclusivity through means of social status or wealth. That’s why Cousin Eddie won’t be seen golfing at Snobmore Country Club. Others use the velvet rope and a bouncer who makes the individual decision as to whether someone is cool enough to get in. Often, the decisions of the bouncer seem enigmatic, capricious, and objectionable to those on the wrong side of the velvet rope.

That model of exclusivity is the one used (or perhaps imposed) by the traditional publishing industry. Their idea being to preserve the integrity of the written word by selectively choosing those who would produce the written word. What a great idea. I wonder how that worked out.

Now that whole system is in disarray and scrambling for its very survival. A part of this great indie revolution is that writers who were once shunned and rebuffed by the old-guard gatekeepers for traditional publishing now have the opportunity to put their work directly before readers with no intermediary. The velvet rope is essentially gone.

Traditional publishers of course bemoan the lack of quality control in such a system. Some in the indie community express concern as well. The freedom of the indie movement, and the absence of the velvet rope, has allowed some work of strikingly poor quality to reach the public’s eyes. Some indies fear, and most traditional publishers hope, that readers will paint all indies with the same broad brush based on these flawed works. Anecdote suggests some readers do just that. But anecdote is not data.

Freedom entails some amount of chaos. Order requires tyranny. The ultimate irony of the supposed order of tyranny though is that the trains still do not run on time. All the awful sins of typos, spelling errors, word misusage and poor grammar the traditional publishers use to impugn indie writers are sins of which they themselves were guilty. The “Big Six” did not keep bad books off the market, they just made sure the bad books cost readers more.

After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, there were and still are those who are confused and frustrated with the chaos of freedom and nostalgically idealize the sense that at least somebody was in control in the old order.

Just so, there are some within the indie community who did not mind the idea of the velvet rope – they just thought they were placed on the wrong side of it. They feel what is really needed is a new velvet rope that would include them and perhaps a few other worthies among the chosen and somehow set their exemplary works apart from that of the riff-raff. Work is already in progress in some reaches of the indie community to establish a means of judging “quality” indie writing and to establish an imprimatur that will separate that which is adjudged good and proper from the rest. A new velvet rope. What a great idea. I wonder how that will work out.

It just may be that what the old-line publishers (and even some in the indie community) perceive as weakness is actually a strength.

The old model was exclusive. That means that some people who should have had the opportunity to be published were not, because the system was designed not to seek out the “talented,” but to keep out the “untalented.” If a few worthies were overlooked or fell by the wayside, so what? Let them eat cake.

The indie movement is inclusive. That means some people who produced really inferior books are published right alongside everyone else. It also means that absolutely everyone who should be published is published. No one is left behind.

There are indie writers who fear their own glistening diamonds may be too hard for readers to find among the truckloads of coal produced by others. While being one among millions may make it harder to find your magnum opus than if it were one among mere thousands, perhaps blaming the numbers is to seize upon flimsy pretext. If every book produced by every indie author were stellar, your stellar book would still be one among millions. To complain about the numbers belies an underlying urge to simplify the problem by eliminating some choices. It reveals a prejudice against readers, a belief that they cannot be relied upon to properly choose what they should read. Ultimately, it is an accord with the paradigm of the velvet rope.

Is it not just as likely that to the extent our books have any difficulty finding their ways into the hands of readers the difficulty is attributable to the lack of a comprehensive and concentrated marketing strategy? Is this not one of the principal advantages that the old-line publishers purported to offer?

Rather than floundering in a sea of books, perhaps we are floundering in a sea of social media, treading water while we wait for the rescue boat of well-deserved fame to save us from drowning in obscurity. Waiting to be rescued is a passive strategy. Let’s be active. Instead of concentrating our energies on re-creating new, improved models of failed approaches, let us move to develop new and innovative marketing strategies to help connect readers with the amazing array of talent in the indie community. Then relax and let the readers choose. The market will adjust organically without artificial and external interference, and writers who do not produce quality work simply will not prosper – no velvet ropes needed.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

29 thoughts on “Moving the Velvet Rope – by Stephen Hise”

  1. You nailed it, Stephen. And, in my opinion, thorough and independent reviews are key to weeding out those who eventually will not prosper. Never giving a 5 to a real 3 just because we're friends with the author. What's worse, finding out you've got a dud after months of seeing nothing but 5s or getting the truth up front and getting the opportunity to correct what's wrong with your grand opus before making a total fool of yourself in front of the world. (I'm remembering that adage about no one knowing your a fool until you open your mouth…and I add, writing it down for the whole world to see.)

    As writers, we have an obligation to put forth our very best efforts. As readers, we have the same obligation to put forth our most accurate and informative reviews.

    1. Thanks Linda. I hope that indies have learned a lesson from our experience on the wrong side of the velvet rope. We need to help each other. There are standards for good writing and to the extent any of us fall short, we need resources, education, mentoring and encouragement – not exclusion.

      Insofar as there are some bad indie writers out there, I hope we will all do our parts to help them improve rather than disowning them.

      The passion to write should be applauded and encouraged. I don't know who among us has the right to say to another, "You just don't have it, kid."

  2. Well said, Stephen.

    Interesting use of the velvet rope there to demarcate exclusivity, given your reference to the fall of the 'communism' in Eastern Europe — this is our velvet revolution, after all.

    The Big Six, like big corporates in any sector, are the equivalent of the Soviet Union, they just use different rhetoric in their CSR mission statements.

    Let 'em fall and create the space for new literary life to grow and flourish.

  3. But I like velvet … And leather and satin and lace … Oh we were not talking about that!

    Avant-garde

    n.

    A group active in the invention and application of new techniques in a given field, especially in the arts.

    There is a host of metaphors I can use here. I do agree it is time for those diamonds to go and show themselves off. Build a rocket ship out of social media networks and bloggers then aim for those stars

  4. Eloquently and powerfully stated. Velvet ropes are placed out of fear – fear that the "wrong" people will "get in." No one in the Indie community should have the RIGHT to decide who is "wrong." That's why we're Indies. Eventually, the weaker works will drop off, and the strongest will rise to the top. It's a revolution to be celebrated, not controlled.

  5. Totally nailed it, Stephen. This topic has been on my mind for a while. You're right. We need a different approach, and we need to encourage each other to be our best. Our own "vetting" process that doesn't exist by exclusion. That doesn't seek to play on our insecurities.

    Hmm…

  6. Well said, Stephen! Your references to the "velvet rope" are apropos. Traditional publishing is guilty of the same "sins" they condemn indies for and you are so right in stating indies need to look to the future of how to find new modes of marketing in the coming new world of publishing. Your observations are continually spot on. Thanks for sharing, once again.

  7. We live in a time when old ways are falling and new ones have not found their ground yet. Transitions always involve a certain amount of chaos before they wear into a new groove. But all grooves are also double edged swords. No system is perfect. That is why we have a love/hate relationship with gatekeepers, with the holders of the velvet rope. They are both necessary and dangerous.

    1. I think the love/hate relationship is borne out of fear of the gatekeepers' power – the power to include and exclude. They have no intrinsic worth other than that we give them.

  8. Perfectly said, Stephen! I've been giving much thought, and speaking out amongst the online troupes about this exact topic. I’m an aspiring writer and reviewer, but foremost, I'm a reader with large concerns for the Indie World. Many writers ask for reviews, which I don't mind doing. If I read a book and find it interesting, engaging, well written, and see that the writer at least attempted to choose correct grammar and punctuation, I have no problem giving them their due; a review outlining many highlights, as well as speaking to the writer's ability to capture and keep my attention from cover to cover.

    Flip-side: I read a new e-book and find it lacking, I mean really, really lacking, I can't, in good conscience, do a review on their book. I've tried to do reviews on some works that don't even rank a 2, but I cannot make myself. Call me a sucker, but that's my problem. The saddest part here; some of the really lacking e-books are truly some of the best ‘ideas’ I’ve ever read. If they would only slow down, get help, (which is available for free), and be patient, those writers could go all the way.

    That is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems; so many are in too big a rush to hit that 'Publish' button, but they're doing it far too prematurely. What I've also been seeing much of lately is; the writers are leaving the first, "broken" – if you will – published piece out for sale, and redoing it in private so they can do a rerelease once they feel all the problems are fixed. Then, upon rereleasing it, the writers are changing the title, cover art, etc., and essentially making it 'seem' like a new book. I do wish them well…

    I'm nobody to say what is or isn't the right way, but I’m taking as long as needed to perfect my work before any releasing, which would be my top piece of advice; do it right the first time. Once you've had a few readers view your work at its worst, they may never look at anything written by you, again. I want my readers to 'want' my work, and everything I write for the span of my writing career.

    I love words, (obviously :D) so I'll continue to filter through all the coal until I hopefully find a handful of diamonds, all the while dodging those velvet ropes as best I can… 😀

  9. Hi, Stephen: Interestingly, in just the last couple of weeks, I have seen a number of new organizations on your side of the fence, as it were, supporting indie writers and their publishing. While none come at it from exactly the same angle, they all have the same goal: Not to weed out the grasses, but to recognize and bring credibility to the beautiful foxglove and poppies growing wild amidst the grasses (a common sight here in the Pacific Northwest). I sincerely hope that these organizations, including your own, will be able to work, not as competitors, but as collaborators (in the first meaning of the word, according to Merriam-Webster: "to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor."

    1. You are right, Julia, cooperation and mutual support in working toward the same goals – that's what we all have to remember. Let us all be open to new ideas and innovation in addressing the needs of the indie community. Thanks much for your comment!

  10. Well said, Stephen, and a wonderful analogy regarding the rope. A third angle…those "publishers" charging a ton of money to get published are akin to the clubs with a cover charge, except the clubs, at least, have a bar.

  11. Steve–Excellent post. This is such a double-edged sword. Indie writers need the support of others, but I find it extremely difficult to (honestly)review someone's work when it's obvious it needs "more" work. I cringe at the amount of poor spelling and grammar that can now be found in e-publishing and which could easily be picked up by finding a few friends to read/edit the work before publishing it. Why is everyone so frantic to see their work in print?

    1. You are quite right Judy, and a lot of these authors hit publish before they have a real opportunity to interact with the vast support network of other indies out here – or even just the knowledge that such a supportive community exists.

  12. Brilliant post Hise. Exclusivity is a dangerous game. You illustrated the reasons very well. Leveling the playing field is always a good thing…cause that dude who's too dorky to get into the club can sometimes dance like a mofo. Nice work brother.

  13. The velvet rope is a great metaphor, but it does not apply to what we at indiePENdents.org are groping with. No, we are not trying to keep any independent author out; we do not propose to stop anyone from publishing. Our statement of purpose is very clear:, we are working on developing a way to allow us to include in and praise works which do not suffer from what Stephen himself calls "awful sins"

    It would be a disservice to the indie community to shut down an idea, before it even has a chance of being developed, on how to defend ourselves from a perception caused by the trash floating around and sharing the independent name.. What indiePENdents.org is proposing is to allow talent to be recognized in a sea of mediocrity or plain bad writing. Stephen, as I proposed to you, let us all work together on a system to tell the world which books are "fly-by-night" and which are at the least not illiterate.

    The status quo is an anarchy, a free-for-all which gives the indies a black eye. We should be positive in giving each other a hand to achieve this goal in the interest of us all.

    1. Exactly, Jasha. The emphasis should definitely be on giving each other a hand. I propose we work to help each other improve as writers.

      It is true that some people will be either unwilling or unable to produce quality writing. Some of these still may be great writers with enough support and encouragement.

      We cannot allow ourselves the moral excess of proclaiming that our work fails to achieve its proper recognition because it is conflated unfairly with that of some others.

      Let us each do all we can to shine the light on the exemplars of the indie community. To that end, I certainly applaud the work of organizations such as yours to the extent that they have taken the initiative to do so.

  14. Well, yes, marketing requires innovation, tenacity, and, most of all, follow-up … three skills I'm remarkable short of … good thing I don't mind lacing up my golf shoes in the parking lot of the local muni.

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