Indie News Beat with Chris James

IU Ace Reporter Chris James

The big publishing story over the last few weeks has undoubtedly been the sock-puppet scandal. First broken by the New York Times, suddenly we were drowning in stories, articles and opinions from it seemed everyone in publishing. But just as suddenly as the elephant in the room was acknowledged, so it disappeared.

The general outrage that a few bad apples in the Indie movement would actually pay for multiple, glowing reviews on Amazon, soon diffused when stories appeared reporting that some mainstream authors were also not averse to puffing their own work, while sticking the knife into their competitors. Likely the mainstream authors will suffer more in the short term, given their higher profile, but all this summer flurry really did was draw more attention to the intense competition on Amazon, and the shortfalls of its rating and review system.

Some suggested their own solution. Writing in Forbes, David Vinjamuri made three predictions, one of which was that a reliable, independent review site for Indie books must emerge soon. He likened this need to Rotten Tomatoes in the film world, and listed a few sites that are already doing their best to become known for carrying book reviews that are more reliable than Amazon’s.

However, the links in this article show that the issue of paid reviews will not easily be resolved. If an outfit like Krikus can charge Indies $425 to review their book, will that review be any more valuable than a review from Self-Publishing Review for a mere $75? That something needs to be done to help readers navigate the publishing revolution is not in doubt, but what hope can there be for quality when it’s already clear that those with the deepest pockets will get the most attention?

Vinjamuri’s other predictions included a neat contradiction. On the one hand, he says, mainstreams will use Indies as a “minor league” and pick up those authors who show that they can build an audience themselves. On the other hand, he also predicts that mid-list authors will ditch their mainstreams and enjoy the economic benefits of being Indie.

There’s only one flaw here: will the mainstreams let this happen? To put it another way, if an Indie builds up a readership of thousands him/herself, why go mainstream at all (apart from validation – maybe – and to get hardcopies in bricks & mortar stores)? And if a mainstream picks up an Indie on the basis of potential alone, wouldn’t it want to tie the Indie in contractual knots to prevent the Indie from ditching the mainstream as soon as a readership had been established? The answers to these and similar questions remain firmly in the future.

More predictions of how publishing will change were forthcoming from Forbes, this time in a piece by Nick Morgan, who claims that mainstreams have one chance left to survive: to form a relationship with readers, rather than merely authors and distributors. If they don’t, he says, they are doomed.

In addition, Morgan notes that the other winners will be the “new, hybrid” publishing companies that offer Indies a complete publishing package. They don’t pay the author an advance; indeed, the author pays them for services rendered. Now, I don’t know which companies Morgan had in mind, but to my jaded eyes he was describing what I’ve always known to be called vanity publishers, who charge the desperate author thousands for a few copies and do nothing else. Apparently, today they’re called “smart and modern self-publishing companies”. Okay, if you insist.

Elsewhere in the media, the resourcefulness of Independent Authors has been in ample evidence recently. In an ingenious ploy, one Indie in the UK went into his local branch of Waterstone’s to leave business cards lying around which encouraged shoppers to go home, log on to Amazon, and buy his book from there (clever, eh?).

The Waterstone’s staff found the cards and told him that they had removed them. Soon, however, one-star reviews started turning up on his book’s Amazon page. On investigation, it transpired that these reviews were being posted by an aggrieved member of Waterstone’s staff. By way of an apology, Waterstone’s then agreed to carry the Indie’s book on its own e-book site. Alas, things are not going well for the hapless author, as now someone from Waterstone’s is pushing the “unhelpful” buttons on his book’s positive reviews. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

25 thoughts on “Indie News Beat with Chris James”

    1. The odd thing about the Waterstone’s story is that they say they will support local Indie authors if the author asks nicely. A little flattery can go a long way…

  1. Thanks for bringing us up to date, Chris. It feels like the shortcuts are being eliminated and hopefully, things are becoming more transparent, and in the end, that’s good for readers and authors. I look forward to your future posts.

  2. Man, that Waterstone’s employee is cranky, huh? lol

    I think there might be room for a company that did “new, hybrid” publishing in a fair and above-board way, by becoming a shop that simply sells competent book editing and formatting, as well as cover art, and tells the author it’s up to them to market it. Yeah, I know — I don’t expect this to happen any time soon, either.

    1. I think it’s the nature of the business – you’re always going to have people who see the chance to make some easy money from a ‘smuck’. The vanity publishers of yore have got to go somewhere, after all.

    1. Thanks, brother. As soon as I come across some good news, I’ll be sure to write it up 😉

  3. It’s the book review issue that causes me the most angst right now (though of course down the line, if I hope to publish any of my writing, all of this will be of concern). I just don’t like the idea of paying sites to review books. On the other hand, that fee is perhaps replacing the money spent on marketing and publicity so…is it a tradeoff that is ultimately fair? I don’t know. It’s bloody confusing and, as many have already said, disheartening.

    1. Seems a bit crazy to me, Jo. If you pay $425 for a review of a book you’re selling on Amazon for $2.99, then that review has to be capable of shifting hundreds of copies to pay for itself and justify the outlay. Obviously that is never going to happen, especially after the sock-puppet publicity. It’s not a good state of affairs.

  4. It is sad. There are companies that now are “author services” and charge up front and the author keeps all royalties but the costs I’ve seen so far are outrageous in my opinion for what is offered. I’ve wondered what it would take to create a real author service firm that charged reasonable rates for services that covered administrative costs as well. I know of a couple groups that have found they have the skills but as of yet they are not open to outsiders. I’ve seen a small publisher or two try it but do it poorly and fail. I think in the end we will see real author service companies that are not vanity/gougers but its going to take time and possibly come from an unexpected place… Like a blog with a good following or an agent who handles a lot of mid-list authors.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tasha. I do feel that at the moment it is very difficult to tell who is genuine and who is not. I think the safest way forward for any new author is to do it piecemeal: pay one person for story editing, another for proofreading, another for the cover. At least that way you’d know what you’re getting for your money. To give the whole package of services to one entity for a fee is too close to vanity publishing.

  5. Thanks Chris. If not for IU I probably wouldn’t know even 1/10th of all this stuff. I’m still sitting firmly on the reader’s side of the fence but I’m already worried. Marketing is not my forte and I can’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me, yet even if I did… who on earth would I trust? It’s a puzzlement. 🙂 Sorry, my favourite line from the King and I.

    1. You’re welcome, acflory. I feel pretty much the same way about IU as well. I’ve tried all kinds of marketing tricks with my own books but none of them really work. There’s tons of advice out there, however. We have our own success stories here at IU, so I think a good place to start is to see how they made it work for them 🙂

  6. I leave my cards in Airport toilets – maybe someone will give me a free flight to stop doing it!
    Very good article Chris. It’s tough being an author, isn’t it? We have to keep coming up with more and more ingenious ways to get our books noticed. I’m all for trying new tactics. Feel sorry for that author though.

    1. Carol, I think you could give a master class on what to do when you release a book – the things you’ve been doing with Surfing in Stilettos have been amazing. I don’t know where you find the time! But I for one would certainly listen to any suggestions you make 😉

  7. Great post, Chris, I agree totally. I don’t know what the answer is either, obviously, or I would have it working for me right now. And I would, just as obviously, share it with my fellow brother and sister Indies here at IU. I’ll keep looking, searching, probing, and I will find it: the map through the minefield. Meanwhile we’ll keep doing what it is that we do.

    Power to you Chris. Indies rule!

    1. Thanks, TD. We just have to keep our eyes open and see what’s going to happen – things will go on changing, that much is certainy 🙂

  8. Loved the article, and thanks for sharing the link. An author with the bollocks to leave little notes in a bookstore urging people to purchase his book on Amazon… brilliant! Yes, he had to put up with a few phony negative reviews and such, but the publicity is priceless.

    1. On the surface, yes, although I’m not sure how many sales that publicity will get him. I read quite a few stories Guardian Books and wonder what strings were pulled, because they seem pretty lame for “news” value but do a good job of promoting the author.

  9. If our readers only knew how much we have to suffer through to get our little pieces of literary treasure into their hands…oh well. All we can do is to make sure we put the best possible product out there, without driving ourselves NUTS over it. If ew can’t give ourselves a break, who will…surely not that turd at Waterstone. That turkey should be fired.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Linda. It’s true that we have to work hard but we also have to work smart. Local bookshops will support local authors, but maybe we need to ask nicely? That Indie didn’t deserve what he got, but he didn’t do himself any favours, either.

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