Kristine Kathryn Rusch on indie books:

In that old book of criticism, Lewis was justifying the fiction that he wrote. He didn’t like the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” fiction, choosing instead to label readers “unliterary” or “literary” depending on the kind of attention they pay to the texts in front of them. (If the reader read solely for pleasure, and did not reread books, they were generally unliterary.)

This snobbishness permeated the industry. The snobbishness went all the way into business practices and marketing, in contracts and in expectations. Paperbacks were considered disposable. Hardbacks were not. The returns system in the U.S. was predicated on that. Hardbacks required full copy returns, and if the books were damaged, then they would not count against a bookstore’s bill. Paperbacks were mutilated, the covers returned only, so that the book could be thrown away.

Contracts and deals reflected the perceived ephemeral nature of the material, and writers often fell prey to it. They signed deals that would be ludicrous if anyone had thought more than two years head.

The attitude was that nothing good could come from disposable products, even though the paper books often outsold hardcovers by literary (and accepted) writers by ten to one (and sometimes by 100 to one).

Here’s the thing, though: the only way to become a remembered author who survives the test of time is to influence a lot of readers. If a “good” novel has a 5,000 copy print run and sells out, and a “bad” novel has a 50,000 copy print run and sells out, guess which one has the better chance of being remembered? The one with tens of thousands of readers, not the one with only 5,000.

Books with a lot of readers tend not to be the critical darlings of the day. They tend to be the books that get the most word of mouth, books that are passed from hand to hand to hand or written up the most in blogs or discussed by savvy readers everywhere.

How do you become one of those writers?

 

The thing is…the books that often stick in the memory of the reading public are books that surprise in some way or counter expectations or make the reader lose a few hours of sleep because the reader can’t put the book down.

Those books aren’t manufactured and fussed over and edited to death. They weren’t written to be judged, as literary novels often are. Those books weren’t written to impress. They were written because they had to be, or because the author needed to eat. The author wrote it, someone published it, and then both moved on—even though the readers didn’t.

Indie writers are doing the same thing right now. They’re writing what they love. A few are still writing what they think will sell, although that trend seems to be moving past us now. (Thank God). Most writers are simply trying to put food on the table so they don’t have to go back to the day job.

Traditional publishers, whose sales are continuing to decline and whose revenue is spiraling downward, keep trying to justify their curation services. Want to know if your book is any good? The traditional publishers say. We’ll let you know that—forgetting, of course, that readers decide what’s good and what’s not.

It’s very threatening to someone “in charge” to see that others, unapproved others, are more successful, particularly if they’re publishing or writing or creating in a method that’s hard to control. Indie writers are very hard to control. They can put up their own books. They can write against the prescribed rules. They can fly in the face of popular wisdom.

[Via]

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