Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Indie Publishing & Mutual Backslapping...

The first stories I ever put online were on a site called Authonomy - I was lucky enough to be in from the start and involved in the beta version of it. Initially I thought it was great: I got some feedback from readers on some of my stories (many of which ended up being published in The Other Room) and while it wasn't all good feedback they was all serious comments on my work; people had obviously read the stories and thought about them... The quality of the final version of some of those stories that I have published owes a lot to those initial unknown readers and their feedback, and I offer them honest thanks.

But then... Authonomy started to change. You see, there was an overall 'prize' - to get your manuscript seen by a real-life-honest-to-god editor from the Harper Collins! They'd read, comment on, and maybe even publish, books that got the most 'votes'. Now, I was never really interested in all that - I'm self aware enough to know my stories are unlikely to be favourites for anyone other than a small cult audience. I just wanted to see if some people liked them or not. But as more and more people joined the site, and more and more books were added, the quality of the feedback declined. There was less and less constructive criticism, and more and more of what basically amounted to 'vote my book up and I'll vote yours...'

I gave up on the site and removed my work.

Later, I self-published. I started a blog because of that, and wanted 'followers'. I joined Twitter and wanted even more of them, but....

You can see where this is going, can't you?

Two self pub authors, yesterday.
You see, I just can't do mutual back-slapping, or MBS as I'll call it, to make it sound more like some frightful disease. Not just for moral reasons, but because I'm not actually very good at it. I can't fake enthusiasm, and in my head I know that books aretoo important to do so. Maybe not important to the wider world, but important to me. So I was extremely worried about the self publishing world - would it be like Authonomy all over again?

To an extent yes, but honestly less than I feared (I've mentioned before, I spend half my time worrying about things that never happen...) That is, it goes on, but I haven't had to sully my fingers with it. Fortunately, if you look there's a load of great indie writers out there, so there's no need to fake praise for the rubbish ones. I can just talk about the good ones, many of whom I've mentioned before: Alan Ryker; Zabrina Way; Dan Holloway; Neil Schiller. Iain Rowan who I haven't mentioned yet but is doing the next guest blog spot for me, which I'm thrilled about because his story Lilies is fantastic. And all the others I've mentioned, and those fine writers I've yet to discover.

But one worry, for me and this whole self-publishing lark as a whole, is that it can still look like MBS... Someone puts a review of your book on their blog, so you have a look and say thanks and realise they're a writer too, and you see they have the same tastes as you - of course they have, that's why they liked your book. So they're book appeals and you buy it and like it - of course you do, you share the same tastes! So you review it on your blog... Each step perfectly innocent and above board, but the end result sure looks like MBS doesn't it?

But the alternative, not reviewing and not supporting fellow authors whose work you genuinely admire, seems even more unpalatable. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if your see me praise an author on here, I genuinely mean it.

Honest Guv.

And keeping that spirit in mind, I'd like to say a genuine thank you to Iain Rowan for his review of The Other Room on his blog here.

Also, a sample story from The Other Room is available to read on the ace SelfScribes blog; interspersed with the main stories in the book is some flash fiction under the heading Some Stories For Escapists. This one is the third and subtitled The Haunted House.


Iain said...

You're welcome.

Difficult, isn't it. Praise out of the blue is always great, and for me is one of the things that makes writing so rewarding. Getting an email from a stranger on the other side of the world, who enjoyed what you wrote so much that they took the trouble to write to tell you - it's fantastic, and keeps me going when things aren't going so well and rejections come rolling in.

But just as valuable is having people that will read your work and then - with the best intentions - tear it to bits. Who will critique, rather than flatter. And if that crit is harsh, well, it's because they think the work needs it. I was lucky enough to have people who would do that when I started writing, and value it still. It stung at times, but I learned so much, and still benefit from that kind of honesty. And that's one of the best things we can give each other as writers, I think. Honesty.

The opening of the gates created by electronic publishing is a good thing, and I like the romantic notion of a democratisation of publishing. But I hope that lots of people who take advantage of that keep in mind how useful it is to have someone who can tell you exactly what they think, no holds barred. For better or for worse, at least that's something people would get through the traditional publishing route (until you became too big a name, and your books start becoming baggy messes because you are Too Big To Edit).

As you say though, if you like something, you like it, and it's just as dishonest not to be positive as it is to join in the sometimes over the top MBS. There are a lot of books out there, and it's hard for voices to be heard. It's maybe a selfish thing too: I want to see fiction I like (like The Other Room) do well, so there is more of it.

Mind, it's easy to see this as a phenomenon of the self-publishing world. But sometimes if you look at mainstream fiction, and who reviews what in newspapers, and whose names appear on their novel blurbs, it's really nothing new...

Unknown said...

I think writers must be neurotic, because I worry about the exact same thing. I find it much easier to talk about a writer's work who's never talked about mine, whether my opinion is positive or negative.

James Everington said...

Hi Alan- Yeah you're right; I was partly thinking of Pulling Teeth when I wrote this. I remember sending you a KB message saying how good I thought it was, and worrying it would just seem like trying to get attention for my book. Which is a ridiculous state of affairs!

Alain Gomez said...

Way to keep it real, man.

This is exactly why I set up my star rating system the way I did on my blog. I CLEARLY say that three stars is the standard and work from there. I think that highlighting what I really, genuinely enjoyed is just as important as trashing the not-so-hot stories.

I get lots of review requests now from people who want my "honest feedback." Lol.

Thad McIlroy, The Future of Publishing said...

Good post -- it's important to raise this point. I think it's a sign of early days on the web -- we'll all grow up eventually. The public can tell the difference and cream always rises to the top -- sometimes it just takes awhile.

I clicked the link to your book, which sounds good to me, but I'm informed: "Kindle titles for your country are not available at Please shop for Kindle titles at"

I'm in Canada, so this should perhaps say

Regardless, clicking that link takes me just to the Amazon U.S. site, not to your book there.

If I search on your title at it takes me to "Room Number 3 And Other Detective Stories by Anna Kath". Yours is #5 on the list. Amazon is willing to sell me the book in Canada, but does not offer it.

I have no idea how you sort this out with Amazon or if you need to list it separate on which is the largest Canadian chain but doesn't have the top online presence.

Nope, even selling your book for 99 cent in the U.S. is no panacea.

(I consult to a few authors and publishers so I'm willing to explore this stuff more thoroughly than the average reader. Hence the obsessive nature of my quest.)

Best wishes to you...

Coral Moore said...

I'm glad someone brought this up, because I've worried about it too. I started joining up with the follow you/follow me posts because I thought it was a fun way to network, but it really gets out of control fast. I don't want people to think that when I pimp someone's book it has to do with something other than the fact that I loved the book.

I've quietly stepped out of most of those threads, and I never did get involved in the tagging and list ones. Those just struck me as a little too dishonest. I still do the twitter following thing, because it seems like there is no harm in that. If authors spend too much time self-pimping I just unfollow them.

Marion said...

I don't doubt the sincerity of the praise I've gotten from other writers. And unlike Authonomy, I don't think they are doing it for MBS. However, sometimes when I look at my reviews and see how many come from other SP authors(SP standing in for "special" like "special children."), I wonder if anyone who hasn't written a book, has even read mine.