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Publetariat Dispatch: Top Self-published Kindle Ebooks of 2011 [Report]

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, publishing and tech pundit Piotr Kowalczyk presents his analysis of the top self-published Kindle books in 2011.

Will self-published books continue to expand? Is $0.99  price tag wearing out? Can we expect new success stories from  independent authors?

2011 was an exciting year for publishing, full of events changing the  landscape of the industry. Self-publishing exploded and became one of  the most important factors to shape digital publishing in the near  future.

I’m excited to share the report with as much facts and figures as  possible to help forecast how the self-publishing phenomenon would  evolve in the years to come. To get the bigger picture, read also 2011 self-publishing timeline.

The report is based on figures from Kindle Store bestsellers archive and consists of five parts. You can jump directly to each one of them from the links below:

1. Highlights – most important facts & figures

2. Tables & charts – based on yearly and monthly lists

3. Description – how the data was collected

4. Overview – analysis of important events and trends

5. Conclusions – predictions for the future

1. Highlights

– Average price of a self-published book in 2011 was $1.40, vs. $8.26 for all books in Top 100

– There is a downward trend in both the number of books and the average price

– John Locke is the author with the highest number of books in a single monthly list (8 titles)

– Five authors stayed in Top 100 for at least 6 months (Barbara Freethy, Darcie Chan, John Locke, J.R. Rain and Michael Prescott)

– There are 18 self-published titles in a yearly Top 100 for 2011 (not a single self-published book in Top 100 for 2010)

Read the rest of the report, which includes many tables and charts displayed more clearly than we can present them here, as well as detailed analysis, on Ebook Friendly.

Publetariat Dispatch: “Inbox Zero”? Here’s How To Do It.

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, April L. Hamilton offers her simple method for achieving Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is that state of digital communications nirvana in which you empty your email inbox, and keep emptying it on a daily basis. This may sound like a pipe dream to many, especially if you’ve had your email account for many years and your inbox message count is hovering somewhere around 1700, as mine was when I finally bit the bullet and tackled Inbox Zero. But believe me: it can be done, it’s not that difficult, and you don’t need to worry about the possibility of deleting messages you’ll later wish you hadn’t. First, let’s look at why Inbox Zero is a very, very good idea.

 

THE WHY

If you’re like me, you receive anywhere from 15-40 new emails on a daily basis. Some can be immediately deleted as spam, or filed in some existing folder, but many of them fall into that gray area where you know you’ll need to take some action or respond in some way, but can’t do so immediately for whatever reason. Maybe you need to do some research, maybe you need to invest some time in crafting a thoughtful reply…whatever. So you make a mental note to deal with those “gray area” emails at your first opportunity, and maybe you even mark them with a star or checkmark or whatever other symbol your email program allows to highlight important messages, then the next load of 15-40 new messages comes in and the “gray area” emails slowly but surely get pushed off your inbox screen and are soon forgotten.

Next thing you know, you’ve got 1700 emails in your inbox, you know that quite a few of them required a response or action at some point, and you also know that finding them will be a big, hairy pain. And even if you can find them, it’s probably too late to take whatever action you had in mind when you first saw them. Meanwhile, the people who sent those emails are thinking you’re a huge flake and entirely unreliable. These are not good traits for the reputation of an indie author, for whom building and maintaining a contact network are important.

You’ve thought about spending a day, or several days, or a week going through your inbox one message at a time and dealing with them once and for all, but it’s a daunting task. You can’t just summarily delete any messages that are older than a certain date of receipt, because many are from people you really will need to get back in touch with at some future date. You know you’ve got a problem, but you can’t see your way clear to a workable solution.

THE HOW

Here’s how you do it.

1) Create a folder called “Old Mail” and archive all messages that are 60 days or older into that folder. This will take a little time, since you’ll have to do a search based on your date criteria, mark all the matching messages as “Old Mail” and archive them, but it’s a whole lot less work than paging through the actual messages one at a time.

Yes, you will definitely be archiving many messages that really ought to have been deleted instead. But if you don’t have the time or desire to look at every one of your inbox messages individually, this is the most efficient tack. Besides, most email providers allow their users gigabytes of storage, so space limitations aren’t generally a concern. The important thing is, you haven’t deleted anything. So if at any point in the future you desperately need to find the email address of that contact who, back in 2010, offered to interview you when your book was published, you can easily do so by searching your email.

2) Go through the remaining, relatively recent messages in your inbox one at a time, and dispose of them appropriately: reply, and/or file, delete, or report as spam. Again, this will take some time, but MUCH less time than tackling the original virtual stack. If there are any you’re filing, but not opening to read because you already know what’s in them, be sure to still use the “mark as read” option before filing them away. This will prevent your email system from showing you an alarming count of supposedly new, unread messages for each folder.

2a) Don’t be afraid to create LOTS of folders. If you need to create a folder called “Reply After [date of your choosing]”, by all means do so. Your goal is to get every single message out of your inbox, whether by replying, filing or deleting. Creating some folders with built-in action triggers in their titles, such as certain dates or events, can be very helpful, since you’ll see those folders sitting right there on your email screen every day.

In December I received many emails related to cross-postings for Publetariat and already had content scheduled through the end of the year. Rather than let these emails sit in my inbox, where the old me would’ve reasoned, “How can I forget about these if I keep them in my inbox?”, I created a folder called “Publetariat-Publish In Jan”. Now I’ve got all the relevant emails collected in one handy spot. After everything from the folder’s been published, I’ll re-label the emails as “Publetariat – Contributors” and archive the messages permanently there.

Be sure to create folders for your personal emails, too. I have folders for “Family”, “Shopping”, each of my kids’ schools, and plenty more.

3) Unsubscribe from any mailing lists that aren’t really adding value to your life, or that, despite your best intentions, you know you never actually have the time to read. If there are some you just can’t bear to part with, or don’t want to unsubscribe from because they’re from members of your network and you may need to refer to them at some point in the future, create a folder for each subscription and immediately mark each copy as “read” and file it when a new one comes in.

4) Gaze admiringly at your spiffy, EMPTY inbox and give yourself a pat on the back. And a cookie. You deserve it.

5) Going forward, every time you receive an email dispose of it on a same day basis: reply, and/or file, delete, or report as spam. Create new folders as needed, and dispose of the mail in your action-trigger folders when each trigger occurs.

You will find Inbox Zero becomes addictive. The presence of a mere 4-6 emails in your inbox will seem an unbearable clutter, and you’ll long to see that inbox screen empty once again. But most importantly, you’ll be back to taking care of business and done with letting important messages and opportunities fall through the cracks.

 

April L. Hamilton is an author, the Editor in Chief of KND’s sister site Fire on Kindle Nation Daily, and the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat. This is a cross-posting from her Indie Author blog.

Publetariat Dispatch: The Future Makes A Comeback

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers talks about the rising popularity of sci fi and futuristic, dystopian fiction.

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 11/4/11, and is reprinted here in its entirety with the author’s and site’s permission.

We’ve all seen the ads for the new book When She Woke  (by Hilary Jordan), a futuristic novel in which a criminal’s skin is  dyed to reflect her crime, a story that’s been compared to the classic, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In recent years, other similar novels have been wildly popular too, such as The Hunger Games  trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These novels are dystopian and reflect a  society that has completely broken down and morphed into something ugly.

As  a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers—which I distinguish from  dystopian novels—started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence  Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read  it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in  which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural,  produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or  otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The  objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and  soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink  called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so  engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. Most  important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic  thrillers.

Another of my favorite novels set in the future is The Handmaid’s Tale, published ten years after The Tomorrow File.  The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well  known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist  portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood  immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I  wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

Interestingly enough, yesterday a blogger posted comparative reviews of The Catcher in the Rye, The Handmaid’s Tale and my futuristic thriller, The Arranger.  The blogger focused on insecurities as the theme, both social and  personal, and concluded they were necessary in fiction. First, I find it  interesting that people are reading or re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale from 1985 because of the advertising for When She Woke. It’s fun to see the novel resurrected.

Second, it’s an honor to be listed in the same company as works by J.D. Salinger and Margaret Atwood.

I don’t mean to imply The Arranger  compares to any of the brilliant works I’ve mentioned, most of which  imagine a shockingly different future. (I’m still not sure why Catcher in the Rye  is in there, but that was the blogger’s choice.) My story is set only  13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a  bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant,  government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to  fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t  require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition  that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely  fictitious scenarios.

Overall, I’m excited for the revived interest in futuristic novels. Does  it represent a dissatisfaction with our current state of affairs or a  fear of what is waiting for us? Or both?

Do you read futuristic novels? What are your favorites? What themes do like to see?

 

Publetariat Dispatch: 6 Tips and Tricks to Use Kindle for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and digital media watcher Piotr Kowalczyk offers tips and tricks for using the Kindle Reader app on mobile devices.

Kindle for iOS has just been updated to version 2.8 (iTunes link), which complies with Apple’s new in-app purchase rules.

Kindle Store button was removed from the home page – it was obvious. I’ve  also checked endings of free samples to see what Amazon did with their Buy Now link, which in older versions was switching to book’s Kindle Store page in Safari. Buy Now button is still there (as well as See details for this book in the Kindle Store). However, both links show an alert: “We’re sorry. This operation is not currently supported.”

Apple and Amazon are playing games, which are more and more annoying.  Status for today: Apple won’t earn money, Amazon won’t lose money. The  only losing part is the reader.

Below you’ll find tips on how to make the most of Kindle on your  device – especially after making our lives harder by removing any option  to buy a book from within the app. A good thing to do is to change  attitude: Kindle on iPad or iPhone is not only about using a Kindle application.

 

1. Browse Kindle Store in Safari

After 2.8 update it will be reasonable more than ever to browse and  buy books right away from Safari browser (without bothering to open  Kindle app). Never tried it? Don’t worry. Amazon mobile site looks  really well on iPhone/iPod Touch. On the iPad a regular site is  displayed, works well, I haven’t noticed any flaws.

2. Add Kindle Store to your Home Screen

Add Kindle Store to your Home Screen

It’s good to add Kindle Store either to a list of bookmarks in Safari  or to a Home Screen. On the iPad just go to Amazon site and select  Kindle Store from a drop list.

If you’re on the iPhone/iPod Touch, go in Safari directly to this address http://amzn.to/fW2ffk.  It’s Kindle Store’s site optimized for small screens – not the same as  regular one. You can add it as a bookmark to Home Screen (see picture on  the right) and a nice icon will show up.

Find more information about it here.

3. Browse free Kindle books in Safari

In fact, you can use the browser to add books from other sources than Kindle Store. What’s very important, you can add them directly to Kindle for iOS. This is possible since 2.5 update.

What you have to look for is books in mobi format, without DRM. To  add a book to Kindle app, tap on a link to a book file, ending with  .mobi.

Best sites with free Kindle books, optimized for mobile reading, are: Feedbooks, Project Gutenberg, Smashwords and ManyBooks.

Read more about this topic here.

4. Add books to your Kindle for iOS – not only via iTunes

iTunes is a default way to add content to applications, but happily  it’s not the only one. As I’ve written above, you can add books from  Safari.

There are two more options available: via e-mail (just send a file to  yourself and open it with a native Mail app) and via cloud storage apps  like Dropbox.

Find out more about the topic here.

5. Discover books on Twitter and add them instantly to Kindle app

It’s my favorite topic. If you spend a lot of time on Twitter, using  Twitter iOS applications, why don’t you try to find Kindle books there?  It’s actually pretty easy. Just look for a keyword Kindle or a tag #kindle and you’ll find out a lot of tweets with amzn.to links.

Or if one of Twitter friends is recommending a Kindle book, just tap  on a link and you’ll be redirected to mobile Safari (either within  Twitter app or outside it) and you’ll decide whether to download a free  sample or buy a book.

For more information read this post.

6. Use Kindle application as a free dictionary

Finally, Kindle for iOS can also work as a great dictionary  application, so there is no need to buy another one. This is possible  thanks to the The New Oxford American Dictionary installed.

You’ll find more information about it here.

* * *

I hope you enjoyed the tips. Please share in the comments what’s  missing. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Kindle on iOS  devices, get free updates of Ebook Friendly Tips (via RSS or e-mail) where I focus on sharing simple Kindle tips.

If you liked this article, please share it with your friends. Get free updates by e-mail or RSS, powered by FeedBurner. Let’s meet on Twitter and Facebook. Check also my geek fiction stories: Password Incorrect and Failure Confirmed.


This is a reprint from Piotr Kowalczyk‘s Password Incorrect.

Publetariat Dispatch: Amazon Kindle The Fire. Ebooks Go Mainstream.

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn posits that ebooks have finally gone mainstream.

Ebook sales have been steadily growing over the last 2 years and those of us readers who converted early are almost entirely ebook consumers now.

For authors, the global ebook sales market has meant we can sell direct to customers and every month receive a cheque from Amazon. We can log on and see our sales by the hour. It has been life changing for me and so many others.

But ebooks have been far from mainstream. Until now.

 

These new Kindle devices change everything.

Amazon has unveiled a new family of Kindles  including one at the magic price of $79. This is what happened with the  iPod when the price came down low enough that it was a no-brainer  purchase. Those people who had been on the fence about new-fangled  digital music went out and got one, just to see what the fuss was about.  I was one of those people (with the ipod) and it hasn’t left my side  since.When did you switch to digital music?

 

Kindle sales growth almost vertical (Image source: Business Insider)

I was one of the first people in Australia to buy the Kindle when it  (finally) become available. I converted to 90% ebook reading within  weeks and the number of books I bought at least trebled. I am  unashamedly an Amazon fan but this is a massively exciting development  for any author who can see what’s round the corner.

These new Kindles will ship in October and November.  There will be many of them in Christmas stockings and ebook sales go up  over Christmas because people have time to read, and of course, play  with their new gadgets.

So what does this mean for you?

  • If you don’t have a Kindle yet and you are a writer or want to be. Get off the fence and buy one of these (affiliate). Experience for yourself what the digital revolution means.  Even if you still love the smell of a new book, there are millions of  people converting to ebooks and you want to sell to them. You are not  your market. You have to see this to believe it.
  • If you are a traditionally published author and your publisher has  not put your book on the Kindle with global rights, then go see an IP  lawyer and see what you can do to get the rights back or ask the  publisher to get your books up there. It’s not rocket science.

Trust the market

People want to read. They want to find books that will inspire them,  entertain them, educate them, take them out of their world for just a  few minutes. These book lovers are people like me. I devour Kindle  books. I download samples several times a day. My biggest entertainment  expense is ebooks. I love reading. Chances are, so do you, and so do  millions of readers. Maybe they will like your book. But they won’t find  it unless it’s on the Kindle platform.

I’m sure there will be the usual lamentation that this attitude will  flood the market with more self-published books of bad quality, but I trust the market. I am a heavy Kindle user. I am  the market. I always download a sample unless I trust the author. I  always delete the sample and don’t buy if the formatting is bad or if  the book is not enjoyable or useful. I only buy books that pass this  sample test. I go by reader recommendations and how many stars there  are. I buy based on recommendations from my friends on twitter. Crap  books with crap covers do not sell. They don’t rank on the bestseller  list. They do not get recommendations.

Stop with the excuses about why you think ebooks will fail, or how they are destroying publishing. Enough already.

This is no longer the future. This is right now. You need to act.

 

This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.

Publetariat Dispatch: Crowdfunding Or Panhandling? The New Arts Funding.

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and small publisher Alan Baxter ruminates on the new “crowdfunding” movement. Warning: this post contains some strong language.

This is going to be one of those posts where I ramble on without any  real direction and hope I discover a point along the way. “How is that  different to any of your other posts?” you ask. Well, screw you. You’re  the one reading. In truth it’s because I have a lot of thoughts on this  subject, and I’m keen to discuss it, but no really firm opinion yet. And  I’m not the kind of person who would usually be described as lacking in  opinion. Let’s start with a description of the concept.

Crowdfunding  is something that’s not really new, but something that’s gained massive  traction in the internet age. Essentially it works like this: Someone  comes up with an idea that needs funding. They ask “the people” if they  would support said idea by pledging cash. If enough cash is pledged to  pay for the idea, the people are charged and the idea goes ahead. If not  enough moolah is pledged, no one is charged and the idea sinks like a  lead turd, never to be spoken of again.

It’s not unlike general  arts funding, except everyday folk are approached for the cash. And the  internet makes it especially easy with sites like Kickstarter and  Pozible streamlining the whole process. People pledging money tend to  get something out of it too. They can chip in a small amount just for  the warm feelings of contributing to something worthwhile, or they can  pledge more and get something tangible if the idea goes ahead. For  example, if it’s an event being crowdfunded a pledge of a certain amount  could include a ticket to the event. A higher pledge might include a  VIP pass. Higher still and you get a VIP pass and a t-shirt. And so on.  There are all kinds of incentives. And it’s becoming de rigeur for arts  funding. Which is, on the one hand, great – it helps to get arts things  funded. On the other hand, it’s fucked – arts things should be  government funded anyway, but the sad reality is that they’re not. And  they get funded less and less all the time. But I’m going to avoid a  political tirade here and just talk about the concept of crowdfunding.

My first direct experience of it was with a Kickstarter project where film-maker Christopher Salmon was asking for funds to make a short film of Neil Gaiman’s short story, The Price.  For a fully-realised animated feature he needed $150,000 of funding.  Neil Gaiman himself endorsed the idea (which is how I heard about it via  Twitter) and the thing went viral. The funding has hit $161,774 and the  short film is being made. I kicked in and my contribution will result  in me receiving a DVD of the film when it’s made. The Price is one of my favourite Gaiman shorts, so I’m dead chuffed about that.

I’m  now directly involved in another crowdfunded project. The Emerging  Writers Festival wants to run a digital publishing event up in Brisbane  and they asked me to be involved with one of the panels. I was happy to  oblige, but the whole thing can only go ahead if it gets funding from  the people, as the government are so tight they eat coal and shit  diamonds. The project has hit its goal. Sweet – I’m going to Brisbane. Here it is.

These  are examples of great ideas becoming real because the people behind the  ideas asked the public if they would be interested, and the public  responded by making it happen. Kinda awesome, no?

But it’s gone  beyond that. I’ve noticed several “name” authors using Kickstarter or  something similar to finance a new novel. They’re completely skipping  the publisher and using ebook and Print On Demand technology,  essentially self-publishing so they don’t need a publisher. But, and  this is important, they’re recognising the need for professionals in  editing, proofing, layout, cover design and so on. All of which costs  money. Plus, they want to be paid for their efforts. I know! Authors  expecting to be paid! Are they mad? Yes – mad as a hessian sack full of  Hatters in Wonderland. But then again, we all know writers are mad. We  wouldn’t be writers if we weren’t stark raving bonkers. So these authors  have asked the fans to kick in if they want to see the book.

This  is truly the most democratic path to publishing you can imagine, as  only those people who want to read the book will contribute. Therefore,  if the total requested is raised, the book will happen. (If only trad  publishers had anything like that assurance when putting out a new  book.)

However, and here’s the real rub, those authors need a fan  base in the first place. I’m quite okay with self-publishing and indie  publishing, as regular readers here well know. I’ve had a varied path to  publication myself and have dabbled like a mischievous sorcerer in a  variety of methods. Any path that leads where you’re going is the right  path.

Yet  I know that some newbies in the writing game – and other areas of the  arts for that matter – see crowdfunding as a way to get a start without  having to work so hard. The trouble is, someone with no real following,  without any proven track record or an existing fan base, will have a  hell of a job getting any cash at all through a crowdfunded project.  Like those self-publishers really nailing the market, especially with  ebooks, who are actually trading on their past publishing success, only  established artists are likely to get any crowdfunded money. The Amanda  Hockings of this world are most certainly the exceptions not the rules, as I discussed at length here. People trying to start out will still be struggling along like tiny minnows against the flooding tide of existing artists.

Of  course, you’re always going to get those who buck the trends and emerge  out of obscurity like a lucky butterfly made of cash, but they’re going  to be very rare. I guess it’s fair in some ways – we all need to work  hard to get successful. I think there’s something fundamentally damaging  about success that comes too easily. Then again, I work like a  son-of-a-bitch and success is a slow burn for me. So maybe I’m just  bitter. But people expecting a handout without proving themselves are  unlikely to get one, and that’s where this is different from  panhandling. After all, it’s far easier to ignore a beggar on the  internet who wants you to fund their desire to write than it is to  ignore someone on the street who’s really doing it tough and simply  trying to eat. The truly destitute in society need our compassion and  assistance. Would-be writers crying out online, pleading with people to  pay their rent and grocery bills while they try to make a go of writing,  do not. They need to do something to earn our attention, then maybe  we’d be more inclined to throw a few shekels their way and see if they  can climb a rung or two of the ladder.

It sounds harsh and I don’t  want to be accused of ignoring the struggle of emerging talent, or  stepping on people trying to get a start in this game. Thor knows, I’ve  struggled hard enough myself, and still do. But I’ve mentioned it before,  determination and hard bloody work are as important as talent in this  game. If you can wrangle a few bucks out of people without proving  yourself first, more power to you. I wish anyone trying it the best of  luck. But don’t get shitty when you post a Kickstarter saying you want  five grand to try to finish your first novel and get pretty much sweet  fuck all. We’d all have loved five grand to finish our first novels, but  none of us got it and we went ahead and did the work anyway. Of course,  a few people do get actual arts grants for this stuff but, like the  established writers making a go of crowdfunding their next books, those  arts grant recipients had some history to prove themselves worthy of  receiving said grant.

So I guess my opinion really is this – I see  the whole new trend in crowdfunding to be an extremely exciting thing.  Let the voice of the people be heard. It’s a great way to finance things  which might otherwise slip under the radar and never happen. But I  don’t think it’s a way for unknown names – in any field of endeavour –  to suddenly circumvent that harsh crucible of slaving away at their art  like a motherfucker while also scraping a living, engaging personal  relationships and generally being a human person. Which is a shame, but I  guess these things aren’t easy for a reason. I compare it often to my  life as a martial artist, and like I often tell my students, “Kung Fu is  seriously hard work. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it.”

I’m certainly interested in your comments on the subject, so do chime in below. (Publetariat Editor’s note: click here to leave your comment on the original article, where it appears on Alan’s site.)

And maybe I’ll see you in Brisbane!

 

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

Publetariat Dispatch: Indie Author Discrimination

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author Melissa Conway addresses the bias against self-published authors and books.

I thought I’d write about some of the issues that led to the creation of my popular video The Indie-Author Lament. By “popular,” I don’t mean viral or anything, I just mean it hit a nerve with a lot of self-published authors like myself – you know that nerve in your elbow when you bonk it that hurts like hell but makes you laugh helplessly like a loon? Yeah, that one.

From the feedback I got on the video, it’s pretty clear that just about every self-published author out there has a story similar to mine. I decided to write the song after two weeks of intensive marketing that left me feeling like a dog that couldn’t quite catch its tail. The video was never overtly intended as a marketing tool, even though I did have it in the back of my mind that almost anything that gets me attention can be used to direct people to my product. So in that respect, I accidently stumbled upon a unique marketing tool in itself. People have asked whether the song is true; it mostly is, but I exaggerated some parts to make it funnier – and to make a point. The song is a composite of what the average indie-author goes through.

For those of you who aren’t writers, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

There are two roads to getting a book published these days, the long road and the shortcut. A simplistic description of the long road is that it’s the traditional route where your book has to pass muster with first an agent and then an editor at a publishing house. The shortcut, referred to by its detractors as “vanity publishing” is where writers self-publish their manuscripts. Usually they attempted to take the traditional route, but roadblocks and detours prevented them from reaching their destination. So they chose to self-publish, which on the surface might appear to be a smart move to shave off time in their journey, but more often, like many promising shortcuts, leads them through alligator-infested swamps.

I know I’m pushing the metaphors, but in the war against bad books, agents have traditionally held the front line. They function as the roadblocks; well-armed with opinions on what the reading public wants, and they only allow a chosen few books to get past them. Those that do, must detour on to another set of roadblocks set up by the editor. In this way, books that eventually reach the public are supposed to be error-free and high-quality.

The books that don’t get past the agent are a mixed bag. Some are good, some are bad, some are very bad – but some are excellent, because agents aren’t perfect and sometimes they reject based on what’s hot in the market at the moment, etcetera. There’re a lot of subjective reasons why an excellent novel wouldn’t get traditionally published, but on the other hand, there’s no vetting system in place to prevent the very bad self-published books from stinking up the shelves. Anyone who wants to publish a book can do so, but the bad books erode public perception of indies as a whole. If someone reads a traditionally published author’s book and hates it, they aren’t likely to give that author’s next book a chance, but they probably won’t boycott the publisher. If someone reads a badly written or poorly edited self-published book, there’s a danger that they will lump all indie-authors into the same category and avoid them altogether.

The marketing advice most indie-authors are given is twofold: establish an internet presence in forums and on social networking sites, and solicit book bloggers to review their book. So whereas publishing houses can provide advertising and obtain reviews from professional book reviewers for their stable of authors, indie authors are on their own – and unfortunately, some do a piss poor job of promoting themselves.

In a certain subset of self-published authors, I’ll refer to them as the Spammers (because that’s what they are), there’s a decided lack of professionalism as far as marketing is concerned. Spammers are not subtle. They are the ones who tweet the link to their book every hour on the hour. They are the ones with seventeen links in their signature line. They dive-bomb forum threads, comment off-topic on blog posts and generally make a nuisance of themselves – and a bad name for indie authors in general.

While the forum and book blogger advice has worked in some cases really well for authors who didn’t abuse it in the past, there’s been a recent backlash. Some forum administrators purportedly fielded so many complaints about spam that they were forced to create separate groups within the forums, effectively segregating self-published authors – who can now spam each other to their hearts’ content – because you can bet readers won’t venture to the back of the bus. Amazon UK, in a move they have yet to explain to their customers, has just banned indie promotion on their forums altogether.

Major book review publications like the New York Times actually have policies in place that exclude self-published books. Whether this is a result of pressure from publishing conglomerates who advertise with them or an unwillingness to dedicate the manpower necessary to sift through the chaff: they won’t touch them. So indie-authors are forced to seek out alternative ways to get reviews, which are essential to sales. Indie-authors’ family, friends and peers often volunteer, but what they need most in order to avoid the appearance of dishonesty is unbiased opinions, and that’s where book bloggers come in.

The majority of book bloggers don’t accept self-published books, but those that do have unwittingly taken on the road-blocking role of agent. They get the exact same kind of queries agents do and perform the same basic function of filtering out poorly written or badly edited books. This is ironic to the author given that taking the shortcut to publication was supposed to bypass these sorts of roadblocks in the first place. Book bloggers have popped up everywhere and some have become extremely popular: they weather a steady deluge of requests from indie-authors. Many are backlogged several months or even years, so even if they agree to read your book, it won’t be any time soon. Many also have a policy of only posting reviews on books they liked. Some do that because they don’t like negativism, but in others it’s a defense mechanism to avoid confrontations with disgruntled authors. There have been cases of self-published authors engaging in very public and embarrassing flame-wars with reviewers.

So you can see how the aggressive, unrelenting actions of a few have severely curtailed the already limited marketing options of the many.

This anti-indie shift is understandable, but very very frustrating for most of us. My song was a spoof – it didn’t offer advice on how avoid these minefields because even though in general indie-authors stick together and support each other, at the end of the day, marketing is a very personal commitment. Each of us has to budget our time and resources as best we can and something that works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. But just because things look dire right now for indies doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Public opinion swings back and forth, and indie-authors themselves are scrambling to think up unique ways to market themselves and their books. The majority of us keep tight rein on our marketing efforts so we don’t humiliate ourselves or compromise our integrity. It’s not hopeless, just another challenge. Until someone comes up with a viable solution to the lack of a cost-free, unbiased vetting system for self-published books, the best defense is to have a solid product and to maintain decorum. And it looks like the best offense in today’s climate is to think up a unique, non-spam generating marketing platform to wow your potential audience.

This post, from indie author Melissa Conway, originally appeared on her Whimsilly blog and is reprinted here with her permission.