Is the indie stigma shifting?

One reviewer recently signed off her blog post about Pegasus Falling thus: “If you think self published books are never going to be any good then try this one – you may just change your mind.” I was chuffed to read that - but it made me think - despite the huge upsurge in self-publishing, there is still, quite obviously, a big stigma attached to it. But it is changing. And has the balance tipped?

I’ve been amazed at just how many bloggers I’ve approached have been open to the idea of reading a book by someone they’ve never heard of before and with no previous pedigree. Indeed, it's heartwarming to see so many bloggers welcoming submissions from indie authors and publishers with open arms. These people obviously feel that they have found a deep and rich vein of talent which they consider untapped and worthy of discovery. Of course, by offering reviews, in return they get the ultimate prize - an unending supply of books to read! But it's a win-win situation. All indie authors/publishers should be thankful for these intrepid bloggers' efforts, and I for one am extremely grateful. 

Another aspect which has surprised me is that the local press have run with the story and I was invited to appear on the local radio station. Although it’s probably more to do with the human aspect of our own little backstory than anything else, even so, it's quite an achievement to garner such widespread acknowledgement from the establishment given the circumstances.

Even the local branch of Waterstones in Milton Keynes, a shop which William frequented almost on a daily basis before his illness struck, now stock Pegasus Falling. (*SHAMELESS PLUG: it is for sale in the Midsummer Place branch at the bargain price of £5.99, so go forth and buy it before they run out!*) 

All this for a book written by a pensioner 20 years ago and published by his grandson. Not a bad reaction so far...

And on a bigger scale, there is evidence to suggest that wider opinions of self-publishing are changing. Three years ago when we published the hardback of The Cypress Branches, things were quite different. Although the local newspapers ran with the story then too, in my research into various marketing opportunities, there was a feeling that self-published books just weren't up to anything and there was very little interest. Self-publishing was referred to disparagingly as the "vanity press" - a term still with us today, but used much less frequently now, I find.

There were several reasons why The Cypress Branches failed to sell - for a start it was too big and pricy - a behemoth of a book which intimidated rather than lulled. But throughout my efforts to get the book seen by reviewers and retailers, I was faced with the same brick wall, an attitude that if it's self-published, it's bound to be bad. Out of the countless emails I sent out, I received but a handful of replies, all of them a swift but courteous, "thanks but we can't help you".

Well, all but one. It was the reaction of a particular bookseller near where I live which finally drove home the final nail back then - this particular reaction had more to do with the man's ingrained prejudice against self-publishing than the book itself, for he didn't even entertain the idea of peering inside the front cover before dismissing me with the sneeriest of tones. I ended up leaving the shop, one which I had enjoyed browsing on a few occasions in the past, feeling utterly deflated and angry. I can take rejections, but not sheer bloody-minded nastiness (and yes, I am still bitter, and no, I will not be approaching him again with the paperbacks).

So, to try again three years down the line, it has been refreshing to receive the positive reactions I have so far. Yes, there are still the unanswered requests for reviews and the press releases which inevitably end up being ignored - there always will be, and that is to be expected - but this time, I was quite pleasantly surprised to receive so many replies with a resoundingly positive "yes please". Of course, many lessons have been learned since my fumbled attempts at marketing the hardback. For a start, Pegasus Falling is a much more inviting product which has benefited greatly from past lessons learned. But I think it is a wider acceptance of self-publication which is helping as well.

Just take a look at the cover article from the Guardian's g2 magazine a couple of weeks ago. This article (very useful reading if you're new to self-publishing) is just the latest of a tranche published by the Guardian in recent months extolling the virtues, impact and success stories of authors who go it alone.

Even so, there is still a lot of evidence to show that there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. I wonder if it's thanks to the fact it's very easy indeed to put a book out there. Too easy, perhaps, given the ease with which authors can publish ebooks with the likes of Amazon's KDP and Kobo's new offering. There's a feeling amongst some media professionals that publishing an ebook isn't real publishing. But I find that very disparaging. It may well be easy peasy to hit the "publish" button on KDP. But there's still a heck of a lot of hard work involved before that button is pressed.

And it's not just the mainstream press which views the indie publisher/author negatively. Not all bloggers are open to the idea of reading self-published books. I've encountered a large number (probably the majority - just), the authors of which make it quite clear that they will not review self-published books, no matter how well received it has already been, or how interested they may be in the story / subject matter. Their loss, I'd say, as there are obviously some high quality (or at least mass-appeal) indie books out there which are well worth reading.

And this underlying prejudice has a big impact on how self-published authors publicise themselves. I for one feel that it would be a waste of time and energy to approach newspapers and television / radio shows on a national scale - certainly for now. Perhaps one day soon, when the book has garnered more praise, it would be an idea to, but I can't help but think that as soon as they smell a self-published novel, their opinion would immediately be tainted. After all, how many self-pubbed books have you seen reviewed in the national press lately (discounting the self-pubbers-done-good who have landed themselves a deal with a mainstream publisher)?

But the fact is that indie publishing is here, making an indelible mark on the industry and it's definitely here to stay.

For decades, independent film makers have been able to make their own films, the best of which have found fame and fortune. Young, independent film makers have strived to be creative away from the mainstream and cut their teeth making wonderful (and not so wonderful) films without major backing. The lucky, talented few have been discovered and been given a leg up - funding and encouragement, in order to make sure that the right talent can be successful.

And now the publishing world has its own equivalent, thanks to ebook manufacturers and the growing online community supporting independent writers. As the latest indie successes have shown, the cream will still rise to the top, but now it is taking a different route than it used to.

Yes attitudes are changing, but possibly too slowly and the stigma attached to self-publishing needs to be lifted. I believe that mainstream publishing will come to rely on the self-published author, just as Hollywood relies on the independent film world for discovering new talent. As self-published authors continue to up their game, it is time for the big publishers to change their attitude, for their own good, as well as that of the wider reading public. 

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