I have a lot of friends who are indie authors of varying levels of success. All of them think Amazon is great. It allows them entry into the market where they can rise or fall on their own merits. There are no gatekeepers to tell them that NYC has decided not to publish uplifting stories this year. Some of them are lucky to buy lunch at Mcdonalds once or twice a year .Others are raking in 6 figure incomes. Why some succeed and others fail is something most of us are unsure of. Some of the ones failing are writing good stories. Some of the ones succeeding are writing crap. No one knows why and the market changes rapidly.
You would think the uncertainty would chase them away, unless of course they are one of the big success stories. It doesn’t. Why not? Well many of them would be writing anyway, so a little return is better than none. Others have the dream that they too will hit a big seller. Still others are doing moderately well. Not enough to live on , but enough to supplement their incomes. Many have no hope of making money otherwise, through infirmity or unemployability they are out of options. And there are those who never hope to make it big but hope to someday do well enough to live off of their earnings. That goal is achievable. Well, until the market shifts.
Right now it looks as if the Big 5 publishers are in trouble. I am not talking about the gaffes over the Hugos which may wind up destroying Tor and possibly taking out Macmillan as collateral damage. I am talking about the widespread failure of big publishing to adapt to e-books and modern realities. Big publishing may pull out of this. They have deep pockets and a lot of power. I don’t know. My crystal ball is on the fritz. Every time I ask for info on the Hugos ,it goes to the scene in Wizard of Oz where Margaret Hamilton gets hit by a bucket of water.
Now I have talked about why many indie authors are sticking with it despite the long odds. A lot of authors published by the mainstream publishers are becoming hybrid authors or going indie themselves. Why would they do that when they are succeeding with “real publishers”? Well there are a lot of reasons. One is the fact that for every author you hear about getting a three million dollar deal for a handful of books there are a thousand who will get under 10K for a couple of books over the course of a couple of years. Another is the fact that publishing uses something called Bookscan to decide how many books have sold. Bookscan is effectively pulling numbers out of their …err hats. Because of the handwavium done by Bookscan, most authors apparently never earn out their paltry advance. So the next offer is less. The authors going hybrid have figured out something else. They can write several books a year, most of them, and publishers will put out one, maybe two. Hybrid means they have someplace to sell the books the publishers won’t take. And a lot of them are learning that with the fact they can sell the book slowly forever they actually make more money off their indie books.
Now we get to the reason for the title of this post. A lot of mainstream authors are vehemently against Amazon and indie publishing. The question becomes why. One reason is that they have a lot invested in the status quo, they are published authors and above the upstarts. Indie threatens that. Another is, I believe, that they are doing the bidding of their publishers. If they don’t attack Amazon and indie, they may not get the next contract. Of course, for some it is the belief that if big publishing fails they are lost as well and Amazon and the indies threaten to kill big publishing.
You see, the established authors, the big names, have things pretty good. They get money and fannish appreciation. At least in SF, I am not sure what they get in other fields for fannish interaction. The money may not be the important thing, knowing that strange members of the preferred sex will throw themselves at you given the opportunity is a heady thing for those who were probably never popular in school. Then there is the fact that their opinions become important, in a small way perhaps, but important nonetheless. They also get invited to parties because of their fame, parties they would never get invited to by their force of personality. “Important people” pay attention to them and schmooze with them. Editors tell them how important they are. People in other unrelated fields ask their opinions, the fact that they aren’t qualified to hold opinions on most of these subjects is beside the point. All in all this is something to protect.
Another factor influencing them is that they can (or at least ought to) see the failure of the publishing houses to maintain the quality they claim. Apparently unpaid interns do a lot of the copy editing etc. that is supposed to add value to the product. It often fails to do so. The cover art can be another thing that isn’t up to the expectations of earlier years. Where once you could expect a good cover that would boost sales, you now often get a poor piece of photoshopped work that doesn’t in any way reflect the book. And unless you are a house darling or a mega best seller you don’t get any “push” to promote your work. They are now seeing the indies getting independent editing, copy-reading, and a burgeoning crowd of good quality cover designers. Marketing was done by the publishers, the writers have to do most of that themselves now, the indies seem better at it. There are a lot of reasons to fear the growing power of the little insignificant indies.
I don’t think that is really it though. When a Patterson or a LeGuin see indies, they see a sea of writers and books. I believe they are truly afraid of being lost upon that sea. For no-one can read all that big publishing puts out. How much more is this true if anyone can write a book?