When I first stepped into the world of indie publishing, I didn't realize just what kind of world I was stepping into. Thankfully, my experiences have been for the most part positive...but, as with anything a person becomes involved in, the negative aspects soon rear their ugly heads. To open up discussion on this, I thought I would give a simple list of things which either hurt indie publishing or give it a bad name for readers who may be used to more traditional publishing.
I don't claim to be the end all be all expert on indie publishing, so please don't take this blog post as canon or dogmatic pronouncements made ex cathedra. These are simply observations I have made myself, or complaints I've heard from other indie authors. Also keep in mind that I'm not trying to target any one author or person with this entire list; again, these are just general observations made. Yes, some examples will be cited or referred to, but this isn't meant as an attack post.
All that being said...are there any disturbing trends you have noticed? Feel free to leave a comment, and I just might add it to this blog post!
1) Unnecessary high prices.
When you look at most indie novels available for your e-reader, prices can vary from $2 to $5. Many times, authors will put their novels on sale for $0.99, or even let it go free. Keyword here: these are novels I'm talking about. For the amount of length you get to read, this is a pretty good deal, and when compared to books done by major publishers, you see the price is about the same.
Some people, however, will publish a 38-page book for $5...and even higher. It's as if people think they can publish the short story they wrote in high school and get a few bucks from it. I recently came across one indie author who was selling his 52-page novella for $16.95. I am not making that up! People really do pull stunts like this.
Not only is this kind of careless pricing going to hurt potential sales, but it makes readers believe that indie authors are simply out to make a quick dollar. To all authors who are doing this: seriously, please stop it!
2) Abysmal editing.
Typos are everywhere in the printed medium. Even in traditionally published books, there are typos (try reading Twilight and you'll see what I mean). This doesn't mean typos are okay, mind you; typos should be avoided at all costs. However, a few typos here and there might be overlooked by more forgiving readers. You forgot one punctuation on this one page? Is the rest of the book readable? OK, cool, we'll let that one slide; just remember to correct it in a future edition.
However, if an author self-publishes, and doesn't put any effort into editing their work, then the results are tragic. Punctuation mistakes abound, spelling mistakes make reading a chore, and awkward sentence structures rule the day. I've come across books that read like English wasn't the author's first language (and sadly, it was), as well as books that are so incoherent in sentence structure that they seem like the ramblings of a madman.
Readers might expect typos and glaring errors on a blog post, or a fanfiction website, or an internet forum with a "creativity" section, but if they're going to give money for what they expect to be a refined book, they should at least be honored by an author who puts time and effort into making certain that errors are kept to a minimum and the end product is as polished as possible.
3) Terrible cover designs.
For this section, I feel like I could just point people over to the website Lousy Book Covers and be done with it. If you want an example of why making a good cover can be important, then that site is chock full of them. For a lot of people, this is what they think of when they think of indie publishing.
The sad thing is, for many of the novels shown on Lousy Book Covers, I've actually gone to Amazon and read the samples, and have found that...many of them are actually pretty well written. The writing itself isn't half bad. In fact, sometimes it was really good. Unfortunately, when a potential reader comes across the work, they may not get the chance, or gain the interest, to pick up the book and read it, or even take a look at the sample chapter. They'll take a look at the cover, say, "By the gods, that's bad," and move on with life.
I understand that many indie authors (like myself) are working on a shoestring budget, and may be worried about how much they'll have to pay in order to get decent cover art. However, I would highly suggest that, if you invest in one thing for your book, it be this. There are websites where you can find premade or custom made covers, and there are artists out there willing to do work for you at an affordable cost. Some authors have spent $300 on their covers, but others have found decent covers for closer to around $50. Either way, the end result is that your book has a cover that doesn't look like someone's 12-year old dabbled in MS Paint for a few minutes.
An article worth reading on this subject is WillowRaven's post on their blog regarding the difference between cover design and covert art, as well as the difference between custom covers and original covers.
4) Terrible pen names.
A lot of indie authors use pen names, which is absolutely perfectly fine...but most make an effort to make certain the names they use are reasonable. They should, at the very least, sound like real names. So please...don't call your Cat Kicker. And don't call yourself by an internet handle like catkicker9000. That's cute on an internet forum, but not on a book.
And please, please, please, please don't call yourself by a fan version of another author's name. Don't call yourself B.K. Rowling. Don't call yourself George R.R. Tolkien. Again, you might laugh, but some indie authors have actually done just that.
5) Irrational author behavior.
Most well known authors are too busy with their day-to-day lives, or with their promotions and next projects, to bother with every internet critic of theirs. By contrast, many indie authors seem to not only have the time, but the passion, to go on a crusade and destroy anyone who dares suggest their book is terrible. If you want one major example, go and read my post on Norman Boutin, who has become internet infamous for his tirades and antics.
Nobody likes receiving a one-star review on Amazon. Nobody likes hearing someone tear their book apart. Nobody likes hearing words akin to "this sucks." However, that is part of putting your piece of art out onto the market and letting people comment on it. It doesn't matter if you're a classic writer like Dante Alighieri or a famous author like Stephen King...at least one person out there is going to absolutely hate your work. Many indie authors are aware of this, and have found ways to thicken their skin or train themselves to overlook criticism. They are, like Elsa, able to "let it go."
Other indie authors don't do this. They will respond to every single criticism with hostility. They will take the time to rant against negative reviewers on Amazon, or pull stunts like writing revenge reviews against said authors, or using sock puppet accounts to write positive reviews in an effort to "balance out" their score. Some have plotted with their agents or editors to get back at their credits. You're probably laughing, but I wish I was making half this stuff up. If you want some wonderful case studies on the various antics authors will go to in order to silence or blacklist their critics, go and look at the "Authors Behaving Badly" series on Pocketful of Books. What grown people are capable of doing will astound you.
UPDATE - February 18, 2015: Adam Dreece, over on his blog, has written a post on the same topic. It's worth a read.