Saturday, December 08, 2012

Does indie author success lead to snobbery?

Over the last few years, I've seen a number of my fellow indie authors rise high. Some of these people I know relatively well, or somewhat well (at least online), others I only know by name. I've also watched a number of them plummet back down into obscurity. Then there are a precious few who sort of just keep on keeping on, who chug along without gigantic success (at least financially) but who also don't tank out. For the record, I consider myself in that last group, sort of a mid-lister of indie writers.

Some who were riding high a year ago are now nearly forgotten. Others who only published their first e-book or book in the last six months have had huge success.

But there's a trend I've noticed among successful indie authors, and perhaps it also occurs among those successful in other businesses, but I know writing, so I'll stick to it.

What is this trend of which I write? You can probably guess by the title of this post.


Actually, that word isn't truly appropriate, isn't quite accurate, at least not in all cases.

Perhaps a noun? Maybe ... braggart?

No, that's not it, either. What is the word I want?

Oh, hell, I'm a writer. I'll make up my own word. Let's call it ... know-it-all-edness.

How about that?

I see this all the time. Somebody who was a nobody (at least in terms of being an indie author) a few months ago or a year or two ago, suddenly finds themselves with some success. Maybe they're selling ten thousand or more e-books a month. Maybe they're making six figures a month. Doesn't matter. The details vary. Anywho, I see a number of such indie authors who online have suddenly become experts in their field, despite the fact their field is so new there really are no experts in it.

They go around offering advice, which is a fine thing to do, helping out beginners and others with not as much success, but often enough I see such "advice" constructed in strict rules that absolutely must be followed, and anyone who doesn't follow those rules is an idiot and a fool and will never make anything of themselves as a writer ... in fact, they're probably not a very good or a very serious writer.

What kind of rules? Here are some examples:

You absolutely MUST have a social presence online.

You absolutely DO NOT need a social presence online.

You MUST give away FREEBIES.

You MUST NOT, ever, under any circumstances, give away FREEBIES.

You absolutely must drop every distributor but AMAZON because they are the king of all and rain down manna from the heavens.

You absolutely must NOT drop other distributors than Amazon, because doing so limits the number of readers you can reach.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, you HAVE to utilize the KDP SELECT program.

Or, OH LORD, please don't tell me you're STILL using KDP SELECT.

I could go on. If you're an indie writer who has had his or her head above ground at any point during the last year, you've probably seen or heard all of these, and likely plenty more.

It's not that I mind those trying to help. Really, I don't. But I do mind those who are condescending, who treat other writers as if they are little children.

Yes, I'll admit, there can seem to be a lot of silly, sometimes juvenile characters out there in the indie writer world. Many of them are newbies, and they will either learn or they will move on to something else. A small handful are crazy, or mean, or disturbed, or whatever. There's nothing unusual about any of this. That's the open world of online commerce today. If we've not all learned this from Twitter and Facebook and forums and message boards, then we should have.

Also, these "helpful" authors who lay down the law, who have a there's-only-one-way-to-make-it-big-and-that's-my-way mentality are fooling themselves. If I had to guess, I'd say we could probably add their names to the list of authors who won't be around in a year or two.

Ask any long time writing pro. Yeah, I'm talking about the folks who were being traditionally published for years before the Kindle came along. Financially, writing is often an up-and-down experience. Sales blossom, sometimes explode, then they dwindle away. Not in all cases, but often enough. For instance, how many copies of The Bridges of Madison County do you think sold last month? Or even The Godfather? Sure, there's Harry Potter, but that's an anomaly, nowhere near the norm.

I write this ... this little rant, I suppose one could call it ... not for those out there who have had huge success, especially those with heads that have grown so large they believe themselves an expert. Because they're not. They're lucky. Damn lucky. They might be good writers, or they might not. Ask any old pro, and those who are honest will tell you no one can predict what will or will not be a successful book, let alone a best seller. These know-it-all indie writers might have done a ton of work, might have worked their fingers and their butts to the bone, but that alone does not insure success (though it can help).

I write this for those beginners out there, and for those who have been trudging along without much success. The truth is, to be blunt, yeah, you might not be a good writer. You might even suck at being a writer. I make no claims to being a good writer myself, though I think I'm a fairly decent writer who has penned a few good short stories and one or two nifty novels. But I write this for those less-than-successful people because many a great writer goes unnoticed, and because I don't want them to think there is only one road to success for indie writers.

Because there isn't. Each successful indie writer has had a different route to success. One thing they've all had in common is luck, and a certain level of skill and talent (usually at least a little, but not always). I've read sample chapters of e-books that have thousands of reviews, many positive, yet I wouldn't read those e-books even if they were free. I've also read some e-books that no one seems to know about, yet those e-books were some of the best writing I've had the pleasure to discover in years.

On top of that, there's the fact this industry is still so new that it is often facing change, sometimes drastic change. Six months ago, it seemed like change was coming so fast, there was no way to keep up with it. Big events related to publishing and indie authors seemed to happen every day. Of late things have seemed to slow down, but that doesn't mean things will stay that way. Why is change important to remember? Because what worked for an indie writer's success six months ago, a year ago, or two years ago, might not work today. Oh, it might work. Maybe. But possibly not. Hell, probably not. The market has gotten tougher and tougher with more and more people jumping on the band wagon, and despite those who cry out how great certain e-book distributors are, it's common enough for such distributors to come up with some new rules or some new program that isn't necessarily beneficial to the individual writers, though it might be a good thing for the distributor(s).

I also want to add that when I write about this know-it-all attitude, I do not mean to refer to anyone in particular. This is something I've seen in a growing number of indie writers. Not all or even most successful indie writers, but enough that it seems to be a trend. I'd also like to point out that there are some very successful indie writers who show nothing of this attitude. They help others without speaking or writing down to them as if they're dealing with idiots. I appreciate that, and I'm sure others do, as well.

As for those who think they know everything, there's no talking to them, or writing to them. They already know everything. They have had their success, and for whatever reason, they've come to believe it is the only road to success. They are simply wrong, and too stubborn and pigheaded or foolish to admit it. They've let their success get the best of them. Being successful, financially, doesn't make one suddenly become a genius or make one in any way, morally or otherwise, superior to others. It doesn't even mean one is smarter or a better business person than everyone else (though one might be). It simply means one did some work, maybe even a lot of hard work, and got lucky.

And for those who like to pick apart and rework every single thing that anyone ever says ... NO ... HELL, NO ... I am not saying or writing or suggesting that luck is the only thing it takes to become a successful indie author, or a success at anything else. But I am saying luck is a big element, bigger than nearly everyone gives it credit. You can write like Shakespeare, do your marketing like Apple, have your covers done by Rembrandt, and have the bank account of a Rockefeller, yet still not make it as an indie author. I've seen that, too.

One last thing to keep in mind ... being a success at anything varies from person to person. Maybe one person deems success a six-figure salary. Maybe another deems success as paying off their house, or putting their kids through college. Maybe another person just wants to get their bills paid. And maybe for some writers, success is simply getting a nice note from an editor or publisher. It all varies. It's all different. We all have different levels of success. I'm where I want to be, and that's fine with me. I might only sell a thousand e-books this month, but that's fine with me. I'm in this for the long haul ... no, I'm in this for the rest of my life. Sparking big all of a sudden does not appeal to me, because I've seen enough writers do that and then burn away to ash. I don't want to do that.

Besides, the bills are getting paid.


David J. West said...

Great post Ty, I'm always happy to learn more from someone who cares and has been doing the work like you have.

Ty Johnston said...

Thanks, David. This was just something that's been nagging at me of late.

Stuart Whitmore said...

I agree, publishing has changed and continues to change so much that anybody who thinks they have the One Right Way to success is fooling themselves (and, unfortunately, possibly fooling others). Even if such a One Right Way existed yesterday, it'll be outdated soon if it's not already. Those who are looking for guidance should be very wary of those who offer too-solid advice. Flexibility and constant learning are key now and probably will be for quite awhile.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great post, and I agree completely. I think people in all areas do the same thing. When people have success at anything they tend to think the success is due completely to their own efforts and they begin to...well, brag a bit about it. I've seen it in academia quite often too. Given how long I've been doing the writing thing, if I did have overnight success I'd know it wasn't do to my efforts perse.