Indie Book Publishing: A Reader’s (and Buyer’s) Perspective

Hey All!
Gosh, is it already July? (!!!) Time flies! It’s honestly been a busy spring, which is why I haven’t spent a lot (read: none) of time on the blog. I’m trying to settle in a read a bit more though, as I find that I honestly function better if I don’t neglect that part of my life. On that note, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a (mildly) controversial topic (controversial for those of us who aren’t hard-core politics buffs, that is): Indie publishing. Some love I, some hate it, I say “I love it…sometimes.”

These days, the meaning of the term “indie publishing” is a bit muddier than it used to be. A lot of people use “self-publishing” interchangeably with “indie publishing” (aka, a term that can be used to denote publishing with a smaller, independent press). For the sake of this post, I’m using the term “indie publishing to denote self publishing. And really, self-publishing has come a long way since the days that it was referred to as “vanity publishing.” Luckily, we live in a society where talent triumphs recognition from the corporate, which is why indie publishing is bigger (and sometimes, better) than ever!

Being a longtime reader, reviewer, and editor of indie fiction, I can definitely vouch for some indie fiction as being some of the best books I’ve ever read, while some of them needed a little…help, shall we say? (just like any other book :)) So, with helpfulness in mind, let’s look at some ways that you can make your indie published book the most appealing it can be for readers.

1. Judge Your Book by it’s Cover: This sounds totally shallow, but it’s true that the better cover you have, the more people will be likely to pick your book up. It’s just a fact. I know, firsthand, that some truly awesome books have truly crappy covers, but it tends to take me a loooong (oooonggg) time to pick them up. If you’re a good designer (and I mean good, not average), consider putting your own cover together so you have full control over it. If not, spend the money and hire a professional cover designer. Just be careful who you get; make sure to check out their portfolio of work, and consider; “Would I buy that, if I were the customer?”

Some things to definitely avoid are washed-out colours, blocked fonts, and anything you’d consider “cheesy” (inspirational fiction that lets you know it’s inspiration by having a massive rainbow on the front; coconut oil-covered couples cavorting on the beach, etc.). Also consider; does the cover reflect what’s actually in the novel? If not, change the cover. And bottom line, simple is better, especially if fancy is coming out as cheesy. For example, did you know that most readers prefer a plain cover or one with a inanimate object than one with cover models? Apparently the reasoning behind this is that it ruins the reader’s own image of the book, and I have to agree. If you must have people, I really love covers with people, but not people’s faces. For example, a focus on a long-sweeping dress and an arm touching an oleander branch (you get the picture), or the back of someone’s head with a really great hairstyle. This gives your cover (and therefore, your book) a mysterious edge that temps the reader without interfering with their imagination.

2. Edit, Edit, Edit: I know, I don’t always like editing either. But it must be done. Just because you can control when you publish your book as an indie author, and just because it’s all very exciting, doesn’t mean you should jump the gun and put it out before it’s ready. Readers are hyper-critical of indie books, and therefore, the writer needs to make sure his/her work is polished. There are numerous writers, even traditionally published ones, whose work I once enjoyed until they started spitting out multiple books a year. Those books tended to feel awkward, less insightful, and just more consumable (in the marketing sense) than when they took the time to properly edit. In other words, choose quality over quantity, and be patient in publishing. Go over your work several times. You’ll also need to hire an editor at some point. This doesn’t have to be expensive; you can even hire a college student or a newcomer to editing. They’ll be cheaper and do a good job in order to prove themselves. But don’t skip this step. Someone who isn’t you needs to look over your stuff before you publish it.

3. Pricing: I know that there is a huge debate over whether indie authors should give there books away for free, or price them lower, or if doing these things devalues their work. To some extent, I don’t think that we, as readers and buyers, should demand free books. They are someone’s hard work and devotion, even if they don’t carry a big five publishing house label. However, as a marketing tactic, I highly recommend pricing appropriately. For example, if you have a first in a series, consider putting it to free (at least for certain periods) in order to hook readers. This always works for me. For example, I got Jenny B. Jones’s “In Between” and Anna Elliot’s “Georgiana Darcy’s Diary” for free on Kobo, and because I loved them so much and saved the money for the first books, I bought the sequels.

In terms of pricing further books, I definitely recommend pricing at $5.00 or less (for ebooks). I’ve probably spent more on impulse buy ebooks than full priced regular books over the years, likely because the are a cheaper buy. I can buy two or three books for the price of one, enjoy reading them quickly, then find my next great read. Plus the format of ebooks makes for an easier impulse buy. In terms of consumer value psychology (made that one up), it’s also good logic to note that whatever you spent on out-of-pocket costs in publishing your book, you still don’t have the same fees and expenses involved in publishing a hardcover, traditionally published book (i.e., you probably didn’t have to pay as many people full salaries in the making of your book). Thus, in terms of production costs, it should probably be a little lower than a traditional book.

4. Multiple Platforms: This is a biggie; make sure that your book is available on multiple platforms (Kindle, Kobo, etc.). There are so many books I’d have loved to have read over the years, but I’m a diehard Kobo reader, so Kindle books just don’t work for me. You’ll get more sales if you have your book on what your readers read on.

5. Trendiness and originality: I tend to read book trends to death (dystopian, princess-themed,reality tv-themed, illness themes, desert island, etc.)when they’re brand new and still somewhat original, and love new takes on the genres, so ebooks are a great way to indulge those whims. It’s not that I feel that ebooks are of a flimsier quality. Rather I think of them as trendy colour Sally Hansen nail polish in comparison to O.P.I. trendy colour nail polishes. Both are of the same quality, both are just as sturdy, both stick with me just as long, but the lower base price of Sally Hansen nail polishes means I might be more likely to take a risk on that zingy shade of lime green or that glow-in-the -dark pink shade. If you have an idea or a new take on an established genre that would be somewhat hard to sell to a traditional publisher, then take a risk with indie publishing. As a reader, I’d be happy to take a risk on you!

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What are some things that make you love indie fiction? What do you want to see more of? What are some of your favourite indie books? let me know in the comments below!

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