Why Some Indie Authors Fail

I recently finished reading a series of books by an indie author and I wanted to buy more of the author’s books. Apparently, there aren’t any more of the author’s books available, but the next volume in the series is due … sometime. My questions are: How will I know when the next book become available? Will I care when it is finally available?

There are certain authors who I occasionally check to see if they have published another book. I check at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; I do not check at Amazon because I can’t use an Amazon-formatted or DRMed ebook on either my Sony or Nook. (Yes, I am aware of Calibre and know that I can format shift DRM-free ebooks using it, and even that there are plug-ins that will remove some DRM — but many, if not most, ebookers won’t go to the trouble or don’t know how to do it, and I do not support authors who go the Amazon-exclusive route.)

So how does the indie author who wrote a decent enough book that I am interested in the author’s next book (a) let me know the book is available and (b) keep my interest? What I have discovered is that many indie authors provide no way for a reader to say “please e-mail me when volume 2 is available.” Too many indie authors think that in 1 month, let alone in 6 months, I will still remember who they are or that I want to buy and read their next book.

The truth, of course, is otherwise. Yes, I will remember the exceptional authors — the ones who I rate 5 or 5+ out of 5 stars, but there are very few of them. I will not remember the author whose book was a good, not great, read — the 4 out of 5 stars (and possibly even the 3 out of 5 stars) ebook.

Every indie author should have a live link in their ebook that lets a reader signup to be notified when the next book by the author becomes available. Not a signup for a newsletter or for anything other than a single e-mail that says “you read my book XYZ and asked to be notified when my next ebook became available. It is now available at these stores/places: (here insert links).” Very few authors are memorable, so readers need an easy way to add their name to a remember-me list.

I should point out that this is a major failing of Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, too – perhaps even Amazon, Apple, Sony, and Kobo, but I am not familiar with their systems as I do not shop at their stores. Smashwords and B&N should allow me to go to my purchases and click a button to ask to be specifically notified when an author (of my choosing, not all authors whose books I have purchased) publishes a new book that is available at their bookstores.  In the case of Smashwords, this option should also be available even if I have not purchased the ebook from it, because Smashwords is both a bookstore and a distributor and I may well have bought the book at a different retailer.

Disrespect

As important as it is for an author to let me know that the author has a new book available, that failure to provide me with a means to learn of the new book is really a secondary reason of failure. The primary reason is a disrespect for words and language, which is really a lack of respect for the reader.

This disrespect takes many forms and ranges from not caring to ignorance. For example, I just read an ebook (no, I didn’t finish it and will not finish it) in which the author repeatedly refers to people/person(s) as that instead of who, uses wonder when wander is meant, and uses common when c’mon is meant. There are also numerous other poor word, punctuation, and grammar choices, which poor choices make me wonder if the author has ever read a book he didn’t write.

Words are an author’s weapon of choice. They must be carefully chosen and used correctly to ensure that the message is sent and understood as intended. I’ve said this before numerous times: writing must communicate the author’s message accurately and understandably.

Consequently, if nothing else, every author should have a good grasp of two fundamental legs of writing: grammar and spelling. If an author wasn’t a brilliant grammarian in school, perhaps the author should invest in a grammar book. Note that I said a grammar and not a style book. It does not matter whether the author writes one hundred or 100 — that is a matter of style but in neither instance will a reader misunderstand. But it does matter if an author uses due to when caused by is meant, or uses that when who is meant, or a sentence is confusing because the first clause is in the present tense and the second clause is in the past tense.

As you know, I think every author needs a good, professional copyeditor, and oftentimes also needs a good, professional developmental editor (for the difference between the two, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). A good editor would prevent embarrassments like common for c’mon and give the author some credibility that perhaps the author doesn’t deserve. It is this disrespect for language, whether intentional or unintentional, by some indie authors that causes them to fail.

The Editor

Recently, I had a discussion with an indie author about some editing suggestions I had made. The author was livid, believing that my suggestions — and it is important to note that what an editor proposes are suggestions for the author to accept or reject — distorted her writing. To no avail, I tried to point out that you cannot have the heroine arrowshot in the left shoulder on page 10 and a healer fixing the arrow-made wound in the right shoulder on page 12, unless you indicate between pages 10 and 12 that the heroine was arrowshot a second time in the opposite shoulder.

There were many of these types of mistakes in the text but even more important, I think, the author kept writing sentences like “Justine, that was shot by….” I kept suggesting that “Justine, that” should be “Justine, who” but the author knew better.

Needless to say, we parted ways, but I found the discord instructive. An author should be hiring an editor to fill a gap in the author’s knowledge and skills, not for the sake of being able to claim that the book was edited — especially not if the author intends to discard all of the editor’s suggestions. Yet a number of indie authors are unable to recognize their limits and thus cannot make good use of the professional editor’s skills. Viewing your editor as your enemy rather than your friend is asking to fail.

Some indie authors fail because they do not provide a means to notify readers of future writing; some because they disrespect the language of writing; some because they view their editor as their enemy and not their friend. Each of these failing ways is correctable; it just takes effort and determination.

28 thoughts on “Why Some Indie Authors Fail

  1. This is a real problem, because such notices from authors are apt to be occasional (every year or two), and people’s email change every few years. I used to maintain a mailing list, but frankly I’ve forgotten to send updates — although I keep an active blog, so people know where to find me. Facebook could have been a solution, but FB recently changed their policy to make it not automatic that Fan Pages you like will have updates put on your wall.

    In music, there is a site called Songkick which provides notification when a singer you like comes in town to perform a concert. (Notably rare events). This is extremely useful, and it doesn’t seem to hard to code something compare for authors.

  2. I think the Fictionwise function I miss the most is my list of “Notify me when this author adds a book to the site” list. It was so darn simple and an almost guaranteed instant sale. Why don’t they all do this?

  3. This is so true! I run the ebook search site Luzme, and one of the most frequent suggestions I get from my users is to send out alerts when authors release a new book. So that’s coming real soon, hopefully later this month. As a reader, I want this myself!

  4. “I do not support authors who go the Amazon-exclusive route.”

    I do not support blog writers who punish people for making their publishing decisions based on their own – and their readers’ – best interest. Amazon is so far above other publishing platforms it’s laughable to think one would give up any advantage at all, and Amazon has plenty of them, to publish on any other platform.

    Additionally, the term “ignorance” means “lack of knowledge.” While willful refusal to learn may be considered a lack of respect toward one’s readers, the actual lack of knowledge is not disrespectful. It is just that: a lack of knowledge.

    1. How is Rich punishing anyone? He does not want to buy from Amazon. Admittedly, he phrased it in rather obnoxious way, but he is no more wrong in objecting to Kindle exclusivity than the author is in choosing to go that route.

      1. Lack of support implies as much punishment as one can gather up, given one’s position of gravitas in a community. Of course, the author can and should choose to “support” those whom he wishes.

        And so shall I, which was the reason for the first part of my comments.

        As for the second part, I can only assume Mr. Adin’s ignorance of the proper meaning of the term “ignorance” demonstrates disrespect for his reader. That is, after all, exactly what he said.

        1. The sentence is: “This disrespect takes many forms and ranges from not caring to ignorance.” So, Georgene, I should excuse an author because he lacks knowledge of the subject matter or lacks knowledge of basic rules of grammar — because he is ignorant and does nothing to become knowledgable? Seems to me that an author’s lack of knowledge (ignorance) regarding grammar, which is foundational to his writing, is disrespectful to the reader.

      2. But Rich does realize that B&N has their own ebook exclusives through Sterling Publishing, right?

        I doubt the authors and/or agents had much say in the matter if they wanted the contract but I don’t see much difference between Amazon and B&N here.

        My dad would certainly love to have all of Alistair MacLean available to him in ebook format but not enough to go back to dealing with B&N.

          1. And Sterling’s ebooks are available at Books on Board usually cheaper than B&N.

            Also, B&N did put Sterling up for sale last year but there was no buyers.

    2. Georgene, you wrote: “I do not support blog writers who punish people for making their publishing decisions based on their own – and their readers’ – best interest.”

      Do I understand correctly that you think I should support Amazon-exclusive authors when I cannot buy and read their books on the device of my choosing? Why am I less entitled than the Amazon-exclusive author to make reading and buying decisions for me than she is to make publishing decisions for herself?

      The Amazon-exclusive authordecided her best interest lay with Amazon and not selling me her book. That’s fine, she is entitled to do so. I decided that it is not in my best interest as a reader to encourage authors to go the Amazon-exclusive route, so I don’t review their books and I don’t buy them. Two people making buisiness decisions based on their own needs and desires. Seems fair to me.

      BTW, I hope you understood that my objection is to Amazon-exclusive authors, not to authors who sell to Amazon and other retailers.

  5. And I was thinking indie authors fail when they en masse write jejune books.

    But I never had the same kind of problems as the author above, mostly because I don’t read series, and rarely read more than two or three books by the same author. If I enjoy a book by one author, I don’t rush out and want to read more by the same. If I liked a book, I might read more by the same author, but I’m not usually a “fan” and will decide what to read on a book by book basis. The whole idea of authors creating “brands” or “hooking” readers makes me laugh.

    There are already more good books written than you’ll live long enough to read, so maybe less fretting over the next book by Billy Bob . If Billy Bob does write more and you want to read it, do so; if not, read a book by William Roberts or someone else and move on.

  6. Great article. At these times everyone has become a righter (writer) to some extent :). The ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ irks me as well.

    As for notifying you of a new volume/release… I am surprised that there aren’t easy, accessible options for this. You may see an option for this as many reading experiences are moving towards HTML5, since it can incorporate widgets to help subscribe. This is something very useful to think about for us as a digital publishing software company. There should be a place to ‘sign-up when my next one’s done!’.

    Tiana

    1. I get emails all the time from Amazon, many of which are either “Customers who enjoyed X also bought Z” (great for discoverability) or “Will, get [author whose previous books I've picked up]‘s new novel now”.

      The others are usually Daily Deals or other steeply discounted books.

      Signed,
      I’m not just a Kindle-exclusive author and publisher; I’m also a Kindle-exclusive reader.

  7. > (a) let me know the book is available and (b) keep my interest?

    Perhaps subscribe to the author’s RSS feed? If you can find it… But yeah. Discoverability of independent, invisible work is a problem. Most people sidestep the problem by only getting involved with best-sellers from top publishers. ;-)

  8. I am the author of ten novels available on Amazon and Smashwords. While I don’t have a mailing list (simply because I am not sure that many readers actually want to be spammed with notifications of my books) I put my website address at the end of my Kindle books. But Smashwords don’t allow authors to include website addresses in their books. This is a pity as it would thus be easier to link up to an authors website and their updates.

    I announce my new books on my Facebook page, Website and on twitter so I hope I can catch my readers this way.

  9. From the perspective of an indie author your request for a single mailing list for a signup to be alerted only in case of a sequel is time-consuming (one new newsletter per product? I’m releasing 34 this year… I’m hardly going to be the author with the most new product out, either) and has little added value over a normal newsletter that alerts for (in my case) a) new releases, b) promotional deals, & c) list member exclusives.

    The bookstores should give you “alert on sequel” / “alert from this author” yes, because they can do that with a program. But to ask us to do one more thing on top of the already crammed schedule we need to keep in order to get the next book out? Do you actually want us to write the next one?

    Sorry, but seriously, just sign up for the mailing list we do offer. Worst case scenario, you learn when a book you have read is on sale so you can suggest a friend pick it up. DISASTER. (Now, if an author doesn’t have a list at all, then yes, they’ve failed. Just as they fail if they don’t have a basic website detailing their work.)

  10. There was a time when Kindle ruled the digital books world and I simply couldn’t be bothered reformatting and promoting to sites where my book would hardly be seen. However, that time is past. Kobo and iBooks are really becoming popular and there are many other eReaders trying to grab their own share of the market.

    Interesting to see some solutions to the issue of notifying readers when a new book is out, most suggestions require an effort on the reader’s part. I’m glad you raised this point and it’s something I hadn’t considered, never being comfortable with email lists. I would assume it’s in the authors best interest to be the one to chase down the reader when they have a new book out. There may be a way to include a subscription link in the back of the ebook. Something to look into.

  11. With regard to your first point, I have been urging my fellow writers to set up a New Release mailing list – one which exclusively serves that purpose.

    My gut feeling is that most readers don’t want a newsletter, or a monthly email, or whatever – they just want to know when the next book is out. They don’t want more clutter in their inbox.

    Yes it would be simpler if the retailers offered this service to readers, but speaking from a writers’ perspective, that leaves a huge window of opportunity for us to build a mailing list of readers independent of any retailer/third party.

    For anyone who wants the basics on setting up such a list, I wrote about it last week: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/the-author-with-the-biggest-mailing-list-wins/

    1. David, the author, Tracy Falbe, does this, as does Richard Tuttle and several others. Every time they publish a new book, they send out an email to those who have signed on for it (which includes me). In my case, I immediately buy the book because I know it is a book that I want to read and that they want to sell to me.

      Self-publishing authors are responsible for all aspects of publishing — not just writing but marketing, too. It seems to me that such authors should want to make sure that every reader who is interested in their writing is notified when they have a new book available to buy. With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, the burden is on the author to get the word out, not on the reader.

  12. Interesting article, and even more interesting comment thread. I have a list set up and it really doesn’t take much time at all to provide updates. Set it up on an autoresponder, create a simple template using their forms and ta da! For me the trick is getting people to sign up – I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 years and have had no problem building that list, but the book list is another story – though to be honest I have done zip to promote it. I like the idea of having a link at the back of the book so I think I’ll experiment with that – maybe set up a split test so I can see exactly how many people click through. Thanks for the interesting read!

  13. I think there is some sound advice here. Amazon does make it tempting to stick with KDP Select, but it’s becoming less attractive as more and more authors use it. However, since Amazon offers an out every 90 days, it’s not bad to try it out. I like to say that KDP Select is a good place to start but a bad place to finish. I launched my last three books that way, but I have never left a book in the program longer than 90 days.

    There are definitely improvements that could be made on the retailer end as far as keeping readers posted, too. Why does Amazon provide a link for the reader to “tell the publisher you’d like to read this book on Kindle” and NOT provide an email to the reader when the book does become available on Kindle?

    But based on your post above, I have added a note on my blog on how to sign up for a new book notice. There’s just no good reason not to offer it, even if, as one commenter said, there’s no guarantee the email address will still be good.

  14. The new book notice is something that I’ve been looking for since I lost Fictionwise. There are some web services providing this based on Amazon catalog. Book-buzzes is the one working for me. Unfortunately, they’re only covering Amazon catalog, so sometimes I find new books checking the author website, but then, that’s only with authors I really love.

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