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Neal Wooten Headshot

You Can Stick Your Stigma

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(For the sake of this article, I will lump together all self-published authors, authors who have utilized fee-based publishers, and authors of small Indie presses. They are all Indie authors.)

A writer sits at his computer and works on a novel. (For the sake of syntax and agreement, we'll make this writer male, but feel free to insert "she" and "her" if that is your case.) He spends every spare moment of his time cultivating the plot and amending the writing. A year later, after finishing twenty drafts, bugging every educated friend and former schoolteacher for help, and paying to have it professionally edited and proofread, he finally relaxes and admires what he perceives as the best book ever written.

Reality bite # 1. He tries to find an agent who can get his manuscript into the hands of a publisher, only to discover that no agent ever requests to see it. After putting together hundreds of query letters, all demanding different formats and information, it is all in vain. He quickly discovers that the quality of his manuscript is not the important thing; it's all about "platform," that absurd word that has crept into the publishing industry two decades ago. That's right; it's not who you know, but how many you know, or more to the point, how many know you.

The writer is yet to be disheartened, believing in the project enough to take a bold stance and go the Indie route and publish on his own.

Reality bite #2. With his beautiful novel in hand, his pride riding high, he strolls into the big-box bookstore where he has shopped for the last twenty years, and presents his cherished labor of love to the manager, eager to explain the great terms. He is looked at as if he has kidnapped the manager's kid and is asking for ransom.

Reality bite #3. After receiving great reviews, winning impressive awards, and selling quite a few copies via word-of-mouth, he ventures into a small Indie bookstore and presents his acclaimed work to the owner, eager to explain the great terms. He is looked at as if he has kidnapped the owner's kid and is asking for ransom.

Now the author begins to get a little discouraged. Not only would agents not bother to actually request the manuscript before rejecting it, but neither would anyone at the local bookstores bother to read or research the book before dismissing it, leaving the aspiring writer with the impression that his work must not be of quality and selling in these stores would somehow bring down the appraisal of said establishments. In each store, he drops his head and walks out past the huge display of Snooki's Shore Thing, Paris Hilton's Confessions of an Heiress, or Sarah Palin's latest magnum opus.

This is an all-too-familiar road that Indie authors have traveled. Regardless of the fact that the industry has changed immensely, the stigma regarding Indie titles refuses to go away. There are roughly 275,000 traditionally published books released every year, 85% from established authors, meaning the Indie route is the only viable option for hundreds of thousands of new authors. In fact, since 2008, published Indie titles outnumber traditionally published titles. Yet no matter how great the book might be, no matter how talented the author might be, they are still indiscriminately frowned upon by a malevolent and self-destructive industry.

With the incursion of new sales venues offering a plethora of options for readers like online booksellers, e-books, and more electronic reading devices than you can shake a stick at, brick-and-mortar stores are in peril. Managers and owners are shaking their heads staring at the P&L paperwork each month and the horrendous bottom lines, wishing there was some way to sell more books. These are the same owners and managers who continually run off local Indie authors because of the stigma.

It perplexes me. All of the sales the author generates on his own could more easily be done through the local bookstores, and at a profit to said stores. Yes, that thing that eludes them most months -- profit. Every book signing the store lets a local author hold will bring friends and family members into that store with money in their pocket, money the customers intends on leaving at the store before they leave, yet their money is apparently no good here.

In case you're an Indie author reading this looking for the silver lining, let me say now that it does not exist, not yet anyway. I don't have the answers. I don't know how you get a person to ignore what they have been taught and utilize common sense. I don't know how you throw someone a flotation device when they've been programmed to go down with the ship. If all else fails, maybe you could try kidnapping their kid.

Note: The kidnapping thing is just a joke.