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Missed Opportunities for Self-Publishers?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I've mentioned this elsewhere on the forum and some other places, but I felt like it deserves its own thread. I've been thinking a lot about my approach to fantasy as of late and an interest to write the kind of fantasy that may not be as easy to find. While I enjoy epic fantasy a great deal, I feel like there is already a lot of it out there in the world, both from traditional and self-publishers. I would imagine that some people who chose to self-publish may do so because they want to write more daring novels that mainstream publishers won't touch. Instead I see most people that self-publish do so for the quick turnaround and the ability to mold their own career without input from editors. While I think these are good reasons as well, I wonder if there is a missed opportunity to really reinvent the fantasy genre or at least reinvent what a self-published fantasy author might offer.

    This is no way a bash against people that write epic fantasy. Some of my favorite authors write it. But within the idea of fantasy there are so many more possibilities. I think if mainstream fantasy publishers dictate that epic fantasy is the "it" genre, couldn't self-published fantasy authors offer more alternatives?

    Hell, maybe I just don't know enough about what's going on in the self-publishing realm as I'm a neophyte when it comes to such topics. Maybe these things are already happening. I just wonder if there is a missed opportunity to truly distinguish traditional and self-published fantasy.
     
    psychotick likes this.
  2. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I agree. One of the things that indie publishing does allow for is the expression of completely new plots and world builds etc. It allows for envelopes to be pushed in unexpected directions, and love it or hate it Fifty Shades is an example of this.

    Unfortunately while indies are likely to publish more daring, non formulaic novels than the trade publishe, that doesn't mean that either the publishing world is able to cater for these works or readers are ready to read them. As an example I have one book that is cross genre, bluring the line between science fiction and fantasy (basically elves in sci fi) and it sells poorly compared to my traditional epic fantasies. I have another sci fi with probably the most unusual plot ever seen and sales are dismal at best.

    Basically the established tropes do best until something breaks out.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I do think daring to try different things is worth doing if it's where your mind is at the time. Anything that is on the fringe is going to most likely sell less until, like you said, something breaks out. While I do think traditional fantasy will continue to sell the best, is it worth the risk to invest time into writing weirder fiction that may or may not find an audience? I'd say yes. As you said, 50 Shades was risky, but obvious pushing that envelope paid off in a big way.

    I just wonder what kind of amazing fiction that may be possible to achieve with no restraints from a publisher saying "that won't sell" or whatever.
     
  4. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

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    I think it may come soon. Self-publishing is still quite new, and people are building their "platforms" and getting a bit of a backlist. It's hard enough to get people to buy familiar things that are self-published, at the moment, but I'd certainly like to play with genres at some point.
     
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I would assume that what "most" self publishers are writing is whatever pleases them. In other words, whatever they would want to read themselves. Which is just as it should be.

    Now, if what you would want to read is something that will defy conventions and explore new territory then go write it and publish it and more power to you. Write what pleases you. But I don't see why all or most or even a significant portion of authors should be concerned with such things. I think the only thing all writers should be concerned with is telling a good story.
     
  6. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm not suggesting everyone write stories to please me. I'm suggesting that it may be a missed opportunity to distinguish mainstream publishing from self-publishers. I mean if umpteen self-publishers are all writing epic fantasy, then what is the alternative?

    And of course the goal is to the write a good story regardless. That's a given. However, is telling the same good stories over and over again the best option for a section of writers trying to make their names seen and heard? I say write whatever you want, but are you missing a chance to push the envelope and tell new kinds of stories that haven't been told in fantasy before?

    I mean, why does epic fantasy have to be the default? Again, I'm not railing against epic fantasy, I do like it myself, but I myself am a reader and a writer. Meaning I don't want to write every single kind of thing I want to read. No matter how hard I try, I can't replicate what China Mieville, Chuck Wendig, and others do. And I'm glad they push the boundaries so I have alternatives to read other things than just epic fantasy. Every writer has their own way of telling stories and I'd love to just see a broader range. Self-publishers have the perfect opportunity to bust the genre wide open if they care to.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2014
  7. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Phil, I totally see your point and I like it though I admit to not being a fan of epic fantasy. I've read it and enjoyed very little but I think that's due to my attention span as a reader. I don't write epic fantasy and I intend to self-publish. Indie books are my favorite because I love their rawness. I haven't read any self pubbed epics although I don't know how many of them exist out there. Most of what I have read has been outside the norm. And although I see where you're going with this, I don't think the responsibility should fall mostly on independent authors. I think it would be great to see traditional ones break through the mold as well. It seems like epic fantasy is a rite of passage in fantasy genre. It would be nice to see a greater variety in it.

    Quick note: one of my favorite recently read fantasy tales is traditionally published. "The Violin Maker's Wife", a novelette. The magic in the story is supernatural, which added a nice variety. I know this thread is related to Indie work, of which there is some interesting fantasy out there. You're best served being selective though. ;)
     
  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Here's the thing (well, one of the things): why are you singling out epic fantasy? It's not as if all epic fantasy is the same. It's not as if the subgenre isn't full of fantastically creative material. It's not as if epic fantasy can't expand its own boundaries. Fantasy is a genre so full of potential that most likely its borders will never be discovered. One could argue they don't exist. But your posts make it sound like epic fantasy has exhausted itself when that's simple an unfounded assumption.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Phil,

    As I understand it, your suggestion is that it may be easier for a self pubber to gain success by writing something outside the norm. If I've interpreted you correctly, let's think about that:

    Epic fantasy has a sizeable and known audience.
    Niche fantasy's audience is, presumably, smaller and less-well defined as far as demographics/characteristics go.

    Is it better to go after a small part of a large audience or a huge part of a small audience? Good question. Wish I knew.

    From a marketing standpoint, it seems like writing epic offers a clear advantage. Who is my audience? People who like (fill in the blank). Seems to me like knowing the audience is the first step to good marketing.

    From this statement, perhaps I've misinterpreted your thesis? Are you advocating your suggestion from the standpoint of enhanced ability to succeed or because you feel self pubbers need to distinguish themselves?

    If the latter, I question the need. Readers don't care one way or another if you're traditionally published or indie. All they care about is if you're delivering quality at your price point. In my mind, the main failing of self publishing is that few indie authors are delivering any kind of value because their quality is too low to be considered at any price point.
     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, this is just false. Hundreds of Indie authors are doing very well precisely because they are offering good quality work.
     
    gethinmorgan, C Hollis and Graylorne like this.
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm having a hard, hard time finding them.

    Maybe I'm too picky, but there seems to me to be a huge quality difference. For example, I just read Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but that's because the story was darker than I prefer. I didn't have many complaints about the writing or how he told the story, just the story he chose to tell.

    In contrast, I've been asking on several forums including Goodreads for recommendations for good, well-written indie fantasy. Each one I've read has had major flaws in the quality of the writing. Major flaws.
     
  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    If cost was a concern to me and I was looking for a series of epic fantasy to sink my teeth into I imagine I would almost certainly be going for a well known name from a traditional publisher. Reading a trilogy (of trilogies) takes time and it's something of a commitment to get into.
    To me, and probably to a lot of others, traditional publishing is something of a stamp of approval. Someone has read this and found that it's good enough that they're willing to invest their own money into promoting and selling it - that's gotta count for something, right?
    I'll still check reviews and reader feedback, but I think I'd be more likely to start looking among traditionally published works.

    If however, I'm just looking for something new and interesting to while away a weekend on the sofa, I don't think I would have any qualms about looking at self published works. A shorter, stand-alone book is less of a time-investment. It's probably cheaper as well and it doesn't matter as much if it's not as good. I'd be more willing to take some risks if that was my goal.
     
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, your personal standards don't enter into it. You cannot deny the fact that there are hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of readers out there who are buying self-published books and are perfectly happy with them. There are hundreds of Indie authors building robust fan bases on the foundation of their storytelling skills. Just because you haven't found one that you like doesn't mean this isn't so. Personally, I have yet to try one that I liked as well. But I know that I have really high standards and contemporary writers in general are very unlikely to please me as a reader. My personal preferences don't make any difference to the success and popularity of those authors and neither do yours.
     
  14. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    The Indie Eclective are doing exactly what you're asking about Phil. They self-publish weirder fantasy/horror/new weird/queer stories. It's a group of writers that help each other out with marketing by cross-posting to each other's platforms about their works and shares the marketing work. They have a few short story collections out on Amazon right now and as soon as I get some spending money again, I know I want to buy some of their novels.

    Here's a link: http://www.amazon.com/HALLOWEEN-COLLECTION-FROM-INDIE-ECLECTIVE-ebook/dp/B005LPGG0C

    For those of us who do write odder short fictions (Phil, Guru Coyote, myself, Feo(?), whoever else I'm forgetting): would there be any interest in gathering a collection of short stories together, doing a group critique of them to get them publication-ready, etc. and then putting them out there? Each of the contributors would be able to link to their own already published works/blog/twitter/facebook/whatever so that they could get new readers in. I think even if they were offered for free (which some of us have already discussed doing for our short stories already), it would definitely get the word out about who we are and what we do.

    I know of a couple of other people who do this kind of thing, but they tend to be husband-wife teams and from Australia. (Which makes me wonder if my new marketing strategy should be to move to Australia?)
     
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    My point has more to do with indie writers distinguishing themselves from traditional publishers. At least in the fantasy realm, there's a chance to do so I believe. For example, if I'm looking for the next, best epic fantasy, I'm not going to lie, I'm going to look at traditional publishing. That doesn't mean I won't give an epic fantasy by a self-publisher a chance, it just means I'm not looking for epic fantasy there myself. When I look for indie writers, I look for writing I'm not going to find at major publishers. Does that make sense?

    If everything sort of blends together, I guess that's good? I just think it's a missed opportunity for a group of indie authors to make names for themselves by offering fantasy books that would be nigh impossible to find from traditionally publishers. I think everyone is out to make millions of dollars at writing when there is a chance to corner a certain niche of the market. For me epic fantasy just represents the default. Default isn't bad, but just seems like indie writers could be doing more to say, "Look at us!"

    The bold part is the most important part of your statement. Fantasy is full of potential, but why the default of epic fantasy every time? It's like if you read horror books and they were all about ghosts. Sure, one epic fantasy may stand out from another, but it just seems like there are other ways to tell fantasy stories. You made my point for me.

    I don't think epic fantasy has exhausted itself. Of course there are limitless possibilities. I just wonder why it's become the default for everyone, even myself. I just think of traditionally published authors writing a lot of epic fantasy, you have to imagine there are readers out there thinking that indie writers have a chance to crack the genre open and try to explore all the limitless possibilities.

    I find I don't tend to work well in collabs for reasons I'll tell you if you want to discuss it. :)

    However, I think this is a good idea and I'd be willing to mull it over if other people got on board. I'm not very keen on giving things away for free because I see the reaction those get in some circles, but if I think it could work, I'd be willing to give it a try.
     
  16. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I'm just throwing out how I saw the writers in the Indie Eclective do it. Not that it's the best way, nor the only way of doing collabs, just how it's worked for them.

    The reason I suggest free is it would kill a lot of the argument about how to split royalties more than two ways. I could imagine a lot of angst about one person saying they had to pay for the cover design and another that paid for an editing service, and one person used a song lyric and had to pay royalties for that use, etc etc.

    It would definitely be difficult to do, as we all have very different styles, but I think that could work in a group's favor. If, for example, you, me, and whoever else all had stories that were different from each other but similar in that they were about ordinary heroes, you might gain a reader who didn't like my story but loved yours or vice versa. I know short story collections don't do well historically, but I think the difference of authorship might help boost the signal (as it were). I've skipped over short story collections by one unknown author because I don't know if I'll like the style. If I see a group of short stories by a whole bunch of different authors, I'm more likely to pick it up as I think (rightly or wrongly) that quantity means I'll like something in the collection. (This is how I discovered Charlaine Harris and Sookie.)

    One of the things that I love about what I've been seeing spec fic writers do lately is help another writer with exposure/marketing. If I like seeing that, and it makes me want to buy more stuff that I'd never have found otherwise, how many other people like that same kind of altruism and think it's worthwhile to support that kind of effort?

    Speaking for myself, I am not ready with enough pieces to really contribute anything to a collection at this point in time. However, I would like to have stuff out in the market on Amazon and through Smashwords within the next six months...so if it takes time to get a group together, that's cool.
     
  17. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, I'm open to things such as this, but I tend to want to try things on my own first to see how things pan out. I'd like to keep this in mind for the future as I do think this could be a way to unite certain writers under a "cause" or "movement" like New Weird has done. I think that is a good way to discover other writers who are aiming for a certain aesthetic. Because epic fantasy is so broad a category, it may be harder to do something like this.

    I don't necessarily think free is the wrong way to go, I just think it might need to be considered how it work to everyone's advantage from a promotional standpoint.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  18. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Not to stray too far off topic (or be a jerk), but I have been seeing this line of thought all over the place. As a reader of mostly Indie books, I have yet to come across a total pile of doo story. Its all about being selective. Its disappointing to see such poor faith in self-publishers as opposed to support. I don't understand why the popular view is that most Indie books suck. Just my take, but if anyone is interested in self publishing someday, why not start viewing the whole thing from a more respectful light?
     
    C Hollis, Philip Overby and Graylorne like this.
  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I agree with your points, Chesterama. I tend to be pretty selective in general regardless of how a book is published. I try not to take this idea that all indie writing is poorly written, but it is a widely held belief for some reason. I'm not sure I buy into this completely as the handful of indie writers I've read I have mostly enjoyed. If I didn't enjoy their work, I just passed on it without another word. I'm of the opinion if I ever end up being a self-published writer, I don't want people prejudging me just because I'm self-published. I've grown to be a bit more respectful of the whole publishing process and I understand even if the writing isn't up to my standards, someone most likely put a lot of work into what they're putting out there.
     
  20. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    There are plenty authors who choose for self-publishing, not because they couldn't sell their books to a trad, publisher, but because they don't want to. It's not the last resort of the desperate, it's a challenge. A freedom. That's why more and more trad. published authors of name go the self-publishing route as well as the trad. paths.

    I've found a lot of fantasy books that are enjoyable, and many that are not. Both self-published and trad.
     
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