Saturday, June 26, 2010

How readers benefit from independent authors

Readers are no longer restricted to what business people with a payroll to meet deem marketable. The explosion of independent writing and publishing has broken the dam that publishing businesses erected to prevent most writers from seeking an audience.

The burgeoning quantity of titles in print or ebook formats is the result of authors producing their work independently. Some readers might rightly feel overwhelmed by the vast selection, but many are also delighted by the consumer-oriented benefits that independent writers are bringing to the marketplace.

Reader friendly pricing

In the ebook market especially, independent authors have been a major force in driving down prices. I can't think of one instance in which I've read or heard an independent writer complain about Amazon's favored maximum price point of $9.99 for ebooks. It is always the large companies determined to defend their cash flow that rail against affordable ebook prices for their customers. Across the board, independent authors predominantly price their ebooks low, usually between free and $5. Attractive pricing entices readers to try new authors. Generous free samples are also the norm, so readers can decide if a work is up to their standards before making a purchase.

Customer support

In the growing ebook market, readers have often been vociferous about their complaints and wishes. A new medium based on many formats and gadgets is destined to inflict technical difficulties. Large companies for a long time seemed befuddled or indifferent to consumer requests while independent writers were speedily meeting needs. Science fiction author Steve Jordan of noted, "It took booksellers like Sony and Barnes & Noble months to roll out ebooks in ePub formats, once it was clear that ePub was becoming the default format to sell; whereas independent authors could manage the switchover in days, or even hours, of making the same decision. By the time Sony and B&N made it to the ePub party, independent authors had already established, and, for a time, were the leaders of that market."

Jordan summed up the nimble attention to customer issues nicely when he said, "Big publishers may be the elephants of the book business, but the indie authors are gazelles in comparison, able to move quickly and change direction on a dime to keep up with (or ahead of) market demands."

Jordan added that independent authors enjoy a more immediate connection with customers. In my experience, I can attest to how appreciative, even amazed, a reader can be by getting personal and timely customer service directly from the author. Occasionally, I will receive an email from someone who had trouble downloading ebooks or who bought the wrong format by accident. When I respond promptly and fix the situation without any runaround, I am always effusively thanked. I am just as relieved to have made the reader happy.

Worldwide access for readers

Another touchy subject with readers is geographic restrictions. These are especially puzzling to ebook consumers. Geographic restrictions are an old holdover from pre-digital publishing. A work would be licensed within a geographic market like the United States. It would then be licensed to another company with the rights to sell it in the United Kingdom for example. But when ebook readers on the internet try to buy a product and receive the message that they can't because it is not licensed in their country, then it is infuriating. Large publishers are catching up with this issue albeit slowly. Independent writers, however, have always been able to sell to anybody in the world as long as PayPal would convert the currency. I was selling internationally before I even realized it. I'm so glad that I do not have some publishing contract limiting my market.

Artistic freedom

Fresh perspectives and experimental storylines that would have received zero attention from publishers hobbled by inescapable business demands can now reach the market. Readers benefit from an increased supply that is not just copycat versions of bestsellers.

Series fiction can be especially vulnerable to non-artistic business decisions. Paranormal romance author Zoe Winters of made a very good point about how series readers benefit from independents. She said, "Readers don't have to invest in us only to have the rug ripped out from under them. There are plenty of publishers who pull a series mid-series and the readers are just left hanging. And many New York authors still are not willing to continue a series independently. They'll shop their books for years trying to get them picked up again by another publisher. People who read indies know up front that there is never going to be a publisher taking away the stories. As long as the fan base exists and the author has the passion for the series, it will continue."

When Zoe Winters told me this, I was struck by the ringing truth of her statement. About 20 years ago I read a book by Anne Rice called The Mummy. It was about the immortal Ramses the Great. I very much enjoyed this novel, which at the end said more adventures were coming, but I never saw another mummy title from Anne Rice. Apparently vampires were the bigger market.

As the author of a fantasy series, I was basically left with no choice but to go into independent publishing. I spent four years trying to get the attention of fantasy publishers, but my series was already four novels. No publisher in the world is going to sign an unknown writer for four books. This reality prompted me to create Brave Luck Books ™ for producing my fiction. I've been selling my four part fantasy series The Rys Chronicles ever since. I have not had to compromise with a publishing company that thinks a fantasy hero has to be an orphaned teenager with powers he or she does not understand and a mysterious destiny to save the world. Does that make a good fantasy story? Sometimes. Is it the only marketable fantasy story? No!

I'm working on a new series as well. When all four novels of the new series are complete, I will make them available to readers all at the same time. Anyone who likes the first part will know that the complete series is waiting for them. No years between novels will have to be endured. When has a big company ever put out a complete brand new series? A big publisher simply cannot take that kind of business risk. But the independent writer can. My costs are low and my passion is high. Until my new series is ready, fantasy readers can indulge in The Rys Chronicles. Download for free the whole first book Union of Renegades.