I just read an article, Maverick women writers are upending the book industry and selling millions in the process, that validated a lot of my feelings about where the publishing industry is headed, especially in regards to self-publishing. In fact, I was just speaking with my husband this morning about a lot of these things before I read the article. So it came at a really good time.
The first issue has to do with claims that it’s better to be traditionally published because they have more experience and know what readers want. Of course, I’ve never believed this, but I didn’t have evidence to back me up. The only evidence I’ve ever had was my own experiences and the experiences of other indie authors I know.
The subject of the article is a romance author, H.M. Ward, who suspected if she took her stories (which featured a “nice guy”) to a publisher, she’d be told, “Nice guys are boring”. I mean, I’m not a huge romance fan, but I do like to read them on occasion (especially if they’re fantasy, sci-fi or paranormal romances). And if you’ve ever read a romance, most of the time the male is the “bad boy” type who treats the female harshly to begin with (or maybe even all through the story). At the very least they have to appear “manly” or gruff. You know…a man’s man. Bottom line, you never see the nice guy in those stories.
If I had to wager a guess it’s because publishers have decided all women like the “bad boy” image, and it’s just a cliche that has stuck. Kudos to Ward for having the courage to step outside the box and publish her books to see how they’d be received. And well, it worked to her advantage.
Although we don’t really know for sure if her stories would have been accepted by the publisher, just from my own knowledge I’d pretty much guess she’s have landed in a slush pile somewhere. On her own, her books have become best sellers and she’s sold millions of copies of her books world wide since.
What have I decided to take from this?
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that they (or their industry leaders) know what readers want. The only way anyone could know what readers want is by asking them, and I have never seen any evidence that the publishing industry leaders have ever bothered polling the public to find out what they like.
If you have a story idea, and you’re not sure how it will be received, you have two choices. Visit forums and groups in your genre and poll the readers yourself to find out what the interest level is for that kind of story, or just write the book and see how it does. See for yourself what kind of feedback you get from it.
Another issue that I discussed with my husband was all about covers. Your book cover can make or break your book. So I’m constantly doing research and finding out what most attracts a reader to a cover. One thing I have learned is that the publishers don’t always know what readers want in this area either. Maybe they did at one time, but people change over time, and it seems the big publishers do not want to change with them.
In the article, they mention that the traditional smutty covers used in romance are actually not what the readers want. The covers are being toned down quite a bit by many indie authors and those books are getting a lot more attention than the smutty ones. So it’s very much the same with covers… don’t assume someone else knows what readers want simply because they claim to have more experience in the industry.
Something I know a lot of indie authors are doing now, and it seems to be working, is they are asking for a fans feedback on their covers before the book is even released. They will have at least four different concepts done and they will set up a poll to ask their readers which concept they like best. The one that gets the most votes becomes the cover for that book.
Not only does this find out what images the readers are most attracted to, but it helps your readers feel as though they are part of the process.
That’s another big difference between indie and traditionally published authors, as pointed out in the article. Traditionally published authors (for the most part…it’s not the same for all) are removed from their readership. They are essentially untouchable as far as the reader is concerned. Indie authors build a community around their readers. They interact with them on a daily basis and allow their readers to be part of their writing process instead of having to just wait around for that next book.
Maybe this is why indie authors are taking the industry by storm. Our readers want to feel like they’re part of our success.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the article. It’s got a lot of great information. Although it’s centered around the romance genre, the information is valuable to all self-published authors.