Indie Author Pride is, apparently, quite a big thing at the moment. Presumably as a confidence bolstering reply to the vague suspicion some people have that it’s just a continuation of the old vanity publishing model an increasing number of writers seem to be waving the flag of D.I.Y. publishing in an attempt to build a coherent identity out of it. It’s a pitch for legitimacy which I’m wary of to be honest, even if I’m obviously definitely in the Indie realms.
Partially at least down to the youth of the movement there’s a swarm of predators lurking around scenting blood in the water which has a suspiciously similar tint to the dripping inadequacy of the old vanity publishing cliche. For a fistful of cash you can buy reviews, followers, sales, fortune and a modicum of fame. All well within the umbrella of self declared Indie Publishing supporters and advocats. Not having any money to spend I can’t testify to the efficiency of these sites and services but their existence certainly doesn’t suggest a vibrant Indie community to the casual passer by. Which is unfortunate because, from what I’ve seen, there is in fact a core of relatively enthusiastic and willing readers open to Indie authors and they’re both cynical enough to have a sense of quality and respectful enough to appreciate craft and talent when they find it.
I’m still a big believer in the Indie ideal. Like the music industry the publishing one has never been too good to the majority of the people doing the actual creative work (a few superstars aside). For a lot of the most talented people all the establishment has ever offered is a journeyman existence punctuated by the occasional bout of neglect or exploitation. That those people should take charge of their own work and receive the lion’s share of benefits from it just seems right. For that to happen with books takes more than just the writers, the distributors and the marketing conmen though, it takes a community of readers who can act as advocates for the work, arbiters of its quality and guardians of its ideals.
Musicians who operate outside of the big label system have long had this by virtue of the communal nature of music itself. To be successful in that world you have to go out and share the music. Scenes and genres flourish organically from gigging and a shared love for the work. Since Punk with it’s D.I.Y. ethic (and long before in non mainstream genres) that sense of ownership and respect on the behalf of the audience has existed and protected the legitimacy of the art itself. And if anything the advent of the digital age has extended that mentality even further.
There’s a huge array of blogs, sites, forums, magazines and webzines which cluster around the various genres and styles with audiences heavily invested in and loyal to what they consider their music. If you went around buying reviews in the hope of gaining their approval you would, I suspect, receive the metaphorical kicking you richly deserve. Meanwhile, where we do have a community, it’s largely tied to the Indie flag above all else. The label is all you need to be part of it and any actions, any success bought under that, is wordlessly accepted as part of the whole. Between that vagueness about legitimate methods and the lack of focused, thematic or genre based communities there’s such a glut of content left floating around that any hope of identity becomes lost.
For me, as a writer, it’s frustrating to say the least. Without making any claims for the (probably awesome) quality of my work I can attest that it’s a largely hollow pursuit to promote myself within this broad and all accepted Indie world. After all my work is seldom differentiated from that of the next person with their Romantic Vampire novel or the one after that with their darkly real account of civil war in the Congo. And that’s not to question the quality of either of those I stand next to but none of us benefit from the generic label that defines so much of our promotional efforts. Whether we’re good or not there’s next to no ‘scene’ to support our specific styles while there is a blooming industry in flogging validation and praise which goes a certain distance towards hamstringing us all.
In the long run, to truly flourish, this brave new world needs to reconstruct itself in line with the brave old one. As small publishers could, to a certain degree, carve out a sense of quality by focusing on certain genres or mentalities we need to find our own mechanisms for doing the same. And if the title of Indie is to mean anything more than being prey to the same self serving gimmickry as vanity publishing we need to reject, en masse, those who’re charging authors to replace the community that we genuinely need. No more paid reviews and no more marketing sites where money is all that counts. And when that’s done Indie Author Pride will be a thing worth waving the flag for.