Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Free Economics of the Indie Author World

Today I'm going to say a few things on a subject which I really know next to nothing about. But then again, not knowing about things has never stopped me talking about them. So the subject of today's post is economics.

I know, most people wouldn't find economics to be the most interesting subject, but I'm fascinated by it. So much of our life is governed by it. Politicians, bankers, business-people are constantly spinning stuff about it and let's face it, most of us don't really have any idea whether what they're saying is right or wrong. I even wrote a poem about it which I posted to this very blog, titled The Hunters.

Now I'm hoping that nobody who has actually studied economics reads this because they'll probably tell me I'm totally wrong in every way. But I think there's a few things about economics that can be learnt by the way the indie author community works.

My understanding of economics is it basically goes back to the ideas of Adam Smith back in the 18th century. His model of the free market was all about individuals pursuing their own self-interests. The baker only baked bread because he could make money, but thanks to him the village had bread to eat. The blacksmith only pursued his trade because it was profitable for him, but thanks to him horses were shod. And so on. Everybody was basically in it for themselves as an individual, but all of these individuals working together for their own benefit ultimately create a community.

Now I'm not going into the rights and wrongs of these ideas - I know it's all hotly contested and I wouldn't say I know anywhere near enough to offer an educated opinion. The one comment I will make is this seems to be a lot like the way the indie community works.

We writers are primarily involved because we want to sell books, but because we know we can sell better if we work with other writers, cross-promoting communities appear. And then there are all those bloggers. They're not putting their blogs up for charity. Many of them are writers themselves, looking to increase their recognition. But even the ones who aren't  have their own reasons for trying to generate traffic to their blogs. The result is that both writers and bloggers end up benefiting.

As a result of all these individuals looking to achieve their own ends, an amazing community has sprung up. A community of people who are open, friendly, and willing to do what they can to help fellow-community members. A true free market of indie authors and their colleagues.

Of course, in any community there are always those people who go out of their way to make that extra effort on behalf of others. I want to finish off this post by paying tribute to one of those people - my friend Donna Brown. Her fabulous event, Adopt an Indie Writer, begins today. Please join in, make yourself at home, and become part of the wonderful world of indie authors.


  1. My concern is that we get caught up in this little subset of reality where indie authors are only being read by and promoted to other indie authors. The majority of indie authors work in genres that I have no interest in and I feel a bit like a grouch at times because I’m not reviewing and promoting all my peers’ books. I saw a recent thread talking about writers who ask a site to review their book and the site doesn’t hear from them again as if this was an unusual and impolite thing. In the traditional publishing world, which is where most of the books I get sent to review come from, any feedback from the author is rare, the occasional thank you, but I don’t expect anything for my trouble other than to have a – hopefully – interesting review for my readers. As far as I’m concerned the publisher is doing me the favour providing me with free books. I also don’t feel obliged to review some author’s book because they have been kind enough to review mine and vice verse. I would hope there are enough review sites around so that everyone gets sufficient exposure. At its simplest level economics is all about supply and demand but my wife has a good phrase to keep in mind: What goes around comes around.

    The baker bakes bread because bread is a basic food and he’s pretty much guaranteed sales. Great. Then a second and a third baker open up down the street and around the corner and it’s not enough to bake bread, he finds his competitors are baking scones and croissants and all manner of fun stuff. And then a big supermarket opens up and undercuts the lot of them. You and I are writers. We produce books to read, very different books as it happens but still books and the market is big enough that there will be people who prefer your books to mine whereas others will prefer mine to yours. We’re independent writers and so we don’t have as wide a range as, say, Amazon – a half dozen books between us – but what we have that Amazon doesn’t have is that friendly, personal service. The problems is that there are hundreds and hundreds of little independent writers out there on every street corner and it becomes a trial for the reader: I have 99¢ to spend, which book do I pick? What I suspect is happening is that readers are looking but they only look long enough until they find something that will do; they’re not hanging out for that perfect book because no one has the time or the energy to do that.

    When I think about the relationship between readers and writers online it sometimes feels – and this is especially true with poetry – that the only people who read also write whereas in the real world that it so not the case. I never met another writer, bar one teacher at school, until I was in my late forties and, had it not been for the Internet and my wife, I wouldn’t have met him and he wasn’t even Scottish, nor was the next writer I met. The vast majority of people are not writers but a great many of them are readers. These are the people we somehow need to attract into our little one-or-two product stalls. The thing is, most of these people, if they want a book, they choose the convenient option: Amazon and Amazon is a wonderful site if you know what you’re looking for but, as I recently pointed out to L K Watts (see my comment to her) what we need to understand better is how people shop when they don’t know what they’re looking for. In her case the tags are fairly obvious and she is writing for a niche market; you and I have different problems.

  2. Great comment, Jim.

    I think my enthusiasm for the community mainly springs from the fact that when I first published I was all alone and had no idea what I was doing. I probably would have given the whole thing up as just too hard. Through the various social networks I've met so many people and learnt so much that I don't feel so alone now and am starting to believe I can be successful.

    But you make some good points. I guess every analogy breaks down in the end - maybe that's why those ideas about economics never seem to work in the real world.

    And you've nailed the big question - how do we we get our writing out of the community of writers and over to the readers? One thing I'm involved with (and again it's only through the community that it's possible) is a number of cross-promo activities - where writers who work in similar genres are banding together to try to find an audience for our work - maybe to extend the analogy you can talk about a baker on each corner but each one has a slightly different specialty and carries a bunch of brochures to publicise the others. No idea how effective they'll end up being but we're going to do our best to make them work.

  3. I think that is where I’m personally feeling out of it because no one out there writes like me. No one out there writes like you but the advantage you have is that your books are accessible to anyone. The cultural references in my first two novels alone go over many people’s heads and I’m quite dreading the reception to my next book because I’ve seen how metafictions have been reviewed when written by far better authors than me. If I’m being honest the word ‘genre’ annoys the hell out of me. I get the need for it. It’s what drives the Internet: tags – and if you read my comment to L K Watts you’ll know exactly what I’m on about. She’s lucky because her book is readily taggable so that her niche market will be able to find her even if they’ve never heard of her but what about writers of literary fiction or just fiction-fiction?

    Book reviews are the way round that but let’s be honest, the majority of sites we get our books reviewed on are only being read by the same core readers because we all read each others’ blogs and so we’re selling to ourselves. How many just-readers will go out of their way to visit these sites? It’s rare that I sell a book to someone I’ve never heard of and this is where we fall down because the personality of the author is now the primary driving force and not his product which is how it used to be. I do believe too many books are being produced, too many of the wrong kind of books, books that focus on entertainment. I love science fiction – huge fan – but I would never think to sit down and write a sci-fi novel because I’m not that kind of writer. And why anyone would want to write a book with a vampire in it at the moment is beyond me.

    I’m pleased that your books are getting some attention from that book chain. I’ve just finished the second one and I’ll start working on my article soon. I’ll be interested to hear how you feel when you hold a paperback in your hand and not an ebook reader.

  4. Great post Jonathan and I think it's one we can all identify with. It's a case of 'I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.'
    I often go on social sites like Facebook and Twitter to proactively seek out people who are similar to me. I do this because I can promote their work or whatever it is they are hoping to advertise - in the hope that they'll take notice and do the same for me. However, I do agree with some of Jim's points too. A lot of indie's latch onto one other and cross promote -I'm not saying this is a bad thing at all but I have often thought about how other non indie people see this and whether they view it as - dare I say it - a bit cliquey?

  5. Hey L.K.

    It's a double-edged thing - as independent writers, we have more chance if we work together - safety in numbers and all that.

    But we do have to be careful not to end up in our little "self-published ghetto"