Why Indie Writers Should Read Other Indie Writers
It's counterintuitive. It's counter-algorithmic. It may even feel counterproductive for an indie writer scratching his or her way up the charts to click the "BUY NOW" button appearing next to another author's title and step on his or her own head, or rather on his or her book's head by simple virtue of the numbers: If that other author just made a sale, it had to climb over my book to get there. Why would I grab the rump of another book and heave it over mine to help it inch a little closer to a best seller chart, an indie author might ask before proceeding to checkout.
The answer is simple. Another indie author is not only doing what you're doing, they're (probably) doing it the way you're (probably) doing it--before and after working "all shift" in a non-creative (the noun creative, not the adjective creative) job that consumes and drains writerly juices with its practical approach to existing as a job. To be clear, traditional publishing is hard. This isn't a trad vs. indie showdown. There is so much overlap in the struggles of the two publishing routes that if you were to place a bunch of writers in a lineup, you'd be hard-pressed to say who published how. No one has it easy. All fingertips bleed.
Still, the similarities between indie authors--or better said, that the similarities exist--means you can learn a few things from another indie author's work. How are they faring on the charts? Did they find a way to make a self-promotion in the table of contents work? Is their less-than-Huge-Publishing book cover working anyway? Have they taken the advice seriously and behaved like publishers, so much so that their works look like they came from Huge Publishing, and their stuff is riding along on the charts with the Big Guns?
When you look inside, does the read feel the same as a tradpub read? Is your reading experience with the indie author's work the same as your reading experience with Blockbuster Author's work, such that the only difference is that you "know" one of them indie published and you (maybe) subconsciously downgrade that author or at least put him or her in second place? Could the indie author's book be indistinguishable in a lineup with tradpub books? If so, how did the indie author pull it off, with maybe your same skill set, time constraints, and lack of resources? On the other hand, does it feel amateurish, and, if so, why? Clunky writing? Too much telling and not enough showing? Little "explanation" lines designed to help the reader "like" a character (because the author has a fear of letting a protagonist have weaknesses or lacks the ability to draw a nuanced character)?
These, and so many more, questions matter because they can help an indie writer shape his or her own career. Yes, following the model of traditional publishing, using the best standards and people to produce the best possible work, is always a good idea. But it's just as important to read indie works, both the 1-star stuff and the 5-star gems, to see which patterns emerge. Less-successful authors may, in fact, write well, but their approach may be all wrong. They may have a few amateurish writing tics that an editor could have removed, teaching you that you won't publish until you invest in an editor. They may also be crushing the charts with an original idea from which no one steered them with sensible advice. They may have discovered a clever way to break through a dream market. In sum, they may be getting it very right or very wrong in ways that can teach other writers endeavoring the identical kind of career.
Most of all, when you read indie authors, you keep the industry going, and you keep them going, which is a very worthy cause. You tell booksellers they're backing the right horses. And while it seems self-serving of us here at Delectable Reads to encourage reading indie works as we celebrate a wide spate of writers, in this one instance, even if you went elsewhere to find your indie reads, we'd just be happy you're reading indie authors. A peer group who is doing the exact same thing you're doing should never be ignored. The lessons you glean from their careers and their works will be the most on-the-nose. We want that for indie authors. (And, yes, it's partly because we love delectable reads, and the fuller our plate, the better we feel.)
Just in case we weren't clear, observing and emulating traditional publishing is a necessary, valuable, and potentially enriching endeavor. That shouldn't keep indie writers, though, from regularly reading and supporting people who do what they do, from rubbing elbows instead of elbowing others, from investing in their own industry so that it is there for them when all of their lunch-hour and late-night writing results in a book any writer would want to emulate...and read.