Indie publishing: quality vs. quantity, and the return of vanity publishing

A recent thread on KBoards revealed that Hidden Gems Books is booked through March 2020–almost a year in advance.

Hidden Gems Books is a service that will put free, indie-published books in the hands of (potential) reviewers, who (might) deign to review them, and who (might) very well not. 

After an initial $20 fee, which covers the first 1 to 10 (potential) reader-reviewers, the author then pays $3 for each (free) book delivered into the hands of (potential) reviewers.

The minimum order is for 50 readers, who, of course, may or may not read and review the author’s book.

The “max” option, which includes roughly 140 readers, is $380.

The cost of quantity over quality

For years now, the indie author “gurus” have preached competition through volume.

Publish a book a month! Write a really, really long series! (Always write in a series, because that facilitates the volume strategy.)

Don’t worry about the quality too much. (One of the dominant indie author gurus even speaks in terms of the “minimal viable product” in writing.)

The result, ten years into the Kindle publishing boom, is a sea of hastily produced, me-too, repetitive books. Many represent copycat attempts to break out in “hot” genres (urban fantasy, military sci-fi, various subgenres of romance). 

Few of these books will ever spread much by word of mouth. So the only real marketing option is to sink hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars into advertising them. 

This opens up market opportunities for companies like Hidden Gems Books.

And please don’t misunderstand me here: Hidden Gems Books is doing nothing wrong or dishonest. They are responding to a market demand. There is now a long line of authors eager to pay nearly $400 for someone to give their books away to unqualified, uncredentialed reviewers, who (might) possibly review them on Amazon. 

The return of vanity publishing

What we are witnessing now, thanks to the gurus and their eager followers, is the return of vanity publishing.

Kindle publishing was supposed to turn self-publishing into a viable business model. But we are rapidly reaching the point where there is little difference between Kindle publishing and old-school vanity publishing.

Consider the self-published author of 1989, who filled his garage with thousands of dollars worth of printed books stacked on pallets.

Now consider the 2019 Kindle author, who is writing an electronic book a month, and paying thousands of dollars in advertising and promotional costs, hoping to get an edge over the next book-a-month author.

I read the posts in the author forums. Many of these authors readily admit that their advertising costs now exceed their revenues from book sales. 

That’s not a publishing business. That is paying to publish.

I.e., vanity publishing.

Stop listening to the gurus

What is the solution? We need to stop listening so much to the gurus, with their Facebook groups, expensive online courses, and endless how-to books.

We need to stop worrying so much about “tropes”.

Contrary to what the gurus would have you believe, there is no shortage of content in the Amazon Kindle store. On the contrary, we now have more books than readers. (We might even have more authors than readers.) 

The Kindle store is overflowing with books that almost no one will ever read. 

In an oversaturated market, the solution is to focus on quality instead of quantity. 

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that everyone go Jonathan Franzen. I’m not talking about spending five years to write a navel-gazing literary novel about your childhood.

I am disturbed, however, when I see neophyte writers in author forums ask “which genres are currently hot?”  

This is the wrong approach. And even Chris Fox, who is credited (or blamed) for the write-to-market craze, has said that this is a misapplication of his ideas. 

Conclusion: Something went awry

This isn’t what Kindle indie publishing was supposed to be, when it was launched circa 2009. It has been distorted by a number of factors (Kindle Unlimited chief among them).

Kindle indie publishing was supposed to be about publishing individual voices that had been ignored by the New York publishing houses. Instead, Kindle indie publishing has become a race to be just like everyone else, and to do it with as much volume as possible.