You Have to Kiss Us if You Want to Fuck Us

Amanda Hocking. E.L. James. Sylvia Day. Tracey Garvis Graves. Jamie McGuire. Brittany Geragotelis.

And now Colleen Hoover.

For the past several months, every time a title appears on the IndieReader’s “List Where Indies Count” for more than a few weeks, a traditional publisher comes along to make them “honest” (i.e. traditionally pubbed).

Which is only a bad thing when you consider that NO ONE in traditional publishing or traditional media will admit that it is indies that have become the best resource for publishers looking for a sure thing.

Don’t get us wrong.  You don’t have to tell us we’re cute and funny.  But let’s not forget that it was an indie that single-handedly launched the “Mommy Porn” genre—outselling Harry Potter and insuring that women will be able to keep themselves happy at least through Christmas.  No, Phillip Jones (Bookseller), Fifty Shades is not “just the latest reminder of what makes the publishing industry important.” It’s a reminder that those who can’t figure it out for themselves are more than happy to take credit for those who can.

Of course there will be those who are happy to give credit where credit is due.   We can almost hear the back-lash via the book snobs now.  “Well of course those trashy books were originally indie.  What do you expect?”  We say you can’t have it both ways, Big 6.  If we’re that trashy, why do you keep on insisting on fixing us up and bringing us home to meet your parents?

Perhaps, this being an election year, we should know better than to ask for some straight-up honesty.  But the fact remains that indie books—from Ulysses and Peter Rabbit to Walden and War and Peace—have long been the source of great material.  Indie authors are not, as trad pubbed author Sue Grafton was recently quoted as saying, “too lazy to do the hard work.”  If this was 7th grade we’d say those are words spoken with envy and jealousy (indie authors not only have more control, they keep more of their profits).  You try writing, selling and promoting your books.  We guarantee you’ll come back with, “F This is Freakin’ Hard”.

In closing we’d like to say that indies don’t necessarily need—or expect—flowers and dinner and champagne before sex.  But some acknowledgment that we’re pretty and talented and work hard and have the goods just like our trad-pubbed brothers and sisters would be a nice change.

  • Love it! And now I feel purdy too. Thanks Amy, this was a great read, and I’m working my butt off to get on your list 🙂 And congrats to my gal, Colleen!!!

    • Amy Edelman

      Keep going! You’ll get there!

  • Did you compare 50 Shades of Grey to Ulysses? I know it’s exciting that self-published books are selling well, but crappy books selling well is not that great a victory. Saying sales equals worth isn’t any better than the rhetoric coming out of traditional media.

    • The biggest difference between Ulysses and 50 Shades being that people can actually get through 50 Shades. 😉

      • Amy Edelman


    • Amy Edelman

      Yes Henry, I did compare 50 Shades of Grey to Ulysses because they are both originally self-pubbed books that were only recognized by the cognoscenti after they were trad pubbed.

      And I am not saying that sales equal worth, although in today’s world—for better or worse–that’s pretty much how things are determined. What I am saying is that it’s unfair to call all indie books crap just because they’re indie its especially unfair to call them crap just because they happen to be successful.

      • You hit it, Amy. There are many authors, such as myself, who use professional services (editing, formatting, graphics, proofreader) to ensure the work is top-notch. The assumption all indies DON’T do that is ignorant at best. (I also have crit partners and beta readers).

        There are many indie books that are well-written, having gone through the process I mention above, and professionally packaged. In fact, two agents have contacted me via Twitter. Indie is the new minor league, as David Vinjamuri says today in his thoughtful article on Forbes online.

        Sure, there’s crap out there. But let’s give readers credit: readers are smart. Amazon offers free chapters and free books. Don’t like it, don’t read it.

        I think Grafton (and Picoult earlier in the year) are so far removed from the struggle they discuss, they simply can’t relate to new changes in the industry, which is just sad.

        • Amy Edelman

          hmmm…I’m not sure of your assessment of Grafton and Picoult. I think they’re smug in their success and want to keep it. I think indies are a threat to them, frankly and so they take the company (ie trad publishing line) and insult them. It’s not nice, not fair and–above all–not accurate.

      • I didn’t call all successful books crap, but 50 Shades is especially bleak. Indie publishing is going to be the kid brother or sister until some weightier books get recognized.

        In indie music and indie film, it’s often more daring than mainstream fare. Not the case with indie publishing, where books are usually mimicking the success of the mainstream. It’s early yet, and new types of books will come on board, but right now indie publishing isn’t really “indie.”

        • Amy Edelman

          With all due respect, Henry, there are a lot of “daring” indie books out there, many of them written about weekly in IndieReader (see a few of Andrew Stout’s columns…or Mini Fete).

          As far as indie books “mimicking the success of mainstream”, that’s just the point of my post. Indie books are setting the pace for mainstream pubs and should be recognized for it.

          • I know they’re being written (I write them – so part of my critique is jealousy, no doubt). But the post talks about how some people don’t take indie publishing seriously. They’ll take a look at John Locke and Amanda Hocking and see that it’s really for mainstream writing. There needs to be a self-publishing Corrections, or something. That’ll happen, it just hasn’t yet.

          • Amy Edelman

            Well frankly, I didn’t like The Corrections much, but I do get your point. But I also think that’s part of the problem. Pretty much all of the “weightier” trad pubbed books are penned by white authors who are then genuflected in front of by the mainstream trad media. So it doesn’t just leave out indies, it leaves out other groups as well (there’s a stat somewhere about how many books by women vs how many by men win awards and get reviewed). I think, perhaps, that books that lots of people buy and love (ie 50 Shades, which I haven’t read) should get as much credit as those “weightier” books. Really, whose to say that one is better than the other, indie or not.

          • Chuck D.

            Speaking of daring, or lack thereof, what about the “rules” many publishers follow? So, my thriller needs to be no more than 90k? I must have a killing in the first ten pages? Stop reading Ludlum and Forsyth and Le Carre and focus on modern authors (or their ghost writers) who follow the “new rules”? World War II is out of vogue, write something about Seal Team Six?

            This is the crap my agent was deflecting. Talk about a lack of creativity. Many (not all) of the current publishers remind me of the music biz in the 80s when they started puppy-milling hair bands to one specific formula. Then Seattle came along…

          • Amy Edelman

            Great point. But there always was, and always will be, two camps. The people who are successful and the people who are better than the people who are successful. Fact is, the “new” thing doesn’t stay the new thing for long. I agree with Joe that crappy books selling well is indeed a huge victory. Esp if all the trad pubbed books are now rushing to follow in a crappy indie books footsteps!

    • Joe Cron

      Actually, crappy books selling well is indeed a huge victory. Anyone would expect a brilliantly written book to sell well. If a crappy book can also sell well, that is a tremendous boon for writers. As for saying sales equals worth, sales is the exact definition of worth. The level or quality of art in anything is a different matter entirely. What makes Beanie Babies or baseball cards worth something? The fact that someone is willing to pay for them. If no one would pay $1000 for a piece of cardboard with a photo of Mickey Mantle on it, it would be worthless. The fact that so many people will buy Fifty Shades does define its worth. That may rub artistic purists the wrong way, but they can stay in their literary towers. I haven’t read Fifty Shades, and I hear they are utter rubbish from a writing perspective, but I wish to God I’d written them. I’d be set for life, and could continue working my craft until I wrote better stuff. “Better” from an artistic review standpoint, but it wouldn’t sell as well. Therefore, it would not be worth as much.

      • Amy Edelman

        Yes, I TOTALLY AGREE! Well said, Joe!

  • No doubt about it, self-publishing is a lot of work. As for authenticating what’s good and what’s garbage, I prefer to let the reader decide.

    • Amy Edelman

      Amen to that!

    • Amy Edelman


  • Very nice post. It’s funny, you never hear established musicians disparage Indie bands for not getting a record contract first. Nor do you hear established actors belittle Indie filmmakers. In fact they’re considered edgy. Yet, traditionally published authors are lining up to take pot shots at any succes an Indie writer achieves. Why is that? Are authors more of a jealous lot than other artists? I’d love to know the answer.

    • Amy Edelman

      Yes, Gary, IR is trying like hell to present indie pubbing like indie music and film and I think, in the end, the consumer will get it. As for trad publishing and trad media, it’s almost a perfect storm with Amazon and the rise of ebooks and they are all threatened so they strike the only way they can. They disparage and ignore. Too bad because we’ll win in the end. Check the bestseller list…we’re already winning!

  • OH yeah! And they don’t have to love us tomorrow, but going out to breakfast is always nice. Wonderful article, and thanks.

    • Amy Edelman

      Yes, breakfast is good. Frankly even a late night snack works 🙂

  • I caught that Guardian piece and had a similar reaction. Especially “It’s a reminder that those who can’t figure it out for themselves are more than happy to take credit for those who can.” It’s funny to see corporations getting credit for people talking about Hocking or James, because really it seems like those corporations just rode on their coattails.

    One quibble: I don’t think Ulysses was indie. Joyce serialized, then went to a colleague for full publication.

    But that’s just that: a quibble. The regard with which indie authors are held by most is still problematic. “Oh, you ‘self-published’?” I always say, “No, I published my book, and then signed agreements with four other authors, including an international bestseller, to publish theirs.” Sadly, an indie author who founded his own press and has now published 30 titles doesn’t seem to attract the same sort of news/attention as when another indie signs with another corporation.

    • Amy Edelman

      hmmm…not sure on the Ulysses thing. I did read it somewhere but it would be tough to verify 🙂

  • Great piece, Amy. Reminds me of a prepaid phone card business my dad had in the 90s. Everyone was making gobs of money and no one wanted to acknowledge that when cell phones arrived, prepaid phone cards would largely become a thing of the past.,.but it happened anyway.

    I’m thrilled to be part of the indie publishing movement. It’s so empowering and I think there are definitely ways for the indie and traditional worlds to come together to form equal partnership relationships that benefit everyone. That’s where energies should be spent — not on lashing out at or belittling those who are navigating the new world of publishing and putting in the enormous work necessary to become a success.

    • Amy Edelman


  • mr secret guy

    The reason why indie publishing is having a vogue of sorts is because the traditional publishers have gradually been ceding the entire process over to the writer anyway, with few benefits to the author, and often a number of crippling disadvantages. I have published four books with major publishers, each one of them a horrorshow experience (and not in the Anthony Burgess/Clockwork Orange definition of the term). In my experience, the major publishers have expected me to self-edit, as well as coordinate all the marketing and publicity, in addition to, you know, actually writing the book. There is little or no editing to speak of, with the editor becoming a kind of production referee; typically, said people have no editing skills to speak of – if they do try to assert themselves in this area, beware… The publisher, meanwhile, has no problem throwing whatever (usually horrific) cover art they want, changing the title to something hopelessly banal without your permission/input, or hiring an inept typesetter/copyeditor that makes your work appear illiterate; I’ve even had books published under my name that seemed to be a patchwork of different drafts from all stages of the process! I cannot begin to list in the full the horrors that publishers have visited upon my works – moving pub dates 2-3-4 times after marketing/press is set up, demanding contractual variances without compensation via threat (an actual felony). Naturally, the in-house publicist – the laziest of all in my experience – would send me emails taking credit for pieces I set up! And I have never, ever once seen a royalty/sales statement. I have, however, seen my books on sale in bulk at flea markets weeks/months before publication – hmmm, wonder how they got there?

    What are the lessons here? If editors actually edited, maybe books would be better. If publishers actually did what they were supposed to, and maybe considered how the industry/society has moved/evolved since the 19th century, maybe more books would sell. Is going indie the answer? Tough question. I find writing a book to be an all-consuming process of time and resources – i.e., a JOB – and find it difficult to achieve such a task in my mere spare time without an advance. As well, wading through the muck of indie authors is horrific. Most books are terrible, indie or otherwise; the marketplace does provide some Darwinian function of distinguishing what is good and what is best left on the shelf, although the cream will rise to the top regardless if it’s meant to. (Sorry, frustrated authors – if no one is connecting with your work, time to go back to the drawing board; just because you finish something and publish it in any fashion doesn’t mean it’s good.)

    On the other hand, to give your book (and mental health) its best shot, there may be no other alternative than indie publishing. Major publishing makes the music industry look positively futuristic: it’s so backwards, its only nutrition coming from its own bile, the entire industry may literally may be vaporized one day in a single hit of the “return” button. It will prove an odd, bittersweet moment when that inevitability occurs: likely I will both shed a tear and raise a glass in triumph…

  • I find if very interesting that in the past few months, so much more is being said about “independent publishing.” At a writer’s conference a few months back, an agent on the agent’s panel, said she often suggests independent publishing as an alternative. That was also echoed by the other agents on the panel. I had to ask myself, did I really just hear that? Did they really just say that? An alternative, spouted by one of the gatekeepers? Then of course there is the news that Penquin bought Author Solutions … (What the hell is that all about?)

    As an author of 6 books “independently published” over the last ten years, I have chosen to take that path. Good, bad or otherwise, I have always followed the belief that, if I can put out the best story possible (edited of course) and package that story into the best possible product (cover art, inside formatting), the rest will follow.

    There is no question that there are some less than desirable works out there, but as many others have said : “the cream will rise to the top.” So what if there are those books? If you like something you’ll buy it. With the ability to “look inside” most books published, indie or not, you as the reader still have the choice. How many of us have walked into a bookstore, looked at the many (traditionally published) books gathered there, maybe even picked up a couple and ultimately left without buying one. We still have the power as readers to decide what we like or don’t like, be it an indie published or a mainstream book. I think the lines are finally blurring and the decision to buy a book will have little to do with who published it. Anyone who has purchased my books, has only looked at the cover, the blurb on the back and decided if they wanted to buy it, simply for that reason, not because of who did or didn’t publish it.

    Amy, I agree we don’t need the all the hoopla, just simply acknowledge that we did spend the night …

    • Amy Edelman

      Yes, and that some of us are quite good!

  • Excellent post, Amy. Your title certainly catches the eye. We all know things are changing rapidly in the publishing world, and there is still a certain degree of snobbery associated with the traditionally published crowd, but a lot of that is disappearing. It will never go away entirely. All of the arts have their “snobs.” Every time a new “form” of music comes out, the critics rant and rave about how bad it is. Remember the Beatles and what a stink they caused, then disco, rap…it will go on forever.

    Trad. Publishers are being threatened and they lash out with the only weapon they know—literary snobbery.

    The problem with that is that while there are some indies not producing quality work, there are plenty who are delivering books just as good as any coming out of the big houses. And even more importantly, they are delivering books readers want to read. I haven’t read Fifty Shades… but it has obviously struck a chord with a lot of people. Bravo! Who’s to say that’s wrong. These people aren’t lashing out because it was an indie, but because the book was successful. Remember the naysayers when Twilight came out?

    And as far as the quality, it will continue to improve as more authors realize that is a must for long-term survival. I don’t like reading books with mistakes in them, but I’d rather read a great story with a few mistakes than suffer through an error-free book that can’t hold my interest. I’ve found a lot of good indie reads in the past year, and expect that number will grow.

    Thanks for the great post and for being a strong voice for us indies.

    • Amy Edelman

      Thank you! We’re trying!

  • Attention, traditional publishing: You really, REALLY don’t want to bring me over to meet your parents.

    • Amy Edelman

      I’m sure they’d fix you right up, just like they did with Amanda Hocking.

  • I totally relate to where Mr Secret Guy is coming from… If you’re not Jodi Picoult then the traditional route is years longer and more soul-destroying. After having your MS rejected numerous times, rewriting it from scratch several times over and then finding editors to do what you thought the publisher would help you to do, self-publishing starts to seem very attractive. I’ve started to read more Indie books since I published my own and its a bit more like taking books out the library I find – a quick relaxing read with a greater emphasis on a page-turning story.

    • Amy Edelman

      Yup. There are tons of great indie books out there. It surprises us sometimes. Don’t get discouraged! Keep reading and writing!

  • Best post title of the week. It does worry me a bit that all of these indie publishers jump at the chance to go over to the other side as soon as their literary worth (or just plain selling potential) is recognized by the “real” publishing world. I know the anointing and large advance must be tempting (I wonder what I would do myself in such happy circumstances) but is the loss creative control and your rights truly worth it?

    I’d like to see the self-pubbing industry organize itself better into a force to be reckoned with. The two main problems with self-pubbing are editing and distribution; and I’m sure there are some truly excellent editors and distribution experts out there who would love to go indie themselves. How do we find a way to marry up and pursue life together?

    • Amy Edelman

      Yes, there are indeed many great editors, Jane. If fact many who work with trad publishing houses are freelancers available for hire for any writer who can pay them (not to toot our own horn, but IR’s Publishing Services works with some great editors as well).

      Distribution, for paper books, is a little trickier, and I do think that’s one of the main reasons indie authors decide to go trad. IR is working with the ABA (American Book Assoc) to see what we can do about getting more indie books into actual brick and mortar stores.

      But it truly has become an interesting cycle. Authors start indie, go trad and then–when the honeymoon phase of the deal is over (ie the 2nd book doesn’t sell) the authors come back to indie. The new circle of indie life!