Are Indie Authors Worth Reading?

It may sound heretical for an indie author to ask, but I think it’s a valid question.

I take my writing seriously. I mean, get-up-at-5-am-to-write-before-driving-to-class, proofread-to-midnight, pay-for-cover-designers-before-clothes seriously. Most the other indie authors I know also put in the same ridiculous amount of time, effort, and exhaustive work. It can really hurt when we aren’t taken seriously by other people. There’s still a huge stigma towards indie authors, though it’s not as bad as it was even a few years ago. Still, a lot of reviewers, retailers, and some readers won’t touch our stuff just because it’s not tattooed with a Big Six Publisher’s logo. To add insult to injury, I actually understand why the stigma exists.

There are a lot of crappy self-published authors. A LOT. No way around that.

Hell, I was a crappy self-published author at one point. I actually reedited, redesigned, and republished my first five books because, let’s face it, the editing sucked and the covers sucked. (With their current versions, I can at least live with myself.)

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Being an indie author comes with incredible freedom. We get to choose when we publish, what we publish, in what formats, the cover art, the audiobook narrators, the interior format, who we sell what rights, and literally everything you can possibly think of.

But like great power, great freedom comes with great responsibility.

I’ve seen a lot of indies (and I’ve already admitted I did stuff like this) upload a partially edited Word doc. to Kindle Direct Publishing, slap together an image drawn in Paint, and set it loose on the innocent world. This is what has flooded the market with the bad material that has given so many of us a bad name.

Regardless, there is no “right” way to be an indie author.

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Those of us who are serious all agree it’s imperative to produce quality work for our readers. That’s about as far as our consensus goes. Some swear we need a professional editor. Others rely on a team of trusted beta readers and brutally honest writer friends.

Some indies hire professional interior designers for eBook and/or print versions of their books. Others bootstrap it and study the formatting guides like the Bible until we know what we’re doing.

We all concur covers are second only to story, but again we diverge. While most of us (including Yours Truly) will scream we need a professional cover artist, I would admit others have done pretty well with a Shutterstock subscription and Adobe InDesign.

There are a vast number of ways to be an indie author. Therein lies the point and the problem. It’s all up to the individual!

But are indie authors worth it? Really, that’s up to you—our readers. 

You are the final judge of all things. We’re creating stories and delivering them straight to readers. That’s the point of being indies. We answer directly to you and we try to listen to what you want—those of us who take our work seriously, at least. And there are plenty of us who take it seriously, I promise.

In the end, I would encourage you to try indie authors despite the existence of crappy ones. Take a look at reviews, browse a few free previews, and see if anything catches your eye. Remember we write to please you, not agents or acquisitions editors. Until then, we’ll keep bringing our very best because, long-term, indie publishing is one of those things people only really do when they can’t imagine doing anything else.

Feudalism and Modern Romantic Ideals Don’t Mix

I read an article on Tor.com a while back arguing for more modern relationship dynamics in fantasy. Specifically, the author was asking for more divorce since the honeymoon phase wears off for everyone at some point.

My first thought was along the lines of “oh, goody because I totally didn’t turn to fantasy books for escapism when my dad checked out.” My second thought was more of an anthropological “that probably won’t work.” Marital unions are too important to the traditional fantasy world structure.

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Should every fantasy world have female oppression or forced marriage or mandatory chastity? Quite the contrary. However, dumping modern practices into a historical setting with a pinch of magic is not a recipe for an “innovative” or “realistic” fantasy book. Social structures and rules develop in order to solve problems and most fantasy worlds have the same problems as ours did in those periods.

Normalized divorce and sexual liberation in a feudal society where marriage also represents trade agreements and war allegiance is just not possible. Sexual liberation in a world without contraceptives or protection from venereal disease is also really not a good idea. (And don’t you DARE slap a little magic on it and walk away. That’s just cheating.)

Though, to be fair, love matches for royals has never worked at any time in history (arguably even now). But those are still fairly common in fantasy literature. Historically, the middle and lower classes were more liberal, but even they tended to marry for material gain.

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All the same, in a world where you are constantly at or potentially at war, you’re going to depend on your family most of all to watch your back. In feudal societies, this has been universally true. That is why a woman’s marital fidelity was so important—to them, knowing who was related was quite literally a matter of life and death. It’s also why even homosexual individuals were expected to have children with heterosexual partners (check out Edward II and basically half the Roman elite).

The only way to reduce the importance of marriage and fidelity would be to have another way of determining one’s allegiance. Maybe all the people who talk to horses belong to one tribe and the ones who talk to falcons belong to another. There are many options.

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The point is, cultural taboos (right or wrong) are the results of a culture’s problems. When you solve the taboos, but not the problems, you just end up with a wacky world that is more Wonderland than Westeros. Fantasy authors are meant to have the best literary imaginations, so why can’t they imagine new solutions? Maybe writers should just take more anthropology classes, I don’t know.

Reading Bad Books in the Name of Representation

There is no inherent problem writing about a social/religious/relational/political issue in literature or—as I like to call it—activist fiction. Quite the opposite. I am a big believer in the power of art to influence society. Without the freedom of artists to call attention to issues big and small, there go most of history’s great revolutions.

That being said, there is a HUGE problem with BAD activist fiction and most of it is.

I’ve seen this happen in LGBTQ fiction, Christian fiction, and others.

I once encountered a story about a person becoming a Christian, but it was wholly bereft of character development and conflict. (FOR EXAMPLE: Christianity doesn’t magically cure mental illness. It does make the mental illness more manageable and has literally kept me alive, but no insta-cures!) Even when there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING inaccurate in the theology presented, I can definitively say it was a horrible piece.

In another case, I read two lesbian romances in a writing workshop that were just as atrocious. One was about a woman who has an affair with an employee and the other was about a girl finally getting a commitment out of her girlfriend, both by the same author, both with the same problems.

The plots and climaxes were no where to be found, the other characters’ reactions to the couples’ relationships made NO SENSE, and plus some other little details just didn’t…add up.

And don’t get me started on all the women’s rights monologues that take up whole pages of certain Young Adult Fantasy novels. I mean, if you want to write feminist essays, write feminist essays, but don’t try to play them off as dialogue tossed in at random.

Why does this happen?

From what I’ve seen, people decide they want to write in an underrepresented niche, but don’t learn how to write first. They then surround themselves with people as passionate about the issue as they are which, while great, means these people are going to be a lot less likely to notice or point out problems. I’m also convinced that people supportive of the issue in general are less likely to point out problems because they don’t want to appear adversarial.

It gets to the point where people will focus on the representation and NOTHING ELSE when discussing certain books because, let’s face it, that’s the only redeemable quality. 

I am a feminist reader who wants to see more diversity in my books and also more Christianity, but you can be sure that the moment I see “feminist,” “Christian” or “diverse” in the blurb, I usually forego. Of course there are exceptions, but I’ve been burned too many times. I’m convinced half the time publishers are just filling diversity quotas.

I’ve read too many crappy stories in the name of representation.

I understand it takes time for genres and writers to find themselves and their voices, but life is too short to waste on bad books. Maybe in 5-10 years things will be better. The lesson for all the writers out there is to definitely use your writer-ly powers for good, but also learn story mechanics. PLEASE.

And, just as importantly, seek help from brutal (and I mean BRUTAL) editors.

Be sure to work on your craft as well as your cause.

But I assure you it can be done. To prove it, let me say good Christian fictiongood diverse fiction, and good feminist fiction do exist. Sometimes all at once. I have found these and more examples and they are amazing. You, see? It is possible!

BEAUTIFUL BOOKS ~ 2017 Writing Goals

Beautiful Books is a monthly feature hosted by Her Bookish Resplendence, Cait, over at Paper Fury. Click here to join in the link-up and don’t forget to check out Cait’s aesthetically divine bookstagram account! Now…on to the questions!

What were your writing achievements last year?

Not to pat myself on the back, but I did pretty darn well. I drafted three manuscripts and published three others. 😀 I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?

Well, like I said in my “resolutions” post, I want to do a repeat. Draft three books, publish three books, and  then decide whether or not I want to query this other WIP. That last one has been quite the internal debate. Grr…

Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!

Fanged Rebel (Haddie’s fourth adventure) is currently being drafted and Janir’s fourth book, The Temple of Tarkoth, are my priorities for this year. No more three year waits between books!

How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?

I see myself at the end of 2017 with only one year left of school, nine published books, and at least two more in the works for release in 2018. Exciting stuff! From a craft perspective, I want to explore character relationships and complexities more. That never gets old for me!

Describe your general editing process.

I generally have an idea of some things I will want changed while drafting, but I just plough through. After taking a break from the manuscript (anywhere from weeks to months), I do a few rereads and mark-ups in both electronic and finally print format. The last step is sending the manuscript to other writers whom I trust and adore who (lovingly) offer me brutal critiques.

On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?

For my NaNo project, Fireblight, I’d say 9 and 3/4. 😀  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I’m pretty proud of it.

What aspect of your draft needs the most work?

Fireblight started out as just a fun book to relieve stress, so there are some inconsistencies in world building and character relationships because, like I mentioned, I tend to edit as I go. That’s definitely what needs the most work, I’d say.

What do you like the most about your draft?

Again with Fireblight, I love how the characters took charge at certain points. I love how the whole story took an unexpected turn. I just love the adventure of this piece! It’s fairly unique compared to my usual stuff and tested me a bit. It’s a blast!

Also, DRAGONS!

What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

Unless plans change, I plan to queue Fireblight as an indie release in two or three years. (My release schedule before that is booked. LOL. Get it? Booked?)

What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?

Put it down for a week. A month. Four months. Then edit it before you do anything. PLEASE EDIT. We all write crap on the first go and exposure to raw, first drafts (including my own) isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.

The Danger of Dark Books

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There’s a trend of writing dark stuff these days. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for discussions of mass murder, gruesome torture, pedophilia, etc. But where is that place? And how should authors use these things?

In fantasy books especially, you see the new slant toward dark themes. This is mainly because of a certain successful series.

*coughcoughI’mLookingAtYouGeorgeRRMartincoughcough*

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We’re seeing writers toss “stuff” in like never before—be it questionable sex, gratuitous violence, or general moral ambiguity. Sometimes, these things are suitable for a story. In many cases, I’ve even thought they were handled well. I tend to be a bit of a dark person myself. Yet I have more recently began to edit characters and stories to be less twisted. Why? Because I don’t want to get used to it.

Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

We should never let our characters become statistics to readers. Writing horrible things for the sake of shock value is about as low as an author can sink. Even the series-that-shall-not-be-named has reasons for the bad things and characters that remain appalled (generally speaking).

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Much like former child stars doing pornographic photoshoots, I feel many authors are attempting to prove themselves mature. Writing sick characters in twisted stories is becoming a benchmark, but it shouldn’t be. This isn’t a contest of who has the most tortured characters.

A good writer can make us feel more for a nervous child auditioning in a play than a bad writer can make us feel for 600 gruesomely butchered, nameless red shirts.

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Dark stories have their place, yes, but it’s imperative that they don’t desensitize us. It’s important to talk about evil, but it’s just as important we don’t get used to it.

When we don’t keep perspective and throw around things like rape, torture, and infanticide, it’s easy to forget how terrible these things really are. Worst of all, it starts to influence how we view bad things that happen in real life. Apathy is the single largest enabler of evil in the world today. Shouldn’t we fight it if we can? Art has massive power in shaping people—that’s part of its magic—and if anything can combat apathy, I believe art is it.

Fanged is free today for Kindle

Things I hate about writing

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I love writing—usually—but sometimes, things about it make me want to scream and rip my hair out. Because writing is overall pretty great, I put up with them, but still…with Nano Wrimo just around the corner, I thought I’d whine over the things I hate about writing.

Plot Holes

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Have you ever realized your story’s two halves mashed two totally different world structures? I have. I know writers who’ve misplaced characters, but I think an entire socioeconomic system wins this round. And don’t get me started on character consistency. Ugh.

Writer’s Block

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All writers have, at some point, stared at a blank page with no thought but “what now?” To make matters worse, I almost always know what I want to happen it’s just…how to get there???

Rejection Letters

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Everyone who has ever sent out a query to agents or publishers knows the pain. I lost count of how many I’ve gotten and it never hurts any less. And if they’ve requested a complete manuscript only to slap you with a fat “no”? AGONY!

(I did eventually get a “yes” for the Argetallam Saga, but that publisher demanded too many of my rights. Hence I went full-on indie. Bet you didn’t think of me as a rebel. 😉 )

Self-Editing

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If there were a hell for writers, it would be made of rejection letters in need of editing. You either agonize for days hours over whether or not something is crap or you know it’s crap and can’t believe you actually wrote that. Either way, you end up needing feedback.

Feedback

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Feedback is necessary the way childbirth and tooth extraction is necessary. I find actually reading feedback isn’t half as bad as expecting feedback and have been known to tie myself in knots over it. What if they don’t like it? Was that kissing scene cheesy? Was the dialogue stupid? What if all my years of work were for nothing??? Then the feedback comes in and it’s usually really helpful. But then I’m right back to editing and just…ick.

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I once vowed to stick with writing ‘til death do us part, but…I wish it wasn’t so rough. Are you a writer? Do you have your own “hate list” for writing? Let me know in the comments!

Tips for Staying Creative in College

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A lot of writers, artists, and musicians struggle balancing school and creativity. Personally, I’ve had stock market projects, club obligations, roommate drama, and even boy drama. I have scholarships depending on my grades and the angst of whether or not to change my major. In spite of that, I have remained fairly creative.

I reviewed the final edits for The Chalice of Malvron and as soon as I brush up the damnable blurb, it will be entered the big wide world. I even went through The Temple of Tarkoth and I’ve started on my Nano Wrimo project, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to take conscious steps to make it happen and learned every lesson the hard way.

student-849825_960_720Don’t procrastinate

Procrastination is how you get three tests and three papers the same week mixed with a shot of meltdowns and a pound of anxiety. Plan ahead so that you can do a little work on school assignments at a time. Remember, it’s better to have a hundred snowballs than one avalanche.

Take care of yourself

Sleep. Seriously, sleep. Also go for walks and be sure you get to move around. This keeps your brain working its best and makes you feel more energized and better about yourself. Both are great for creativity.

girl-865304_960_720Creative breaks

I find unplugging and taking a hiatus from everything lets my brain reset and works wonderfully. Personally, my best breaks from writing involve reading. I’ve actually broken free of a months-long reading slump this semester and it helps get me in the mood for storytelling. Working on bite-size projects, such as short stories or poems, is also hugely helpful for writer’s block and unlocking creativity.

(Some people tell me they’re always too tired for reading, so they watch TV. Contrary to popular belief, Netflix does NOT count as sleep. If you’re that tired, you should go to bed.)

purse-1478852_960_720Reward yourself

Remember to pat yourself on the back when you do well. Chocolate is a great motivator for reaching creative goals. I have a Half Price Books 15 minutes from my campus and I’ve used that to inspire me quite a bit. I’ve even been known to ban myself from dessert until I reached a certain word count.

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It’s okay to say “no.” There will always be sporting events, social events, and well-meaning friends who want to drag you along. While these are part of the college experience, remember that you have to be balanced. There is always a happy medium or a compromise that can be made, such as giving yourself a curfew or only going to events you’ll actually enjoy (sounds obvious, but I’ve found it isn’t always).

board-928392_960_720You can keep writing, drawing, and creating in college, I have faith in you. If you can dream it, you can do it, and no one dreams like artists.

Do you have any tricks or tips for other student artists you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!