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March 4th, 2014

1:36 PM

How I Save Myself from Bad Indie Books

It all started when Chuck Wendig compared the current diarrhea of self-published books in the market to a "slushy glut slog". Then Sunita on Dear Author decides to don her gladiator toga to take on the indies by posting a follow-up to her dramatic memoir These Scars are My Sarajevo: How I Took On Hugh Howey and SurvivedBitter Aftertaste: Why We Shouldn't Suck On Hugh Howey's Lemons Despite Those Glowing Reviews.

Given all this drama, I am starting to feel glad that Amazon forbids most people in the world, like me, from sampling its Kindle offerings. I get my indie stuff from Smashwords and aRE, so I'm not sure how much my experience is relevant to the hordes of Kindle users out there suffering from lemonade poisoning at the moment, but since everyone wants to be part of the link-bait fest, here's my offering to the party. Get ready for my tips on how to avoid those lemons and Hugh Howey's heinous influential leer on my rear end.

Do note that I say "my, me, and I" here. My tips may not work for you, and I'm saying this in advance, so don't complain. Take it to Twitter or something.

Bet on the ex-trads. Thanks to how easy it is to go indie these days - at least, compared to the old days - many established authors are going that route. Some of your favorite authors may have done so or are in the process of doing so. Marsha Canham, Julie Ortolon, Danelle Harmon, Barbara Freethy are just some examples. Such authors have set some standards for their works in the past, and they usually offer something more interesting than before as they are now free from having to conform to what sells in the market. I find such authors a good bet. Sure, there may be some weird formatting issues now and then, but nothing too dire so far.

New adult - dip very sparingly. Okay, if you just love new adult stories, go ahead and skip this tip. That'd be like me asking chocoholics to eat less chocolates - there's no point as you won't listen. Everyone else, here's the thing: this is currently one of the hottest selling genres, so everyone, from actual authors to fanfiction authors to their fans who write fanfictions of these fanfiction to "entrepreneurs" wanting to make a quick thousand dollars by ripping off more fanfictions, is currently congregating here using the whole genre as a public toilet. Quality is never assured as there is no quality assurance in the first place. You can't trust reviews because way too many of these reviews are written by insane people who also spend their waking hours posting on Goodreads how their favorite heroes would be played by this or that teen heartthrob. You can't even trust the works to have halfway proper grammar. The best thing to do, at the very least, is to wait until traditional publishers scoop the biggest sellers up and get some poor intern to clean up the grammar and spelling, but even then, it's hard to avoid the rampant misogyny, self-loathing issues, and cringe-inducing worship of abusive male behavior as symptoms of love. Meanwhile, stick to genres where there are less opportunists and wannabes soiling the scenery.

Pick what you like. This may seem obvious, but sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in some online hype and buy something because everyone else is raving about it. I've been burned way too often, so now I just pick what I want to read by looking at the synopsis, the cover, et cetera. Besides, when it comes to new adult romances, chances are, if everyone's raving about it, it's another carbon copy of Beautiful Disaster, and I don't want that, thanks very much.

Random shopping is fun. No, really. Perhaps because I buy mostly at Smashwords and they don't have a selection as large as Amazon, but it's like running wild in a used book store, not knowing what I will find at every turn of the aisle. Searching for things like "tentacles" (oh, be quiet), "dinosaur", "alien", and "Lovecraftian" yield some fun stories for me. This also captures some of the serendipity of real life book-shopping that I feel is missing when I'm dealing with a vast online bookstore like Amazon.

Avoid the politicians and courtiers
. I used to go by the adage that "it's the story, not the author's antics or personal belief, that counts", but when it comes to indie authors, following that principle is also the fastest way to get burned and become jaded quickly. I am referring to authors that spend more time championing a cause than actually writing. They seem so caught up in being someone in a community or a forum. There are several reasons to avoid these authors. One, they get so much support from the forum or blog where they are Somebody, writing anything negative about these authors can earn me the enmity of people I don't even know exist or care to know until then. See: insane people in the new adult fan ghettos. See also: big blogs/forums with "us versus everyone else in the world" persecution complex. Two, these authors also tend to be a bit crazy. They talk big about respecting reviewers, but you write an actual negative review about their works, and they WILL come after you. Or talk about you incessantly to their favorite blog or forum hangouts, usually by going, "Oh, I am so sad today because someone hated my book!" which is always a surefire way to work people's emotions up against the author of the negative review. Okay, not all authors who actively root themselves to the comment section or a forum 24/7 are like this, but in my experience, many are. Especially the ones who protest the loudest that they aren't. Oh, they are. Their books are rarely worth the post-review fallout, so it's no great loss to give their works a miss.

Don't listen to reviewers who are in a race with one another. This means Amazon and, to a lesser extent, Goodreads. There are many reviewers that are actually playing a game. You see, reviewers are ranked, and it is very easy for most folks to get caught up in the race to become the top reviewer. There will be cliques that would deliberately hate something a rival clique love, there are wars to downvote rivals' reviews, and sockpuppet/conflict of interest accusations are all over the place. And, alas, the most popular genres tend to have most of such reviewers, and new adult gets a double whammy in that it is popular and it has a fandom consisting mostly of crazed insane people that take "loyalty" to cannibalistic new heights, especially when these fans are so-called adults, worse when these adults claim to be middle-aged teachers or librarians in real life. Oh, and it goes without saying: avoid authors that play these games too. I once liked a new author's work, so I went to her blog. The first thing I saw was a post screeching that someone on Goodreads is a sockpuppet, here are sixty billion screenshots to prove it, and "we" must rally and take her down. Okay. I backed away and never touched another book of hers again. 

Be wary of authors who have a new book out every month. Or brag about having written a book in two weeks. Or praise her fans for helping her out with proofreading and editing for free. Or let her fans determine the direction and outcome of her series. These are all red flags that quality may not be top of the priority list, certainly not anything else - people should be more concerned that we have yet another bad boy with the same Celtic tattoo on one arm, on another bike, stalking another vapid virgin and punching out other boys that show interest in her, crying that other women are all whores, his mother is a bitch, and he has been molested by dirty old men in the swimming pool, and he would be played by that plywood from Arrow.

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