Fiction Idol?

One of the common gripes that self-published authors have is that bookshops won’t stock their book. Even though the title is properly ISBN-registered and available through the usual bookshop ordering process, the stores won’t buy it. As a self-published author myself, I’m going to say something that might surprise you: Fellow authors, there’s a good reason why it has to be this way.

I’ve heard it argued that indie bands get respect but indie authors don’t, for some reason. The argument appears to have a ring of truth, but when you look under the surface, it’s not valid. Imagine there was an internet business in place where any tone-deaf moron with a guitar and microphone could upload his songs, have CDs professionally mastered, and have them sitting on the shelves of HMV. Imagine, as a shopper, what it would be like going into the store and seeing a mixture of industry titles and self-made titles all sharing the same shelf-space. Imagine buying something new, getting home, putting the disc in your player, then hearing something that makes you walk out to the tool-shed for a hammer. Think I’m kidding? You’ve obviously never watched American Idol? Remember all those people in the early episodes who thought they could sing? Remember how you howled with laughter while Simon Cowell voiced his disgust?

Don’t get me wrong. I hate most of mainstream music anyway. Any intustry that can make people buy a song containing the refrain “A Pizza Hut, A Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut” has little to commend it. But ask yourself, would you honestly want to walk into a record shop and be confronted with every American Idol reject’s material in addition to what’s already there? I don’t think so. And you can be sure that the record shops would be quick in changing their stocking policy to eliminate those rejects, before they lose the majority of their customers.

Well, this is the gift that the POD (print-on-demand) companies such as iUniverse, AuthorHouse, LuLu, etc., have given the world of would-be authors: the ability to publish regardless of talent. You can bet that for every talentless singer who thinks he’s the next American Idol, there’s a talentless writer who thinks he’s the next Fiction Idol (if there were such a thing). Certain self-published titles do catch my attention, though, and I usually consult Google for reviews. My favourite comment was from a reviewer who referred to an apocalyptic horror novel (which shall remain nameless) as “a grammatical Armageddon.”

So, when it comes to self-published authors trying to get shelf-space in bookshops, the industry-savvy owners have the good sense not to bite. And you can understand why. Will you say amen, brother? Because I will. Even though I am about to use Lightning Source to self-publish my next novel, I will say amen.

How does a self-published author win, then? You find another way. With Ulterior, I found a way to cheat the system. I didn’t use the print-on-demand business model. Instead, I became a publisher, and I had enough money saved to pay for a print-run of 1000 books. And I made a success of it. This time, I recently invested all my savings in moving house, so unfortunately I have little cash to spare. This time I’m going to use POD. Heaven help me.

That said, I’m interested in experimenting with the idea of selling books online direct from the author. No publisher cut and no bookshop cut. I had moderate success with this approach during the final batch of sales of my first novel. This time I’m going to try and make online sales the bulk of my sales. Bjorn Lynne is a successful indie artist whose sole distribution channel is his own website. And why did I buy a couple of Lynne albums? Because I listened to his free tracks, and I thought they were terrific. I’m hoping the same approach will work for book-selling. I’ll mirror Bjorn by making it easy for the reader to determine whether my material is his cup of tea. I’ll give away some free stories and free excerpts; I’ll accomodate the reader by offering audio downloads as well as text. And with each new release, I’ll build on my existing fanbase.

If you’ve been waiting for Chion, you’ll be glad to know that I’m on the final sprint for the finish. And I’m doing nothing but Chion until it’s ready and released. No side-projects and no lazing about. Typo-detection, layout and cover-design are all that remain unfinished.

9 thoughts on “Fiction Idol?

  1. Anonymous

    I’m very into self-published stuff. I’ve found more and more musicians i like are self-published or published by tiny independent publishers they know personally. Bjorn is a good example (I’ve bought a few of his Natural Sound discs recently because they help my girlfriend relax while she is revising). I’ve also quite into Australian electro/experimental band Severed Heads. The frontman is a known curmudgeon and flipped two fingers to the labels a long time ago. All his stuff is now sold as downloads or self made CDRs.

    I also feel much more obligated to actually buy releases by self-published artists. I don’t think it’s any more morally correct, but it the difference between shoplifting in Woolworths and shoplifting in a little craft shop owned by a retired widow.

    Not that I’m saying I shoplift or anything.

    I think we’ll see this thing more often in future. If I should ever finish my own novel I’ll probably self publish. Actually I’d consider limited hand-bound hardback editions… maybe 20. Possibly printed using my own blood. I wonder if I’d have enough for 20..?

    Gimmick enough for you? 🙂

  2. Jeffrey Allen Davis

    You guys get “American Idol” in the UK, huh? You probably watch it more than I do, which is ironic considering the fact that you don’t have a television. Another US phenom that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole is “Survivor,” though I met the Christian from the first season when he visited our church.

  3. Darryl Sloan

    Peter, the only problem with using your blood as ink is that you’ll never be able to flog copies of your novel on eBay; they forbid the deliberate sale of anything containing human DNA. Somebody once tried to sell a piece of chewing gum that had been spat out by Britney Spears (including saliva). Bids were up to a couple of hundred dollars before eBay pulled it, such is the state of the human mind today. Thankfully, those sentinels at eBay are always vigilant in protecting the world from threats to our wellbeing, such as an invasion of Britney Spears clones.

  4. Darryl Sloan

    Jeff, yeah we get American Idol. We also get our British variation, called The X-Factor. And yep, not having a TV means I haven’t seen a single episode of the present season of either. Although, those shows are one of the few things I sort of miss about TV. I know they’re exploitive, but the early episodes are just so funny. A comparison between the two shows also reveals some interesting differences between the British and American mindsets.

    I’m not sure what the format of Survivor is, but we’ve got a weird one called I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, where they put celebrities whose careers need a boost in the jungle and make them do all kinds of crazy things like eating a kangaroo’s testicle (I kid you not).

    Now that I think about it, I don’t miss TV that much.

  5. Simon Slator

    I’d gladly accept some of the X-Factor rejects at my local record shop – they can’t be any worse than the half-witted clones that actually WIN the competition! Steve Brookstein wanted to be Michael Bolton (minus the mullet, of course) and Shayne Ward really wants to be a British version of Justin Timberlake. Nobody’s influenced anymore – they just take the easy route and do a carbon copy.

    This year, it’s down to either a Meriah Carey/Christina Aguli.. Agile… you know who I’m on about… wannabe (God forbid) or the illegitimate lovechild of Frank Sinatra and that kid out of “Malcolm in the Middle”!!! However, it is funny that those who win end up on the “Where are They Now” pile, shifting trolleys down Sainsbury’s, while the runners up get regular work doing television or theatre! What’s so ironic is that they all want to win so badly (this year’s finalists are all sob stories) but winning only guarantees work for a very limited time. By the time next year’s X-Factor final comes around, everyone’s geared up behind them, making this year’s winner nothing but yesterday’s news. It’s why they push the single out the second the phone polls close and get the usual album of lame cover versions and ballads out within the first 2 months – they cash in quickly while their still the flavour-of-the-month.

    You get the impression that The X Factor is looking for the next international superstar – like “The X Factor” is a talent or quality that is unique. Can you see any of them winning a Grammy? They’ll win a Brit Award, sure, but they’re all picked from sales stats and not through critical listening. I remember 13/14 years ago, the Brit Award for Best Video was between Sting’s “Fields of Gold” (decent video, boring song), Peter Gabriel’s “Steam” (great song, innovative video) and one by Take That where they dance around a studio for a bit. Guess which one won.

    I practically ignore the mainstream these days – anything that sparks an interest ends up ultimately disappointing. I downloaded the latest Muse album on the back of a very good Storm Thorgurson CD cover – hoping that their sound would contain some elements of Floyd-esque prog rock. Nope. Not a shred. Boring, floppy-haired shoe-gazer stuff that was mastered far too loud due to an overdose of dynamic range compression.

    I could rant on forever about this (just don’t get me started on the Take That “reunion”) but then I remember it’s got to be moderated before it’s published, and I fear any more ranting could potentially kill Darryl off! 🙂

  6. Darryl Sloan

    You are right about most mainstream music. It’s ultra-boring. But Sting’s “Fields of Gold”? A masterpiece, in my humble opinion. I guess you need to be in the right mood to appreciate it.

    When I walk into HMV, I spend most of my time looking at old cheap CDs from the 1980s (when mainstream was more about music than product), or I’ll be browsing for foreign films or cult TV shows.

    Here’s a little plug for a new indie rock band that was recently brought to my attention by one of its members: Dead City Riots. I’ve been playing their CD to death recently.

  7. Simon Slator

    I totally agree – although rather than go all the way to HMV, I tend to get cheap imports through Amazon. Some of those marketplace sellers price them so cheap by exporting low value items – no sales tax and a generally lower markup price at their end, no duty or additional VAT this end. Even with the postage costs, I was getting Rush albums sent from Canada for less than a fiver! (in fake Canadian accent) That’s, like, beauty, eh?

    The early 80’s were a great time for honest, self-made pop music. You’d never find Howard Jones covering age-old ballads just to grab a quick quid at Christmas, nor would you find Nik Kershaw or Level 42 milking their fame and dumbing down their sound. Even Rock music was bold, mighty and powerful, as opposed to the dull and overly-introspective rock I hear today. Rock music has lost its sense of humour and become all serious. Here’s how we can bring it back:

    What we need to do is go into our local record shops when it’s quiet and no-one’s around. Then, we remove the album that’s at No. 1 from the chart section and replace it with whatever Frank Zappa album they have the most copies of. That way, unknowing parents will buy the latest “chart-topping” CD for their kids for Christmas and thus usher in the second age of Zappa!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s