Saturday, 11 June 2011

Mainstream versus indie authors

...or, the farmer and the cowboy should be friends.

Last week Robin Sullivan, who successfully runs the indie small press Ridan, was banned from AbsoluteWrite with this message from the administrator:

"You have been banned for the following reason: Just get the hell off my site. You're relentlessly snotty, rude, and you're a fucking bald-faced liar. I'm done with you.

Date the ban will be lifted: Never."

Nice. Robin's offence? To politely argue the case for indie publishing on AbsoluteWrite's forums on this thread. On AbsoluteWrite, they don't like self-publishers. Mention that some indies have done rather well, and you are likely to be ignored or disbelieved. The majority of members are wedded to the way things are currently run in the publishing industry, however much evidence accrues that it is broken.

Why are they quite so vitriolic? I have a theory. It can be pretty discouraging, being a writer. You toil away on your own for years, learning how to write, then you reach stage one: submit to agents. Suppose you get an agent (and only a handful of writers I know have achieved this) she will submit your book to publishers. They take their time to reply, and you may find after a year or so your agent has used all her contacts and failed to place your book.

If you are lucky enough to find a publisher, you will wait eighteen months or more to see your novel in print. As a new author you are unlikely to get much of an advance (I know of two exceptions to this, Guy Saville and Elspeth Cooper). With little of the publisher's money invested in it, your book will not get much hype or a favourable spot in the bookshops. 90% of new authors sell fewer than 1,000 copies and don't earn out their advance. Unless you sell surprisingly well, after some months your unsold books will be returned and pulped.

Anyone committed to this dismal system, accepting repeated rejection with gritted teeth and the mantra I'll write another book, is likely to be touchy with those she sees leaping over the gatekeepers and making their books available to readers within weeks of finishing them. It makes it even worse that some of these writers are doing rather well out of it. Stockholm Syndrome kicks in.

The most clued-up authors think that a mixture of indie and traditional publishing is the best way to go. Being hostile to writers who have chosen a different route is pointless - and anyone who subsequently switches sides is going to feel really foolish.

Not the bigots at AbsoluteWrite, though. They know what they think, and you'd better agree with them if you go on their site.

(I choose not to, myself.)


  1. I think I shall stay away from AbsoluteWrite. Even if you hadn't explained the background, the tone of the admin's note would have put me off!

    What a pity that other writers aren't able to see that there's more than one "right" way of doing things.

  2. Yes - I'm all for people doing their own thing, and letting others do theirs. Diversity is good :o)

  3. Lexi!!! Where on earth do you find such places! LOL!! Oh but seriously!!

    I got most confused as a Kevin McLaughlin was first on the thread and had the words "banned" under his name!

    I recall the good ol days on the YouWriteOn forum..!! LOL!

    I just hope Lady A finds a proper answer to her original question, poor woman! I think she's better off asking publishers - indies, trad, e-whatever, anyone in the publishing industry in whatever form or the agent who suggested she improve her dialogue - themselves and not try these very biased and emotionally charged forums!! Take care

  4. Kitty, I go to these places so you don't have to...oh, you did.

    Kevin McLaughlin was banned at the same time for the same crime as Robin; disagreeing with the site owner. *sharp intake of breath*

  5. Oh my goodness...If every rude and snotty person would be kicked out of forums, the internet would be practically empty!

  6. True - but Lisa, in this case Robin WASN'T at all 'rude or snotty' - she left that to AbsoluteWrite's Admin.

  7. That got unnecessarily nasty, didn't it? Perhaps the clue's in the website title though - Absolute. Total. Not qualified or diminished in any way. Final. Or, from philosophy, a value or principle which is regarded as universally valid or which may be viewed without relation to other things.

    Shame the world keeps changing really.


  8. Hi K!

    They could have called it TotalitarianWrite.

    Totalitarian: of or relating to a system that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience...


  9. I never was a fan of AW. I made a couple quick trips and ran out fast. There was just so much negativity. But if I hadn't already decided this for myself, the owner's incredibly nasty letter would have made the decision for me. As an owner, she has every right to kick anyone off for any reason. She's the owner. But there are ways to do it without sounding like a fishwife.

    And talk about heads in the sand!

    I have no problem with people making whatever decision is best for them and their writing career, but don't be deliberately obtuse. And don't be hatin' just because someone doesn't do it the way you think they should.

    Some people need to get on their big boy and big girl pants! lol

  10. Hi Shéa!

    At one time I wondered whether to join AW, but it didn't quite appeal, though I never analysed why. Now I know.

  11. The first time I ever visited AbsoluteWrite was through clicking on the link in this blog. That is also the LAST time I shall visit AbsoluteWrite.

    Borders didn't adapt to the digital revolution in time. B&N did just in the nick of time. Publishers are still struggling to adapt.

    Those on AbsoluteWrite, from what I read on this thread, still don't get it. As such, they deserve to be steamrolled by the digital revolution. Shame on them for their intolerance.

  12. Hi, R, thanks for dropping by.

    I zipped over to your blog and love the background. You didn't quite sell me either version of True Grit, but if I currently had time to read, your review of Need to Know might have had me one-clicking.

  13. Well, I had to sleep on it before daring to comment. This reminded me too much of my University days and trying to have a reasoned discussion with some of the "loony lefties" who packed JCR meetings.

    They, too, believed absolutely in free speech. As in "Everyone's entitled to my opinion."

  14. Thank you, Lexi.

    That background is a water shot I took several years ago on a ten-day Hawaiian cruise. Thought it would make a calm, soothing background for my blog.

    Glad you like it.

  15. Fabulous - it looks as though there must be treasure in that water.

    Bot, I never went to those meetings. Mark you, at art college few of us were at all political - or maybe I just didn't notice back then.

  16. That Absolute Write thread is bewildering. What in God's name is wrong with these people? And where do they find the time for all that arguing?

    You're right about Stockholm Syndrome, which I recognise as a danger in all areas of life. If you're desperate to be loved by someone who obviously despises you, you're demeaning yourself.

    I once read a blog post – sorry I can't remember where – in which an agent, finger wagging sternly, told the lower orders that when their work is rejected, they must accept that it can't be any good. Commenters dissolved in an orgy of gratitude: "Oh, thank you for saying that. How true it is, how true!" "Thank you so much! We all needed to hear that." etc. Vomit.

    Robin Sullivan and Kevin McLaughlin have been banned, as you say, simply for disagreeing with the administrator. Good for them.

    Why do I never get banned anywhere? Don't I count?

  17. Iain, they find time to argue because thankfully, unlike self-publishers, they are not having to do all that tiresome formatting and promotion.

    I think you underestimate yourself. I reckon you would get banned from AbsoluteWrite within twenty-four hours of joining :o)

  18. I've always been more of an Absolut Riiiiight type-of-guy. Vodka doesn't help write better but it does help suffer fools...

  19. I signed up to Absolute Write a while back, took one look at the seemingly random banning policy (and how widely it was employed) and never went back.

    Having been an avowed self-publisher (I think some aspects of publishing suck more than granny on her eggs but I hope I've never been rude about writers who choose that way - different methods suit different people and different books) for more than two years I've seen lots of people who used to call me every name under the sun cross the fence and self-publish. It's great to see them.

    I do think we have a slightly strange situation now that calls for careful use of terminology. As more people self-publish and call themselves "indie", referring to their means of distribution, those of us who went the indie route because it was a place for content the mainstream found unacceptable need to be careful not to be sucked under the same umbrella in every respect. There's a certain expectation that indie artists are just like Big Sixers only with different distribution means. As I've been lucky or unlucky enough to be known as an indie for about 3 years now I get asked to do things as an indie, and then when I turn up and read or send in a piece people go "whoa, can you tone that down?" (It happened quite alarmingly at our live shows earlier this year). Wht they don't get is that I turned indie so I didn't have people saying "tone that down." To me that's what indie means. It's about freedom to produce the content you want to produce. And yet now we have a new wave of indie success that's grat, but is in danger of marginalising some of us other indies as much as the publishing world did. Whilst all the tine there's this pressure for us all to embrace each other "cos we is indie" (which inevitably means those of us at the less "acceptable" end acting more acceptably never the oyther way round). It's a sign of success of course. The sure sign trhat a revolution has succeeded is that it starts to realise it has tensions within its ranks. But just a note of caution that indie does not just mean one thing, and a note of caution to those for whom indie is about content - if you're approached about being indie, remember what it means to you, and don't feel pressuer to be indie on someone else's terms - there's nothing at all indie about that.

  20. Dan, you are the organic, additive-free indie's indie. Me, I'm just a writer who got turned down by the publishing industry and wouldn't take no for an answer.

    I know some people get picky about exactly what an indie is, and how that differs from a self-publisher. I use the words interchangeably, lazily no doubt.

    I can't see you ever 'toning yourself down'. But The Company of Fellows is selling so well, you may find yourself in the mainstream whether you like it or not.

  21. Steve, cheers! And note I do not ask you for a citation for that comment :o)

  22. I must admit to have begun to see an absolute plethora of this kind of reaction. At first I followed a few suppossed agent blogs and writers forums that 'commented' on the indie growth. However it soon became apparent that what I was witnessing was akin to reading a Publisher's Pravada were it was perfectly acceptable to first write up your own 'questions' using a psuedonym then hyperventilate, vilify and grandstand. I must admit to being upset and disturbed the first time I saw this, until I figured out that in the long run this was no more than 'the rage of dreaming sheep' as they see their treasured monopoly slip from their withered grasp. I fear that we shall indeed see a lot more of this. All I can suggest to other indies is band together in less viperative forums and associations and not put up with abuse.
    Regards Greg

  23. Lexi, I agree with some of the comments made already - what a waste of time that whole awful drudge of pedantic, repetitive caviling is!

    Authonomy was time suck enough, but that AW thread reveals very, very little in a very, very long way...

  24. Lexi, could I make a tiny plea from the other side of the fence.

    Please don't lump together all of us who are "committed to this dismal system". I applaud anyone who makes a success of self-publishing and I think certain people on AW and certain bloggers are wrong to relentlessly bash indie authors.

    BUT I'm also tired of those indie authors who tell me I'm dumb for taking the "dismal" route (that route has been anything but dismal for me, so far!)

    All this infighting is depressing. After all, we want the same thing; to write great books and get them in the hands of readers.

  25. Welshcake, the way I understood Lexi was that she was taking a stand against sniping from either side, whcih is far the best approach. I do feel uneasy at being lumped in with some of the people being heralded as indies (only because I'm then expected to act like them - more in a minute) but aside for the debating of definitions, one of the consequences of the increasing success and respectability of self-publishing is a confidence that leads to an increasing lack of chips on shoulders. There's no need to feel threatened or patronised by the regularly published, no need for battle lines. I very rarely think about the publishing world. I just get on and do what I do.

    On "toning down", it's something I have to confront as an issue on a regular basis. As successes come (which I'm delighted they have) you get asked to do things. Great. But you get asked to do them on other people's terms. And there's a constant line you have to walk as a result. I found at eight cuts gallery that more and mroe people wanted to be part of the shows whose work was verging on the kind of thing we were trying to get away from (not because I don't like it, but because there's already a place for it and I want to create a place for people who don't have an outlet to feel at home and not encroached upon), and venues were encouraging us to do more of that. It was a real dilemma, but I ended up pulling our shows from the venue where they'd established themselves so we could keep our message focused. And yes, The Company of Fellows' success ahs brought real problems. I've been stunned, flabbergasted, and delighted by Blackwell's response to its success in their poll - it seems they are going to let me hold an event that I'm putting together with my "outsider" agenda, and they have been so supportive of the book it's untrue. But some of the opportunities that have come my way, whilst fantastic, make me deeply nervous. It's important for everyone to have goals and always to remember what they are.

  26. I appreciate so many interesting comments on my post.

    Alexander, both the Authonomy forum and AW seem to me to be inward-looking worlds which waste huge amounts of the participants' time.

    Dan, I'm sure you can enjoy the success and stay free-range :o)

    Justine, I dislike being pigeon-holed and hope I don't do it to others.

    Greg, these days I tend to wander away from heated debates where everyone gets more entrenched. For a positive attitude towards self-publishing, Kindleboards is the place.

  27. Lexi said...
    True - but Lisa, in this case Robin WASN'T at all 'rude or snotty'

    Right you are. So whereas I don't think being snotty or rude should be a reason to get banned immediately, NOT being snotty or rude is even less of a reason. A fortiori, as the Germans say.

    I've read the whole interaction thing on AW, and seen neither snottiness nor rudeness. In your friend, that is. A most remarkable ban!

  28. Lexi, you can quote me on the drinking; I wouldn't know anyway as I never Hemingwayed my way through chapters. I write in the morning and when I drink it's at night. It just seems cool for writers to admit to being fond of liquor.

    It seems especially cool for those who call themselves indies. For me it has nothing to do with identifying myself with a movement. I'm no hipster. Self-publishing is nothing more than a business decision. I've spent years querrying publishers before transitioning to contacting agents. I even paid $400 to a consulting company to help me target the agents who would most likely be responsive to my queries. Desperate much? I think I'm a respectable author, I'm just a terrible salesman.

    The traditional publishing industry is thrashing in confusion. Only one agent gave me pointers about my thriller The Kennedy Secret: it was too long (102,000 words) for a first author. Uh? Really? That was the most damning criticism? No wonder they're all about to lose their jobs...

    So I don't consider myself an indie. I'm a published author, as far as my readers go. Who cares how my book go to the marketplace? The only thing that's important is that the readers enjoy my work.

  29. Yes, it's readers that matter.

    I sometimes reflect that if I had got an agent when I was submitting in 2009-10, I most likely would not yet have sold a single book. Worst case scenario, I'd have wasted two or three years when I could have been selling my novels. We are lucky to have an alternative these days.

  30. All I want to say is that the world would be a better place if we followed the advice Oscar Hammerstein II gave us in so many of his lyrics. The one you use as your thread title, is, of course, from Oklahoma. My personal favorite of his "what's the matter with people" songs is South Pacific's "You've Got to Be Taught". Easy to see what they try to teach over at AW.

  31. Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,
    Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
    One man likes to push a plough,
    The other likes to chase a cow,
    But that's no reason why they cain't be friends.

    Territory folks should stick together,
    Territory folks should all be pals.
    Cowboys dance with farmer's daughters,
    Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals.

    I shall not attempt to sing this, even in private.

  32. I was in a rather lavish community theater production of Oklahoma decades ago. In a classic case of typecasting I played Slim. Got to sing as part of the ensemble and dance with some pretty girls. Life was good.

  33. Do you sing these days? I wish I could, but my range is so minuscule I can sing few songs. 'Good King Wenceslas' is okay (with no one in earshot).

    At school, my singing teacher made each of us sing solo once a term, just to demonstrate how some of us couldn't do it.

  34. I sing whenever I have the opportunity, although that is mostly while driving back and forth to work. My range is not what it was in years past (light baritone ranging into second tenor), but the breath control is just as good as it ever was. I firmly believe that singing is important to a good outlook on life. Without it I would likely have joined al-qaeda or become an accountant.

  35. Drink works as well to maintain a good outlook on life. The late Osama bin Laden was teetotal, I believe.

  36. The case rests, m'lud.


  37. Howdy.
    I dropped over after reading your comment on Nathan Bransford's guest poster's post today. First off, congrats on having success in self-publishing. Secondly, let me add something about self-publishing that I don't often see: the reader of a novel series does not have to wait months or years in between each book. This is wonderful from my POV.
    And I'll be checking you out on amazon. If I review one of your e-books, I'll let you know. :)

  38. How cool. The English Teacher sez "Howdy".

  39. That's a good point about not having to wait for novels in a series, TET, though this may seem more of an advantage than it actually is, as writers new to Kindle are releasing their back catalogue all at once.

    I'd love to be more prolific, but it does seem to take me a year to write a book in my spare time.

    Thanks for checking out my books :o)

  40. Lexi, I have to take issue with you I'm afraid. I'm a member of AW, and a moderator there too--specifically, moderator of the section in which the thread in question occurred, and the moderator who ultimately closed that thread--and this issue has been entirely misrepresented by more than one person, you included.

    You wrote, "Robin's offence? To politely argue the case for indie publishing on AbsoluteWrite's forums on this thread."

    That's not true. Robin wasn't banned for her contribution to that single thread, but for her history at AW--much of which isn't visible to you. It includes rep points and direct messages that she sent; comments she made in other threads; and her habit of posting comments which weren't always reliable.

    "On AbsoluteWrite, they don't like self-publishers."

    This isn't true. Several of the moderators have self-published, including the most senior admin staff, and have done very well at it too; what AW is against is misinformation, whether that's about self publishing, trade publishing, or anything else.

    Dan Holloway wrote, "I signed up to Absolute Write a while back, took one look at the seemingly random banning policy (and how widely it was employed) and never went back."

    Dan, I wouldn't spend my time on a writers' board which I felt was unfair, ill-informed, or unprofessional. I certainly wouldn't give up my time for free in order to moderate such a place, and I hope you know me well enough to appreciate that.

    As a mod I'm party to the discussions that come before any bannings. They're intensely detailed and fraught and the mods do argue passionately both for and against every single one. Perhaps if you'd spent more time there you'd understand more fully how things are done there; and knowing you as I do I'm really surprised that you are prepared to make such a negative, sweeping statement about a place which you barely know, and which has provided so much amazing support for so many writers for so long.


    I'd suggest that everyone who has criticised Mac, AW and its mods go back and read Mac's post (number 57) in that thread, in which she finally banned Robin and Kevin after months of trouble. And as you read it, try to put Mac's obvious frustrations into some context.

    Would you put up with anyone who repeatedly posted self-promotional comments on your blog? What if they were unreliable, misleading, consistently argumentative, insulted you and your friends in all sorts of ways, and laughed at you when they thought you weren't looking, and if they persisted in doing all these things even after you'd asked them, very nicely, to stop on more than one occasion? Would you continue to provide a nice cosy place where they could come and chat, or would you eventually realise they weren't going to change, and stop enabling their negative behaviour?

    I know what I'd do.

  41. Jane, I'm afraid Blogger sent your comment to Spam from where I've only just rescued it.

    As someone who isn't a member of AW, I haven't read that much there - but from what I have read, I'd say many posters do seem somewhat grudging and suspicious about indie successes.

    And the remark with which Robin was sent packing is pretty immoderate for a moderator :o)

  42. "Jane, I'm afraid Blogger sent your comment to Spam from where I've only just rescued it."

    No problem, Lexi: at least you found it eventually. To swerve off-topic for a moment, I took a look at your other websites in the interim. I didn't realise you were a jeweller: your work is exquisite. I am in awe. I now have a bad case of the covets.

    "As someone who isn't a member of AW, I haven't read that much there - but from what I have read, I'd say many posters do seem somewhat grudging and suspicious about indie successes."

    You're almost right. Some posters are very grudging about it, and many posters are suspicious of some of the successes claimed and have questioned those claims rather relentlessly. But AW also has members who are just as grudging and suspicious of trade publishing, and who question it in the same way, and a whole lot more members who are positive, well-informed, and eager to discuss in a more balanced, rational way. AW provides a place for writers of all persuasions to get together and discuss their viewpoints and, I hope, learn from one another the truth about both "sides" (not that there should be sides, but you know what I mean).

    AW has pretty rigorous standards when it comes to clarity, disbunking publishing myths, citing information, and generally getting to the bottom of things. It doesn't matter what the subject under discussion is: it's treated to the same intense scrutiny. So yes, there's a lot of cynicism when it comes to many of the claims made about self-publishing: but there's a similar amount of cynicism applied to stories about trade publishing too. It's not for everyone: but I think it's good for writers not to rely on stuff they've heard and instead to examine things deeply, from every angle.

    "And the remark with which Robin was sent packing is pretty immoderate for a moderator :o) "

    *Puts pedantic hat on* MacAllister Stone isn't a moderator: she's the owner of AW.

    Mac doesn't mince her words. Yes, she was frustrated and irritated when she banned Robin and Kevin; but she had put up with a huge amount of nonsense from each of them for some time, most of which you would only appreciate if you'd been reading their posts for a few months and had watched AW's other members' responses to them during that time.

    If you put Mac's comment into its full context, knowing the full history of the two posters concerned, then no: in my opinion Mac didn't go overboard.

    To give you an example: Robin blogged that she'd been banned from AW because of her posts in the thread she linked to. But that was disingenuous: she was banned because of her post history, her attitude, and her habit of misrepresenting things to her favour. Much as she misrepresented the reasons for her banning by stating it was because of her involvement in that one thread.

    If you imagine months of such behaviour, perhaps you can understand how frustrated Mac was with her when she finally banned her, and how right Mac was to ban her.

    It's sad when anyone gets banned from AW: but it's even sadder when they misrepresent the event in the way that Robin has. I refrained from commenting about this elsewhere, but when I saw you and Dan--I have a lot of respect for you both, as you probably know--getting involved in this way then I had to speak up.

  43. Gordon Bennett, Jane, what has Blogger got against you? I had to rescue this comment too.

    It doesn't really matter what we think or say about the direction publishing is taking today - though it's fascinating to watch developments as they happen - events will inexorably take their course, with winners and losers. Bad as it is to be a sore loser, it's even worse to be a sore winner.

  44. I, too, am one of the AQ Banned Alumni (how I found this post was searching for other instances). May I offer, however, that part of the problem is language? An "indie" publisher is not a self-publisher. "Indie" implies a traditional editor/writer relationship, complete with a vetting process and rejection slips. A self-publisher is a person who publishes their stuff. The acceptance requirements for Indie/Small presses can be some of the most stringent on the planet, i.e. when they pay you in copies, you put one of them in a frame in your office. Self-publishing, by definition, has only the subjective standards of the individual publishing their stuff. BIG difference!

  45. (I mean AW, not "AQ." See why we need editors?)

  46. Kell, you make me glad I short-circuited the process by never joining AbsoluteWrite in the first place.

    The expression commonly in use is 'indie author', which cannot get confused with indie publishers.

    I would argue that self-publishing is regulated by the most demanding people of all, readers, who are quite capable of making up their own minds what they want to read.

  47. I was actually invited to join AW a few days ago. (Yeah, I don't think so) LOL I think they just wanted me to join in so that they could have the pleasure of "banning" me later. LOL I wouldn't put it past them.

    Everything you said about traditional publishing doesn't always translate into major book sales and fame is correct. I know a few authors who were published the traditional way and they are just as obscure as I am. LOL The difference? I got my first "royalty check" about 5 or 6 months after my first two books came out. (Last August and September) It wasn't a million dollars, but it was nice.

    Peace and love to all.

  48. Hi Carroll!

    I had no idea AW handed out invitations. And they would need fresh fodder, having driven away or banned all those who disagree with them (can you believe Hugh Howey was the latest?). It's no fun having no one to put the boot into :o)

    Congratulations on your first cheque. I hope it's followed by many more.

  49. Hi Lexi
    Just saw this and I thought you and your readers might be interested in the reviews of this site on SiteJabber:
    As you can see the banning of Robin was far from an unusual occurrence.In the years I’ve been a member I’ve lost count of the number of “gang bangs” I’ve witnessed and it keeps getting worse. So many good writers have been banned or alienated there’s hardly anyone left worth reading, bad and misleading advice abounds and trolls seem to use it as a gathering place to discuss their next campaign. The site owner believes herself accountable to no one, so the mods range around the site like a gang of outlaws in Dodge City picking fights with anyone they don’t like the look of. I must admit it is a fascinating study in groupthink but hardly a congenial atmosphere for serious discussion. Seems your initial instinct about the place was right!
    Hope you and your books are doing well.

  50. Sandra, what an interesting link!

    The people running the AW forums come across as a few chapters short of a novel to say the least. Power-crazed and abusive. I wonder if the site has been taken over by some literary version of flesh eating zombies? That would explain it...