Can Indie writers churn cream into butter?
May 7, 2012
I don’t know how many times in the last couple of years I have heard people say about indie writing that the cream will rise to the top. I take it that by this they mean that a good product will stand out from the crowd, and readers will recognize it for what it is and fall over themselves to buy it.
Cream is one thing; butter, another.
When I was a kid, I lived two houses over from my maternal grandparents, Alf and Zonie Chandler. Yes, my grandmother was named Zonie. Granny and grandaddy had a one hundred and sixty acre working farm with chickens, cows and pigs. Grandaddy tilled the fields with an iron plow harnessed to a mule and planted watermelons, peas, corn and a few other assorted crops.
On the screened-in back porch of my grandparent’s farm house, sat a ceramic churn with a wooden plunger. When Granny needed some butter, she made it herself. She would milk the cows, allow the whole milk to stand until the cream rose to the top and soured, then skim the cream and put it in the churn. To complete the process, she applied one last, crucial ingredient.
Sometimes, I got to furnish that ingredient.
The finished product was a thing to behold. A luminous white substance that didn’t much resemble what the local supermarket labeled “butter.” It was product more pristine, more pure, more sublime. When there was homemade butter on the dinner table, I almost hated to eat it because I didn’t want to destroy such a precious thing. But, don’t get me wrong. Eat it I did, and I savored every bite.
What does this have to do with the current state of publishing?
It is simple really.
Cream is one thing; butter, another. By this I mean that the Indie world of writing is filled with examples of great writing. That writing is a precious commodity that has made its way along the chain of production from the long nights of authors working at keyboards, through a stringent editorial process, through the expense of digital formatting and the acquisition of first-rate cover art.
Despite all that, it is still cream, not butter.
It is missing one more step: elbow grease. It is the elbow grease of marketing, networking, building name-recognition, compiling email addresses, exploring which promos work.
The big question for 2012 in the indie publishing business is whether indie authors have enough fire in their bellies to apply that last dose of elbow grease, the staying power to churn the cream into butter. Many indies have already dropped out.
They didn’t want to make butter.