Dodging Sharks in the Indie Ocean

Guest blogger Steve Piacente (@wordsprof) has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published the award-winning Bella, the story of a widow’s quest to uncover the truth about her husband’s death on an Afghan battlefield. His new novel Bootlicker is the prequelSteve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker became correspondent for the Charleston (SC) Post & Courier.  He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at AU. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.comBella is available at Bootlicker is available at

Despite gloomy headlines and feverish talk about toppling over economic cliffs, three years as a self-published author tells me our entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy are in fine shape, thank you.

I have watched and zealously joined the legions of writers using technology to produce, launch and promote their work. I have also watched as clever small business owners – many legit but some not so much – have surfaced to help authors achieve their most coveted goal, more readers. For a fee, of course.

It’s interesting that this phenomenon wasn’t even possible not so long ago. Five years back, there was one path to the literary castle. You wrote your book and hopefully snagged an agent, who would then land a publisher.

Technology reengineered the landscape, and in so doing, rocked the seismic plates beneath an industry that once seemed unshakeable. The ripples have been astounding.

–       More than 211,000 self-published books hit the market in 2011, according to industry expert Bowker. That’s up from 133,000 in 2010.

–       Mainstream newspapers can sort good politician, athletes and movies from bad, but can’t begin to separate books worth reading from garbage. Citing lack of resources, most won’t even review Indie authors.

–       A new grassroots community of bloggers has stepped in to fill the void. Many have clearly defined rules and regs, and won’t give a book a single star more than it deserves.

–       Big publishing houses are beginning to dance with companies that focus on self-published authors. Simon & Shuster and Author Solutions, for instance, recently announced a joint venture called Archway Publishing.

All of this means there are lots of new dollars in play. Self-published authors need editors, covers, trailers, websites, and social media pages. Great storytellers don’t always excel at marketing and promotion.

Such services are available ala Carte from specialists, or as packages from one-stop shops. Some are great; some just want your new dollars. All promise to try; none guarantee sales. This is tricky territory for authors, who tend to know a lot more about similes than sales.

I speak from experience when I say there are sharks prowling the Indie Ocean. Headed into a major trade conference this year, I got an email that offered, in large print, a free listing in an online publication. What I overlooked in small print was that signing up committed me to a two-year deal at about $2,000 a year.

I had no use for the listing (which by the way has brought zero sales) and only signed because I thought it was free. I’ve had to retain a lawyer to deal with the company, which of course could care less how many books you have to sell to make two grand.

On the other hand, I’ve had wonderful experiences with cover artists, trailer directors, and many others as I launched a second novel titled Bootlicker, and happily collected two Indie writing awards in 2012 for my first novel, Bella.

So by all means be jolly and keep writing this holiday season, but be a sensible shopper, especially when the sharks nose up beside you promising fame and fortune, or even a free listing in some online catalogue.


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