Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Independent Authors Guild

I hope I am not premature in introducing the newly formed Independent Authors Guild to my little handful of readers, but I would hope that many of you would like to step onto the ground floor as soon as the concrete dries. The IAG is a brand-new organization that is currently being formed to further the progress of POD, self-published, and small-press authors. I have composed a brief history of the formation of IAG especially for my readership.
Back on July 8th, Dianne Salerni, the author of an iU book entitled High Spirits, introduced herself on the Amazon Historical Fiction board with a post for POD authors. This message (of course!) became the most frequently read message on that board, concluding with a total of 1878 posts. After a point, Dianne joined forces with the other six active members on that board to form IAG, although it took a number of months to develop into the IAG as we know it now. At first these were just some inexperienced authors with the same old idea of not exposing their POD company affiliations, but their ideas continued to mature. I long ago reviewed Susan Higginbotham's book, I just recently did Barry Yelton's, and at least one more of these IAG authors have books waiting in my queue. This is how I happened to be paying attention to the organization as it was formed.

One of these guys discovered the Yahoo Groups in late October, so the group moved from Amazon to Yahoo on October 23rd. This new Yahoo Group was active for only one week until Halloween, when Nan Hawthorne split the original Yahoo Group into two Yahoo Groups, a Members IAG Group for any author outside the realm of the major publishers, and a private, Board IAG Group for the seven founders to communicate with each other and govern the new organization.

My main interest in all this is that I know what I do is helpful to a very select few POD authors, but the numbers must remain tiny by design. Others we know, such as the paid review sites, have aided larger numbers of authors, but we know the nature of that aid leaves a lot to be desired. The sheer volume of books discussed on these sites makes their opinions seem suspect, at least if and when the reader realizes how little time and effort has been allowed for each review. Raise your hand if you think a review paid for by the author is as legitimate as an unpaid review. IAG is approaching the problem from a new angle, and I have to admire their spunk, if not their naivete. Will IAG be able to successfully limit their endorsement to only the best self published authors, and will that endorsement increase book sales? That is the question of the day.

What the IAG people don't realize is that many others have already set up similar operations to achieve the same goal, and all have failed in one way or another. Some groups have dissolved into a swamp of slap-fighting; some have dribbled into personal small-talk; and some have simply tired of the massive amount of work producing so little reward. The Yahoo Print-On-Demand Group has been around for years. Just ask Janet Elaine Smith: she's been there even longer than I have. I started my own POD Yahoo Group years ago, but I finally had to dissolve it in disgust. I wanted to trade useful marketing information, but all I got was drivel. You can still read lots of that here at WritersNet. Many other message boards for POD authors have come and gone since 1998, even one hosted by iUniverse.

I sincerely hope the new IAG is the one that breaks the mold and succeeds in the manner in which its founders naively expect. I refer to them as naive based on several facts. First of all, as far as I can ascertain, the seven founding board members have together published less POD books than I have. Secondly, their collective experience in the actual marketing of POD books is miniscule compared to my own, or even more so compared to a veteran such as Janet Elaine Smith. The final point I wish to make is probably the deadliest of all. Many of the most successful POD authors attained their individual pinnacles within small market niches before there were so many POD books flooding the market. When you realize how many of these new POD authors have attacked the limited marketing and retail resources available like a school of hammerheads, the true depth of the dilemma becomes clear. If this was simply the end of the story, the future of IAG might be a little more assured. Unfortunately, we all know there is a great big elephant standing in our jar of JiF. Massive numbers of these new POD authors have produced Hyundai products with BMW prices, and most of the reading public has been made aware of this fact by the slap-fighters.

Allow me to offer an analogy with which I hope to make my point crystal clear, although the solution is as muddy as a Mississippi lake bottom. I have been following our current housing bubble and bust for a number of years. Yes, I am one of those few who saw it coming from a mile away and adjusted my lifestyle plans accordingly. Most of the commenters on the many housing bubble blogs are exactly the same as the people I call the slap-fighters on the POD message boards. Those on the housing blogs want you to know that you are a fool for purchasing a home in California in 2005 with an ARM mortgage loan. Those on the writer blogs want you know you are a fool for publishing with a POD company because everybody knows that most POD books are trash. There can be no denial that most of these bloggers are right most of the time. The problem is that if everyone thought and acted as they do, our world would become nothing more than another Fox News celebrity slap-fight. Someone has to be a positive leader. Someone has to actually try to accomplish something, instead of just mouthing off at the person next to you. We all know that if we let the traditional publishing industry control all the books published, eventually there will be nothing left in the stores but ghost-written, celebrity bullcrap. Inch by painstaking inch, Barnes & Noble is becoming more and more like Fox News. Of course I don't mean to imply that B&N has any sort of right-wing bias like that of the fair and balanced news channel, but there is a celebrity bias. With each passing year, fewer and fewer books reach bookstore shelves because the author displays the imagination of Kurt Vonnegut or the storytelling acumen of John Grisham. More and more books occupy those shelves because the author's face is on television and millions of morons recognize it.

Unless POD can somehow break out of its conundrum with books that sell because they are well written or the subject is adeptly handled, we are all doomed to see only Ann Coulter's latest piece of trash promoted at the local B&N. How can IAG separate the good books from the trash heap? That is the question for us all to ponder.


Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Thanks for the info!

When I wanted to turn my fiction blog into a book, POD was my only realistic option. The whole story was already on the web for free (albeit in messier form), so why would a traditional publisher put it into print for me?

POD allowed me the luxury of getting a nicely printed book that included many of the illustrations I used on the blog. I was also able to ignore the magical de rigeur 100K word count. POD allowed me to create my own vision of what the story was supposed to be instead of just conforming to a publisher's marketing dream.

I have other things that I want to publish in traditional fashion and I make no claim to having any kind of superlative talent. But I'm annoyed by the automatic assumption some people have that P-O-D means B-A-D.

There are a lot of reasons a piece might not be a candidate for traditional publication and quality isn't always near or even ON the list!

Floyd M. Orr said...

I have to put in a plug for Bunnygirl's book, even though it is published by Lulu. If you buy it direct from the website, it is anything but overpriced! Thank you for the kind, intelligent words, Bunnygirl!

Peter L. Winkler said...

Self-publishing has always been around as an alternative to traditional publishing. POD has made self-publishing much cheaper than ever before. But it's still self-publishing, and it's still not an effective method for most writers to reach an audience or make money.

It seems as if celebrity books are consuming publishing, but the perception doesn't match the reality. Each year, I keep reading that an ever greater number of books are being published yearly. First the number was 50,000, then 100K, 175K, now close to 200K. Even subtracting all the celebrity books, that leaves a hell of a lot to choose from. The problem is that most of the non-celebrity books aren't supported by their publishers and they aren't reviewed, either. It's very difficult to discover most of these books.

veinglory said...

Personally I prefer groups that grow into promonance rather than start off with grand names and pretty logos but not so much behind the curtain?

Amy Lane said...

Here's to good ideas!!!

Anonymous said...

Great info! Thanks! I'm glad I discovered IAG.
I would like to request a review for my recently published book as per your submission guidelines.

Title: Pajo
Author: Karl L. Kruger
ISBN: 978-0-595-46061-8
Genre: YA Fantasy

Thanks again!

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

It will be interesting to see how the IAG fares. Some groups have failed because everyone there was (a) expecting everyone else there to buy his/her book and tell 100 friends about it and/or (b) those saying POD gets no respect discovered they were preaching to the choir rather than to anyone who had a clue how to fix that problem.

You provide a valuable service here by reviewing iUniverse books. Groups such as IAG need to provide real value as well, not just talk and hand holding.