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Reading Trad vs. Indie

Much of my reading is fiction by indie authors, but lately I’ve read several traditionally-published books. Two are recent nonfiction, one recent fiction, and another fiction originally published more than a century ago, reissued in the 1960s. Reading these books has given me an opportunity to compare reading experiences, trad vs. indie. Here are my observations.

Trad books have more precise editing and are better designed and formatted, with professionally designed covers. Consider that it takes a year or more between acceptance and publication, with teams of editors, designers and publicists involved in production of a trad-pubbed book.

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Let’s face it, though—the purpose of the cover, book description, and overall design of a book is to attract attention and sell the book. Once a person has purchased it, those elements don’t really matter. They are sizzle; the story itself is the steak.

Recent traditionally-published fiction presents urgent stories with high drama, aiming to hook and hold readers, because books have to earn their keep immediately upon release. Publishers no longer want to carry a bunch of mid-listers. Go big or go OP.

Self-published authors also produce stories with hooks, conflict, and gripping prose. But indies can take more chances to produce unusual stories, i.e. ones with leisurely pacing or a contemplative tone, or just offbeat. Imagination isn’t exclusive to writers with publishing contracts. Unless the prose is so clunky that the story gets bogged down by it, there are some fantastic stories published by indies.

Indies aren’t pressured into the “book as commercial product” mold. They don’t have to adhere to someone else’s schedule and crank out stories with rushed endings, or recycle their characters and plots until they’re threadbare.

Trad books have better visibility. Publishers are linked to distribution networks and have established procedures for distributing advance review copies. The publisher-funded book tour may be a thing of the past for most authors, but publishers do contribute to building buzz. Indies, on the other hand, have to do all the work themselves (if they choose to).

In the end, it’s all about the reading experience.

So did the trad-pubbed books I read offer a better reading experience than the indie authors’ books? Once I was into a book, did I look forward to reading trad more than indie? Did I give higher ratings to one or the other?

The answer to all three questions: No. I’ve rated and reviewed both types of books similarly, and once engaged with a book, I’ve been equally keen to continue reading it, regardless of which end of the publishing spectrum it came from.

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Writers who publish their own books can now offer a reading experience equal or superior to that provided by traditional publishers, even the big corporate outfits. There is a greater variation in quality among self-published books, both in writing and in presentation, but there are many self-published books equal in all aspects to the traditional publishers’ product. They are harder to find than trad-pubbed bestsellers, however, because of less exposure and the sheer number of books available.

Reading time is constricted by the huge variety of other entertainment options available. If potential readers’ attention is taken up by traditionally-published books, they are not likely to discover great indie-published ones. This is why word-of-mouth (or on blogs and social media) recommendations are so important to self-published authors.

Apparently April was the month to celebrate indie artists and authors everywhere, something I didn’t know until I read this post by Mark Paxson, who is also an indie author. But let’s make every month Read an Indie Book Month!

Fellow readers (and writers), do you prefer to read traditionally-published books or those by indie authors? How would you compare them in terms of reading experiences?

50 comments

  1. I’ve been an Indie since 2010 and this celebration of Indies is news to me.
    I am engaged casually in a new writing project and I’m at around 13k words at the moment, but I’m focused on my paintings and the upcoming exhibition. I really have to be driven with the writing these days, and if I get a book out of it by the end of the year, I’ll consider it job well done.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Not every trad published book is great either. One I read recently was the fourth book by an author whose previous three I loved, but this one was… not so good. About 30% through it I realised it was probably an earlier story from before they were published, and this one had been re-hashed to meet a deadline or contract requirement.
    At least indie published books don’t have that pressure.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoy both indie and trad books. I think you’re right that once we get past the cool cover and the back cover copy, it’s all about the reading experience. On the other hand, I confess that cool cover art and enticing book descriptions have swayed me into buying trad books in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Very interesting discussion, Audrey! I read mostly indie books now and those put out by small presses. What I find interesting is that the small press books have limited distribution reach when compared to self-published. As far as the reading experience, I think there is too much variation among indie published and trad published to generalize. I try hard to approach each book I read on its own terms.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Distribution can be a challenge, especially for print books. Most bookstores are reluctant to stock self-pubbed books, and many small presses are just one remove from self-publishers.
      You’re right, it is hard to generalize, but I think it’s fair to say there are many well-written books that happen to be self-pubbed.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Liz!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The writing and the writer both have to engross me. I think many readers want that feeling of personal connection with the author (real or imagined). You can honestly have that feeling (at least at one level) with an indie author if you follow them on social media, particularly blogs where the author makes time to engage with commenters. Even as a retiree, it is hard to find enough hours in the day to read email, blogs and books, respond to or write comments on blogs and email. (I am not active on other platforms because of time management and lack of interest.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Personal engagement with authors is an aspect I didn’t think of until I read Mark’s post. I don’t feel the need to connect with authors, even when I like their books. On the other hand, I’ve noticed we indie authors who blog do read each other’s books, so it does have an effect, even though the initial connection was writer to writer, rather than reader to writer. Thanks for your comments, Pat; they made me think.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Lately I’ve been reading indies, or else books by very small publishers who likely will go out of business soon. The one exception is the two books by Helene Wecker (The Golem and the Jinni and its sequel, The Hidden Palace), which are terrific and which I would recommend to everyone. I should mention that professional publishers usually charge an arm and a leg for the ebook version of their titles. I bought the Wecker books in hardback because they cost only maybe a dollar more than the ebook. I won’t pay more than $5 for an ebook because you’re basically buying nothing but a piece of air.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Glad it did, Audrey. I don’t feel I know most of the traditional authors I read, unless it is tied to the plot, setting,nir characters. If I start reading multiple books then I gain more knowledge on where they are from and how they handle plots and characters. You indie authors and bloggers I do feel as if I do know you st least superficially.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Layla. Readers are more likely to look for more books by an author they’ve already enjoyed; the publisher is secondary (or tertiary). 🙂 If a book’s formatting is problematic, a reader may check who the publisher is, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Most of the time I never really know if it’s indie or trad published. I don’t look for it. For me it comes down to the story and often the recommendations and reviews. As an indie author, I’ve enjoyed the experience of doing everything myself and have found a much wider world-wide audience than I ever had hoped for.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an interesting distinction, Marina. Printed books are more difficult to format; I know because I’ve done it. But the stories are a separate element from the carrier (ebook or printed book) and the marketing.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Audrey, I read very few recently published trad books as I generally don’t like the style of these books. I did read The Second Mrs Astor, The Midnight Library, and The Museum of Ordinary People, all of which were very good. I read a significant number of books published before 1960 and which are famous. They have always lived up to their reputations and I can see why they are famous. I also read a lot of Indie books but only by people I know. They are generally good.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A great post, Audrey, and I agree with all your points. I’ve read some fantastic indie books and some mediocre ones, but the same goes for traditionally published books, particularly those from small presses. I hadn’t thought about the broader stylistic/imaginative options available to indie authors, but it’s true, and I enjoy it! I wish it wasn’t so hard to market indies, but I guess that’s part of the job.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. thank you for this well written and informative post. i haven’t really thought about the difference in experiences but I do certainly enjoy an indie book every now and then since most of my reading is non-fiction

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to admit I haven’t read much indie nonfiction. Memoir and essays aside, there are issues of expertise and presentation that are less important in fiction. Thanks for bringing up this point.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I haven’t read any trad pubbed books in quite a while, but part of the reason for that was fear of spending a lot of money on a stinker.
    Here in Australia, the cost of print books has always been high, so I used to read a lot of second hand books, as well as going to the library. As I read a lot, both venues allowed me to find new favourite authors at little to no cost. Then, I’d invest in books by a new author, knowing I wasn’t wasting my money.
    These days I still buy books by Robin Hobb, for example, but she is one of the few trad pubbed authors I still invest in.
    To be honest, I’ve also discovered that Indie books are actually more innovative and engrossing than the average trad pub book, for all the reasons you gave.
    AND I can discover them without breaking my very small budget. Not going back. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I can’t tell you how many times I have been so disappointed in so-called Best Selling books published traditionally and thought those were hours of my life I have lost. And don’t get me started on those award-winning books (often chosen by my book club) that are a nightmare to plough through. What meds are those judges on?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Like you I have read both Trad Books and Indie. As an ex-Indie Author I know how dsifficult the marketting was but I see changes in that since Amazon took over publshing. Hopefully more doors are open to indie writers now and their books can be recommended to readers via the Amazon site. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 💚📖🥵🥩 I love that you find the story is more about the steak and the cover is only the sizzle. Like the quote “Don’t judge a book by the author or cover.” Indie writers and readers can find some good gems. 💎

    Liked by 1 person

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