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.
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.
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?