Monday, July 18, 2011

Is Indie Publishing Dead? Bestseller Scott Nicholson Weighs in on the Possibility

"Bestselling author, Scott Nicholson...a true rebel."

Bestselling indie Scott Nicholson most definitely falls into that, "If we lived in the same town we'd be steadfast buds" category. Or maybe my association with him, although limited to internet, runs even deeper in a sort of cosmic, old soul sense. We've got more things in common than I did any of my ex-wives before I married them (don't get nervous Scott...). Like me he's journalist, a musician, a lover of adventure and history, and maintains an intense passion for creative writing and genre fiction. He's into some great bands too, like XTC, Elvis Costello and The Beatles. No wonder he's made quite a splash on the Indie scene. Like most successful dudes however, he comes equipped with well honed built-in shit detector which allows him to be realistic about what the future holds for authors and publishing. Like his guest post will reveal, what seems like a great independent publishing opp right now can soon turn into something that won't be indie at all anymore. That is, once the big houses pick up on all that we are teaching them about selling books.
But then, judge for yourself. That's what Scott does.

Take it away Scott:

Indie Publishing Is Dead

By Scott Nicholson

Nobody wants to read yet another blah-blah-blah indie author post unless it’s controversial. So how about this one: indie publishing is dead.

Does that work for you? Or are you an author whose personal identity is somehow tied up in a specific outcome? You know the drill: the NY author under contract who insists NY publishing is the way to go, or the indie author who got rejected a hundred times by NY who says indie is the way to go because NY sux, or the suddenly-hip “hybrid author” who is “taking advantage of both opportunities,” usually because they have a lot of dead backlist but are still stuck in indentured servitude and have no real choice.

Yes, it’s great fodder for forum flame wars, except we all have to mutually agree or risk somebody slamming us with an anonymous one-star review or declining to retweet our hot sales link. So we only hang out where everyone has the same opinions as ours, because we’d rather be validated than right.

We are all equally right and wrong. I’ve been big pubbed, small pubbed, self pubbed, and soon to be pubbed in ways that are only now coming into existence. And all the words are roughly the same, the talent level is the same, the storytelling style is the same. And while the fracturing of publishing methods continues, it will also slop over, in much the same way all the distinct genres of music eventually get lumped into “rock ‘n’ roll” once they lose their freshness.

Indie publishing is dead because we, the current crop of indie authors, are teaching New York how to publish books. I know, that seems crazy, but publishing has always been a crap shoot, with a lot of money backing almost every bestseller and nothing but luck and the author’s tireless marketing backing the other infrequent successes. But corporations aren’t just nabbing superstar indie authors. They are paying attention to how books are presented, where they are priced, what readers really want instead of following outdated Bookscan reports that serve to reinforce the perception that publishers were—surprise!—geniuses at turning bestsellers into bestsellers.

Heck, even agents are rushing to learn the skills we indie authors were forced to develop as survival mechanisms. It’s truly ironic that NY strengthened the enemy by thrusting marketing upon the authors—and marketing is the only skill of value in the world of digital publishing! All else can be purchased cheaply and easily and operated with no overhead but time.

Yes, we are teaching our competition, as we always should. Not that we could help it. If they aren’t watching and learning, they aren’t competition anyway, because they are out of the game. As soon as indie and trad and small press slop together, as they inevitably will, then indies will lose many of their advantages—low pricing, rapid response to changing conditions, innovative marketing that connects with real readers, and the ability to reach niche audiences with narrative voices that have been long suppressed because New York behemoths couldn’t run on niche audiences. Soon, they can, and the niches can look pretty darned big when they are merely one click away, and staff and overhead has been trimmed, and the corporations consist of a half-dozen tech geeks clicking buttons and raking in cash (of course, they will still have a 60-member board of executives and numerous shareholders at the trough, but still….).

I’m not worried, because I plan on staying one step ahead of everything, even if no solid ground is there, even if it means flying on faith without a parachute. Everyone out there buzzing about John Locke, John Green, J.K. Rowling, J.A. Konrath, or Amanda Hocking has zero chance of duplicating what were outlier successes that defied chance. Buy all the how-to books and diligently copy them and you still won’t be them, because 10,000 people are already doing it. We don’t need a “next Locke” or “next Hocking” anyway. Why not be the first you?

The First You is the one who doesn’t care if indie wins or New York wins or if so-and-so was right. The First You is already right, if you trust it. There are only three questions that matter:

(1) What is the next impossible thing I want to do?

(2) How do I get there first?

(3) How do I inspire people to meet me there?


Scott Nicholson is bestselling author of more than 30 books, including Liquid Fear and Disintegration. He’s also written The Indie Journey: The Secrets to Writing Success, which DOESN’T promise you will sell a million copies. In fact, he’s pretty sure you won’t, but that doesn’t mean your writing isn’t priceless. More at


  1. Very provocative thinking. Thanks for posting.


  2. I've read the Indie Journey and Scott is always a step ahead like he says. I definitely take his advice seriously and I can't wait to see where the industry goes. Whatever happens. I will make those leaps of faith.

  3. Very true. The publishing industry is taking notice, especially when their sales are dropping. the publishing tradition is changing, merging to take advantage of the success indie writers are finding through new innovations. Scott helped me start down this road of indie publishing and gave me some sound advice. Don't try to do what others have done. This is a new age in publishing. Discover what works best in this new digital marketplace and make it your own. The funny thing is that I sat down with a small publisher not long ago and she asked me many of the same things new authors are asking, where to market for digital advertisement, what kind of sales numbers to expect, and expressed the common uncomfortable feeling most traditional publishers have regarding pricing ebooks at less than five dollars. The largest problem she expressed was not having enough time or manpower to investigate and try out these new avenues of social networking and advertisement. However her desire was evident. Like Scott said, eventually indie publishing as we know it will cease to exist. This everchanging profession cannot allow it to. In the future, I see a publishing industry that is leaner and more open to new ideas because publishers who refuse to budge will innevitably be left behind. Remember, as Heraclitus said, the only constant in this world is change.

  4. Thanks for coming by, Michelle, TL and Weston.
    I don't know where things are headed but I am pretty sure they won't stay the same as they are today. I do think the opportunity to publish yourself will remain easy in the digital age, but the challenges will grow.


  5. There's only one King, one Rowling, one Hocking...

    There's only one me.

    Does the world want to read another YA witch story? A vampire story? Whatever story? Not if I write it like everyone else.

    Be true to yourself and write the story that's 'you.'

    Great post, Scott. It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out and where aspiring writers will be in a year or two from now.

  6. @michelle Yes and there are not enough Mutos on the bestseller list so you better get famous!

    @karly thanks for stopping by


  7. Grab it while you can guys, because things will change...

  8. Great post and definitely food for thought.

    Traditional publishing is a billion+ per year business, and all the MBA's running their marketing, sales, and financial management departments are definitely going to figure out how to duplicate what is working right now on the e-pub playing field. And to your point, once that happens the game will get more competitive and the market a little tighter.

    I like the thought of being different - of staying ahead of the curve and thinking outside the box - pushing forward where few have yet traveled. It's interesting that so many are trumpeting social media as the vehicle to market books - I think that movement has hit the wall.....time to make that leap, take that next step, and continue the revolution (guess this is where I cue up the Beatles' song).

  9. rock on, Kevin!

    Thanks for having me, Vince.

  10. Both inspiring and discouraging at the same time. Nobody likes being co-opted and undercut by the very people who ignored your work in the first place.

  11. Umm... so what is next? Ready to ride the dragon's tail.

  12. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve too, but gathering all that information takes time. And the real key to success is to keep producing great new content...and that takes time. Nobody said it was easy. :)

  13. Being creative and being indie are synonymous. There will always be those who successfully go where no one else thought to go, taking all of us with them. Indies will never be dead.