The Indie Author Social Contract

Growing up (yes, decades ago now) I knew some people who called themselves writers. I somehow did not connect those people with the mainstream published authors who wrote the books I was reading on a daily basis.

Back then, “writers” and “authors” were two different things to me. Writers were quirky people in my school who wrote poetry (some of it didn’t even rhyme!) and attended writing workshops and events. Authors were people like Isaac Asimov, Jack L. Chalker, Piers Anthony, Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien. Authors were people who wrote these fantastically famous novels. Authors must have somehow magically been born with the novel writing talent, and everything they had ever written was always a best-seller!!

Of course this isn’t true. Every author is a writer, and every author had to start somewhere. It’s such an obvious truth to me now. However, decades ago I was a literary zombie: I consumed whatever the marketing / publishing machine churned out, blissfully unaware that I was indeed missing a ton of other tables at this buffet. Not to say that what I read was crap – much of it I did enjoy. But there is no denying I was being force fed at times.

I want to believe that even in my youthful naivety I tried to branch out by randomly roaming the library. This may have helped somewhat, but these were still mostly books put out by large publishing houses, not independent authors. Only within the last year have I truly embraced the concept of actively seeking out indie authors in an effort to widen my literary exposure.

I remember reading something like “a writer’s greatest problem is obscurity” from Cory Doctorow and it made a lot of sense. The same is absolutely true for indie software developers. With so many people writing (both books and software) the problem becomes “how does one stand out in the crowd?”

While on this quest I’ve also discovered that a lot of indie authors will give away copies of their books. Of course they should, if you accept the obscurity problem posed above. So I’ve gone from buying $15 best-selling paperback books to downloading free ebooks from indie authors.

Personally, I see a problem here. It’s a social problem – an unspoken contract, if you will. I could in fact keep on downloading free ebooks ad nauseum – and I’m quite sure some people do – but if I did, I would be selfishly ignoring the question “how do indie authors ever survive?” People do need to make a living.

So I’ve decided that I can hold up my end of the bargain in three ways:

1) For every free ebook that I download and like, I will leave a favorable review for it online and tweet a link to that review.

2) For every free ebook that I download and love, I will leave a favorable review, tweet about it, AND I will find at least one other non-free ebook from the same author and buy it.

3) For every free ebook that I download and don’t like, I will simply delete the ebook and move on.

I think that actions #1 and #2 help the indie author out considerably with their fight against obscurity, which will hopefully lead to other people finding their book and potentially being converted into fans (and fans are paying customers!) Of course action #2 also directly addresses the question of how indie authors end up making a living.

As a direct example of action #2, I stumbled upon Dumb White Husband vs. The Grocery Store by Benjamin Wallace when it was on sale for free. I loved it. If you search you’ll find the review I left of it on Amazon. After I reviewed it I followed that up by buying Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors I loved that too! So I reviewed that and then followed up… well, you get the idea. I have a few of his books now.

Action #3 acknowledges that I will inevitably find some works that simply don’t appeal to my taste but which other people may still enjoy. It’s also not really worth my time to post a negative review – I get nothing out of it, and neither does the author. If I truly wanted to vent my frustration I could simply contact the author directly and complain. I can delete the free ebook quicker and easier.

So that’s it: what I think my end of the social contract looks like with indie authors from whom I received a free book.

If you’ve read this far and you’re an indie author, feel free to connect with me on Twitter: follow me and then send me a link to something you wrote that you think I may like. If that feels too forward for you then just say hello.

If you’ve read this far and you’re a fellow reader like me, I’m not trying to guilt you into anything, I’m just explaining what’s going through my head.