book marketing, Publishing News

The Alliance of Independent Authors – who are they and is it worth joining?

If you’re thinking of self-publishing you may have accidentally stumbled across the organization that calls itself the “The Alliance of Independent Authors.” They aren’t hard to find: over the past few years they’ve been organizing a mountain of information aiming at helping indie and self-publishing authors avoid critical mistakes, publish more professionally, and avoid all the scams aimed at new authors.

Most authors begin by searching for a publishing deal (rather than self-publishing right away), and there are many branches of a handful of “vanity presses” who charge exorbitant fees for publishing packages (at least double what it would cost to buy the services one by one – and often with better providers).

So a professional organization is needed. ALLI is independent of any big publisher, and they do not make money from recommending publishing or book marketing services – instead they provide advice and guidance, and organize campaigns that seek to help indie authors overcome unfair prejudices and publish successfully.

As such, they are a “moral” watchdog of sorts. One of their campaigns is called “Ethical Author”; and mainly it focuses on putting the reader first. This one is easy to accept and should be the guiding principle of any author: misleading readers to sell books will result in more negative reviews, so you should always properly manage reader expectations to match reader experience.

Another is called Open up to Indie Authors,  “an ongoing campaign to encourage and aid literary events, festivals, prizes, reviewers, booksellers and other interested parties to find ways to include self-publishing authors in their programs, events, listings and reviews.”

When I first heard of this campaign I thought it was silly. Many indie and self-published books are of low quality (if not the writing, then the design). Not all, of course, but many. So demanding that book stores carry indie books, when they are reluctant to do so because of the overall low quality of indie books, seems like an unfair request.

Book stores are businesses that need to make money; they aren’t funded by government grants to keep their doors open. They have to stock books that are going to sell, and avoid ones that aren’t. And space is limited (personally I never recommend self-publishing authors trying to put their books in bookstores, it’s too much effort for too small a payout).

Personally, I think the effort should be on helping indie authors design better looking books, as that continues to be the most obvious barrier to indie authors (if their books looked really good, they wouldn’t encounter nearly as much resistance).

There is also this common refrain, from ALLI and other indie authors in general, which goes something like this: “It’s too bad the common public doesn’t buy GOOD books anymore (like poetry and literary fiction). There should be some kind of grant or government stipend that supports those books.”

That seems elitist and high brow to me: if authors and artists choose to do the work they want to, without considering who will buy it, they shouldn’t be bailed out by the government when they can’t make any money. Successful writers write books that lots of people love. That’s the secret to success. You can’t complain that readers don’t like your book because “they didn’t get it” or “literacy is declining.”

HOWEVER, despite my initial misgivings, in the past several years I have seen a massive shift in attitude towards self-published and indie books. I’ve seen independent bookstores like Powell’s and organizations like YALSA go from reluctant to eager, because it has become politically incorrect to ban books simply because they are self-published, and because so many people are self-publishing (and because they have a voice in professional organizations like ALLI), that they can’t afford to turn up their nose or be rude to indie authors.

While I don’t always agree thematically with the theoretical issues of ALLI, their constant efforts to forge the path for indie authors and change the dialogue around self-publishing has been effective in many cases. Part of this transition, I should add, may also be due to their strategic partnerships with ebook publishing powerhouses, like Kobo, Smashwords, Kindle, iBooks and more – companies that profit more as more self-publishing authors choose to go direct and publish independently.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: indie authors will usually make more money going direct, and so the bookstores take a bigger cut, because they’ve removed the middle men. It’s beneficial to everybody, and authors don’t get screwed over by unscrupulous publishers.

+++There are still a lot of great publishers: they won’t charge you anything, and will provide editing, book design and distribution for free. But they probably also won’t do a great deal of marketing. But there are also a lot of terrible “publishers” – that will charge you money and then outsource the work. You’ll get substandard design and pay too much for it.+++

The other, and probably the biggest incentive to joining (there is a paid membership option), is simply to be part of the community – self-publishing can be isolating and frustrating. Being internet friends with hundreds of author indie authors, who share common values and have an unparalleled combined knowledge, can keep you sane when you’re struggling to keep going. So if you don’t already have a writing group or forum or somewhere you can talk about publishing related challenges with other authors, you need one – and ALLI is one of the best options out there, because of its memberships and ties to the publishing world.

Written by: Jillian Cabanban

Jillian is a 20-year-old university student currently pursuing a degree in Anglo-American Literature. She writes primarily for CreativInfluence.com, and occasionally posts on her personal blog. She loves speculative fiction, coffee, and video games. Read More

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