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This post is the beginning of a series of posts about the vital role that fans play to indie publishers, and simple things that fans can do to help indies along. One of the most important, and obvious, things that a book lover can do to promote indie authors is to buy their books.

It sounds simple, but fishing around for indie books has some unique challenges. First of all, there’s usually very little advertising and fewer reviews to help weigh decision-making. Second, there is a lot of material out there to choose from, and thus the vast ocean metaphor I chose for the title of this post. And thirdly, with infinite choices, how do you deal with finite time and money?

As someone who not only publishes indie books, but has been a long-time buyer and consumer of indie books (since the early 2000’s) I thought I might be in a favorable position to offer a few tips.

Liz’s 5 Tips for Sailing the Indie Book Seas and Arriving With Wallet Intact

1. Know what kind of book you want to read.

I know it sounds simplistic, but narrowing down the kind of book you want to read can really help to navigate the vast sea of indie offerings. If you go into the search with a kind of book, or even a genre, in mind, it can be easier to decide which works you want to purchase. From there, you can browse popular book sites by category and keyword, and narrow the number of selections down to something that seems manageable. You can also search out ‘best of’ lists and reviews for that category. A warning, though: indie reading is all about discovery, and sometimes lists and reviews can actually hinder your progress rather than help. As in any industry, it’s not always the best products that reach the eyes of the reviewers… just the ones that have the best budgets or the most persistent promotional efforts. I’m not in any way questioning the integrity of the reviewer here, as they can only review works that they know exist, obviously. I merely wish to point out that there can be amazing books out there that don’t have any formal reviews due to lack of resources.

2. Try E-books.

E-books are great, because they’re very low cost, and low stakes. Don’t like that book you’ve downloaded? It’s just a file, rather than something that will sit on your shelf until you finally haul it over to Goodwill. You can ignore it, or delete it. Plus, there are a wide variety of indie offerings available in e-book that would be hard or impossible to get a hold of in real life. Another e-book perk is that there are a lot of freebies, depending on the title and platform. Make a Smashwords account, and watch for deals. Smashwords often holds promotions where they encourage their authors to deeply discount their books, and even offer them for free! Other e-book sites offer a pay-what-you-wish format, with incentives for paying their desired price. Look around and see what deals you can find. Beware mass downloads, however tempting they may be. Some e-book users hoard thousands of titles, but read very few of them, and it’s easy to just forget about what you have. Conscious consumers get more out of their e-reading experience! And, needless to say, if you’re doing this because you care about indies, try to find a legal way to get the file, that benefits the creator either through download numbers or money.

3. Start an indie reading circle.

Because I want to be aware of what’s going on in my local publishing community, I have a lot of new material to read very year, especially after conventions, but I’m proud to say that I manage to read most of what my friends and colleagues are publishing, despite being of relatively modest means. How do I do this? Well, I use tip #2 when I can, because it helps with storage and e-books still give the author a fair cut while lowering price. I do book trades. This is something, unfortunately, that is out of reach for those who are not in the writing/publishing business, although you may have something else that an author may want to trade in kind. I also team up with friends to get maximum coverage on the physical books that I want. Often, my friends and I will try to buy as wide a variety of books, with as few doubles as possible, and then we will share them. I, personally, do not see this as the same thing as widespread file sharing. This system has many upsides, including having at least one reviewer you really trust, and somebody to discuss your latest finds with! And hey, if you both like a specific book, you’ve got a ready-made birthday or Christmas present idea for them.

4. Always read the blurb and sample chapters.

Sure, it has a cool cover, but what are the chances that the author actually made the cover? Unless they’re a multidisciplinary art freak (like yours truly) the old adage about books and covers holds true here. All a good cover proves is that the publisher had $200. That’s why the blurb and sample chapters are so important. First, the blurb: accurate, concise writing is an art form, and if someone can give you a clear vision of the contents of the book with just a few hundred words, there’s a good chance they could steal your heart with 70,000 or so. Good blurbs also mean that the book likely has an organized, consistent plot that can be described easily, which is almost always a good thing, unless you’re really into avant-garde literature. As for the sample chapters, look for spelling mistakes, run-on sentences and formatting errors. If it’s going to grate on you when you read the book, it will probably show up in the sample.

5. Start Local.

Another way to sort your indie book explorations is by region, rather than by genre. Go to local arts events and meet some authors and publishers face to face. Take a trip to your local independent book store and ask what local authors they recommend. Attend a convention geared to writing or fandom and browse the dealers’ room. Or better yet, talk to that guy who’s selling his books out of his coat or his car… there’s always at least one per convention! This is one of the most fun ways to explore indie books, if you’ve got the time and inclination. Not only do you have new books, but you may just end up with a whole new group of local literary friends!

Conclusion

One of the things I love about the indie publishing community is the richness and variety of offerings out there, and the above techniques are some of the ways I’ve found to turn that variety from a confusing minus into a big plus. Another thing I love about these explorations is the sense of community that develops from getting to know an approachable group of grassroots artists.

In that spirit, I want to open up the floor to you… what do you do to discover new books that are off the beaten path? What do you think of my tips? Comment, tweet, or come to our Facebook and let us know!

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