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December 1, 2017

Indie Authors Are People Too

by C.M. North

The holidays are coming—the holidays are coming! Presents and parcels and gifts galore, most of them arriving from Amazon, are going to be piling up under trees and in front of fireplaces the world over, and most of them—cynical though it is of me to say—will probably last a day or two (especially the chocolates) before being forgotten forever.


That’s a really long time to not ever think about something again.

And in the mad rush, many of us will fall foul of the temptation to buy ever more extravagant and expensive gifts, trying to outdo one another in holiday spirit and festive cheer. After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas without competition, barreling down doors to get to that last action figure, that last board game.

Jingle All The Way is one of my favorite Christmas movies.

But for all of it, the lasting impression of this horrific holiday hullabaloo is that we enter the New Year tired, stressed and grumpy, wondering what the point of it all was again. For such a merry time of year, there’s an awful lot of misery to go around. And what better way to escape than with an engaging story, a timeless tale, something to take our mind off the holiday hordes and sweep us away into distant, unimaginable lands?

Here’s the thing. A lot of us—especially those of us reading this blog—are probably thinking of getting our loved ones a book or seven for the holidays. Certainly, that’s what I used to do; for lack of imagination, I knew I could always get my wife a fresh paperback or hardcover novel, and she’d leave me alone for the next few days, at least. That way I could enjoy the leftovers and nap all day without being (rightfully) nagged that I was wasting the holidays doing nothing.

But in recent years, this tradition has dropped off. My wife hasn’t read a novel in a good while, and it all started when she got her smartphone. Facebook took the place of a real book, and the nights began to while away engrossed in a little 4-inch screen. And while there are plenty of stories to be read online, it just doesn’t hold a candle to half a tree in your hand.

And I think this is something we’re all guilty of. Even I read less than I used to, and definitely less than I should, because what time isn’t spent writing is spent online, ostensibly marketing my writing (but in reality just googling my name over and over to see if it comes up on the first results page).

So when my wife stopped reading, I stopped buying books. Which is a shame, really, because they can be truly great gifts. There is a pile of unread novels sitting in both of our offices, just waiting for the day when the power goes out, the phones die, and candlelit evenings force us to read a page or two again. In a way, I’m almost looking forward to that day, because I do long to get lost in a story once more, and modern life just seems to get in the way.

Yet even when I was buying a dozen or more books a year, and they were being devoured night after night, it turned out that I wasn’t really expanding either of our reading lists much. My wife would almost exclusively read Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, whilst I maintained a steady diet of Stephen King and more Stephen King.

And as great of writers as these people are, there comes a point where even the unformulaic becomes formulaic. You can pretty much bet that there are going to be a lot of gruesome murders in Cornwell’s and Reich’s procedurals, and as for Stephen King … something something mystical, main character gets mutilated, the end.

With so many big names dominating the charts, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. King’s new novel is going to sell well because he’s Stephen King; and by selling well, it’s going to tempt people to read it, which will continue to shift units in the millions. Ultimately, these famous authors end up above criticism, because even if the pundits hate their latest output, the slavering masses will continue to devour it eagerly.

So where can you go for books that are going to be entertaining, fulfilling, and not just another New York Times bestseller? (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with bestsellers—they are so for a reason.) With thousands of books published daily, both via the mainstream publishing industry and the vast landscape of indie and self-published authors, how on earth can you find something that’s worth reading, and yet not just another fast-paced police drama (possibly with vampires)?

Finding a good indie author is incredibly difficult. It’s tempting to not even try, because anyone can write a novel these days, and not all of them are very good. In fact, many of them are poorly-written, stale, or in dire need of editing—or all three rolled into one. Which isn’t to say that indie authors are by definition awful, because a lot of them aren’t—but some of them are, and without a publishing house backing the story, how can you be certain what you’re getting yourself into?

Probably the biggest allies in navigating the treacherous waters of self-published and small-press novels are small, independent book review websites (insert shameless plug for GWR here!). Many of these websites accept review requests from authors directly, as opposed to major reviewers who often stick to the big name publishers and their big name authors. And whilst the review quality of these sites can vary as much as that of the books they’re reviewing, many of them can provide insight into books you would have never discovered on your own—and whether those books are worth your time at all. After all, if someone whose life revolves around books says a new one is worth reading, then … well, isn’t it?

There are several advantages to browsing through these review sites, and they extend beyond the obvious finding a good read. For starters, it makes discovering new talent significantly easier than browsing the front table at Barnes & Noble, beyond which many of us never venture. It also helps the reviewers themselves—visits to their pages (and comments, too!) help validate what they do every day for free. And, at the end of the day, it can be the difference between a morose and merry Christmas for the indie author themselves, for a single sale or review can make their day just that touch brighter.

So this holiday season, don’t just take a trip to the big-brand retailers, or mindlessly click on the first novel in Amazon’s sales rankings; head over to Girl Who Reads, or any other review website, and see what’s up and coming in the prolific world of indie writers. After all, they’re often cheaper than King or Cornwell, provide just as much entertainment, and can be a much more thoughtful gift than the New York Times’ number one spot. In the end, those towering authors are going to sell their wares regardless, and one less copy here or there won’t hurt them—whilst one more copy to a struggling indie author can be the kiss of life.

So make their day, buy small, and give the best gift you can this year: something new, original and deeply engaging.

C. M. North is a trained musician, coffee addict and author of 22 Scars, a young adult novel about teenage depression and growing up with tragedy and trauma. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son and cat Pia, who insists she take precedence over writing. You can find him at

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  1. Great post. Some of the best books I've read this year have been indie books.

    1. Thank you! I think it's important not to underestimate the talent that often gets missed by big publishers. Indie books are often cheaper, too, so there's sometimes less of a loss if it turns out not to be so great. What are some of your favorites from this year?