Crimefest puts the ‘In’ in Indie…

A good friend of mine, who’s now a captain for a major airline, stated that he couldn’t imagine doing any other job. ‘I’ve always wanted to fly and knew I’d be a pilot,’ he once told me. I understood that entirely, and came back with ‘I’ve always wanted to write and…’ I couldn’t quite force myself to finish the phrase with ‘I knew I’d be an author’.

He had to pass exams and go through an interview. Unless he’d flunked completely or had some previously undiagnosed medical condition there was nothing to stop him fulfilling his dreams. I had to explain that it wasn’t that simple for budding authors. There was a private club, and you had to be invited to join.

At least that’s the way things were, even as little as five years ago. That wasn’t all my pilot friend said though. Despite the kudos which came with working for an internationally renowned company his biggest thrill of all he told me was when he was flying alone, just him against the sky, going solo. That really made me stop and think.

It’s difficult to escape a label. Right now I’m an ‘Indie’ writer. I’m fairly passive towards the term, though it carries with it a heady mix of pride and frustration. Pride? Well, I’ve always been independent as such, in thought, in manner, in my approach to life in general, but having been invited to be a panellist at this year’s Crimefest I felt I ought to consider exactly what being an ‘Indie’ means.

This is perhaps where the frustration comes in. I can honestly say I’m not an Indie by choice. I have been very close to deals which would have seen me tied to a major publishing house, and my former agent insists that had submissions not been made at the height of the financial crash things might have been very different. That may be so, but I’m not fully convinced.

It’s time for reflective honesty, and I don’t think my books were as ship-shape as they should have been. They are now I hasten to add, and there might be an irony in the fact that since becoming Indie I’ve made sure that they have been professionally line and copy edited. I was also lucky to secure the services of Jamie Keenan who’s done a great job with the covers. In former times my agent and editor would have helped with these tasks, but for Indie writers it’s a matter of finding that help yourself.

But what if I had secured that elusive deal? Would it have made me a better writer? I can’t see any logic in that, other than the potential gain from additional professional input. I think the only difference it would have made is in relation to security and confidence. Everyone likes to be praised, and when that’s backed by professional judgement it’s bound to give you a little more confidence. So too the fact that someone is actually investing in you.

Talk to a selection of Indie writers and you’ll get a myriad of different answers about what being Indie means to them. Some authors have taken charge of their back catalogue and directly published future works. Some have taken part in Amazon’s ‘White Glove’ scheme, whilst others have been supported by the company’s own publishing arm. Others still have found their own route to public attention and remained fiercely independent. There are no rights and wrongs here – just an ever increasing field of choice.

Some major players in the writing world, chiefly those who write for specific genres, are now being tempted back to their roots. The revolution which is taking place, and it is surely that in the publishing world, has seen the rise of the Indie author and its hybrid offspring, and it’s having all sorts of ramifications.

So much has happened, and so quickly, that writers, agents, publishers and all those involved in their hinterland are still being shaken about in the literary kaleidoscope. Some see pretty patterns emerging – others only see chaos.

I’m not sure what I see, but maybe a pattern is beginning to emerge. Writers are inevitably at the cutting edge of all this change. Our artistic colleagues in the music, television, art or film industry can empathise, because their own period of change happened years ago. However, in the literary world, as Fatboy Slim might say, it’s happening ‘right here, right now’.

Until very recently, the world of publishing was a club where a few select houses decided which author, and which work, would be published. On the one hand this gave readers the feeling that they were buying into a novel which had been professionally ‘vetted’. On the other it meant that some extraordinary fine works might never see the light of day. We all know the stories; about how household name authors struggled to get that first deal. Their difficulty was that the business model which publishers adopted severely limited the number of authors allowed to join their club.

In recent times however Indie authors have gone from being on the odd guest list to blowing open the club doors. Routes to publication which didn’t even exist five years ago are now used by authors to get their work to the reading public. Indie writing, and Indie publishing is now at the heart of the literary zeitgeist, so much so that some Indie authors have started to outsell traditional publishing houses. With home retail now outstripping high street shopping there was some astonishment when Amazon announced that 25% of their most popular reads were now produced via the Indie market. Anyone who has attended the London Book Fair this last two years will tell you about the buzz around ‘Authorlounge’ and other events which have featured Indie writers.

The difficulty for many writers is that in relevant time the doors were only blown off a matter of seconds ago, and a haphazard state of uncertainty and misplaced debris remains. This ‘chaotic’ state means that some traditional publishing houses, and their authors, still don’t quite know how to react. Some still fear the upheaval, and to be fair you have to understand why. Perhaps Groucho’s famous quote ‘I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members’ is apt for the occasion?

Having attended Crimefest last year, I was in the company of many wonderfully entertaining writers. Every now and then I’d discover, quite by chance, that a certain delegate was an Indie writer. On some occasions they were introduced to various folks from the industry, publishers and authors alike, and it was notable that some felt awkward, as if they were uncertain how to respond. They were, I ought to add, in the minority, as even by last year it was clear that not only were the Indies coming, they were starting to be embraced.

This uncertainty though really fascinated me. In the music world established artists often embrace Indie bands. Some are keen to promote them and be associated, and others appear on talent shows to offer their support. Furthermore many Indie bands are hailed for their invention, often driving the industry forwards. In similar terms Indie filmmakers aren’t viewed with suspicion but as often having original and much appreciated artistic expression. Even in the world of television, where from time to time I ply my writing trade, Indie production companies often have the creative edge over their in-house rivals.

Publishing and the literary world hasn’t yet adapted to this change, though it is beginning to.  The systems may not yet be properly in place to fully adapt – but they are starting to appear.

This year four ‘Indie’ writers, none of whom are with traditional publishing houses have been invited to take part in a Crimefest panel. It’s a first, and I am thrilled and honoured to be amongst them. It’s a sign perhaps that the literary world is being led by genre specific devotees and it’s an acknowledgement that new writers don’t necessarily emerge on the scene via the traditional route.

All this has been made possible by tireless campaigning for Indie authors from the likes of panel moderator Joanna Penn and such groups as the Alliance of Independent Authors. They have provided support in all manner of ways, and together with the likes of David Gaughran, who keeps Indie writers abreast of scammers and con-artists, they are part of a thriving community. So many respected bloggers, and I’ll name but two of the most prolific, Margot Kinberg and Marina Sofia, have commented on and reviewed work by Indie authors based purely on merit, and with no pre-conceived prejudice. Many others have followed suit, including the much admired site, who are also prepared to feature and review on merit alone.

No-one should fear the ‘rise of the Indies’. It isn’t a Terminator sub-plot and they won’t be trying to take over your planet. All that it really means is the reading public will have access to more books, and how can that be a bad thing?

There are those who will say what about the dross? How do we spot the real Indie nuggets from the fool’s gold? Readers will tell you twas ever thus. I expect we’ve all picked up a copy of something at the airport and wondered how it was ever allowed to leave the writer’s drawer? All that is happening now is that there’s more good, and probably more bad too, but in this day and age it’s really down to choice, and there’s certainly more of that.

I do hope if you’re reading this you’ll get the chance to come along to the Emerging Indie Author Panel at Crimefest. I hope the audience is a good mix of readers and writers and that both will be interested in the discussion. I’m sure many writers, unlike my pilot friend, might have a fear of ‘flying solo’, but my fellow panellists, notably thriller writer Eva Hudson and the inimitable Mel Sherratt, are testimony to the fact that persevere and you can enjoy the thrill of the ride.

I say hats off to Crimefest for opening up, and I hope other reviewers, publications and festival organisers will follow suit.


Author of ‘Defending Elton’ &’Kiss and Tell’