Episode 181 – iPhone X, Author Customer Support, and Chance the Rapper

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Question of the Week: At what point should an indie be considered a “sellout?”

Bryan and Jim are back with a very news-focused show! After thanking their patrons, Black Shadow Moon, The Tilt, and Twins of Prey, the publishing pundits discussed making big plays, connecting with readers on social media, and how to improve your email engagement. News stories included an idea for improving KDP customer support, lessons Joanna Penn learned in her sixth year in publishing, why trad pub bet big against digital, a new system in erotica characterization, and what we can learn from Chance the Rapper. This week’s Question of the Week: At what point should an indie be considered a “sellout?”
What You’ll Learn:
  • What authors can learn from Apple’s underwhelming iPhone X announcement
  • How authors can attract followers on social media in less time
  • How authors can improve email engagement with soap opera sequences
  • How KDP customer service can customize its communication with authors
  • What best lessons Joanna Penn learned in her 6th year as an author
  • How betting against digital is coming back to haunt traditional publishers
  • Why erotica classification could go too far if applied across the board
  • What indie authors can learn from Chance the Rapper

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  • Lavie Margolin

    I would only consider someone a “sell out” if the person denies his/her indy past and does something to hurt the community (such as disparage writers or position the community as full of bad writers). At the end of the day, one takes risks and takes the path that will be best for themselves. If I had the right offer, I’d sell out, too. Right now, indy works best for me.

    • I agree with everything you just said. To me you only become a ‘sell out’ if you harm your relationship with your readers.

    • Bryan

      “I had the right offer, I’d sell out, too.” Pretty much :).

  • Even if Hugh had gone 100% traditional, he’d still not be a sellout.

    Why is it a badge of honor to be an Indie to begin with? I want people to buy my books in the ways that give me the best combination of sales numbers and royalties.

    I’m all in on being indie, just because that’s where I think I can get the best bang for my buck. Still, when a good deal from a publisher came my way I took it and used it to reach a whole new level of audience.

    I’ll probably be back to indie for the next few, but you never know what will be offered up!

    • For some indies it’s become an us vs them thing.

      1. A friend who had been 100% indie sold one of his indie books to a trad publisher and made a deal that was worth it for him for books 2-3. He continues to do his other series indie, but he’s labeled a sellout.

      2. Another friend is still 100% indie, but spend $600 on a cover, then replaced THAT with another $600 cover that looked even better. He paid for a book description and his book took off into the top 100. He was mocked for not being indie enough. His cover looked too much like a traditional book and he spent money that most indies can’t afford, so was labeled a cheater. A CHEATER!

      On the flip side…

      1. I listen to a podcast by a trad author who openly states ‘no indie authors will be interviewed’ because it’s too hard to tell if they are any good. But if a trad author has a book published, that’s good enough.

      2. We’ve all see eyes rolled by trad authors when they hear you’re an indie.

      • Crissy Moss

        Funny, I thought if you read a book and it was good then the author was ‘good enough’. And I’ve read plenty of crappy trad published books that I would never call the author ‘good enough’.

        • Most of the traditional authors interviewed were fine, but when you check out their books, covers, and amazon sales rankings, they seemed less than amazing. …but they had contracts, so they must be good.

      • Bryan

        “Why is it a badge of honor to be an Indie to begin with? I want people to buy my books in the ways that give me the best combination of sales numbers and royalties.”

        I agree with this.

        “His cover looked too much like a traditional book and he spent money that most indies can’t afford, so was labeled a cheater. A CHEATER!”

        Ugh. That’s so annoying. Not a fan of the divisiveness AT ALL!

  • I think of this when I think of selling out


    • Bryan


  • christopherwills

    Great show as usual boys. I like your genre “Plant Horror” 🙂 it’s already been done but could do with a revival though. Bryan mentioned “Little Shop of Horrors” which is a great film. There is also “Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham book 1951 and film 1961. I remember the 1981 TV series – scary then, but funny today. And don’t forget that giant of Plant Horror “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” Cruelly missed out on Oscar nominations 🙂 . There is a great page on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_horror_films which lists “natural” horror films – did you know there are 15 horror turtle films and 5 horror mollusc films as well as many others. A great page to read through and might give you ideas. Talking of sellouts – warning horror content coming – I remember 1965 when Bob Dylan played an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival – how could he? Love your show.

    • Laura Martone

      OMG, my mom and I loved Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – what a hoot!

      • Spider McGee

        The original suffered from a very low budget, but had its moments. I thought the sequel “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” was much better, and the addition of John Astin as the mad scientist helped a lot. George Clooney had a co-starring role in that one. Strangely, he doesn’t talk about it now. I can’t recommend any of the further films (“Killer Tomatoes Strike Back” and “Killer Tomatoes Eat France”) because I found them derivative.

        • Crissy Moss

          What are you talking about? It was amazing BECAUSE of the low budget. That one and Barbarella, and all the different low budget films back then. Love them!

          • Bryan

            Low budget for the win!

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Christopher! Haha, good to know that Plant Horror is “Ripe” for a comeback. Dylan… that sellout!

  • Laura Martone

    I’m not a fan of ignorant or mean-spirited labels… something many people are quick to dish out these days. Although Daniel and I have always been unorthodox, indie-minded folks – who are much more comfortable as freelancers and entrepreneurs than having a traditional job – I’m careful not to disparage any other writers for what they feel is best for their stories, readers, and writing career. And as a reader, I don’t discriminate – I willingly read a variety of books from indie, hybrid, and traditional authors. So, I don’t consider anyone a sellout for accepting a traditional deal that makes sense to him/her. I would just hope that, if an indie decided to embrace the traditional route, he/she wouldn’t disparage his/her fellow indies in the process – and likewise, I wish traditionally minded folks would look past the “indie” label and keep an open mind toward writers and stories that haven’t gone the traditional route. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to satisfy our readers in the ways that work best for us and them… I wish people on both sides of the issue could remember that when they’re dismissing each other and tossing hurtful labels around. But I’m not naive enough to believe we can all just get along – sadly, it’s not the human way!

    • Bryan

      But, but… I want to get along!

  • It’s in the eyes of the beholder, when an author switches from traditional publishing to self publishing, we call them smart. So I wonder if the remaining traditional authors feel betrayed, and call them sellouts?

    • Bryan

      Maybe not sellouts. They may call ’em bottom feeders or something :). Turncoats maybe?

  • Spider McGee

    In our time, the word “sellout” is practically meaningless. Folks apparently need multiple streams of income just to get buy, and everybody be hustlin’. The wealthiest celebrities and athletes have monetized *everything*. I blame it all on Kim Kardashian, and some day I’ll prove it in court. Oh, she’ll pay. Don’t think she won’t pay. That’s when papa gets his piece of the pie. #$$$

    • Bryan


  • Crissy Moss

    What’s a sell out? With so many hybrid authors, and people using trade publishers to do print publishing, I can’t really say there is a “sell out” moment. The only time I’ve ever considered using that on a person was when Amanda Palmer published with a trad publisher, and that’s only because she’s been adamant for her entire career that indie, and her fans made her, not a company. I think “selling out” is when you go against what you preach. If you are indie all the way and go trade, okay. If you’re trade all the way and go indie then you’ve also sold out. You’ve changed your philosophy on business. Is it a bad thing? Not really. But don’t expect to be able to change your entire way of doing business and not get any backlash.

    • These are good points. As a health guy I’ve seen some celebrities, athletes, and even health gurus preach against processed food or for healthy living, until suddenly a big company comes up with enough money to tempt them to start shilling soda, breakfast cereal, or some garbage yogurt filled with junk. That seems like selling out to most people.

      Is Taylor Swift a sellout now that she’s back on Spotify and Pandora? Some have said yes, but others say the companies finally changed enough (or finally paid her enough) to satisfy her. But, if it’s just for her, then what happened to her big stand for the artists?

      Anyhow, @@crissy_moss:disqus has a good point. Selling out is more the act and going against what you’ve preached than anything else.

    • Bryan

      I agree with that. I’ve always said that if a really good trad deal came around, I’d definitely consider it, but I’m sure some folks would say I’ve sold out, even though I’ve always tried to embrace multiple formats.

      • It doesn’t help that there are some ‘big names’ out there who are adamant and outspoken that they’d NEVER take a traditional deal. It’s hard not to develop a prejudice when your leader is talking down the options in a way that makes you feel ____ for accepting a trad deal.

  • NA Dixon

    I agree it’s hard to distinguish between selling out – depends what the goal of the writer is. If they would like to be an ‘artist’, making original stories then selling out would be sacrificing their principles. If getting loads of money to make ‘art’ without sacrificing principles can be done then great! But I think there is an obvious line – if a writer criticises others for writing to trends, then jumps on the bandwagon themselves in trad publishing then I would consider that ‘selling out’. Just to trade on a name/brand might be one example. There was an interesting interview with film maker Darren Aronofsky on the Tim Ferris show. I’ve seen and admire his films (Requiem for a Dream, Pi), but was surprised to learn that he produces a film every 2 – 3 years. His films are so memorable that I could swear he produced more! Could you imagine, writing a book every three years but still getting loads of exposure? Anyway, Mr Aronofsky describes ‘journeymen’ – directors who put out formulaic films year after year. These are essentially forgettable – nothing wrong with still doing what you love for money still, so long as you have awareness of this.

    • Bryan

      Aronofsky is in the press right now for his movie “mother!” and there’s a lot of folks giving him guff for trying something different. He definitely seems to feel like he’s in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. That movie is going to make so much on VOD from curious folks from all the press it’s getting, that it’ll definitely make some money though :).

  • There are other kinds of selling out, too.

    A best-seller can write writing or book marketing books, which clearly means they are selling out (and can’t sell enough fiction).

    An author can write to market, which is clearly not writing for the art, even if they love vampires or space opera.

    An author can write fast, which clearly means it can’t be good and is definitely a sign they are trying to make money.

    An author can write to the level of their audience, which is clearly ‘dumbing down the audience,’ and designed to sell more books, suck people in, create a fun experience, and NOT to educate readers.

  • George Sirois

    The only way I would label an author a “sell out” is if they are half-heartedly or (none-heartedly, if that’s even a word) whipping something together to chase a current trend and write in a genre they have no experience or enjoyment in, simply for the money they’re expected to get.
    If an author puts everything they have into their story, sees it through to publication, and attracts the attention of the Big Five because of its success, that author isn’t a sell-out for signing on with them; that person is living their dream, which is what we all want at the end of the day. We all want as many people reading our work as possible, and if a top publisher has the means to make that happen and they want to work with us, then great!