Why Indie Bundles Are Important

inspected-bookThe beauty of the modern indie publishing movement is that, these days, any Joe or Sally can publish their own book. The tragedy of the movement is that, sometimes they do.

As a result, the independent book sphere is now filled to capacity with a smorgasbord of quality – everything ranging from the puerile to the profound, from puked out to polished. The traditional print world has its editorial policies and practices, implemented by an industry of professionals and held to account by investors, to act as its quality control sieve. What does the indie world have? Nothing.

But that may be changing. Follow me in past the fold and I’ll tell you why I think bundles may be the answer we’ve been looking for.

Love it or hate it, one thing you can say about the traditional publishing model is that it brings a lot of scrutiny to a book before it reaches the market. Submission editors, developmental editors, copy editors, proof readers, designers, marketers, printers, etc. Each of these folks examine different aspects of a book and buff it up a little more, until the end result is a truly collaborative output that distils the professional tastes and sensibilities of as many as a dozen different contributors into that solitary book package. While the indie movement can easily have just as many polishers involved, it also can, and often does have, just one. This means that indie books are often launched without ever having gone through any meaningful winnowing process, and so now the market has become that smorgasbord I mentioned earlier.

This is especially frustrating for the book buying public, especially when they are perusing the less expensive section of the ebook store, where many of the indie books tend to reside. Discerning shoppers can usually spot a weak book in just a few minutes. Sometimes it’s given away by a horrible cover, or perhaps by the chaotic text layout inside. But making this determination takes time. You have to examine the book in detail. And I for one have noticed a significant increase in the number of books I have to pick up and look at before I find one that even passes the production quality test – let alone meets my various story and writing style criteria in order to make it all the way to my shopping cart.

It would be so much easier if there was some way that I could be assured that at least a basic level of professionalism has gone into a book before I even pick it up. What we need is a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for indie book quality. Some indicator that, while you may or may not like the story inside, you can at least be assured that you will not be enraged by spelling errors, inarticulate grammar, trite characterizations, clichéd story lines… Well, you get the point. It would be a big step forward for indie publishing if there was an easy way to identify a sub-group of books that did meet these basic criteria.

And I’m beginning to think that there is.

Book bundles are a relatively recent phenomenon, but they’re a powerful one. In a nutshell, somebody reads a whole bunch of indie books, selects a handful of them that they think are good, and then packages them together into a bundle. This bundle is then marketed and promoted as a set, usually with all the books conforming to some uniting theme, like books about cats, or fantasy adventure tales. And if that’s all that book bundles were they would already have served my purpose of providing that Good Housekeeping seal. But in practice, they go even further. A bundler like StoryBundle* presents readers with a very compelling offer: take these five or six or eight books and pay us whatever price you want. Pay a buck for the whole basket, or a hundred. You decide. And better yet, if you elect to pay more than a modest threshold amount, they’ll throw in an extra book or three, for no additional cost.

Still not compelled? What if you also got to determine how much of your purchase price went to the author, how much went to the bundle managers, and how much got donated to a worthwhile charity? Because that’s what these bundles tend to do. They’re socially conscious, quality conscious, culturally conscious, and reader conscious. They cull the field, offering readers an excellent package of pre-screened content, all clustered in a theme, so if you like one of them, you’re likely to enjoy all of them. You get to feel good about supporting emerging artists. You get to feel good about supporting charities. You get to feel good about being in control of how your money gets portioned out. And you get some damned fine books, without having to wade through the growing piles of chaos that plague the current marketplace.

Bundles are not just good for the book-buying public thought. They’re good for the authors, too. Bundles tend to focus on the authors, like me, who are at relatively early stages of their careers, and who are still building their audience base. For us, getting exposure to potential readers is the most important struggle we face. So when you put five or six of us into a bucket, we tend to each drag along our five hundred or three thousand existing followers, and suddenly we are each now standing in that bucket with perhaps ten thousand new potential fans, not to mention the growing list of people who are fans of the bundle program itself. So yes, being in a bundle should be very good for an author. (I’ve only just today begun my first experience with being bundled, so I’ll have to post a follow-up later, telling you whether or not these expectations were justified. :-)

And lastly, bundles are good for the charities that the bundle managers have elected to support. This is good for society as a whole, and it also shines a glowing light on the entire indie publishing movement.

So, no matter how you break it down, it seems that bundles are a force for good. I for one believe that they could be the island of sanity we’ve been looking for in this game. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few to get you started: StoryBundle*, Humble Indie Bundle, Bundle of Holding. Check ’em out. And if you want to stay current new bundle managers emerge, and new bundles get released for sale, follow @IndieBundleTrakr in Tweetspace.

Have you discovered a good bundle lately?

* In the interests of full disclosure, yes, my book Strange Places is currently included in the fantasy-themed StoryBundle that just went live this morning. But it has been this exposure to the inner workings of the bundle system that has led me to think more deeply about these programs and to reach these conclusions. So while this posting may indeed be somewhat self-serving, it is also honest. The indie market really does need some form of easy-to-discern validator of professionalism, and the bundle system really does offer that.

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.