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Caveat Emptor, Caveat Venditor, and the Caveats of the Indie Marketplace: Avoiding Buyer Beware

We have hot-topic business to discuss, specifically, how the caveats of the buyer-seller exchange affect us in the indie writer marketplace. Because, mark my folk-rock-loving words, they do.

Writers: we’re out here hustling all over trying to make a name for ourselves. We’re writing on scraps of paper, typewriters, phone notes, napkins, laptops, trying to remember plot twists we tell ourselves at 3am, beating 50,000 words in a month, rewriting, editing, rewriting, more editing, formatting, and revising. That’s just to get a story down. I could go on about the rest like marketing, but you know it. You also know about all the other stuff like jobs, kids, pets, travel, eating, and the occasional moment of not thinking about writing.

And then we need to think about the relationships between book-buyer and bookseller, and how that effects the product we put forth to market. There exists a potential imbalance in the caveat emptor concept - the concept of “buyer beware" - because the possibility exists for the seller to know more information regarding the inherent story defects than the buyer. Or, maybe not. Let's keep going.

Typically, the book-buyer assumes risk. If it looks good and sounds good, we trust that the we'll be able to get lost in a story without being taken out of a scene by plot inconsistency or repeatedly offensive grammatical errors. Don’t we all want a (nearly) risk-free product going to market, aka an enjoyable read?

The implications of such a thing would be huge to the indie publishing community. It would offset the bizarre differential that exists between independent and traditionally-published authors.

Back to our indie reads. Let’s fast forward to the final product. It’s time to put your shiny, glossy new baby out into the world. Envision that book for a moment, but let’s think about it using its…

Idealized Indie Author Book Checklist:

1. Has it been beta-tested?

2. Has it been professionally line-edited?

3. Has it been professionally content edited?

4. Does it have professional cover art?

“Annie, these things cost money.”

"It takes money to make money."

Yes, and. As an author selling a book, you’ve become a business. It takes money to make money. Even a little investment in the beginning can have a big payoff.

It sounds like a lot, especially when budgets are tight.

But, what if you’re a really good writer? A great self-editor? Let’s dive momentarily into the Dunning-Kruger effect. Got your goggles on? Perhaps, if you’re a Dunning-Kruger victim, you might.

In 1999, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger published a study titled,

"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”(1) What the effect boils down to is the inability to recognize what you don’t know. It’s not necessarily an effect of ego, it’s simply an unawareness of where our own skills lack. On the upside? It’s not necessarily an ego effect, which means, once we’re made aware of our deficits, we’re teachable.

"We're almost too close to the narrative."

I'll say this: without professional input, it’s hard to assume we know what our own “good” product looks like. We're almost too close to the narrative. We're proud, as we should be.

Then, a caveat: do you want to purchase a book that hasn’t gone through the checklist?

You don’t have to answer out loud. Know it in your heart.

Caveat venditor, or “seller beware,” on the other hand, states that the seller, or author, in theory, can be responsible for problems the buyer might encounter. Sometimes, unintentionally. Can we blame an author for not doing their due-diligence when it comes to basic book editing?

This whole thing gets especially tricky if the work is experimental in shape, form, or content, and then the reader is blinded in a Dunning-Kruger manner. I'm not even forking down that road today.

Let's sum up.

Caveat venditor indie authitor: it is our duty as writers to put our best foot forward in the book world.

Caveat emptor indie readitor: we shouldn’t have to worry that indie books are sub-par.

"We have this power.”

The notion of indie-published books being viewed as "less than" should become a thing of the past as the independent market grows to compete with traditional publishing houses. We are a huge collective of writers and readers. We have this power.

Which brings me to my next point… writers make great readers. I heard it said that we shouldn’t be targeting other authors as our reading audience, and I’d argue that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Writers as readers are incredibly valuable. For one, they tend to consume books, often. Writers are readers. Two, they know the value of a thorough review and are likely to leave one. And, not only will they leave on at the source (you know… THE online seller source), but they’re likely to shout you out on their social media pages. Finally, when they do comment on your book, they talk about the important stuff, like plot, structure, character, flow, etc. The good stuff.

Bottom line, there are no caveats. When we all put our best foot forward, our best efforts to market, make the investments to assure that buyers (readers) assume minimal risk, we elevate the indie writing community as a whole. With enough buy-in, we can potentially remove the “indie” and become the “writing community.”

Why differentiate when it’s all high quality?

Caveat: null and void.

1. Kruger J and Dunning D. 1999. Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 77 (6): 1121–1134.

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