Indie Novels and Cheap Wine


As I approach the second anniversary of the publication of Diary of a Small Fish, I’ve now had more than three years to observe and participate in the discussion about the distinctions between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Despite the monumental changes that have occurred in the fiction market, and the meteoric speed at which they’ve taken place, the arguments haven’t changed that much on either side. The evidence (pro and con) changes, new examples arise, success stories are one-a-week, it seems, on both sides. No matter how robust the indie market, trad pub still seems to be doing fine, if their numbers are right (if ANY numbers are right). Very smart people are discussing this at great length, I learn a lot from them, and I applaud them for their leadership in this industry. It’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to be a part of it all.

But I have to say, I’m getting a little tired of this singular focus (not only by trad industry stalwarts) on the sheer numbers of “free” or “underpriced” self-published novels that meet the critics’ definition of “dreck,” or [pick your own pejorative], as though that is reason enough to discount the whole indie fiction market.

After much masticating, I’ve found the proper metaphor to put the “cheap is bad” meme to rest.

My wife and I honeymooned for nearly a month in Portugal, in November of 1984. Back then, the dollar was strong, the Portuguese escudo was weak, and modest Americans could travel the countryside in royal fashion. The best hotel rooms were under a hundred bucks, and better yet, the best bottle of Aguardente could be had for under $25 (less than half its equivalent French product).

Elizabeth and I covered the countryside in our tiny Deux Chevaux, following a rough figure 8, beginning in Lisbon, traveling southeast through Evora to the southern port of Faro, west to Portimao and Sagres, up to Braganca in the northeast corner, west to Braga and then Porto, and south along the coast to Aveiro, Figueria da Foz and eventually to the Costa do Sol and the casinos of Cascais. We made a point of stopping in a lot of the smaller villages to buy bread, cheese, sausage, fruit, and of course, wine. You know, honeymoon picnic stuff. We ate by the side of many a country road, watching flocks of wild turkeys, or shepherds driving their sheep, or cork harvesters, while we ate local food and drank local wines.

Each little village had its own Vinho Verde or Vinho Tinto, and they would cost a maximum of $2, usually less. So, being good consumers and generous contributors to the local economies, we would buy 2-4 bottles at each stop. We’d open one and sample it. If it was good, we drank it. If it wasn’t, we poured it out and moved on to the next one. (I know this appears to be an admission of drinking while driving, but we were very conscientious about moderation. *cough cough*)

So this is how I’ve found sampling indie-published novels as well. Like the village wines, most of them are inexpensive, and it doesn’t take much of a sip to decide if it’s worth consuming. If it isn’t, it’s deleted from the kindle and you move on to the next one.

I’m an avid consumer of very good wine, and I know my stuff better than most. My ancestors produced some of Burgundy’s most famous Clos De Vougeot long ago (Chateau Morin, Pere et fils). But I hate wine snobs, and while I certainly can appreciate the difference between a Romanée Conti and a mid-range Oregon pinot noir, I am happy that so many excellent quality wines are accessible to the wine drinking masses! Just because you run across a lousy bottle of wine every once in a while, you cannot condemn all moderately priced wines. Even Two Buck Chuck is potable.

The same goes for fiction. I majored in English lit, read most of the greats and a lot of the highbrow literary critics of the day. There is a lot of great literature produced by the “Domaines” of traditional publishing. The reading it rich and full-bodied, like an elegant old Bordeaux.

But viniculture has evolved. Good wine can be produced inexpensively and efficiently today. It doesn’t have to stay in a musty cellar for 15 years any more.

And good fiction doesn’t require 3-5 years of lead time between completion and publication.

Epublishing is the new viniculture of fiction. Grab a few bottles, get yourself a baguette and some Gorgonzola, and check out some of the unknown brands. You might have to pour a few out, but you’ll find some good drinking, too.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, why, this one is a good place to start.


20 Responses to “Indie Novels and Cheap Wine”

  1. Excellent! As a novel addict, I have found many an good Indie book by browsing around Amazon and other sites, very much like trying different wines. Some are good, some are corked, some are pure vinegar but many are good enough to enjoy right to the end. I love the variety readers have now and the huge amount of books to choose from (<— preposition at the end of sentence deliberate).

    As a trad published, turned indie author I am now hugely enjoying the creative freedom of being my own boss, very much like producing my own wine from my tiny little vineyard. I even print my own labels.


    P.S, as for the recommendation, I already sampled and drank it. Very good nose with a hint of self-promo and a slight taste of cheekiness.

  2. 3 Ricko

    Enjoyed this entry, Altho the ending was self serving. Lol. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Cheers!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. I love the wine analogy. Sure we’re going to come away from a few of our experimental readings feeling disconcerted, but let’s not turn our back on some great books because of that. Great post.

  4. Wonderful posting.

    I was at a “bring a bottle” wine party recently and somebody opened a Phelps Insignia.

    It was very nice, but I hadn’t read the hype, so I had no clue it was 10X the price of the Coppola I brought.

    That’s the other half of your story: price and hype.


    • The one thing traditional publishers can’t do that winemakers can is overprice a book. $30 is pretty much the top of the ladder.

      Yeah, I’d say James Patterson’s hype is pretty transparent these days.

  5. Yes, slight. The self-promo seems to dominate and bury the cheekiness.

  6. Smart and savvy, Pete. As for the promo at the end? Well-played, my friend … well-played!

  7. Nice article Pete–and to add to the glory some poor soul wandered from your blog to mine–the advantage of being listed as a “friend of Pete’. .

  8. Perfect metaphor- about that same era, I was in Paris, and buying perfectly drinkable wine to bring back to the youth hostel, for $1-2 a bottle. If you can make so many happy for a few bucks, why not? Because the snobs don’t like it. Tough.
    I use your book DoaSF as a perfect refutation to those who say there’s no quality in self-pub. Hah! They’re not looking very hard to find it, are they?
    Darn you meddlesome kids, going off and publishing on your own! How dare you?

    • Dale.
      Dale, Dale, Dale. You were too old to be staying in a “youth hostel.”

      • Ouch. Jealous much? Some don’t have age restrictions, ya know. Actually, we thought it pretty cool to watch two English ladies of 65+ years walk in with their backpacks and slap down their passes for a night’s stay. I’d love to be backpacking again in another 10 years (voluntarily, not because I lost my home). I can wheel you around in your chair then…

  9. Reblogged this on DV Berkom Books and commented:
    Great post about cheap indie ebooks and wine…

  10. I usually do not create a leave a response, however I browsed a great deal of comments on Indie Novels and Cheap Wine | Pete Morin.
    I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay.
    Is it just me or do a few of the comments come across like they are written by brain dead people?

    😛 And, if you are posting at other online social sites, I would like to keep up with you.
    Would you make a list of all of all your shared
    sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  1. 1 Indie Novels and Cheap Wine | The Passive Voice | Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe
  2. 2 PenNorth March 2014 | The official blog of the NZ Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) Northland

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