The Two Groups of Indie Authors: Romance & “Other”

First, I imagine I need to insert a disclaimer here before I’m set upon by legions of rabid maniacs: I don’t have a problem with the romance genre. Writing is writing, and damned hard work no matter what genre you choose. Even if you choose to produce formulaic novels that fit the mould outlined by Harlequin for so many years, you’ve still accomplished something 99% of the people who want to do it have failed at. You’ve written a novel, so give yourself a pat on the back.

That being said, (so don’t bomb me with emails defending your right to read or write Mommy porn; I’m not arguing it) I have something to get off my chest.

For some time now, I’ve noticed a misconception about indie authors. Not the bias that says they must not be good enough, or they’d be published through a major house. That’s pretty much gone; people are waking up to the fact that the big houses can only put out so much at a time, and that they have to be careful to pick what they feel will be commercial successes, and so they don’t always take a gamble on new people or ideas.

No, the misconception I can’t seem to get away from is the idea that no one but romance authors publish independently, and that the only indie authors worth reading are romance serialists. You can’t swing a dead cat in most groups without slapping two dozen people with a “paranormal romance” series to push on you. It’s as if all indie authors have been divided into two groups: Romance, and Other. If it were simply a matter of that’s all the public wants, fine. But I’ve been in contact with nearly a hundred “indie author” groups, conventions, and events over the last few days, and that seems to be all THEY want. A few have paid lip service to being open to all genres, but they’re sure to ask what genre you write in before telling you if there are seats or tables at their conventions still available, and whether or not they have room for more members. I understand that the fan base may be overwhelmingly driving for this, but if that’s the case, don’t bother reaching out or claiming to accept other genres. Just go whole hog and declare yourself to be devoted to romance.

I’d love to start attending literary conventions in the area. There are as many as thirty in the St. Louis/Kansas City/Tulsa/Chicago area. As a writer, the idea of meeting other writers and readers always gives me the giggles.  But the thought of paying table fees, hotel/travel, and all the other assorted fees to be brushed off or hidden in a corner just doesn’t appeal to me, for some reason.

Sometimes it happens despite the best intentions and efforts of the group leaders; I recently left a group that, while they made Herculean efforts to include everyone, was simply over-run and dominated by romance. Posting to this group was an exercise in futility unless you included a picture of a half-naked male model or were offering/requesting “swag” (and even TYPING that word leaves a bad taste in my mouth.)

One gets the feeling that this is a self-feeding monster; the members of the romance tribe seem to constantly buy, rate, and review each other’s materials. They hold constant giveaways to promote each other, which for those who don’t write romance often end up in a slight bump in followers who have absolutely no interest in what we do, and who generally leave within a month or so of the last giveaway we participated in once it’s clear we won’t be offering more free stuff they don’t really want to read.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this phenomenon happens. Is the demand for formulaic romance series that high? Did the Fifty Shads of Grey and Twilight series spawn an entire revolution in literature? Or is the audience small but rabid in their devotion and consumption?

And if you think I just spent this time bashing the romance genre, romance fans, or romance authors, go back up to the top of the post and read the first paragraph again before you send the hate mail, okay?


The $0.25 craft knife

So I’ve been slowly rebuilding my set of carving tools that disappeared when we moved.

I found a dremel-style rotary tool at a ridiculously low price at Harbour Freight, and an X-acto knock-off set, along with a set of needle files, on the clearance aisle at Walmart for a dollar each.  But what I was still missing my good carving tools.

The rotary tool works great for most projects, but sometimes you simply need a knife.  The not-really-X-acto set works okay for a lot of it, but the blades wear out fast, and replacing them was going to quickly add up to more money than I want to put out for tools that only work “okay.”  So, I needed knives.

There’s the rub; I’m too cheap to pay for the high-end commercial knives, and too picky to settle for the cheaper ones.  The solution:  make my own.

I started by researching, naturally, and decided that stock removal was the way to go.  And since the whole point was to avoid a massive layout of cash, I needed steel that I didn’t have to have heat-treated.  The solution?  Use a knife to make a knife.  In this case, I used a stainless steel table knife, more commonly known as a butter knife.

I found an Instructable that fit the bill, and set out to make my own.  I chose a simple design that I’m familiar with, and got to work.

Here’s the result:


Start by choosing a butter knife with a minimalist design to the handle; this will make attaching handle scales or cord wrapping much easier.  I found mine at the local big chain mart at $0.98 for a four-pack.  Give the blade a quick flex to make sure it springs back into line; if it does, then it will work just fine.

To prevent marking the blade and make cutting easier, next time I’ll cover the blade in masking tape, a step I skipped in my impatience.  This should make laying out your design much easier, as well.

I used the rotary tool and a heavy-duty cutoff wheel to cut the blade shape and establish the edge.  Care must be taken not to overheat the steel, so I doused it regularly with water.  This had the extra benefit of keeping the majority of the steel dust out of the air.  Obviously a bench grinder or belt sander would make the whole process easier, but the point was to make do with what I had.

After that, I roughed up the handle of the butter knife with some sandpaper, and attached the wood scales, which are simply craft sticks I found around the house, using contact cement.  Since a bottle of this stuff costs around $4, and I’ve never actually known anyone who went through an entire bottle, the cost of the tiny amount of glue needed was negligible, much less than 1 cent.  The handles could be just as easily any piece of scrap wood you have lying around.

Those familiar with Japanese knives might recognize the shape as a kiridashi, a common utility knife.  The X-acto knife is simply a disposable-bladed kiridashi.  Unlike traditional kiridashi, however, I went with a double-bevel edge grind for greater utility.

Once the edge was established, a few minutes on a diamond sharpening stone (use the sharpening system of your choice, however) had it slicing paper-thin curls of wood from a test block.  I plan on doing more of these, in different blade profiles.  I’ll update this post with those results.  I’ll also update when I see how long the edge lasts before needing sharpening again.

Survivalists/hikers/campers might find a few of these to be a useful afternoon project.  Are they top of the line?  No.  Will they perform on par with even an entry-level bush or field knife?  Probably not.  But at $0.25 each, they could definitely prove useful for a myriad of small tasks, and allow you to preserve the edge on your “good” knife for more important things.





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