By Maria Staal
Once upon a time, there was a tiny little country that became a world superpower. The success and riches that flowed into that country left its people with an adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit that resonated through the centuries. Even after that country stopped being a superpower, its people remained independent and full of ideas.
That tiny little country is the place where I was born, the Netherlands. It’s still a small speck of land on the edge of Western Europe, now famous mostly for its tulips and liberal attitude to cannabis.
But as adventurous and entrepreneurial as we are, becoming a self-published author is still not widely embraced. However, things are changing and it’s high time that they did.
Self-publishing, the big taboo that no one talked about
For a long time, in many countries, self-publishing was almost as a dirty word; something that only really terrible writers did, that was taboo to even mention.
So it was in the Netherlands. Publishing books was limited to a few large traditional publishers, who ruled the industry and kept the gate closed to most aspiring writers.
The ‘English’ indie revolution didn’t get much traction as eBooks lacked popularity
Unfortunately it wasn’t entirely the fault of the traditional publishers that the Dutch writers didn’t hitch a ride with the international (read: English) indie movement that started gaining traction around 2009.
As entrepreneurial and adventurous we had been as a people in the 17th century, this attitude was mostly quashed during the Reformation and in particular by the teachings of a preacher called Calvin. Nowadays a popular phrase in the Netherlands is doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg! (Please act normal, that’s already crazy enough!)
What this meant is that ‘new things’ are often viewed with suspicion. eBooks are still not very popular; with readers, writers or publishers. This has made it difficult for indies to even get a toehold here, as the indie movement is largely based on the publication of eBooks.
That eBooks haven’t become very popular might also have to do with the fact that those traditional publishers that do sell eBooks, price them extraordinarily high. Not a wise move in a country whose people are thrifty at best, and always on the lookout for a bargain. No one wants to spend money on eBooks that are almost the same price as those well-known, well-loved and above all, trusted paper books.
Luckily Kobo joined forces with the Dutch online store Bol.com
Then suddenly there was Kobo, who in 2015 made a deal with one of the major Dutch online stores, Bol.com. eBooks published via Kobo Writing Life were distributed to Bol.com and so it was suddenly much easier for Dutch indies to sell their eBooks on Bol.com at competitive prices.
Despite this development, the Dutch indie revolution is still slow to emerge from its infancy. I have thought long and hard about why self-publishing in the English world went from being mistrusted to mainstream in just ten years, while in the Netherlands it’s still viewed with suspicion on all fronts.
Is it simply an aversion to eBooks? No, I don’t think so.
Many Dutch writers are simply reluctant to take the lead in setting up sustainable self-pub businesses and I think I have figured out why that is.
Dutch writers in general, indie or not, are often conservative and wary of anything new, including new technology. They tend to focus all their attention on paper books and less on eBooks. The Dutch are also fiercely independent; which could be a positive trait for an indie author, but too often in the Netherlands it means refusing to accept help from others. In the same vein, there is often a reluctance to share insider knowledge and an “every man for himself” attitude.
Things looked up when indie initiatives sprang up
In the last year more people started talking about self-publishing and Dutch indies have come together in a Facebook group to share their experiences and help each other. Because of this more independent authors are now publishing eBooks, the results of which are reflected in their sales figures.
This coming April the first ever Indie Awards are being held; an initiative of two Dutch authors, who thought it high time that indie books receive some recognition.
And on top of all this the Dutch indies declared 2018 the ‘Year of being Indies Together’. We have meetings where we swap stories and help each other. And we also brainstorm about how we can work together, especially when it comes to marketing and joint promotions.
The idea of the indie movement is slowly spreading in the Netherlands and I personally think that our 17th century forefathers would be proud to see that their adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well. It moves us forward to a future where indie publishing is as normal as traditional publishing.
Are your books being read in the Netherlands yet? A year ago Kobo launched Kobo Plus, a subscription service for Dutch readers. Check out more details about the program and how to opt your books in here.
Maria Staal is a writer and self-publishing expert, and has been a champion of the Dutch indie movement since 2010. She set up a dedicated Facebook group for Dutch indies and helps her fellow writers fulfil the dream of publishing their own books.
Maria writes non-fiction in both Dutch and English and has recently published a book about how to be a Dutch indie. Furthermore she wrote a book with Eva Kattz about the practical side of plotting and outlining fiction, which will be published on 15th March 2018.
And last but not least, Maria writes cosy mysteries under her penname Annie Appleton.