A week or two ago I saw yet another of those Best Books of 2019 articles in An Important Newspaper. I was surprised by how predictable that list was, but not by the complete absence of indie writers. One of my Twitter followers tagged the article’s author, mentioning the indie scene never getting noticed unless the indie author gets offered a “real” contract. The response was “one of those publishers is a very small indie press”. (I checked. The very small indie press was home to more than 30 authors.) This, unfortunately, wasn’t the question, but once it got clarified the article’s author didn’t respond anymore. An indie writer is not one that has a perfectly normal contract with a perfectly normal publishing house which calls itself indie because it’s not an imprint of the Big 5.

The publishing market has been evolving at the speed of light, single-handedly upended by a certain Jeff Bezos. The monopoly of the agent-editor system is falling apart and unsurprisingly the people who make money out of it don’t like it. The main weapon the Big 5 still have against self-publishers and indie authors is discoverability via The Important Newspapers and The Important Newspapers also know that. Publishers Weekly now offers reviews to indies, except the authors hoping to have their book reviewed have to pay hundreds of $$$ for the privilege. The Best Books Of 2019 You Have Never Heard Of lists tend to be variations on the same fifty titles. What possibly baffles me the most are the well-publicised one-star reviews of really awful books, the only merit of which is that they were published by Simon & Schuster rather than Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

Out of the six best books I have read this year five were written/published by indies. Why don’t those books get press? Because they don’t sell enough. Why don’t they sell enough? Because they don’t get press. It used to just be the publishers who made sure some voices would never be heard. Now that there are ways to go around publishers, media gleefully took over the role.

Here are some great indie books I’ve read this year and would recommend to anyone, and there is a chance you’ve really never heard about them. Before I begin, though, I would like to thank all the book bloggers who put their time and work and dedication into helping indie writers and their audiences find each other.

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Last Christmas

Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.

Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.

 

What next?

Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday.  For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.

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The last few years have been filled with deaths of famous artists. I’m only going to list three – Bowie, Prince, George Michael. All three shocked me, because those artists have always been around and I somehow assumed it would never change. Bowie, in particular, had more lives than a cat, how could he just go and…run out? I stayed online for way too long, refreshing forums and news, trying to make some sense out of it. When yesterday I found out that Marie Fredriksson of Roxette has gone I just started crying, listening to my playlists, the albums, Marie’s solo records. She wasn’t a celebrity to me. She was a friend who’s been around for thirty-one years, even if we didn’t talk much.

I was a bullied kid – fat, bespectacled, introverted – before nerds and geeks were invented. I had three companions: my Atari computer, books, and music. Kylie Minogue, sweet and bubbly (especially in the ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ video) was my first imaginary best friend. Marie was my second. The first Roxette song I have ever heard was ‘Dressed For Success’. I didn’t speak or understand English yet and I didn’t know what she was singing, other than ‘success’. She had the weirdest hair ever and a voice so powerful it just sounded like all I wanted to have – self-confidence, strength, joy. When I listen to it today, I realise that similarly to Gwen Stefani’s ‘What You Waiting For’, ‘Dressed For Success’ is an autobiographical song of someone who might feel the fear, but will do it anyway. Yes, ostentatiously it’s about love, but it’s really about success, and it was coming. I didn’t know that. I just knew I loved the song. I was eleven years old and this music was mine.

 

 

A few months later ‘The Look’ arrived and suddenly my personal band wasn’t just mine anymore, because it was the hottest discovery of the year for the entire world – the single charted at #1 in the US and #7 in the UK. They proved themselves right, they dressed for success and the success came. I felt proud. Yes, this proto-hipster muttered to himself, I loved them before they were cool. I didn’t know how soon Roxette would stop being ‘cool’, but I knew that even the kids who bullied me came over, panting in excitement, to ask ‘have you heard about the Rock Set?!’ and they were my best friends for the fifteen minutes it took to copy ‘The Look’ from my cassette tape to theirs. ‘Listen To Your Heart’ duly broke my twelve-year-old heart, but it wasn’t until ‘Dangerous’ that I declared Roxette my new favourite group ever.

Then Joyride came and did a rare thing: sold eleven million copies and, because of that, destroyed Roxette’s career.Continue reading