Take a Shad in the Indie Fiction Well

This is not the kind of article I like to write, since I prefer not to attack anyone directly, but in this case, what I want to discuss is bound up in the example of a specific person and a specific product. I would not call the person in question evil, and in fact I like things about him and other content he has done.

Recently Planefag did a very thorough blow-by-blow review of Shad Brooks (a.k.a. Shadiversity, a youtuber most known for talking about medieval things). Here’s the whole thing, but I’ll be focusing on a few points that are slightly tangential mentioned at the end:


Furthermore, this book represents a crime against indie publishers. There’s a thousand books this bad or worse on Amazon; probably more. But you have 1.7 million subscribers on Youtube and used that audience to promote this rancid trash far and wide.

Indie publishing is the only remaining option for new fiction authors anymore as tradpub has committed willing suicide. And it’s extremely difficult for new authors to break in and make a career of it, as the ocean of horrid crud makes discovery a daunting chore for customers.

This comes from the total lack of gatekeepers – the one service tradpub used to deliver. And as deeply flawed as it was, it was at least better than nothing. Rehabilitating the reputation of indie pub; creating a future for new up and coming writers, requires making good work.

In short, by using your platform to widely promote this atrocity of a book, you’ve taken a big, smelly shit into the well from which both the next generation of fiction writers need to drink from. You have done fiction, esp. speculative fiction, a grave injury by doing this.

Shadiversity is known as a YouTuber more than author in this world, and the fantasy book in question was published some five years ago in 2019. It has a high-quality painted cover of professional design. It currently sits at a 4.5 average on Amazon with approximately 2500 reviews/ratings.

Shadow of the Conqueror (Chronicles of Everfall): Brooks, Shad M:  9780648572916: Amazon.com: Books

A book’s reviews and ratings are part of what I call the “social proof” of selling things. Other people like a thing, which is proof that you (the consumer) might also like it. When considering Planefag’s deep dive, ask yourself, “Does the social proof match the product?” I think it is fair to say that it does not. This matters a lot for indie authors and even more for readers.

It looks like a serious book, but is it? Looking at the sample, I’d say it is indicative of a developing writer. It is Shadiversity’s only book and his first book, and it reads like a first book. My writing was probably similar back in 2001 (I can’t find my old manuscripts at the moment to confirm), but I didn’t formally publish anything until 2016. I consider even the books I wrote in 2013, when I shifted my focus from music to writing, to be unpublishable. You can read those books, by the way, in the format of the Moonsong series, though obviously edited. Like with Shad, there was potential with those early works, but there was also a lot of room for growth.

There is nothing wrong with being a developing writer, and being so begs forgiveness for being overly influenced by modern “grimdark” fantasy tropes.

However, what this book looks like is not the work of a developing writer, but a professional. The cover and the huge number of reviews are the key. Because of that, it’s poison in the indie well, perhaps the entire well of fantasy literature.

Imagine you are a kid fresh out of school and are wondering if books are actually fun and not boring trash like what your liberal teachers forced you to read. You see a cool cover with a blue sword. Looks nice. You see there are lots of glowing reviews. Maybe you see the YouTuber himself hock it. You spend your money on it, and it is an unreadable pile of torture porn.

Are you ever going to buy another fantasy book again? Another novel at all? If this is the kind of book everyone likes, maybe you don’t really like books.

Why are the normal consumer signals so misaligned for this book?

Well, it’s because it is a vanity project from a YouTuber with a sizeable following (some 1.5 million or more subscribers). It’s the internet equivalent of a celebrity book, only in the past a traditional publisher would have hired an editor or even a ghostwriter to bring it up to a reasonable standard. It’s the celebrity’s name that sells the book, but it’s still a book, isn’t it?

Shadow of the Conqueror is an example, like I’ve talked about before with the “Rippaverse,” of monetizing a social media following using a product. Like the comic by Eric July, people are not buying Shad’s book because they think it is good, but because they like the Shadiversity YouTube channel, have a parasocial relationship with Shad, and want to support his endeavors. This example is even more potent because apparently Shad has slipped from talking about castles and swords to jump with both feet in the ever-swirling and never-doing right-wing griftosphere. People feel inclined to support him because he gives voice to their own opinions. It’s not about the book, and that’s the bigger problem.

I spend a lot of time trying to educate new authors on the book business and its realities. What am I supposed to say about creating success vis a vis The Shadow of the Conqueror?

The key to selling a book is to create a massive social media following of parasocial fans, engage them politically, and then they will buy whatever you shit out.

The truth is that social media following trumps every other consideration possible when it comes to releasing a product these days. If it isn’t a book, it’s an energy drink. If the following is large enough every other factor that goes into selling a product, including the quality of the product, is moot.

Keep in mind I say that one of the only effective cheap strategies to developing a following and selling a book is through content marketing, which is making content that people are interested in and then selling your related product through that. Shad’s YouTube channel, which focuses on castles and other fantasy things, is a perfect example of how to do that. The problem is, once again, we have forgotten what business we are in. Are we in the book business, or the social media business? Or are they one and the same now?

I think Shad Brooks’s YouTube success offered him an opportunity to achieve a dream – “being” an author. I can’t blame him for taking that opportunity, or for monetizing his followers to create it. After all, we all have to make a living somehow, and everyone has dreams they want to achieve. I can blame him for what Planefag points out – it harms indie fiction’s already bad reputation. When Shad’s YouTube channel becomes irrelevant or he walks away to something better (I hope the latter, despite my criticisms here and his ridiculous views on AI art I don’t hate the guy and I wish his family well), what will the book be? What will that great filter of time do with it?

Ultimately the dream of being a great author made real through other means, whether that is a large social media following or spending a fortune on advertising, does not become a solid truth simply because you sell many books.

The bad content of the book (you know, the megahitler child-raping protagonist) will also be used against anyone that is perceived as being politically or religiously aligned with Shad. Authors who have to go indie because of their religious or political beliefs being anathema in the mainstream publishing houses will be attacked because of perceived tribal membership.

Not only that, but also consider that the book has an aborted short film adaptation to the tune of $120,000CA. That will go into the consumer’s mind the next time somebody wants to crowdfund something in the vague “right wing” area, just like how Comicsgate artists shipping their books years late turned away customers forever and from everyone. For good or ill, bad things reflect on all related parties.

It’s unfortunate, but this is the business we are dealing with here. There are few filters, few gatekeepers, and the things that should help consumers may actively deceive them. Can we blame readers for either walking away or sticking to trad publishing?

What if you had released the same book with the same cover? What could you expect? Probably a two-star average and five to ten reviews, with thousands lost paying the cover artist, running ads, etc. Shadow of the Conqueror will inspire people to do all the wrong things. Rather than starting small and developing your craft, you should shit a doorstopper onto the market indulging in whatever fetishes and tropes you like best, spend a fortune on a nice painted cover, and you’ll get thousands of positive reviews.

For the little guy, it doesn’t work that way. Your dream will be crushed and your bank account drained. At the same time, your book will be added to the pile of bad indie works stacking their way to the moon.

So, what is a new author to do?

Embrace the development stage. Know that the first thing you do will suck, and just plow through it. Show it to people who care about reading it and can give you basic feedback. Keep writing and keep a critical eye to your own work. Expand your literary horizons by reading older books. Read and write short fiction (definitely read short fiction first if you’ve never been exposed to it). Return to your early works later and evaluate what you did versus what you thought you were doing, and make the necessary corrections. If you need feedback, consider a professional editor with a proven track record, but I would only consider that if you already have lots of work under your belt.

Unless you already have an audience of millions you won’t get a pile of glowing reviews when you leapfrog over the development stage. Instead, embrace it and enjoy it.

What is unfortunate about Shadiversity is that he seems intent on skipping the learning and development phase with every art he is interested in, and his strange attitude toward AI art is an example, but one that could probably be its own article. In brief, he wants the robot to allow him to skip practicing and claim credit for it, but by skipping the hard work of practice, he is unable to properly evaluate the results and see how bad they really are. Perhaps that is the flaw in his writing as well – but either way there is a good lesson there about pride.

I am an independent author. And I do YouTube. Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite. Nevertheless, I shall hock my wares. you can get one of my books free each month by being a Patreon member or joining me on KoFi, plus access to the private discord server. I also make music and you can track my current development in my wild improvisation approach on my music YouTube channel, or buy records on bandcamp.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: Dune Movie, Greyhawk, Maximum Mayham Adventures – castaliahouse.com

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