Several weeks ago, I looked at e-books from a reader’s perspective. Now I want to look at self-publishing e-books from writer’s point of view.
The reality is: more and more people are buying e-books. It’s easy to upload your book to a site like Smashwords for free. Pro authors like JA Konrath are riding the wave and doing very well, even going so far as to turn down print publication offers in order to self-publish electronically. Konrath’s enthusiasm for this Brave New World of publishing is contagious, and he has a large following and (of course) his skeptics.
The e-book option allows a writer to bring out-of-print backlists back into readers’ hands with minimum outlay of money. It allows her to continue series that are no longer commercially viable for publishing houses, and give away work for free or cheap, thus creating a fan base. It might even offer an author a way out of the Three-Book Death Spiral and keep getting books out to their readers even if no publisher will touch them.
So far, great.
E-books offer the oft-rejected hopeful a chance to bypass the gatekeepers and slow-moving machinery of publishing and get his works directly into the hands of readers. He can upload his book as soon as he is ready. No waiting on the schedules of editors, cover artists, marketers, and all the other people involved in the release of a book at a publishing house.
And that’s where the ease of publishing in e-book format may be dangerous for writers.
Sometimes we writers are just desperate to have someone—anyone, even ihasboox from NJ–read the stories we’ve worked so hard on. We want someone who is not our spouse, BFF or cat to enjoy our book. Why not upload it to a site frequented by hundreds of potential readers? Like, right now.
Because first impressions are important. The lure of just-add-water instant readership can blind a writer to the need to critically examine and polish his work. Often, a writer only has that one chance to snag a reader. And a reader who is put off by sloppy plotting, poor characterization, bad grammar and typos (and we’re all prone to that at some time or another) is not likely to return to the writer’s work (especially not with all the other books jostling for space on her virtual bookshelf!).
Also, readers are used to professional-level packaging. Yeah, story is what matters, but I admit to being superficial—a badly-made cover image is just begging me to reject the book. Ditto for a long-winded and ponderous blurb. As a reader, I’m looking to reject 99.9% of the books out there. There are hundreds of titles published every in my preferred genres. I only read 60-75 books a year, and I’m willing to bet that I read more than your average American (yeah, like this article says). Kinda sobering, eh?
So, now that I’m done opining, what are your thoughts on self-publishing e-books?
Annnnd, some related posts that I couldn’t fit above:
- JA Konrath’s How To Make Money on E-Books
- Karen McQuestion and Zoe Winters, authors who’ve successfully self-published on the Kindle
- and…. why we should be on our knees, thanking the gatekeepers of publishing
Megs - Scattered Bits says
I have to agree with the grand majority of your points. Personally, I love reading/writing for free in good communities, but doesn’t mean I like the free e-books I find on Smashwords or after a while, Smashwords itself. Writing that sucks isn’t that much better for being free.
:sighs: And there I gave up another shortcut to publication. 🙂
Yes, wading through all that slush is soul-deadening. And I know that I have a lower tolerance for bad writing than a lot of people.
I had a 1295 word article to respond to your comments. 🙂
However, I will sum it up with fewer words.
I agree with published authors earning better income from ebooks.
One assumption you use is if gatekeepers reject then MS is not very good. Think Harry Potter and many other stories that were rejected multiple times. I will include an interesting link:
Second assumption is if MS is accepted the MS is at a level to publish. I believe all MS can be improved with editing both plot and grammar.
Your third assumption is that if it is an ebook it is a second class story. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/self-published-is-not-a-dirty-word/
I will clarify that assumtion by adding, there are a lot of beginner authors publishing eBooks that need a lot of polishing before they become stories that will sell. But in among the faulty plots, or missing description or missing action in a lot of eBooks, there are many wonderful stories that are waiting to be discovered by readers.
What eBooks give us, the readers, is more choice to select the edge-blurred genres we love to read. Think fantasy and Sifi and murder mystery, or think historical and paranormal and murder mystery, or whatever combination you can think of that each reader loves about the stories they select to read that are outside the boundaries set by the current publishing system.
With eBooks, readers have the choice of reading the first 10 percent, 20 percent or more of the book before they purchase. They will not buy if the characters are not likeable, or proactive or trashy or (add what you look for in a main character in this space) and they will know if they want to keep reading by the time they finish the free percent of the book. You can’t do that in a book store. All you have to go on is a good cover, a good blurb and a quick read of the first page or two. But no matter how good the cover looks or how well the blurb reads, it is the story, start, middle and end, that makes the reader happy or sad and if they like it, they will return for the next book by that author.
Thanks your thoughts, Diane.
I agree that publishers/editors/agents are fallible when it comes to selecting which ms. will sell or not. However, they do winnow out the obviously bad stuff: the stories written without any concern for grammar, spelling or punctuation, or logical consistency; really poorly drawn characters and boring plots–90% of the slush pile. And I can live with that, because it means I don’t have to do it.
E-books do provide a way for writers working in a niche market (say, romantic scifi hardboiled detective stories) to get their works out to the readers who want them. But I do prefer to have those books be vetted by third parties whose job it is to sell fiction. I have nothing against e-books as a format, but I’m ambivalent about how easy they make self-publishing. I can see how readers might get overwhelmed by choice and how individual writers can get lost amongst all the other books. Many people complain about how books get lost on bookstore shelves–it’s just as easy, if not more so, to get lost in the sea of digital publications. You may have a fine book, but how easy is it to find? Is it reviewed in any of the trade journals? Will libraries be able to order it? Will bloggers and review sites review a self-published book? How will potential readers discover this book if it’s one among thousands on Smashwords and the author is only known to a handful of friends on the Internet?
I still hold to my position that good presentation makes a big difference. An amateurish blurb makes me think that the author’s writing skills are lacking–so why should I pick up the book? I can forgive a lame e-book cover, but I may never notice the book among all the hundreds on an e-book site in the first place. My eye will move right past it to a cover with more “pop”.
You’re right that story matters most. You’re right that self-published does not necessarily equal “not good enough to get traditionally published”. But I’m quite certain that at this point, the ratio of “good” to “bad” (however you define those based on your personal preferences) books is much much much lower for self-published books than for books published through gate-keeping channels.
Put it another way—of all the books that you’ve loved: how many have been self-published? Have you personally discovered gems in the self-published piles?
Jane Fancher says
Thanks for the link! BTW, we’ve finally started putting up our new books as well as backlist. Mostly mine, for the moment, but Lynn and Carolyn are both working on new books as well as more of their backlist.
Packaging is vital. I’ve spending ridiculous amounts of time on covers (I began as pro artist, but that’s not the same as doing covers…esp for computers whose display you can’t control) and little things…like good looking Table of Contents or embedded fonts. The inability to control the look is one of the things holding me back from some of the mass ebook distributors.
Regarding quality…I have a feeling that what we’re going to be seeing in the future is a rise in the importance of an editor’s name on an e-book. I think readers are going to demand some kind of “seal of approval,” and the one person whose name could become that seal in the independent market is a solid editor.
Even for those of us who’ve been through the mill and learned to edit our own stuff, a good second eye is vital. CJ, Lynn and I do that for each other. For someone coming up new, they need solid critique…probably for the first several books. I think it’s a huge opportunity for indy editors to start making their names. OTOH, if they agree to edit just anybody, it will become a matter of whether or not the editor puts the approval on a product, not just saying you’ve paid X, Y, or Z to edit it.
Anyway, just my two cents.
Thanks for coming by to comment. I SO agree that packaging is vital. So many e-books have those photoshopped covers that just look amateurish, and negatively colors my view of the contents. I’m looking to reject books, and, as a consumer, I’m not obligated to have good non-superficial reasons for doing so. 🙂
Interesting prediction about indie editors. Maybe if indie editors got a percentage of the sales, perhaps 15%, that agents get now, they’d be more motivated to find quality books and build their reputations? In that system, I can see top indie editors getting lots of subs like top agents do now and being selective of what they work with.
My husband predicts the rise of consulting firms that offer editorial, packaging and marketing services to writers.
It’ll be very very interesting to see how everything pans out. 🙂
e-book is wonderful thing. Ir’s useful and comfortable. It’s much more easy to use it.