(I want to live here.)
Welcome to yet another State of the eBook! First of all, the results of last week’s poll are in. Apparently, most of you are bigger ebook fans, with the vast majority voting for “eBooks first!/What’s a paper book?” Guess it isn’t TOO surprising, considering the subject of this column…
This week, the big ebook news was that Barnes and Noble debuted “PubIt!”, their self-publishing arm. This brings them into direct competition with Amazon, as well as smaller companies Smashwords and Feedbooks, plus the vanity paper book publishers looking to break into the ebook markets. Basically, it’s getting awfully crowded in the self-publishing space.
And self-publishing isn’t just for unknown authors. Famous names like J.A. Konrath have begun pursuing “indie” ebook publishing as well; in Konrath’s case, it’s because his regular publisher turned down his latest book, so he used his fame to publish through Amazon. All well and good if you have an established base, but as an excellent editorial at the Huffington Post points out, it’s a bit tougher if you’re an unknown.
So now you have big names like B&N and Amazon competing against smaller but more well-established names like Smashwords, but is it really an improvement for the consumer? Without the filter of publishers, anyone can write and market a book. Instead of a gatekeeper in the form of a publisher and editor, it’s now on the consumer to sift through the lousy books and pick out the ones worth reading.
Here’s my take: I love the IDEA of supporting independent publishing more than the reality of it. It’s not that I’m biased towards authors I already know, it’s that, well, I haven’t had the best experiences picking books from Smashwords. I’ve found a handful of great authors, but there have been a few books that left me thinking, “And this is why an editor is necessary.” Not a big deal when the book is very cheap or free, but I find more and more that I’m more likely to gamble on a free book from a non-mainstream publishing arm, while a book that’s been vetted by a publisher might get my cash. And the thing is, I’m not a huge fan of the publishers in general, but there’s a reason for editing and gatekeeping. For all the books that land on slushpiles (rejects) unfairly, there’s quite a few that need serious work. I just don’t love the idea that the onus is on me as the consumer to sift through the junk to find something decent (or at least that uses proper spelling and grammar!)
I asked the Gear Diary team if anyone had any thoughts on the subject, and Michael chimed in with his opinion:
Michael “And this is why an editor is necessary.” Actually I thought that when reading ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, which could easily have shed 200 pages and been better off for it; and also everything by Christopher Paolini, a talented kid whose stuff has consistently gone downhill. An editor is necessary and sadly too few commercial books get a decent editing job these days .
But as you say, things are even worse with the indie scene – when anyone can publish then everyone is an author. But while the freedom and the removal of constraints can be helpful, too often I feel like I’m reading a ‘fanfic’ rather than a serious attempt at a novel. To me it is no different than every app store that has come along (Palm, Windows CE, Apple, Android, etc) being full of mediocre me-too clones of Tetris / Solitaire / Bejeweled / whatever is popular. But similar to finding gems in the App Store, finding gems in the small free publisher realms is not trivial and comes with a significant investment on the part of the reader.
It’s a good point that even published works suffer badly from poor editing. And being published through a major imprint doesn’t guarantee success. But it does give an author the chance that some marketing dollars may drift their way. And more importantly, it means someone else is reading, editing, and tweaking their work. Sometimes you need another set of eyes looking at your writing, and often you need someone who flat-out tells you “This doesn’t work.” Living inside your own head isn’t always a solution.
B&N and Amazon don’t care about this because they get paid, create more buy-in to their respective platforms, and cut out any middlemen. It’s an easy win for them. But for consumers, this is very much a double-edged sword; potentially lower prices, but at the cost of sifting through some terrible stuff before reaching what’s worth reading.
And what’s the publishing industry doing throughout all this? Well, Nate from The Digital Reader shared a video of what they’re thinking about ebooks and the changes in the industry…
What are your thoughts on self-publishing? Share your thoughts below!