Book Publishing Debate

To be honest, I wish this were true:

“Self-published authors and their insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks is ruining the modern online bookstore.”

In such a situation someone with a well-written book—a rare sight these days, no doubt—with a lighter marketing touch could steal the show. I know people who would be millionaires already just by supplying the market with something it wants but doesn't have enough of: great fiction.

Is that happening?

Of course not.

__ Subjectivity __

How much spam you see related to book selling depends on where you're at online. Some people go for the hard sell, and lavish their followers with their latest book link. When I was using Twitter I saw a lot of this, and to a certain extent it was common on Facebook (within certain groups), but elsewhere even when there's a large group of authors, marketing is rare or even taboo (yet discussion of writing in general trends upward).

There are authors who use social media only to market their products, but the degree to which this detracts from the rest of the industry is limited, because a social network is a voluntary interaction. It's very easy to tune someone out. It's my choice who I pay attention to online, and some people (spammers are among them) aren't worth my time, but I have still bought self-published books from friends who will drop a link from time to time or who regularly discuss their story rather than try to sell a product. And I will do so again.

__ Reality __

Reality: there are many talented writers working on their own (or under an independent label). Competition to be noticed is stiff, sometimes impossible to deal with.

If it were really the case that “95%” of self-published books are “insufferable” then any talented author would have easy access to a readership crawling up walls for a decent book to read. Any self-published author who could put together a well-edited book and a consistently entertaining story would have thousands of readers eating out of the palm of his or her hand.

But most don't.

__ Professionals __

There are professionally published authors on social media who only talk about their books. But just as a few semi-amateur writers aren't jeopardizing self-publishing as a whole by being obnoxious, the “professional” authors aren't convincing readers everywhere to stop buying from the big publishing houses.

On top of that, self-published authors aren't the only ones putting out poorly written books. Professionally published authors may have better edited books, because they have the resources of the publishing house behind them, but as far as story goes you're really kidding yourself if you think all the good tales are found in the bookstore.

From the article:

At a recent publishing conference in London, Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, blasted authors who self-publish. “The overwhelming majority of self-published books are terrible—unutterable rubbish, they don’t enhance anything in the world.”

Here's a secret, if Mr. Franklin is listening. Most books are terrible rubbish, and don't enhance anything in the world. They even have a genre for books that are so worthless: pulp fiction. Even among the literary genre many books fall flat on their face by sacrificing story for the prettiness of the prose.

Most books are never written for the intention to change the world or to be intellectual. They're written for teenagers, (YA), or for women (romance), or for men (action and adventure). They're not written to change anyone's mind about anything, or necessarily to educate, but to entertain, and as far as that goes they're going to be two-dimensional, stereo-typed, full to the brim with cliches and lazy writing because to most readers of genre fiction (and especially to most writers), delectable writing isn't necessary.

And as with all forms of entertainment, most people end up liking specific genres or formats and believe “the rest” is shit they shouldn't concern themselves with.

I personally do not like 95% of books on the market, no matter who published them (or wrote them). Why should I be when I'm not interested in reading them?

Likewise, why should I go out of my way to trash one medium of entertainment because it doesn't suit my needs and interests?

__ Quality Control __

Quality control starts and ends with the reader. The publisher can't tell the reader if he or she will like the product on the shelf; the reader must read the book to know for him- or herself. I doubt I have truly enjoyed half of all the books I've read, and I've gone out of my way to read books I thought I would be interested in. I've read fiction on blogs that read better and had a better story than much of the fiction I've read in the library or bookstore.

As a reader, I have my work cut out for me going forward to find those books I really love—those books I'd want to own and read again.

Self-published books offer variety. I will gladly dig through some trash to find something I can use, and even if self-publishing must live or die by the axiom “one man's trash is another man's treasure,” I don't see why that's so bad.

__ Value __

“One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors. You know the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read. The average indie title is $0.99 to $2.99, and the average publisher price is $7.99 – $12.99. Book buyers have been so conditioned to paying as little as possible that often they will not even consider a more expensive book. ”

Self-published books are cheap because self-published authors have little to no overhead. Professionally published books can cost tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to move from publisher to bookstore—depending on how much time and marketing a book publisher puts into a certain book—and yet self-published authors and professional authors make about the same $2.00 on each book they sell.

And yet professionally published books have not been devalued. The book market has actually stabilized, and the independent market share has stopped growing like it has grown in the last few years.

Not only have book buyers not been conditioned to pay less for books, they're actually paying more for them. Even self-published books will eventually go up in price, and the new price-point will shift from $2.99 to $3.99 and $4.99.

But the most important thing is that books are quite unique, as are the authors who write them, so that readers will go to where their favorite authors are. Readers aren't going to suddenly abandon well-known and well-liked authors in order to buy up cheap self-published novels, because that's not how most readers operate. Most readers become fans of certain authors and stick with them. That's why it is so important to build a fan base and to continue pumping out good books. 

Ironically, when the pressure to put out more product mounts, quality can slip. It has happened before with talented authors, while under pressure from their publishers to write more stories, wrote inferior stories to meet crucial deadlines.

__ Fear __

I think there's a certain level of fear involved with the emotionalized debate between the two types of publishing. But the fear, nor the debate, should detract from the authors out there writing well-written, entertaining stories.

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