RARA-AVIS: E-books? eBooks? e-Books? ebooks?

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 07 Nov 2009

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    Debbi Mack wrote:

    > One downside of putting my book up on Kindle is that some readers
    > assume I'm an "indie author." I'm constantly having to explain (when
    > I get the chance to) that my book was actually published by a small
    > press at one point.

    Barely. Quiet Storm Press was basically a short-lived, inadvertent POD pyramid scheme that crashed and burned years ago and left a small circle of would-be writers pissed off.

    Quiet Storm didn't pay advances (and apparently, very few royalties), their vetting process seemed like the epitome of cronyism, and their promotional strategy seemed to be based on having their writers talk incessantly on a handful of small discussion groups about how great each other was. Despite the hot air, the company ran out of gas pretty quickly. And nobody else ever heard of them.

    I don't think the publisher was corrupt; He may in fact have had really good intentions. He was just out of his league as both an editor and a businessman. And it didn't help that he was one of his own authors.

    > I realize that the vetting process helps winnow down available books
    > from millions to thousands. I also know that many self-published
    > books are simply dreadful. Still, why not let authors get their work
    > out there, do their own marketing (which they do anyway) and let
    > readers make the call?

    The readers have already made the call. It's "No."

    Self-published novelists have been out there, doing their own marketing for the last ten-fifteen years, and their resounding lack of success might -- just maybe -- just have a tiny bit -- it's maybe possible -- to do with the quality of their books.

    Ebooks will do the same for those who self-publish. All they are is another way for writers to be published without going through any sort of vetting process. Publish your own ebook places like Lulu do not edit, and they're not exactly discerning when it comes to acquisitions.

    There are exceptions (previously established and celebrity authors, niche and cult markets) but most of the novels that still succeed in today's market are still those that are traditionally published, edited, vetted and distributed. Those zillions of self-published fiction titles mostly sell squat -- in most cases, less than a couple of hundred copies and many titles less than 50 copies. Viewing your core audience as your mother, a few friends at work and fellow deluded self-published authors is not a winning sales strategy. The most widely touted self-published crime novel success story (M.J. Rose) was ten or fifteen years ago, and even she has now denounced most of her once-winning sales tactics. They simply don't work anymore in an over- crowded book world where anyone can be "published."

    Ebooks won't change that.

    Genuine word of mouth, hand-selling, honest reviews, availability, publicity and a good story -- those sell books.

    A writer's main concern should be the last.

    Most authors don't have the brains, resources, time, discipline or inclination to promote themselves effectively, and all the promotion, circle jerk cronyism and BSP in the world doesn't matter if the crime novel in question is poorly edited, poorly written and only available online. Saying that "many" self-published books are simply dreadful is life saying many people have two eyes and a nose.

    Once upon a time I really really tried to review self-published books, mostly because initially, at least, it was humbled but serious writers out there seriously trying to break into a tough marketplace. But as the floodgates opened to daytripper dilettantes and egotistical hobbyists, it became such a struggle to get through most of them that I more or less gave up. A man can only throw so many ineptly written, poorly edited, shoddily printed over-priced trade paperbacks against the wall before the neighbours start to complain.

    And the handful of authors who have successfully moved on from self- publishing to more traditional means of publication tend to not look back. They now view their self-publishing past as a slightly embarrassing but possibly necessary first step. Some of them don't like it known their first efforts were self-published. It's like if your first girlfriend had a rep as the high school tramp.

    Sure, ebooks will allow even more authors to be "published," but most readers won't care. The lack of good books to read has never been a problem for most readers.

    I don't see nook or Kindle or whatever seriously changing my reading habits, but it would be nice if a few hard to find books and stories that might not be feasibly printed on paper found their way to electronic publication. Some of those long lost pulp stories by people like Norbert Davis or Fred Nebel would be ideal.

    But there is one real advantage of real books over ebooks. Pressing
    "DELETE" is not as satisfying as hurling some pompous piece of crap against the wall.


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