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Let the right one in

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about the number of self-published e-books currently flooding the market. Views differ widely, but whatever you think of the blighters they are almost certainly here to stay, so we might as well get used to them.

But where have they come from? The truth is that lots of good books never see the light of day through traditional routes because publishing is still very much a closed shop, with publishers and agents refusing to read unsolicited material. Authors know this—they have been trying for years to break in. Now they don’t have to. They are doing it for themselves and many of them are faring rather nicely, thank you very much.

Of course, this democratisation of publishing also means that lots of shit is hitting the virtual shelves, and the plethora of self-published e-books causes traditional publishers many problems—not least by clogging up the bestseller charts, often demoting blockbuster authors in the process. There is also a fear that the lower r.r.p.s on these e-books will drag the market down.

And they are an issue for retailers as well—both online and in the high street. Waterstones, W H Smith and independents find it hard enough as it is, without thousands of titles they can never physically stock bursting on the scene. And I cannot believe that Amazon, Apple and the like are entirely satisfied with their bestseller charts being sprinkled with covers that look like they were designed by my uncle Dave on his BBC Micro. In the dark. While drunk.

And what about readers? They must be sick of all this guff as well. I am not so sure. When a customer pays 49p for a crime novel with a dodgy cover, they really don’t expect it to be as good as Ian Rankin. So if the e-book concerned turns out to be somewhere between “not all that bad” and “actually pretty good”, they feel pretty good about the experience—and highly likely to leave a positive review, or recommend it to friends. A quick glance at some of the bestselling self-published e-books online will throw up phrases such as “a bargain at this price”, “better than I expected” and “a pleasant surprise”.

Perhaps we should view this phenomenon as a wonderful example of crowdsourcing? More often than not the cream will rise to the top and every week, it seems, we hear about another bestselling self-published author who has signed a major book deal on the back of their e-book success.

And here’s the thing: a “traditional” deal is still the goal of most of these authors. OK, so there are many who have eschewed the system and will continue to do so, but the majority would love the credibility, support and, er, lower royalty rate that a deal with one of the major publishing houses would bring. Most do feel that publishers add value and see the self-publishing option as a new route to being “discovered”. And if they remain undiscovered they are still able to make a few quid, which can soften the blow.

So I welcome this influx, these previously unpublished hordes. As should all the freelance copy editors, proofreaders and designers who, if they can offer an affordable rate, should be able to find lots more work. Publishers can sit back and watch the books on the digital slush pile fight it out among themselves, and then cherry-pick the very best. And bookshops have never had a better opportunity to differentiate themselves from the online merchants with strong curated displays, unfettered by such things as bestseller charts dictated by actual sales.

There are good things and bad things about the current situation, and I am sure more will make themselves known as our industry adapts to this new world order. One thing is for sure; now that the floodgates are open, there’s no turning back.
 

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Slight snooty tone aside, I tend to agree with most of this. For me, being published the traditional way is not about money or prestige; instead, it's about tapping into a large organisation's marketing budget (if it exists) so more people will read the book.

It's therefore all about vanity – I want as many people as possible to read what I have written. Self-publishing makes that possible, but without marketing spend it's difficult to inform people the book is available in the first place.

Formerly, self-published writer Mark Edwards has also written about this on FutureBook.net.
http://futurebook.net/content/making-books-better

As one of the previously unpublished hordes, I thank you for the welcome :o)

Any indie book that succeeds in 'clogging up the bestseller charts' is there by right, because readers enjoy reading it. It's not easy to achieve - yet on my blog I have a list of dozens of self-publishers who have sold more than 50,000 ebooks: http://bit.ly/yEhdWk. Some were previously traditionally published; most were not.

Do we all yearn for a trad deal? Not necessarily, and we are likely to be picky when approached. Only this week Lindsay Buroker turned down an offer of publication in order to stay indie: http://bit.ly/xzYjEU.

It may turn out not to be a case of publishers cherry picking the best indies, but vice versa.

As the author of ten traditionally published non-fiction books who is now trying to break into the fiction market, I read Scott Pack's column with interest. Agent feedback on my fiction has been positive, but the response is always, "This is not what publishers are looking for at the moment." I accept the business decision being made here. Agents know what their customers want, and publishers have the perfect right to decide where they spend their money.

So, of course, my thoughts are now turning to self-publishing in ebook format. And yes, whilst companies like Amazon have made it easier for writers to get their material out to readers, surely the other argument is that readers are being given access to material that traditional publishers have denied them?

I have to say that authors self-publishing and then getting picked up traditional publishers is not the only way this works. When one of my traditional print books went out of print, I asked for the rights to revert back to me, as per my contract. The first thing I did was release the text as an ebook. The contract with the original publisher had included electronic rights, but the publisher had decided not to exercise them. I have. And now I'm receiving royalties from Amazon.

Could this be another potential benefit for authors and publishers? Having gone through the process of formatting text for ebook format, I now understand the process.

Converting text into ebook format is something in which many authors are becoming better skilled. So, if any of my publishers are reading this, and would like me to take on the work of formatting my text into ebook format, and in return, offer me a slightly higher ebook royalty for the work that I've done on their behalf, then please get in touch. Perhaps we could both benefit from ebooks?

I am ready and waiting to publish a novel as an e-book but the most difficult part of the process is finding that elusive copy-editor with rates I can afford. I don't want to do anyone out of earning a living but a self-published author has to take the risk up-front and work out whether it's better to pay for copy editing or to drop the cover price.

Slight snooty tone aside, I tend to agree with most of this. For me, being published the traditional way is not about money or prestige; instead, it's about tapping into a large organisation's marketing budget (if it exists) so more people will read the book.

It's therefore all about vanity – I want as many people as possible to read what I have written. Self-publishing makes that possible, but without marketing spend it's difficult to inform people the book is available in the first place.

Formerly, self-published writer Mark Edwards has also written about this on FutureBook.net.
http://futurebook.net/content/making-books-better

As one of the previously unpublished hordes, I thank you for the welcome :o)

Any indie book that succeeds in 'clogging up the bestseller charts' is there by right, because readers enjoy reading it. It's not easy to achieve - yet on my blog I have a list of dozens of self-publishers who have sold more than 50,000 ebooks: http://bit.ly/yEhdWk. Some were previously traditionally published; most were not.

Do we all yearn for a trad deal? Not necessarily, and we are likely to be picky when approached. Only this week Lindsay Buroker turned down an offer of publication in order to stay indie: http://bit.ly/xzYjEU.

It may turn out not to be a case of publishers cherry picking the best indies, but vice versa.

As the author of ten traditionally published non-fiction books who is now trying to break into the fiction market, I read Scott Pack's column with interest. Agent feedback on my fiction has been positive, but the response is always, "This is not what publishers are looking for at the moment." I accept the business decision being made here. Agents know what their customers want, and publishers have the perfect right to decide where they spend their money.

So, of course, my thoughts are now turning to self-publishing in ebook format. And yes, whilst companies like Amazon have made it easier for writers to get their material out to readers, surely the other argument is that readers are being given access to material that traditional publishers have denied them?

I have to say that authors self-publishing and then getting picked up traditional publishers is not the only way this works. When one of my traditional print books went out of print, I asked for the rights to revert back to me, as per my contract. The first thing I did was release the text as an ebook. The contract with the original publisher had included electronic rights, but the publisher had decided not to exercise them. I have. And now I'm receiving royalties from Amazon.

Could this be another potential benefit for authors and publishers? Having gone through the process of formatting text for ebook format, I now understand the process.

Converting text into ebook format is something in which many authors are becoming better skilled. So, if any of my publishers are reading this, and would like me to take on the work of formatting my text into ebook format, and in return, offer me a slightly higher ebook royalty for the work that I've done on their behalf, then please get in touch. Perhaps we could both benefit from ebooks?

I am ready and waiting to publish a novel as an e-book but the most difficult part of the process is finding that elusive copy-editor with rates I can afford. I don't want to do anyone out of earning a living but a self-published author has to take the risk up-front and work out whether it's better to pay for copy editing or to drop the cover price.