So we’re in the age of self publishing, print on demand reigns supreme, and the big publishers out there are struggling, failing, and their evil reign might just be coming to an end. I can hear all those writers out there struggling to even get their manuscript read, let alone published, scream out with delight. Yay for the freedom fighters! Yay for freedom of choice, instant gratification, and a far greater, closer connection between author and reader. And yay for exposure to new writers and interesting and different styles and types of stories! But with freedom there comes anarchy, and anarchy right now is where the book industry is at.
I must confess, I have nothing against the traditional publishers per se, or the traditional booksellers for that matter, or even the agents serving as middlemen between authors and publishers. I have nothing for them either. How could I? I’ve had barely any interaction with them. I’ve only sent a couple of manuscripts to them and they’ve either not replied at all or replied with a stock standard rejection letter. I sent Running Against Time off to them and received nothing back. But, I didn’t expect to get anything out of them. It was almost like, I sent the novel off to fill in a gap while I started preparing my book for self-publishing – doing the publishers work for them. And you know what? It’s bloody hard work; preparing a manuscript correctly for hard copy publishing. It took me months. And then, once I made the jump and self-published Running Against Time, I had to promote it, market it, and sell it! That was bloody hard work too! Is that why, no matter how successful a self-publisher is, they all happily sign contracts with traditional publishers when and if they’re offered a contract? Less work and more time to concentrate on what they really love doing? Writing! Why wouldn’t you? I would!
What I have discovered out there in self-publishing world, however, is that there are a lot of people doing it, and many are doing it badly. I’ve managed to pick up quite a few free self-published novels since publishing my own. Having joined various forums and groups, many excited first time authors shout out (as I have done) to anyone willing to listen when their e-book is available in its free promotion period. And I’ve tried to read them, and enjoy them. Really, I have! But in all these freebies there’s been one major issue. Those who wrote the stories, while they created fantastic stories, truth be known, they actually can’t write. Or more accurately, they haven’t learned how to write.
So many of us would love to write a book one day, right? And many of us have a great story to tell; maybe about our own lives, maybe just a fantastic idea for a novel. Self-publishing gives everyone a chance to do just that, so long as they are willing to put in the time and effort to write it. To me, it seems that anyone that has a good grasp of the English language, and in particular, its written form, seems to think that this automatically translates into being able to write a good book. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Writing a good novel is a skill needing to be learned. Just like we can all swim (to a certain degree because we’ve all been taught the basics), we can all write (to a certain degree because we’ve all been taught the basics). But just because we can swim doesn’t mean we’ve perfected the technique that allows us to swim in the Olympics! Strange comparison? Not when you think about it. Good writing requires good technique, and for that you need outside coaching and a lot of practice. And even then, once you have mastered your technique and trained to the best you can be, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have what it takes. Writing a book that gets published and sells well is as rare (probably rarer) than qualifying for the Olympics. Imagine if we had a self-trained Olympics where anyone who wanted to could enter and compete. The chaos! And that’s what’s beginning to happen in the world of books.
The big issue with self publishing is there’s no filters in place. It’s a world of self proclaimed authors with stories that have been read by friends and family and loved and so they just had to be shared. And you know what, there are some absolute gems there. But, and it’s a big but, you have to do some serious fossiking to find them! There’s a ton of rubbish out there. So while self publishing might just be fine for the author, is it good for the readers? And if it isn’t, doesn’t that then make it bad for the writers too?
Running Against Time would never have been published if self publishing didn’t exist. And that would have meant I’d never have had my chance to share my story with everyone. From a selfish perspective, I am very thankful for self publishing. Self publishing has served me really well, in this instance. But in other circumstances, I think self publishing could potentially do some real harm to both readers and writers!
For example, I’m currently editing my novel, Disposition of Illusion, and I admit here and now, it’s atrocious. Ten years ago, I thought this fantasy novel was the best thing I’d ever written, destined for publishing and greatness. You see, the story is a good one (I still think so anyway!), but the writing is terrible. I still had a lot to learn, and even now, I still do. Thank god I sent it off to TOR publishing, and didn’t go the self publishing route. It would have been a total embarrassment. It was rejected for good reason. It’s not up to standard. I’ve left it sit for ten years before having another look at it again. And I’m glad I did. I’d have hated this story to be told in such a poor manner. It requires more work, a lot of it, which I hope to do for it. Thankfully for me TOR publishing provided me with a filter and sanity check.
Unfortunately, with the growing popularity of self publishing, that filter is breaking down. So what does that mean? Is there hope yet for traditional publishing? Placing up quality product and maintaining that reputation? Perhaps. Because as more and more people flood the self published market how are readers going to find good books? But is there hope for good quality self published material? I hope so! But that will depend on how the Print on Demand publishers like Amazon manage them. What filters can they apply that ensure the good books rise to the top and the poorer ones serve their purpose at the bottom? Something will have to be done if readers are to continue to enjoy reading. I wonder if reviewers will become more popular once again? They’ve kind of fallen by the wayside these days. But I know if I walk into our local music store JB Hi-Fi and see staff recommendations on CDs and DVDs I’m much more likely to pay attention to the product, maybe listen to it, and maybe even buy it. Perhaps Amazon and other larger POD companies need to start looking at that type of system? After all, it benefits them to sell more product doesn’t it? But, would these companies do this without charging it as a cost to the writer? I doubt it. So if they do charge the writers, would that just mean those willing to spend more money on their dream piece of work gain more attention?
One thing is for certain, the book industry is definitely in a state of flux. There’s a lot of change currently, and a lot more to come. I only hope the most important person in this industry is not forgotten. No, not the writer.