Every once in a while, a revolution in either technology or methodology comes along and turns an industry on its ear.
Lately, the publishing industry has struggled to be profitable. The old “gatekeeper” system, in place as long as many of the gatekeepers themselves can remember, has stood guardian over availability of reading material for at least twenty years. While during the heyday of the 80s authors could contact editors at publishing houses directly, more and more the requirement to have an agent seeped into the game and now, publishing houses of repute within what is known as “NY publishing” will not receive what they call “unsolicited” manuscripts from writers. If it’s not from an agent with whom the editor(s) of the house are familiar, it’s going into the recycle bin or paper shredder. Or will be deleted from the Inbox unread. Whichever.
In the midst of the gatekeeper system, a new predatory game has emerged called “vanity publishing” – authors unsuccessful in their bids for traditional publishing are lured by vanity presses to depart with sums of money in exchange for producing a “book” – a bound set of pages with the author’s words on them. There is no typesetting service, no editorial service, no copy editing service, and in some cases, no graphic artist services. The book is what the author makes of it, for better or worse.
There are many flavors of vanity publishing but all are designed to separate authors from their money in ever-increasing amounts. It may start as a requirement to purchase a certain number of their own books, or it may be a pitch for further “services”, such as linking “authors” with “editors” – freelance, charge-by-the-page “editors” who will “assist” the writer in making their manuscript more “professional” and in so doing pay a kickback to the vanity press. It goes the other way too, by the bye, so one hand washes the other.
Not all self-publishing presses are vanity presses, however. Yet, the stigma of vanity press is almost universally applied to anything deemed “self-published” and the gatekeepers – the biggest disparagers of all regarding self-publishing – are careful to point out that self-publishing will only hurt the writer’s chances of passing through the gatekeeper system. It’s a stigma of shame. Exceptions will be self-published authors who sell a tremendous number of books. Then, and only then, will you be considered by the gatekeepers to be something of interest – if you have something different to offer. They don’t want the successful title.
All that being said, J. A. Konrath is making huge waves in the self-publishing industry because he, and many others, believe a new revolution in both technology and methodology are at hand in the publishing industry. He also believes the industry itself is afraid of, and therefore resistant to, the change. But it is, in his opinion (and as stated he’s not alone), the future of publishing and will soon overtake traditional books for readership and sales.
That revolution is eBooks. Devices such as the Kindle, the Nook, iPad and Sony eReader have changed accessibility to books and the way people can (not necessarily will or do) read them. They’ve also brought about discussions, power struggles, and stand-offs in the market with regard to pricing. It’s a hot button of activity and debate, and one which isn’t likely to pass quietly into the night as the VHS/Betamax format discussion, the high-definition video disc discussion, and cell phone service network discussions have.
People aren’t as likely to have their tastes dictated to them in this regard, but honestly, look how many proponents betamax format had over VHS format. And yet, in short order, only VHS was available. Blu-Ray discs are the standard for high-definition video discs, but there have been many, many other contenders for that, only the last of which as HD-DVD. But the standards were forced upon the public. Will the same fate await with books? As more and more publishing houses produce them, and find they are much cheaper to produce in the long run (eliminate the wood from the process, and all the labor involved in that end, and you’ve saved a ton of money), and who’s to say the industry won’t stop producing “dead tree” products against the will of the masses?
Nevertheless, Mr. Konrath believes this is an opportunity unlike any since the advent of the printing press. After all, the true gatekeepers of the industry should be the readers themselves. They know what they like. They know how to spot “good’ writing (yeahright … coughSTEPHENIEMEYERcoughcough) or at least how to spot what they like. And they are more than capable of culling the herd of bad writing and thereby, theoretically, bad writers, which eliminates the need to have the gatekeepers do it. How fond are you of having someone else tell you what you like or don’t?
The bevy of awful books the industry cries against isn’t likely to happen. Or, more correctly, it’s already happening. Those the gatekeepers pass by are still writing and publishing their “work” – they’re just doing it as eBooks or self-published titles. And no one reads them. They can’t afford the marketing or publicity campaigns anyway, so it’s no big deal. But good writers may be offered an opportunity they’ve never had before – to bypass the gatekeepers and go directly to the readers with their offering. To ask those who would consume it anyway if they find it acceptable.
It’s an interesting paradigm shift.
J. A. Konrath won’t promise anyone self-publishing success, but he does suggest to writers to try. Why not? If you’ve had a book make the rounds of the traditional gatekeeper system only to fail, why not offer it on Amazon in the Kindle store, where you can only stand to change your luck? If the readership doesn’t like your product, then they won’t buy it, period. But if they do like it … hm. Hm, indeed.
It’s a tempting idea. Of course, you still need things: A great cover, a great dust-jacket blurb, a great story and great writing, to name a few. But if you can put those things together and are willing to take a chance?
Well, Mr. Konrath has sold 5,000 eBooks so far in July. He has translated that into about $10,000, according to his blog. He is not exceptional, he maintains. It can be done, he insists, and the time is right for the trying.
We live in interesting times, don’t we?
How ‘bout it, folks? Are you a reader? If you are, are you willing to shift how you read from books to eBooks? Are you content with one format of eBook or do you want a choice (the Sony eReader seems outstanding among eReaders for this)? Where do you or would you like to get your eBooks? How much are you willing to pay for them?
Writers, are you willing to forego the gatekeeper system and throw yourself on the mercy (or lack) of the readers themselves, and enter the digital age and fray? Or does self-publishing still seem like a sub-standard route to you? Why? Why not?
I’ve told you how tempted I am to dip my toe in this pond. Sound off and let me know what your thoughts are now.