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.


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6 thoughts on “Revolution

  1. Didn’t Konrath start out as a traditionally-published author? He had already made a name for himself and tested out the self-pubbed e-book waters with free downloads, I believe. He had a huge readership on his blog, tons of friends on social media in place, and so had plenty of people already interested in what he had to offer. When he saw the numbers on the free e-book, he kept going. An unknown author just starting out would have a million-to-one chance for jumping in with a successful e-book, so I think his assertion that it could happen to anyone is a bit misleading. Most authors, including many very good ones, are incapable of marketing themselves so successfully without a publisher behind them. So yeah, you could do what Konrath has done, if you have his skill set.

    As far as I know, J. A. Konrath did indeed get his start with a traditional publisher. He has over 20 years of experience in the industry, and it took him 12 years and more than 400 rejections (don’t hold me to those numbers though) to get his first traditional contract. How he got into self-publishing eBooks, I don’t know; he declined contracts from traditional publishers on his most recent mss though, and instead offered them direct as self-published eBooks. But all of his background is probably available somewhere on the ‘Net if one wants it. 🙂

    He never makes ANY sort of assertion that an untried author WILL succeed as he has; he’s offering more than one title for download, too, and has varying price schemes and is able to experiment. He does say it’s possible, but leaves it at that, and seems to encourage writers to at least try it, without suggesting they NOT try the traditional route. That’s what I’ve seen, at least. 🙂

    So that’s my take on Konrath.

    Fair enough. 🙂

    Self-publishing in general I don’t have a problem with, but honestly, I have no problem with the gatekeeper system. Remember, the old days you’re talking about where authors could contact editors directly…well they still can, as far as I know, and the manuscripts go into the slush pile. They had a slush pile in the 80s too, but it was much smaller. Word processors made it easier to produce a decent manuscript, so more people started submitting. The slush became overwhelming. Authors heard they could get a faster look with an agent. Now the agents are overwhelmed with the number of submissions, but the editors probably love it.

    Okay, I disagree a little. There are a FEW editors you can go to directly, but you’re right about things being much easier to pump out now. When Stephen King got his start he used a manual typewriter to grind out his manuscripts, then moved to a huge and heavy electric, and finally a word processor before his computer. So yes, technology and methodology (just as I stated in the post, good on me! ha!) gave those who didn’t have it before access to the gatekeepers. Then the agents either stepped in or whatever, and now, editors (unless explicitly stated otherwise on their websites) are taboo for direct submission. I’d go so far as to say IN GENERAL, editors are out-of-bounds. The mss sent to them DON’T go into a slush pile, they go into the garbage. That’s MY take on the current gatekeeper system. My only problem with it is individuals with subjective flaws just like anyone else setting themselves up as arbiters of what’s good and what’s not, like the stupid “color czars” who decide what we can and can’t buy in fabrics and clothing. Is that ranting? That’s ranting isn’t it? Bummer. 🙂

    I guess I said all that to illustrate why I don’t mind the gatekeeper system. I understand why it’s there. And really, I like knowing that someone liked a particular book enough to gamble money on it. There are, of course, a huge number of books published that I don’t like, so I can’t imagine how I would find the books I’d actually want to read if every book were on the same shelf, so to speak.

    Well, the subjectivity of it is the problem. SOMEONE thought it was worth gambling money on. Others — like me — would NOT have agreed in many cases (i.e., bad books and we’ve ALL seen them). That’s the Achilles Heel of the gatekeeper system: The readers don’t decide what’s good, the GATEKEEPERS do.

    On the upside, if everyone published their own e-books I think the price of reading material in general would drop. I would be much more likely to gamble a dollar or two than fifteen.

    Well, if you had a Kindle (for example), you’d find a lot of FREE eBooks on Amazon, there specifically to entice you to sample the author’s work (which is the tack I was hoping to take in self-pubbing for the Kindle store, alas). Konrath says about $2.99 works well for him, but he also has titles at $1.49. And he has a lot of titles to sell, too. Still, they’re already able to be sold cheaper. And this is only the beginning of the revolution.

  2. Wow. Had more to say about that than I thought. Sorry. lol

    No sorry necessary! Say what’s on your mind! Look at how long my post was, for Pete’s sake. 🙂

  3. Sherri said it all for me. But I think I’d use a stronger term than “misleading” for Konrath’s claim that he’s not an exception.

    I don’t doubt this is true to a degree; it’s the degree of truth which I wonder at. Let’s face it, J. A. Konrath didn’t exactly burn up the charts with his book(s) as a traditional published author, but he IS making a TON of money — well, well beyond his mid-list level in traditional publication — as a self-pubbed eBook author. Just sayin’.

    It seems you’re trying to convince yourself to try self-publishing. Some of us will agree you should, some not. If you have the skills necessary (editing, formatting, cover design, marketing plan, etc.) why not do it?

    No, I’m not trying to convince myself. I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth a gamble or not on something I’ve written. I have a few novellas which don’t seem to see paying markets. I can put two or three of those into a collection and see what happens on, say, the Kindle store. (I know there are others, but NO ONE seems to think they do as well as Amazon’s Kindle Store, so meh to those.) I don’t have ANY marketing skills, can’t afford a publicist, and frankly, I want to WRITE, not PROMOTE. (This is going to be an issue for me whatever route I choose.)

    I’m tempted myself, but I know myself. I don’t have a ready market and I don’t have the skills to create one.

    Exactly, me too. I can polish and probably format the manuscript(s) to a ready-point; no problem there. But the marketing and hype-generating? No way. Nuh-uh. Not me.

    • It seems we’re talking about two areas here: self-publication and e-Publication, which are not necessarily the same thing.

      True enough, Linda. I think I’m with Konrath on this one though — he talks about self-published eBooks, and I think that’s the only self-publishing route I’ll ever even remotely consider. 🙂

      At this point, e-pub is not something I would consider because I don’t own an eReader, and baring a financial miracle, have no hopes of getting one anytime soon. It would be quite a disappointment to be published, but not be able to read my own book. 🙂

      I can’t afford one either, but I have to make it known that I don’t care if I can’t read it myself if enough OTHER people are reading it. Sales speak loudly, and I’ve already read the manuscript several time, knowhatImean? 😉

      I’m keeping an eye on someone who’s publishing her first novella through CreateSpace. It will be interesting to see how that goes. But she’s put a lot more money into designing her cover, than I could afford.

      I don’t know much about CreateSpace. I think that’s more the print self-publishing, isn’t it? Sort of like Lulu or SmashWords? I don’t know about those things. I’m hoping buddy Bryce — a self-publishing font of knowledge — will come by and clarify. B? You out there?

  4. I have never tried reading an eBook. I don’t think I like reading a long story on my computer screen. But I do understand that the world is changing and I might eventually have to adapt to a strange new world.

    Well, you won’t have to adapt to reading on a computer if you don’t want, Bob. The price of readers like Kindles and Nooks is dropping all the time. Remember, when it was introduced, the Kindle cost about $400USD; now it’s under $200, and likely to keep dropping. 🙂

  5. I am a die hard book in hand sort of reader…but I saw a Kindle the other day and now I don’t know. Our library gets ebooks so I could download them for free (just like checking out a book) or I could buy one now and then. I seldom actually purchase books because I don’t have the space for them. All of my books come through the library. A Kindle could change that and authors might actually start making money off me.

    The biggest drawback right now is the price. I want it to come down like it did with mp3 players before I give it a try.

    That’s my problem too. I just don’t know … one thing I like is I can adjust the font size on the eReaders (to what extent, however, I don’t know). With my bad eyesight, EVERY book can be in large print. That’s a nice plus. They are expensive for me though. If I ever get stability financially, then I’ll see, but I don’t even know which one I’ll use at this point.

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