The world of publishing is changing. This change has been foretold for years, but the seismic shifts have really taken place in the first few months of this year, 2012. The key seems to have been the simplification of the self-publishing process, making publishing an e-book something that almost anyone can do.
There have been strident complaints and dire warnings, of course, and not all of them have come from those institutions and individuals that stand to lose out in the new world. Many writers are warning that the flood of new published books contains a higher percentage of dross, of ill-considered, badly-written, unedited drivel than was previously unleashed.
Well, yes. Obviously.
In the pre-digital publishing age, to get your book into print you really had to do some work. Aside from the initial legwork of putting together the right 100,000 words, you had to impress an agent, likely as not. That agent had to approve of your manuscript enough to take you one, then work with an editor to get your manuscript into the best possible shape. Then the three of you put that manuscript out to tender for publication. Then the whole bunch of you, writer, editor, agent, publisher, would have to start trumpeting the arrival of your baby, and touring the known world to drum up trade.
And the likelihood is, you’d have a to wait quite a while before the money you earn from your book outgrew the advance you’d been paid.
So all this meant being a published author was a tough job, tough to get, tough to keep and really tough to make a living from. It also meant that readers could expect a certain standard when they picked a book off the shelves. You may not like the story, but the spelling would be right, the grammar would be good, the plot should be without holes, the flow would be right – page eighteen would not skip to page twenty five. The mystic “They” would ensure these things.
But now…. Well, if you download an ebook you have no guarantees. None. Because anyone can upload anything. I know this to be true, because I did it. I took some old stories I had written more than a decade ago, I formatted them with a few clicks of the mouse, made a book cover in less time than the formatting took and uploaded the whole package to Amazon. The whole process (barring the writing, which was already done) took less than a day. I didn’t need anyone’s permission, didn’t have to have my grammar and spelling checked (other than to get rid of Word’s little red lines, of course) and didn’t need to meet anyone’s standards to get published.
And this IS a bad thing. In the process of selling my own ebook, I have bought other people’s. Very few are as good a printed books. Most are worse. A lot worse. Even the one I bought from a company purporting to be an online publishing company, pushing a brand and touting years of experience in publishing had basic errors in typography, spelling, grammar and craft. The story, to be blunt, was rubbish.
So the question is, where are the gatekeepers? If no one is preventing the publishing of bad content, what will stop the flood of sub-standard material? Initially, nothing. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s easy. All those people who were envious of J.K. Rowling’s rise from single Mom to multi-millionaire now have the chance to put their talent where their motuhs are. No one is stopping them from writing and publishing their own novels, no one is going to stop publication because they “don’t get how brilliant my novel is”. No, you write that puppy and put it out there. Amazon have even devised the KDP Select scheme to help you promote your book by offering it for FREE for a limited period!
And this is where the gatekeepers will arise. Not in corporate form, but in the person of the public. Because bad content can only sell for so long. People will take all kinds of things for free, but if you’re pushing a bad product, word will get around. Before long, the good reviews are going to be the first things prospective readers look for. We will learn to protect ourselves from bad content, and those who haven’t got the ability to work at their writing will fall by the wayside.
All writers say at some point in their career, that they aren’t doing it for the money. Well, rejoice! For now, if all you want is to have your work published and available, you can do that. You have the freedom to publish and not make a penny. But if you’re looking to become a famous and wealthy author, it’s still going to take work, it’s still going to require knowledge of the craft, study, perseverance and co-operation with other professionals to produce the best possible content.
And once you’re done with the preparation, you either engage ANOTHER professional, or you become your own salesman and work your tail off a second time.
I planned this post in my head yesterday, then forgot all about it until I read the article linked below.