As Print On Demand (POD) and ebook publishing have grown in the last several years, the number of books going to print each year has exploded. With each year, it becomes easier and easier for anyone with visions of being the next J. K. Rowling to throw their work onto Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and any number of other online distribution channels. In the early days publishing houses hired their slush readers. Then in the 90s, they farmed the work out to agents–one of the more amazing slight-of-hand accomplishments: forcing authors to pay for the publisher’s slush readers. Today, however, the slush reading job is moving more and more toward the public at large, thanks to these recent trends.
Some tout this as a good thing, like Dean Wesley Smith. Others fear that the glut of bad writing, poorly formatted books, and typo plagued, grammar challenged prose would dilute the market, making it harder for the average reader to find the good stuff. I recently read more than one poster, to an author responding negatively to a bad review, make the statement that the said author was ruining it for all the other good self-published authors out there. A couple of self-proclaimed readers decided right then and there, because of this one author’s reactions, that they would no longer read any books by any self-published authors.
Is this really a valid analysis? I would suggest that such fears are unfounded, by and large. All the bad books out there will not ruin it for the rest of us. Here’s why.
- There are a lot of badly written, traditionally published books out there. Those books did not prevent the good books from finding readers and gaining a following. Yes, the percentage is no doubt higher in self-publishing than traditional, but we see the same dynamic happening in self-publishing as in the traditional model: readers discovering authors they like and making them popular by buying their books in droves.
- Readers don’t pay that much attention to who the publisher is. They only think about it at all, if they do, when they read something they don’t like. Then they will check to discover whether it was put out by a publishing house or a self-published author. If the later, it is then that they decide it is bad because it is self-published. If it is a traditional press, however, they chalk it up to being a dud and move on.
- Readers primarily buy books according to their favorite authors. Most will on occasion try a new author, looking for someone they might enjoy, and when they find him or her, will start buying up their books. Word of mouth either from friends and family, or trusted book review blogs (like this one) become their route to finding the gems in a sea of jetsam. And this is no different than traditionally published books, except that one’s trusted bookstore owner/manager was included in that inner circle of referrals. If they find an author they like, they won’t give a rat’s tail who the publisher is, nor are they likely to choose a book based on who the publisher is.
- It has been years since anyone could keep up with every book that came out in a genre, other than small niche sub-genres. The only difference before POD and ebooks became so easy to crank out and now is the volume. But to the individual, whether we’re talking five thousand books or fifty thousand books, it is just as easy to deal with the latter as with the former. They both require the same type of filter. No one attempts to sort through every book published each year to decide what they will buy and read in a given year. They rely upon word of mouth and sometimes giving a promising author a shot out of the blue they happen to run across.
- Is it harder to be noticed in a large sea of published books? Yes. It has been hard before to get noticed, but based on percentages, the larger the pool, the harder it will be for any one particular reader to find a particular author. However, the formula for succeeding when it was hard still works when it is harder: quality writing, volume of work, and persistence. The better the quality, the more work you have out, and if you don’t give up, the bigger the odds of getting noticed. Especially since most authors will quit after two or three books because people aren’t swarming to hungrily scoop up their latest offering. Once you have twenty to thirty titles out there, you are in a very small pool of authors, and the chances of being found grow exponentially.
- Truly bad books will sink into obscurity, forgotten by 99% of the readers, save those that make it into the hallowed halls of snarky laughter awards because they are so bad. Few are going to remember an author’s horrible book until after they become popular. The small group of readers who dismiss all self-published authors based on a handful of bad authors they’ve run across are more to be pitied than feared. That’s where you find the diamonds, and they’ll miss them.
Therefore, I don’t think the continued increase in self-published authors is to be feared. The volume has grown, yes, but the same dynamics that were in place for readers to find books in the old model are still working in the new. The same methods for an author to make it in the old world work in the new. The only real barrier that has been broken is the filter-wall between the author and their readers. It puts more control into the hands of the authors, and it puts more control into the arms of readers as well. They’ll decide if an author is worth reading instead of an agent or editor in a New York office. They become the final slush reader, as they have always been when it comes down to who pays the bills. And that is a good thing, in my opinion.
What do you see to be the pros and cons of the new operating model, and why?