A Lesson in Acknowledging Trends in eBooks and Still Being a Snob

As the old saying goes, you can tell it’s old news when USA Today gets around to writing about it. Well that isn’t a saying, but the sentiment retains validity.

Today, our nation’s preeminent chain-hotel chronicle’s Deirdre Donahue wrote the puff piece about e-authors vs. those big, bad, mean publishing houses you probably haven’t been waiting all year for. It followed the same formula that most articles of this type have: authors facing rejection letters from literary agents and publishing houses (the old guard!) turn to self-publishing and experience runaway success, proceed to spit in the eye of those who couldn’t see the value in this oft-rejected manuscript, make comments  about the Big Six being akin to the Titanic, etc.

This article is particularly infuriating. Here are some choice snippets:

Almost every day brings more digital modes for readers to obtain books in non-print forms, creating more choices for readers, opportunities for self-published writers, and challenges for traditional publishers.

No, “every day” does not bring more “digital modes” for readers. Exaggerating something that’s already a big deal for the sake of exaggeration is puzzling.

“It’s a gold rush out there,” Prescott says. “Forty acres and a mule. It’s the best time for an independent writer to get out there.”

Forget the sensitive auteur waiting for the muse. Self-publishing an e-book requires an entrepreneurial spirit. For each 99-cent e-book sold, Prescott receives 35 cents. The online retailers — Amazon, BN.com, Apple, Sony — take the rest.

This article is a jigsaw puzzle. On the one hand, we have this massively successful self-published author (Michael Prescott) saying that it’s a “gold rush out there” for independent writers; on the other, the concession that your book will be sold for a fraction of a McRib.

But in the new world of “indie publishing,” with its opportunity for self-published authors to sell hundreds of thousands of e-books, the stigma is disappearing. Plus, there are fewer fixed costs: no paper, no printing press, no warehouse, no trucks.

No copy editors to make sure you’re using sound language and grammar. No layout specialists to make your book more attractive. No rights specialists to ensure you don’t get sued for quoting that Bruce Springsteen song. No marketing folks to keep you from trolling your grandson’s Facebook wall with links to your Amazon eBook.

Listen, I really do want people reading more. More books and more readers and more writers is ultimately a good thing. But the self-published-author success stories tend to involve a certain kind of writer writing a certain kind of fiction. And with the provisional “I know I’m being a snob!” out there, and the I want to make something clear: that kind of fiction is generally not good. It’s not thoughtless pulp, but it’s not like a lot of self-published romance or mystery authors are agonizing over every word.

From the article itself:

Barbara Freethy, a top romance writer for 20 years who has written 30 novels, says that this year, she has sold 1.3 million self-published e-book versions of 17 of her out-of-print novels. Nine hit USA TODAY’s top 150.

Thirty novels in twenty years. Thirty novels in twenty years. Thirty novels in twenty years. How how how how how bad must these books be?

And there’s a certain whiny quality exclusive to self-published writers. Mine the comments section of the USA Today piece; it’s a bunch of self-published authors bragging about selling 5000 copies of their historical mysteries that the traditional publishing houses wouldn’t touch (and by copies I mean digital copies, since these are e-books that go for, as I already noted, less than half of a McRib). And because the acquisitions folks at the Big Six wouldn’t touch these kind of sort of successful eBooks, it means the industry is doomed! It is true that it is easier for more people to publish now; that being the result of a willingness on the part of authors to skip the whole quality control thing.

I mean, listen to this plot synopsis, culled from the comments:

“Captive Heart” by Marcy Gregg is not your usual romance. It is set in the early Mormon frontier town of Nauvoo, Illinois, where polygamous relationships, and arranged marriages are forcing Maggie McGregor to make a decision that drastically alters her life. There are strange plot twists and turns, and sizzling romance. It combines historical romance with suspenseful action and interesting early American history. It is an e-book available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble for only $2.99.
No, that really is “your usual romance.” In every single possible way, that is your usual romance. I’m convinced this marketing material was conceived from some sort of romance-genre Mad Libs exercise.

Listen, I understand that eBooks and Kindles an Nooks and all of that noise is here to stay; that’s fine. But these self-published “success stories” like Prescott or Freethy or the insufferably prolific Amanda Hocking are not indicative of a paradigm shift in the industry, as the article posits, but the emergence of a new market, or a new form of distribution: supermarket paperbacks delivered electronically.

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2 thoughts on “A Lesson in Acknowledging Trends in eBooks and Still Being a Snob

  1. in a gifted middle school somewhere, I believe that a group of ambitious students have hoodwinked the nation by writing and producing a newspaper based on what they think grown-ups would probably write and read. It is called USA Today.

  2. DBC|READS says:

    […] AC/DC and considers donning business attire only in the most needlingly mandatory situations. With self-publishing trends casting a scornful eye on the Big Six publishing houses (whom they imagine as sitting in some ivory […]

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