WSJ op ed on the ebook self pubbing gold rush

Eric Felton has a lot to say about the brave new world in his excellent op ed "Cherish the Book Publishers - You'll Miss Them When They're Gone":
"It isn't just the elusive prospect of riches that excites the untold thousands of hopefuls crowding into the new self-publishing space. They are buoyed by escaping the grim frustrations of trying to get published the old-fashioned way...It's only natural for those locked out to despise the gatekeepers, but what about those of us in the reading public? Shouldn't we be grateful that it's someone else's job to weed out the inane, the insipid, the incompetent? Not that they always do such a great job of it, given some of the books that do get published by actual publishers. But at least they provide some buffer between us and the many aspiring authors who are like the wannabe pop stars in the opening weeks of each "American Idol" season...

Look in the forums Amazon hosts for its Kindle "direct publishers" and you won't find many posts asking how to do the basics of traditional book production—copy editing, anyone? But there are plenty of threads with titles like "Promote your book" and "review swapping?"—orgies of desperate back-scratching that make old-school literary logrolling seem downright genteel."
Read the rest. Then let's talk. I think he makes some excellent points, but misses the bottom line: the complete devaluation of the craft of writing. I'm not terribly concerned about publishers going the way of the Mohican. They'll survive by paying less and less as more writers clamber for fewer opportunities. The endangered species here is the author.

My first novel was pubbed in 1996, and I've done about a dozen books since then, several of them NYT bestsellers, either under my own name or as a ghostwriter. The industry has undergone a tectonic shift in that time and, in my humble opinion, not kept up with changes. Dedication to craft isn't rewarded in the brick publishers a whole lot more than it is in the mosh pit of self-publishing. There's an agonizingly thin tier of people who make it big, under that a moderate strata of folks like myself who make a good living, for which we are grateful. Then there's the other 96%: a roiling, frustrated, passionate and increasingly empowered population of people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

I'm in the process of self-pubbing my backlist titles (though I'd like to think I've had enough experience in the industry to call myself a small publisher, as opposed to an author who self-pubs) and my hope is to gather a coalition of other midlist authors who made it past the gatekeepers of old school publishing and can offer books that will elevate the quality of accessibly priced ebooks. Authors do need to band together to support each other, not as incestuous back-scratchers, but as a craft alliance.

Traditional publishing isn't about ink and paper. It's about artistic integrity, zeal for writing, respect for careful editing, thoughtful presentation. All those are possible in the brave new world of ebooks.


Amen, sistah!

And I hope that the e-revolution will bring a whole new audience to your ground-breaking BALD IN THE LAND OF BIG HAIR. Love that book!
Joni Rodgers said…
Thanks, Colleen. I think this is a really thrilling time for authors. And I believe in the intelligence of readers. They'll soon learn to spot the spambooks.

Let's all repeat together..."Change is gooooooood."
While I admit the e-revolution makes me nervous (I'm spending HOW LONG trying to make this book quality and people are making money off of WHAT?), I too think it's a great time to be an author. A crazy, scary, turbulent, unpredictable time, for sure, but could also be very good. I like what you say about artistic integrity too, and about the idea of artists being each other's gatekeepers. The thing is that the "orgy" of backscratching goes on with "traditionally" published books as well. I often see the same quid pro quo strategy in action. And maybe it should--IF the books are quality. And the craft itself is what most of us hope to keep in this new environment.

I have a friend who actually thinks the e-revolution will be good for literary fiction. I'm not so sure about that, but if that's truly the case, then I'm all for it. While I may be gravitating away from that kind of writing myself, I still believe in the "art" of books, and that there should be a place for such writing. At any rate, it would be good to get some return for all the crafting!
Joni Rodgers said…
I agree with your friend. I think literary fiction has gotten incredibly hard to sell, and this is a way for people to get it out there, prove its value, and hopefully parlay that into a print deal.

And I get really irritated with people disparaging authors helping their friends with blurbs and reviews. Many of my friends are fantastic writers. I should ignore their work? I should pretend to hate it? Meanwhile, someone who hasn't read that book can post a review trashing it, and no one has a problem with that. Kirkus can bash one book after another for whatever fakakta reason they have, and that's gospel. I don't lie and say I love a book I don't love, but I don't hesitate to do mission work for excellent books written, edited, or pubbed by people I respect and care about.

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