Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So, CAN the Internet set writers free?

I’ve spent a busy week thinking about last week’s blog entry. I also received some emails privately that pointed out one or two things. (Thanks for that, Craig and Jane!)

To cut to the chase, the premise of my previous entry is that writers can use the Internet in the same way that musicians have for several years now: to bypass the usual channels (publishers, in our case) to get their wares to the public.

Well and good. It isn’t hard to publish your own e-book, and it doesn’t involve the same massive cash outlay that publishing your own paper book requires. Makes it pretty attractive, doesn’t it? No sending out those manuscripts, waiting forever for it to be read, rejected and then sent off to another publisher. Even if you’re lucky enough to have your novel picked up, there’s no interminable wait for it to appear on bookstore shelves. You’ll be working for yourself, right?

Problem is, if your beautiful baby (i.e. your ms) hasn’t been picked up by any publisher or agent to whom you’ve sent it, there’s likely a good reason: it’s not good enough. Whether you self-publish in print or electronically, there’s always the stigma that there’s something wrong with what you’ve written. The reason? There usually is. It is really quite easy to self-publish. You just have to be willing to put in a whole lot of time and energy (and money). But really, is your novel good enough to be out there?

For all intents and purposes, let’s say that it is. Let’s say it’s a great novel. Will you be more successful if you put it out as an e-book, rather than going the traditional route and signing on with a publisher? Is it worthwhile?

The answer is “maybe”. That answer would be the same if you went with a publisher, too. I’m sure everyone has read a novel that almost slipped by unnoticed, never sold that well, and which never made much money — but it was fantastic and should have sold several million copies. It happens all too frequently, sadly. Put it down to no marketing, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe the publisher just didn’t know how to sell the book.

What is needed is a framework for good books to be self-published, then marketed heavily to the appropriate audience. Hopefully, then, the low price of an e-book will allow increased sales. (PS: Why try to sell to everyone? That’s the way a lot of book marketing is done and it’s silly. A targeted audience is much more cost effective way to sell.)

What is needed is some sort of clearing house for e-books, one that can vet submissions, and if they pass muster (both in quality of writing and production), then they’re put up for sale. I suppose what I’m talking about, in effect, would be an e-book publisher, but I’m thinking of it as more of a cooperative model. The ideal groups to handle this sort of thing would be writers’ groups, such as Crime Writers of Canada, but regardless, there would have to be some sort of quality assurance, such as wineries here in Canada have, as a form of industry self-regulation. To be designated VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance), wines have to be of a certain quality standard to be able to us the special labeling. These e-book marketing structure I’m proposing would aspire to the same sort of thing. “Buy this book. We can’t guarantee you’ll like it, but the writing and production will be of a certain quality standard.”

On the other hand, an author could just produce their book, and put it out there, doing their own marketing and promotion, then hope for the best. As the e-book side of the business grows, I’m sure something like iTunes or CD Baby will spring up for book marketing and that will make things far easier for selling.

So if you have a strong heart, a strong back and lots of time on your hands, you could bypass all of that publisher stuff right now and go for it yourself electronically. Putting out 1000 trade paper copies of a book will cost you in excess of $12,000 by the time you do everything needed, probably closer to $18,000. Putting out an e-book will cost you just a few thousand since you don’t have the same layout costs, printing, transport, fulfillment, etc, etc. If you’re good with page layout and can design a good cover and promo material, and then are willing to do all the promotional spade work, you should be able to do it for even less.

Will it be worth the effort? Who can say? But as e-publishing matures, it may become a viable way to get your book out there, if you’re of that iconoclastic bent. Please let us know how you do.

Also, if you have experience doing this sort of thing, please let us know.


Vicki Delany said...

I like the concept of quality assurance along the lines of VQA. But no one is going to do that for free, at least not for long. And up goes the price of the book.

Rick Blechta said...

Not if it was some sort of cooperative. In that way, everyone pays something for the upkeep of the group. I don't think this is the forum to go into just how this sort of thing could be set up, but it is doable. Besides, how much would this sort of thing cost anyway?

Rick Blechta said...

I'm just trying to get a discussion going.

For instance, can you imagine what would happen if one of the really big authors decided to go his/her own way and put out their own books? Could they be accused them of self-publishing inferior products? Bet that might cause a few big publishers to have sleepless nights. It only takes one to try it and have success. After that, it would turn into a real free-for-all...

Eva Ulian said...

I am about to embark on that adventure- just a matter of days before my "Rajput" comes out as a soft cover and e-book with WestBow... and I for one am excited.

Rick Blechta said...

Best of luck, Eva! It is an exciting time.

What are your promotional plans, and what/how much is WestBow doing to help the promotion?