Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The “beauty contest” and the new reality of the publishing world

The online edition of the Globe & Mail today has an article in their book section about mid-list authors in the growing world of e-books. You should read it: “Are mid-list authors an endangered species?

Now the article is written from the standpoint of publishers trying to protect their turf, but it warrants further thought. Underlying protecting their sales of e-books I detect worry about authors self-publishing. Mentioned is Amanda Hocking, who has sold one million of her e-books online. They’re self-published.

Yes, there is a real problem now (which will only get worse) concerning the ease with which any writer can now publish their work. “She wanted to publish her novels in the worst way — and she has succeeded.” This is a quote I remember seeing a year or so back in an (online) review of a self-published novel. The reviewer was being funny (in a cruel way), but it also is a truth when someone decides to publish a work that has not been well-written and rigorously edited. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent self-published books out there (I haven't read Hocking), but the majority of self-published work should never have seen the light of day.

So if you’re a mid-list author and the e-book world is getting cluttered up by “amateur” writers, how do you get noticed? This is a real and growing concern.

A few weeks back, one of Vicki Delany’s books was up for an award on the CBC website. It was to be voted on by the public. The award was won by someone whose book was voted in by a seeming avalanche of yeas in the final hours of voting (some people might smell a rat). I see this as the shape of things to come.

The internet has arrived to set free all those individuals with access, hence all these “beauty contest” awards, giving voice to the common man. It’s a growing trend, and it’s not a good one. However, there’s no way to stem this rising tide.

Homework assignment: Think about how mid-list authors can make this sort of thing work for them, allowing them to break away from anonymity caused by the flood of e-books coming onto the market.

It stinks but it’s a dog-eat-dog promotional world out there. We have to try to swim with the successful fish or risk sinking into the depths forever.


Vicki Delany said...

Shoot me now. Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) asked people NOT to vote for her in an online contest. She said she objected to pitting authors against one another. There's a campain on Amazon to boycott any e-books costing more than 0.99c. That pretty much means any book with a recognized publisher (if not now, at least in the past). Sometimes you can just tell by reading the blurb that the book is badly written. I could give examples!

John R Corrigan said...

Rick, Great post. Insightful. I'm a mid-list author who has put all of my novels in e-book format and made them available online, so I'm seeing exactly where you are coming from. What to do?

Rick Blechta said...

John, Vicki, you both bring up good points. To me, e-book sales and promotion all seems very much "wild west" at the moment, and I guess that's to be expected since everyone is sort of making it up as they go along at the moment. I imagine that after a few years, we're going to see things sort themselves out.

However, we may not like how things sort themselves out. My tendency is to sit back and watch what's going on. I don't think in this case that's going to be too advantageous.

What to do?

John and Vicki, putting out e-books of which you have control is a very wise move. Really, how can you lose?

Michael McPherson said...

Every author who owns the electronic rights to their novel should be putting it out there right now. If 28-year-old Amanda Hocking can self-publish and sell a million e-books at 99 cents a pop, then there is definitely a "Wild West" market out there waiting for the bold.