As anyone who might be reading this blog is bound to already know, e-book publishing has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. Despite the stigma that still hangs over online indie publishing like an ominous storm cloud, thousands of authors are finding an audience through these new non-traditional avenues. But why does that stigma exist in the first place? Without any question, many writers and aspiring authors share a dream of seeing their own names on the spines of books lining shelves at places like Waldenbooks or Borders. Wait, what’s that? They’re both out of business? Oh! Well, the great thing about dreams is that they can be adjusted. For better or worse, there is every indication that e-book publishing will only become a larger force in the years to come, but let’s look at the pros and cons.
Control: If there’s one thing that any author is likely to love about indie publishing, it’s that the author maintains full control over the book. There will be no agent or editor telling you to take out a character, change the ending, add a talking flamingo sidekick, or trying to talk you into making your terrifying horror debut a YA book. You get to be like a movie director and put your EXACT vision on reading tablets around the world. This is something that most authors before us could never have imagined and it’s really a good thing for the industry. Which leads me to…
Originality: Ultimately, my feeling is that e-book publishing will help breed originality and inventiveness in the future. There should be more risk-taking in literature and indie authors have no reason not to go for it. Indie writers won’t necessarily be constrained by the rigid need to write within a narrow, marketable genre. Vampires? Yawn. Steampunk vampires vs. dinosaurs with machine guns in Victorian England? Now we’re talking! I’m not promising that all the ideas indie authors concoct will be that awesome, but indie writers are more likely to throw out all the rules and try to create something different. 90% of their efforts, of course, will be utter garbage, but that 10% might advance a genre in exciting new directions or create an entirely new genre, readers be damned! Sandbox videogames and indie films have been gaining ground for years now, but writing is by far the easiest outlet for imaginations that have outgrown their briefs.
Control: The downside to having 100% control over your book is that many independent novels will lack the professional polish that attracts so many readers. Being in control means that e-book authors are even responsible for coming up with book covers and I’ve already written about how an awful book cover can be the kiss of death. I’ll be honest, I’ve never opened a single e-book that had what I considered to be a lazy or uninteresting cover. For all I know, the writing was superb and the story would have changed my life, but I will never know. It’s also up to you to market the thing, which means that all the time that would normally be divided amongst agents, editors, and publishers is forced squarely on your shoulders. Suddenly, it’s up to you schedule interviews, look for speaking engagements, update Twitter, update Facebook, update your website, check your sales. It’s a massive and involved process. If you have a full-time job, let’s face it, you’re going to be really crunched for time to make it all work.
A Lack of Gatekeepers: The other problem with e-book publishing is the absolutely massive number of hacks who are inundating the market. Unfortunately, it would be delusional to think that every single author who puts a book up on Amazon actually has something good to post. Nobody wants to think they’re a hack (I know I don’t) but the fact is that for every great novel published by an indie writer on Amazon, there are about twenty novels that read like a schizophrenic insane asylum inmate’s fever dream. It doesn’t take much effort to find books on Amazon that are atrociously edited, poorly structured, unfocused, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While it remains unclear how a “gatekeeper” would function on a platform like Amazon without completely undermining the important service that such sites serve, most indie writers seem to agree that some sort of screening process would benefit authors and readers alike.
Money: Finally, independent publishing is not the greatest way to make money. It is a fantastic venue for honing your hobby and learning what kinds of books sell, but if you think you’re going to get rich overnight, you’ve got another thing coming. I’ve sold about 12,000 copies of my book The Notice to date, and I’ve made probably about $300. In fact, at least 10,000 of those sales came during one of my free promotional weekends, where I didn’t make a cent off the sales. Oh well. The point is that if you keep doing what you love and writing good material, hopefully the money will come. The best you can do is try to continue to evolve as a writer, maintain a dedicated website, build your platform, and keep doing everything else right, and hopefully people will start to notice. When people notice, money finds a way. Just, um, don’t quit your day job.
For more information on indie pros and cons, I’d recommend checking out this great article at HuffPost about why indie authors aren’t taken seriously. You may agree or disagree with some of the points but this is an important conversation and HuffPost has, in many ways, led this conversation in recent months with some wonderful, thought-provoking pieces. Check out the article here: Huffington Post Link.