I've seen many blogs lately talking about the state of the publishing industry. Probably the best and most constructive I’ve come across was this post, Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm by the amazing Kristen Lamb. The subject has probably been talked to death at this point, but I need to get a few things off my chest, so bear with me. There are many things I am concerned with in the current publishing world:
1) Authors who would like to try making a living with their writing have to compete against people for whom this is little more than a hobby. People who don’t need or want to make money off their books can afford to give them away free or at next to nothing. We don’t have to worry about Amazon driving our prices down when we are doing it ourselves.
2) I’m not saying self-published authors aren’t good writers, but easy self-publishing opens the door to bad writing. When you are so close to your book, it is hard to judge when it is ready to publish. I wrote a book over 10 years ago and sent it out to publishers and agents because I really believed it was ready. I stopped sending it because I turned my focus to building a ‘real’ career. When I go back and look at that book now, I still think the story and characters are great. The writing? Not so good. I’ve learned a lot about the craft since then and even now, I like the idea of having an editor or agent to help me decide when a book is good enough.
3) Point 2 puts the reader at a disadvantage of sorts because they now have so many books to slog through, some of which may not be properly edited and may have plot holes or other major issues. For a reader, that can be a real turn off and too many disappointments might make people hesitant to try out the work of self-published or indie authors. You can say that the good stuff will rise to the top, but someone has to read it for it to do so. Forcing the reader to be the one who slogs through this process is not the way to attract new readers.
4) The negativity I see toward agents. A good author agent relationship is a partnership. The agent doesn't make money unless you do. Is all this hate just coming from people who were turned down and are sore about it? If so, consider two things:
1) There are a lot fewer agents than authors, so they have to make hard decisions about what to accept. Maybe your work was good, but it wasn’t what they were looking for. That is no reason to hate them.
2) If you were turned down a lot, it is also possible that, instead of blaming the agents for locking you out and self-publishing your work the way it is, maybe you should take the time to look and see if your novel needs more polishing. Perhaps hire an editor or find a good critique group that will give you honest feedback. Then, when you know it is ready, self-publish or otherwise as you see fit.
4) I don't understand the rampant Amazon love. People making Amazon out to be some benevolent god for improving the life of authors aren't looking at reality very clearly. Let’s put aside problems like the theft of work and the lack of quality control and look at one simple fact. Amazon, just like any business, is out for one thing, their bottom line. As long as they see an opportunity for profit in this model, they will be your friend. If they start to see a better opportunity elsewhere, don't believe for a second that they won’t steamroll you into their new model. Remember your mythology. Gods are fickle.
I am extremely nervous in this environment. There are blogs I go to where I am uncomfortable saying these things because I feel like the person crossing the picket lines when I do it. I am also sad because the dream I once had doesn't seem possible anymore and I don't know how to re-envision it while things are in such turmoil. At the same time, I feel like I might miss the boat if I stay my current course.
I know there are others out there who share these concerns and frustrations. I've seen you in the comments of some of these blogs and on Twitter and even writing blogs of your own. Someone told me the other night to focus on writing the story I love and write it well. It’s good advice. Just remember that, in all of human history, there have always been storytellers. I don't think that will ever change.
Comments are welcome (encouraged even).