Saturday, July 3, 2010

Readers as slush-pile slaves

Some people fear the new era of indie publishing will lead to a tide of bad books, with readers swamped by millions of titles.

This fear is fed in part by fearful gatekeepers like Laura Miller of Salon, whose recent article warned of readers faced with unlimited choices and how terrible this is going to be (because Laura Miller will no longer have to tell them what they need to read from among the limited number of major titles of which she approves).

It took about 15 years for Amazon to reach five million paper titles. Last year, three-fourths of the million new titles were self-published (or indie or vanity press, whichever you prefer). Undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more didn't get ISBNs and so weren't counted. Right now there are a little more than half a million ebooks out, growing by the hundreds daily.

I fully expect there will be 10 million different ebooks available in two years. I am not worried at all, either as an author or reader. I am not "competing" against others and I am not lost when I want to find new writers outside the purview of New York and its specific requirements (namely, profit).

I don't think all indies are going to "raise the bar." Some writers are totally oblivious to their shortcomings (I'm probably among them). Writing gets into that weird land of ego and insecurity, because it is such an intimate medium. A lot of people who have multi-rejected books will throw them out there. Probably sell some. Not write any more or bother to build an audience. You probably will never know about them. A few good ones will emerge. You might know about them if they are in genres that interest you. Otherwise, you probably won't.

What is more likely to happen is you find books in your favored genres, both good and bad, just as you did before. Some you will like, and you won't care whether they are "good" or "bad," only that you like them. You'll buy more by the author or more that resemble them, or more that Amazon says "Customers who bought this also bought these titles..."

I have no idea what Lady Gaga sings like, or Brittney Spears, or Miley Cyrus. I would not recognize them if they were beside me in a check-out line. I have successfully avoided them because I am not interested in them. Yet I discover just as much new music as I need in the areas that interest me, and much of it would be considered "bad" by most listeners, because it's not mainstream popular. It wouldn't make the cut of American Idol. But I found it, and it works for me and some other people. Maybe that's all it was meant to do. The rest doesn't bother me. I am not actively "weeding." I am simply moving in the communities that interest me, and that community reinforces the interests. I trust it. A lot. Way more than I do a publishing industry whose sole purpose is to get money from me.

One-to-one. Words to reader. Doesn't get much simpler than that.



author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Yes, and the idea that only agents and publishers know what makes a good book and from which ones the general public (those dummies) need to stay away from, is, well let's say, a teeny bit arrogant?

j said...

Excellent insights into the rapidly changing publishing world, Scott. After being pummeled for twenty-odd years by rejections from Those Who Know Better, I feel no great sympathies for them now. You know who is going to make out in this brave new world? Freelance editors and cover artists. I've hired both over the past month, as I miss mistakes in my own prose despite my best. Too close to it.

As the owner of a daughter (and a son but he's not a pop music dude), I have heard Gaga and could care less, and for any pop music. Still say she calls herself that so the world makes baby noise. Goo goo, ga ga.

Monster A Go-Go said...

Well, I have to say that I have a friend who considers himself a "writer". He's been published a few times (how is beyond me). He's also self-published (through and he's excited about Kindle/e-Books. And his output is incredible... But they SUCK!!! (And NO, I was NOT referring to YOU as the writer friend in case you were wondering... Hee heee)! Because of the work I do, I've been approached by several writers to read their work. OMG!!!! While what you blogged is write on the one hand...I do think there will be an avalanche of crap in the market eventually, too.

Monster A Go-Go said...

And I didn't even MENTION the numerous spelling, grammar, subject-verb agreement errors... O' the horror of it all!

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