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Quality Control for Self-Publishing

People say that I shouldn’t get into these debates online about self-publishing because those who are so vehemently opposed to self-publishing are never going to change their mind. But I like a good debate and I really do believe that for the stigma around self-publishing to fade it’s important to chip away at the criticism in debates like this one. The writer’s basic premise is that self-publishing is deserving of its stigma because:

  1. There is no quality control of self-published books so book customers are led to buy inferior work.
  2. Self-publishers are naturally bad writers who just couldn’t hack it in the traditional system.
  3. The vast majority of self-published books are bad, so statistically you are more likely to read a bad book if it’s self-published than traditionally-published books.

The second and third are easy to refute and I’m frankly sick of refuting them. The traditional system rewards crappy writing frequently and does not reward innovation. Small presses are more open to new writers, but small presses have less money – and not necessarily a better distribution apparatus than self-publishing. Re: #3 – truly bad self-published books are going to be ignored by reviewers and readers alike. And as time goes on there’s an increasing number of self-published books that are gaining attention because of their quality – not just a “small fraction” of self-published books. Etc.

Honestly, I don’t know what “appalling” self-published books these people are seeing. As editor of this site I see A LOT of self-published books. They may not all be great, but a rare few of them are offensive to the English language. It’s true, people are self-publishing books that shouldn’t necessarily be put in between covers – but so what? In all mediums there’s bad work, but (repeating myself again) it’s only in self-publishing where writers are blamed for the bad work of other writers. It makes no sense at all.

I’m more interested in point #1 – because he has some interesting ideas, such as a self-published books should come with a stamp that it has been properly edited by a professional, so buyers can have some assurance that the book’s not a mess before shelling out $15. An interesting idea. Many self-published writers already do this in the acknowledgments, but it’s like he’s asking for a site that only lists these books. One of the reasons I was such a vociferous advocate of Indie Reader is because this site could speak specifically to this type of reader, someone with so many preconceptions – which is to say a lot of potential readers.

Where the posters go afield is saying that they never trust Amazon reviews because they’re all plants – basically stating that all the ways self-publishers can gain some credibility – online reviews – count for nothing. There are many serious and legitimate reviewers reviewing self-published books, so there are plenty of ways that a self-published book can be vetted beyond having a publisher’s imprint. A poster even goes to say that it is “deceitful” to put a publisher’s imprint on a self-published book – because it makes it seem as if it’s gone through an editorial process. It’s at this point that I should have stopped caring about people’s bias. That outlook is conservative to the point of echoing those who criticize blogging as being an illegitimate form of writing. The new media is here, get used to it.

I will freely admit that self-publishing is like a teenager – it’s not fully aged to where it’s going to be. At some point we will have a system where self-publishers can:

  • Be distributed more freely through widespread use of in-store print on demand machines and the widespread use of ereaders.
  • Be a part of an expanded vetting system as well – through online reviewers, social networks, and self-publishing being taken more seriously by traditional print reviewers.
  • Be part of a traditional publishing system that is also utilizing print on demand, peer review sites and other methods of reaching readers that are not yet fully mainstream.

But that’s not here yet: still, it will be. Publishing is becoming more narrow in their criteria for publishing books right at a time when there are more people writing books than ever before. That’s not a system that can work for a growing list of writers. To say that all those writers – a great many who may be very good – are not worth the attention because it doesn’t have the stamp of a publisher (that may be putting out inferior work) is giving way too much power where it doesn’t belong: to the publishers and not the artists. Self-publishing is about giving writers back their voice – yes, some people are releasing books before their voice is fully formed, but count on it: more writers are going to be asking themselves, “Why am I waiting a year just to get another rejection, when people honestly like my book?” These writers need a platform.

Update: Read Zoe Winters’ Why Self-Published Music Sux – she handles this way better than I did.

  • http://www.jmreep.com/juvenilia J.M. Reep

    You’re fighting the Good Fight, Henry (except when it comes to IndieReader, of course :P).

    Did you ask that fellow to name some of the titles of those horrible self-published books that he’s read and explain why they were bad? That’s the question that should be put to these people when they make the unwarranted generalization that “all self-published books are bad”. If this is guy is aware of so many bad s-p books, he ought to be able to name three or four and articulate why they were so inferior compared to the work of modern literary geniuses like Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown.

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    I agree on all counts Henry. I posted a link to an article on the peeps where it was stated that review sites like Goodreads have now become the legitimate gatekeepers, not just for self-publishing but for the entire literary community at large.

    What we need is more legitimate review sites — ones that give balanced insightful reviews. Unfortunately, the Indie book review world suffers from the same ailment as the Indie writing community: There are a lot of badly written self-published books, and there are a lot of badly written reviews. This stands true for mainstream publishing as well.

    I also agree that to focus on the bad books is self-defeating. Why bother. There are so many great self-published books out there, andt we, as reviewers, need to be focusing on them.

    “modern literary geniuses” Nice … very nice Reep. I needed that this morning. :)

  • Randall Radic

    Good post, Henry. Very interesting. I totally disagree with the statement that “all self-published books are bad.” There are more bad books published by traditional publishers than self-publishers, in my experience. I have a hard time finding anything good to read — it doesn’t matter who published it. BIG publishers pump out a lot of crap, which must really bother the poor writer trying to get an agent for his novel. “They publish this junk, but they won’t even look at mine!”

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LOL Henry, Mojo is defined as “people” plural here? hehehe.

    And thanks for the shout out!

    The one that burns me the most, and I went back and said as much on dude’s blog after I’d cooled down, because yesterday my emo-volume was a little loud… but…

    The idea of an indie author having a publisher imprint being deceitful. This is a guy who is planning on starting his own small imprint to publish someone else. (So by this logic I’m suddenly legit if I get my neighbor down the street to publish me. Maybe we need to bring back patrons of the arts) He wasn’t aware of LSI and instead was going to use Lulu as a printer.

    Well most of Lulu’s printing is done by LSI and they’re a middle man even if you use your own imprint and ISBNs.

    So here we had someone who wasn’t even aware of the main print on demand printer used by actual publishers, telling us we’re not real publishers. I find that more than just a tiny bit insulting.

    In order to use LSI you have to have your own imprint and ISBN numbers. When someone can give me an actual legitimate reason why someone who publishes someone else has more of a right to use LSI than me, I’d love to hear about it. That would veer very close to discriminatory business practices, IMO.

    And we really need to look at this in perspective. We’re talking about entertainment here. We aren’t talking about being an unlicensed doctor or lawyer. You’d think according to some people that publishing a book was some big massive issue.

    It’s a book, not donating a kidney. People need to just calm down on the issue.

    Plus I think it’s easy enough not to be “fooled” by a bad self published book, by just behaving like a normal responsible consumer and checking out a product before you buy it. i.e. does it look good, do people say good things about it, if you test out a little bit of it, are you happy?

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMFAO @ JM: “If this is guy is aware of so many bad s-p books, he ought to be able to name three or four and articulate why they were so inferior compared to the work of modern literary geniuses like Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown.”

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    I hear you, Zoe. The clueless are always more apt to speak. Why is that?
    I felt the same when I posted my article on the term “Indie.” Why should anyone else but us give a rat’s fart in a breeze what we call ourselves? Same thing with a publishing imprint. It’s not deceitful; it’s entrepreneurial. Branding yourself as an author is a viable marketing tactic. Your voice is your brand, so why not. Plus, there are business advantages as well: the ability to use LSI directly being but one of them.
    I think what it boils down to is that the majority of people feel threatened by others who challenge the norm — the norm being anything, not just publishing. To them, we are anarchists, and that makes certain types of people very uncomfortable, so they want to label us, judge us, and try their damndest to get us to fit in the slotted ideal box that they have created in their mind for us.
    And really, are those people ever going to read an Indie book? Doubtful, so who cares. They are not our chosen audience, and we won’t be able to change their perception, no matter what we do. Doesn’t mean we should slink off into the shadows; it just means we focus our collective energy elsewhere.
    As for being fooled? Buyer beware, ignorant buyer beware of thy own self. When I visit a bookstore, which is a rarity, I open a book to a random page and read it before I make a decision. I have my own individual definition of dreck, and I know when I see it and when I don’t. I saw a new release from Morrow today that had my head in a cliché spin fest. The mainstream reviewer had comments that echoed my own sentiments. All we can do is stay focused and move forward. Commentators like that guy, Zoe, are just so much static.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Cheryl,

    Unfortunately though, his arguments aren’t new. The fact that these are common arguments put forth against self publishing is the problem I think. If dude was the only one saying it, we could all form a collective eyeroll and move on.

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    Are their arguments ever new? No, and their stale rhetoric bores me. The niave opinionated slurs bore me. The banlity bores me.

    I can spend my days charging head first into the brick wall, or, I can ignore the wall by building a trebuchet and flinging myself and my anarchist opinions over it.

    I much prefer flying to eyerolling anyway. I don’t get that horrible kink in my neck anymore. :)

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hehe Cheryl. I have emo days and less emo days. :P

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    That would be Banality. Get the mainstream typo police out after me now.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    I didn’t even notice the typo Cheryl, cause i’m self pubbed. :P

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    Me too … call my editor, no wait, that’s me. Crap! I spell like a gorilla when I get hot under the housecoat. Two in one post. I have shamed myself for an eternity.

    I have my emo days too. I have my total anarchist screw the system says as well, but I got a battery powered thingie that helps me with that affliction, so the world is safe. Well, at least as long as the bunny keeps on goin’.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Okay, you said “says” instead of “days” I did catch that typo. You have to leave now. You just have a completely disregard for the English language. :P

    OMG I can’t believe you mentioned the bunny, lol.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAH but I made a typo. hahahaha

    should have been ‘you have a complete disregard’ not completely.

    hahahaha how can I effectively shame you for your typos when I keep making them?

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    No! Just like “There is no crying in baseball.” There is no shame in Indie Publishing — typos or otherwise. I think we can leave the shame to those with the chicago style manual shoved up their butts.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters


  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    This was from my weekly column over on the peeps site. I think it applies to our discussion here as well.

    Art is not a mirror to reflect the world but a hammer with which to shape it.
    – Vladimir Mayakovsky

    It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.
    – Anais Nin

    I think these two quotes go hand in hand. Our world is our perception of it. In order to change the world, we must first hammer away at perception. Quite a daunting task if you ask me, since everyone’s perception of the world is slightly different. So, how can an artist approach an obstacle of this magnitude? Well, we can use the familiar to our advantage. We can decisively attack those perceptions which have become so familiar and so widely accepted that they have become dogma. True that there is no new story, but simply by changing the perception of it, we create it anew. Our modus operandi might be a hammer and chisel, or a paintbrush, or a whisper, but however we choose to manipulate the truth through fiction, it’s our perception of the truth that hopefully will affect change. Then again, art requires a bit of an intuitive approach, so, not everyone will see the truth even if we bludgeon them with a hammer.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Three crappy books:
    Paradise Island
    The New Mars
    The New Mars (A Family Vacation)
    (Three by the same author that I just recently tried to read
    And an extra one just so you don’t think I’ve only read one author: The Patokafus Trilogy, which was arguably even worse than the previous three books.

    Good ones:
    The Dark Dreamweaver
    Scott Kessman’s work

    I never once said there were no good books, nor did I indicate that ALL self-published authors by definition “crap.” I said that MOST are. To say that all are would be a lie at best, particularly because there are some good books I’ve read that I stand by that have been SPed. The problem is that the stigma isn’t made up. It’s not like people just invented their dislike of self-publishing. It has a history with issues of quality and it’s primary problem is that there’s no easy way for the consumer to find quality.

    And a lot of assumptions are made here based on personal preference. What the consumer largely considers to be of quality is what is being printed by traditional publishers. Do you think for a minute that traditional publishers would print Dan Brown and Meyer books if they didn’t think they would sell? And if they didn’t sell well on their first books, would the publishers still put them out? No. Both those authors have sold loads, and it’s because the consumer/audience has a connection with the work, even if the writing itself is not of the highest, most amazing literary quality. This is what traditional publishing does: it determines quality by what is marketable and what they assume the consumer will want. Since traditional publishing continues to grow, that means they’re getting something right. I don’t like Meyers or Brown, and am not a fan of King, but I am also not the average book consumer…personal preference doesn’t play into the market unless the majority of the market wants the same things.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    “This is what traditional publishing does: it determines quality by what is marketable and what they assume the consumer will want. Since traditional publishing continues to grow, that means they’re getting something right.”

    If this is really your sentiment, there’s really no point arguing. It’s wrong in so many ways it doesn’t need refuting.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Trad publishing is suffering, cutting, and laying off. One publisher had a total freeze on acquisitions. Don’t know if it’s still in effect. Traditional NY publishing under the bookstore consignment system just is not a feasible business plan. It’s always had problems and those problems have always been fixed with bandaids. And now with the economy in the current state that it’s in, those bandaids aren’t making the bleeding stop.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    And yes sales for books went up during the first two quarters following the recession. Layoffs don’t necessarily indicate loss of profit, but likely have more to do with anticipated lower earnings to come. Though the more likely truth is that they’re just reacting for no reason, since most statistics show that books are largely recession proof, with some minor exceptions. But sales haven’t drastically dropped. More people are reading and continue to do so, and sales are still strong. People are just adjusting their buying habits. I suspect this means more and more online sales will be made and the vast majority of bookstores will go out of business. Most indie stores are expected to die anyway because the majority of them cannot compete in the market either from their own doing or because the market is shifting. Borders has pretty much had problems from the start…

    Henry: It’s not even my sentiment. It’s an industry sentiment. That’s what the industry does. If it was a faulty plan they would have stopped ages ago, but since books continue to sell in droves, particularly in certain markets, it’s not a surprise at all that traditional publishers will continue to put out similar material based on logical projections on the market. It’s not even that hard to see. Simple economics could explain it, or just simple observation.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Another note: layoffs aren’t even isolated to traditional publishing, but to practically all major industries in the U.S. In some cases it’s logical, since profits in some industries have tanked, but in other instances it’s more or less a knee-jerk reaction to protect the business itself. It happens in almost all recessions. One of those weird human/capitalist things. Something scares us and we react, sometimes irrationally.

  • http://BrassCannonBooks.net Francis Hamit

    If you look at that chart from Ms. Gallager of Bowker, you see that the majority of buyers still depend upon reviews in print media to form buying decisions. We are shut out from most of these by their “no self -published books” rule. Perhaps we need to start a letter-writing campaign to some of the more prominent publications to break down that wall, and , at the same time, also start sending our protests to the big chains who won’t put these books on the shelves because they are not reviewed in the “mainstream” media. It’s only be getting books on the shelves in brick and mortar stores that significant sales can be found. People have to pick up the book and look at it before they are motivated to buy it. We can bitch and moan all we like here, but that’s not going to make much of a difference. And by letters, I mean on paper. E-mails are easy to ignore and discard, but a letter in the US Mail is usually taken as reflecting the sentiments of a hundred more people who didn’t bother to write.

    It’s hard for anyone to get book reviews, but part of the duty of the media is to cover cultural events and the rise of self-publishing as a legitimate distribution channel is a story they really can’t continue to ignore.

  • Randall Radic

    To get noticed by the mainstream media I think self-publishers need to develop and present a BAD attitude — kind of like punk rockers. They need to be visible, talented, extravagant, quirky and have attitude. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know,” as Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron. If the SPs can do that, then they’ll get some attention and some publicity. Writers are too invisible, too laid back, too nice.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Randall, along those same lines I think there are still a lot of writers who are too apologetic about being self published. If you seem to come off as not thinking you’re worthy, then others will believe you. However if you can come off with confidence in yourself (without looking too arrogant), people find that far more attractive.

    We need to find our defiance though. Not sure we want to be “writers behaving badly” because not all press is good press, but definitely wildly independent and kind of a Viva La Resistance attitude about us.

    Independent artistic creation is cool. it’s trendy. It’s unique and admirable as hell, but… when we act as if we’re ashamed of what we do, we don’t let those cool facets shine out.

    Being an underdog is inherently cool and sympathetic IMO. As long as we pair that with confidence and the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our right to produce our work how we feel is best for us.

  • Randall Radic

    I’m with Zoe! She has the attitude!

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    SMD – the publishing industry is in a panic. The idea that things are going swimmingly because things are selling well “particularly in certain markets” is myopic. If there’s an obscene number of buyers buying one type of book, this is not evidence of a healthy marketplace.

    “It determines quality by what is marketable.” If you think quality and marketability are interchangeable, then it’s not much of a challenge to debate that position. It’s anti-art and anti-innovation. I like The Da Vinci Code, but if all novels are Dan Brown-style bestsellers, that’s a kind of nightmare.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMAO Randall!

    On the marketability vs. interchangeable issue… someone, I *think* it was Donald Maas, said something like “All bestsellers are not masterpieces, but all masterpieces are bestsellers.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that. Because it still defines masterpiece according to the whim and taste of a certain number of people. But it’s a tiny bit closer to home.

    A book can be great quality but just not have a very large or easily reachable market of readers. (Kind of like you could make how-to videos for Amish people, and no matter how great the videos are, it’s doubtful an Amish person will ever see it due to that whole technology thing.)

    A book can be highly marketable but be horse poo. (i.e. anything by James Patterson since they’ve started to hire ghostwriters.)

    Then there is the third type of book which most authors want to write: High quality PLUS high marketability.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    *marketability is interchangeable issue, not “vs.” I swear I don’t know where my head is sometimes.

  • Randall Radic

    Good point, Henry. Nowadays most people read JUNK. Very little of quality is published by anyone — big publishers or self-publishers. However, there is probably more quality coming out of SP than the big publishing houses. Simply because the big houses are driven by the bottom line.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    “SMD – the publishing industry is in a panic. The idea that things are going swimmingly because things are selling well “particularly in certain markets” is myopic. If there’s an obscene number of buyers buying one type of book, this is not evidence of a healthy marketplace.”

    Maybe some publishers are in a panick, and maybe this is only within certain genres, but since I largely pay attention to the SF/F markets, I don’t see any of this panic. I see layoffs, but sales, particularly in fantasy and YA fiction, are still through the roof and even saw a rise, as I said, in those first two quarters (well, sales in general were on rise, and some markets fell, such as crime and I think romances). But as for panic, there really isn’t any sort of logical panic.

    And I think your last sentence is debatable. Defining what is a healthy marketplace would be incredibly subjective here, since the market is based on consumer wants and desires, and if all they want is one kind of book (which seems kind of true since Harry Potter reinvigorated the YA market), and they are getting and buying what they want, then really the market is doing fine. And the truth is they don’t want “one” kind of book. They want many, but the majority of consumers want a particular style, which, again, is not indicative of poor healthy so much as simply a consumer desire. I certainly am not a fan of the “poor” quality in bestseller literature (particularly because I prefer more complicated prose these days than the traditional mainstream styles), but I do see why it is as popular as it is, and why it remains so. I don’t think any of us have to like it, but at least people are reading. Some of them will move on to “better” books, and a lot of them won’t. That’s sort of the way it is, and it’s good in general since it keeps a lot of writers working.

    “It determines quality by what is marketable.” If you think quality and marketability are interchangeable, then it’s not much of a challenge to debate that position. It’s anti-art and anti-innovation. I like The Da Vinci Code, but if all novels are Dan Brown-style bestsellers, that’s a kind of nightmare.”

    Unless I’m misreading, are you saying that publishing must equate with art? If so, that’s not a good position to take pariticularly because publishing is not necessarily interested in “artistic expression” so much as sales. If nobody is buying an artistic novel, one which is more aware of its prose than Brown may be, etc., then traditional publishers are likely not going to print it, or at least not print it at the same level as Brown’s work gets. This is largely why literary fiction has fallen to the wayside, with some exceptions to those novels that have managed to grab more mainstream appeal. The consumer wants a kind of book, and traditional publishers are giving it to them. Dan Brown wouldn’t sell well otherwise. That’s quality to traditional publishing, with some exception to those writers who have managed to snag a good sized fanbase while maintaining a “quality” in their prose.

    But art is really not a factor in traditional publishing and hasn’t been for a while. The writers may think they are producing art, but the publisher doesn’t care. You can write the most artistic piece of fiction ever, the most brilliant book in your estimation, but if the publisher doesn’t think it can sell it to people, it won’t take it.

    But I agree with you that the proliferation of simplistic, often not-great novels (such as Brown or maybe Meyers, etc.) sucks. I don’t buy that stuff, but again, I understand WHY the consumer buys those things.

    Randall: I would agree. Most people do read junk, but this is always already a subjective position. I don’t know if more “quality” is coming out of SP, though. There may be some excellent books out there that are SPed, but small presses have largely taken up the mantle of non-mainstream fiction, but they have many of the same issues as SPers, particularly those that use POD.

    Zoe: Agree.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Another note to Francis: There are some reviews who still take self-pub. I know some who stopped primarily because they kept getting sent utter drivel. This is one of my issues as well, and I may retract my change in my submission policy and take self-pub again, but with significantly more attention paid to the work being directed to me. I’d think this website would have a list of folks who take self-pub, but if not, maybe you should make one. They’re out there, but obviously most, if not all, aren’t mainstream. Publisher’s Weekly used to, or still does, have a feature where they read self-pub. Is that still going on or did they can it?

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    By your description that publishers don’t care about art then self-publishing makes perfect sense as an alternative because small presses don’t have the money to put out everything they want to publish. I’m not saying that publishing should always equate with art – of course not. But it used to be publishers put out big sure sellers to make some revenue to take chances on untested writers. Now writers aren’t given a chance to grow – if you don’t sell, you’re done. This is an issue covered repeatedly on this site: that’s not usually how art unfolds or even bestsellers unfold. It takes time to build an audience – sometimes. OK, but here’s this, writers build an audience via self-publishing – prove themselves with readers so publishers can know that they’re not taking as large of a gamble. And publishers are now increasingly risk-averse.

    Your stance on traditional publishing’s over-reliance on marketing is one of the major arguments for self-publishing. And if throughout history work was released based only on public demand, some of the greatest works of art would never have found an audience. In every decade look at what’s the top seller and what’s endured – in every artistic medium. In 1967, the top record wasn’t the Beatles, it was the Monkees. Should we base everything just on what’s bought and sold? If that were the case, all food should be McDonald’s. There’s some responsibility on the publishing system to foster talent and not be soullessly driven by money. Frankly, I don’t know why I have to make that argument.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    SMD: can’t believe we agree on something. I’m going to print it out and frame it and put it on my wall.

    Henry: Agree with you on the issues revolving around the length of time it takes to build an audience and the almost necessity of good self publishing to fill in the gaps. And LMAO @ “I don’t know why I have to make that argument.”

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    “But it used to be publishers put out big sure sellers to make some revenue to take chances on untested writers. Now writers aren’t given a chance to grow – if you don’t sell, you’re done.”

    This isn’t so much the publisher’s fault as the consumer’s. Dan Brown sells. You and I and others may not think he’s all that great (and that might say something about our tastes in literature), but a hell of a lot of people think he is. This is the same with Paolini and the dozens of other bestselling authors who write stories that may or may not be all that great. The consumer generally likes this. The biggest problem isn’t the publisher, but the consumer, because publishers are only responding to consumer demands (which is, more or less, how any capitalist economic model works: if nobody wants to drink milk, then they stop putting so much of it in the stores). This is a two fold problem: 1) More people who are not particularly well-read, or who read at a certain level and really don’t want to improve that are now reading books, and thus need books that meet their level of demand (which usually is just to be entertained, which Brown and others do for them), 2) an idiotic educational system that intentionally crams literature that is largely uninteresting (to a lot of folks) into the minds of kids, and in the process it ruins the reading process for a lot of people, who come back to reading only through folks like Brown, etc. and, again, want nothing more than to be entertained. It may even be a three or four fold problem, I don’t know. There are so many things working against what you indicate as the writers that a publisher has a take a chance on.

    I don’t agree that publishers aren’t taking chances, though. They are (Salman Rushdie is a prime example, because the publisher was essentially risking life and limb to put his work out there, and Rushdie too, actualy). We just don’t hear about them. They’re drowned out by the overwhelming majority who love a certain kind of book (Brown, etc.). I know, it sucks, and I don’t like it one bit, particularly because I don’t like the vast majority of stuff that shows up on the bestseller’s list (I mean, I like it, sort of, but I like my literature to have a bit more to it than just a plot and some barely fashioned characters). This is why I’m a huge proponent for small presses, many of which really push for “better” novels. That’s subjective, obviously, but some of the best books I’ve ever read came from small presses (The Steam Magnate by Dana Copithorne and pretty much anything published by Aio Books, and a from Fairwood Press and others).

    And obviously it takes time to build an audience, but the way the traditional publishing model works now is that if you can’t build that audience, if nobody wants to read your book, then they aren’t willing to keep printing you, because they have to make money, otherwise they perish. This is perhaps why those traditionally published authors who become active in their own marketing are the ones that tend to do better. Honestly, I think traditionally publishers shouldn’t publish as many books as they do to actually give more new authors a chance to be bought, but that’s me. Right now it’s impossible for consumers to read everything printed, which means a lot of stuff doesn’t sell, and is thus lost in history (footnotes, at best).

    And yes, there are certain benefits for self-publishing, but that’s not the problem with it. The problem is with those who use SP to produce not just faulty books, but books that are utter drivel, who ruin any respectability that might have been earned by good SP authors who produce good material, who act properly, etc. This is why I think SP needs some way to filter out the noise so the cream can reach the top easier, making it simpler and quicker on the consumer to find what is actually good. As I’ve said, the problem here is that the consumer isn’t going to do the extra work you think they should. Some might, but the majority spend mere seconds looking at a book before deciding to buy it: they don’t read the book or do anything other than see the cover and learn what it’s about. Whether their “respect” or “trust” for the traditional publishing model is logical, that’s how it works for them. SP has to combat against that, and it’s made harder by the fact that so many morons are running around tossing trash into the mix. Imagine it like a stew. All the good folks are the carrots, meat, and potatoes, and the little bits of spices necessary to give it the right flavor, but then someone comes along and dumps a pound of pepper into your pot…there are two ways out of this predicament: increase the size of the stew w/ more veggies and meat, or find out a way to filter out all the extra pepper so that when people taste it they don’t burn their tongues.

    Or something equally as interesting a metaphor.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    What self-publishing needs to do is not weed out the drivel, it’s to change the idea that the bad books somehow represent all of self-publishing. I don’t think people are this prejudiced – that they’ll give up on self-publishing forever because of a bad experience. If someone buys a book from Tor that they hate, are they really never going to buy another book on Tor by an entirely different author? Makes no sense. Same goes for self-publishing. Even if they’re burned, they can take a chance on something else if it’s been well-reviewed from a number of different sources. The more self-publishing gains clout and becomes a kind of brand like Tor – which is happening, the stigma is fading – the more people will realize, That’s just a bad book, but there are other good s-p books out there.

    I think you have a limited respect for how many people actually care about the process of finding books to read. It’s just with a thousand books released every minute, it’s hard to find potential buyers. That’s what’s happening – the number of books being released (good books, not drivel) is overwhelming the number of people to read them. That’s not an argument that you shouldn’t self-publish, just that it’s harder to sell books. No one’s saying self-publishing is easy. But with the market obsession of traditional publishing, writers need an outlet. The point of writing is to be read, so self-publishing gives writers at least the potential of finding an audience.

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    But again, you’re assuming that the average consumer pays attention to new media, let alone reviews. Most don’t.

    I’m not talking either about reading ONE bad book. I’m talking about being exposed to dozens upon dozens, while only meeting a handful of books that were any good, or even written well. And by bad books, I mean books that are written so poorly they’re almost unreadable, so irritating that I would actually chuck the book across the room if I wasn’t worried about damaging the wall. This is my problem with self-publishing. You keep saying that there are so many great books, but where? I can go on Lulu and find 100 garbage novels and maybe two or three okay ones. Maybe I’ll find a couple really good ones, but I’ve had to do all that work to find those few. For me, it’s not worth the effort when I can go to the bookstore, spend an hour having fun staring at books and smelling the paper (which I don’t get from an online store), and then finding something from a brand I already trust (Tor might release one book out of a dozen that I’m not particularly fond of, which is different from the kinds of things that have come my way through self-publishing). You keep saying that things are changing, but things are getting worse. The easier it becomes for the drivel to find a place in the SP world, the more people who write such things will be flooding through the gates, and are.

    And I’m not even asking for something unreasonable: a way to tell the consumer “this is of professional quality and not crap.” What is wrong with that? For traditional publishing it comes in the form of a brand name (Tor, Random House, Knopf, whatever), which tells us “this book was edited by a professional editor, then copyedited, etc.” Why is it so wrong to ask for the same thing from SP? Right now, there isn’t that sort of built in trust, so each author you buy who is SPed is essentially a gamble, particularly for average consumers.

    And people are this prejudiced against your industry. If they weren’t they would be buying SP books in droves, because the stuff has been readily available for decades. The problem has always been an issue of quality, and too many bad authors have tainted the efforts of good ones. If a consumer gets hit with ten SP authors who are dreadful (either personally or artistically), and only one good one seeps through, do you honestly expect the consumer to think the process is worth it? Any growth in SP is limited to how well it can weed out the crap, because average consumers (people who impulse buy, who stick with trusted brands, who do not look outside the box or are even willing to do any work to find good products (books)) are never going to deal with SP so long as it gives them what they don’t want. This is the problem: the average consumer wants it now, not later, and not with any extra work on their part. They are not going to read excerpts, most of them may only glance at reviews, at best, and the vast majority are going to go the grocery store or Borders or somewhere else and look for the next bestseller from such and such publisher or such and such author. The best hope for SP is to get as many non-average consumers into their wings as possible, but that will be limited. This isn’t a point of limited respect for how many people care about the process of finding books, its an observation based on statistical evidence and actual bookstore experiences on how the average consumer buys, not just in this industry, but in almost all industries (sometimes even cars). We live in an impulsive society, so it’s no surprise that our consumption habits are largely impulsive.

    And I agree, the point of writing is to be read. And of course there is potential in finding an audience with SP. Some have. Good for them. I have an interview with an SP author coming up, actually…


  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    SMD, there is an increasing number of readers who are paying attention to new media. There is also an increasing number of readers slowly becoming aware of this whole “indie author” thing and likening it to indie musicians and filmmakers before us.

    You’re operating under a view based on “what is true right this exact second.” It *is* true that a lot of readers are still completely unaware of new media, especially as it relates to books. But you’ll also find that when indie music and indie filmmaking first came out, it started rather small and there were only certain music and film consumers who were aware of what was going on, and acting accordingly.

    But as indie musicians and filmmakers made wonderful things, those initial consumers would tell people about it who were more in the mainstream. And those more mainstream consumers would check it out. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Folks like Scott Sigler and JC Hutchins have reached huge numbers of readers primarily through the medium of podcasting and a most definite guerilla/new media approach to marketing it. Podcasts in themselves are in many ways a “new media.” Lots of non-techy people still have no idea what the hell a podcast is.

    But that doesn’t matter. Because the internet allows you to target and reach consumers you might otherwise not have a snowball’s chance in hell of finding. (And I would bet that there are far more people aware of new media on the internet than off it. So there is no better place to find these people than… on the internet.) And if *those* people like it, they will start sharing with their friends, some of which may not be as savvy as they are.

    So the argument about consumers not knowing about new media is a little thin. In addition there was a time when people said: “No one is going to buy a book off the internet. People like to hold books in their hands and sit in a chair in a bookstore environment to check them out. They’re just not going to buy off the internet.”

    And yet… look at Amazon.

    We are at a tipping point socially and culturally in how we interact with things being sold to us. In many ways we are going back to the old mom and pop idea of advertising and marketing and selling being built upon relationships.

    And that’s what an indie does. They go online, they build relationships with their readers, ,those readers become their core fans. Those core fans are a big part of the group that tells other people.

    But what’s necessary for all of this to start to begin with is to write a great book that readers like. And being able to consistently find some readers on your own and fan that flame so that those readers will tell others.

    For entertainment (and probably actually most things), the most effective marketing is word of mouth. But you have to get to critical mass first.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    And as a clarification here, there has probably ALWAYS been indie music and filmmaking in one form or another. (Though obviously filmmaking is fairly recent in entertainment history) Just like there has always been indie authorship in one form or another (and in fact most books used to come out that way.)

    But as a “movement” as a “concept” indie authorship is in it’s infancy, as we watched those movements happen in both music and film. So it’s now happening with books.

    And if you don’t think it’s happening with books then you aren’t paying much attention. Self publishing gets a lot of press now. And many individuals and groups who used to scoff at it are now saying… well maybe. Including many agents and others inside of mainstream publishing.

    It’s not really that far from a “well maybe” to a “I can see where this can be a good thing for certain writers and readers.”

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    There is also a drastic difference not only between indie music/films and SP books, but also podcasted novels and SPed books. Podcasted novels have a tendency to harken back to older media forms a la radio, and so have a closer relationship to indie music/film, and music and film have very little, generally speaking, to do with reading, so to make the comparison between the industries is like comparing an apple to a moon rock. The processes of engagement for a consumer of a book and a consumer of music or a film is entirely different.

    When 500,000 people buy an SPed book or an podcasted novel, then I’ll agree that things are changing. Right now a lot of people are claiming “we’re changing things,” when really all that’s happened is that traditional publishing is adjusting how it approaches its online market. Whether podcasting came along or not, publishers were going to start doing the things they were doing (and some had been doing it before podcasting). And I don’t agree that publishers are saying “maybe” so much as seeing a handful of individuals with a built in market. They’re not going out of their way to publish podcasted novelists or SPed people. They’re simply seeing the dollars in a couple places, and taking the opportunity. If podcasters disappeared tomorrow, traditional publishing wouldn’t care at all.

    And also you’re confusing what I say about the “average consumer” as being applicable to everyone. Average consumers do one of two things: go to a bookstore like Borders or, if they already know what they want, they go to Amazon or a similar store. These same consumers, as I said, buy impulsively (a book stand at a grocery store, randomly showing up at Borders, maybe they see an ad for a new book by an author they love on a website, etc.).

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    SMD, you’re missing every point I’m making and trying to turn it into something I’m not saying. For this reason I’m going to disengage. This is not worth contributing to carpel tunnel over and I have edits to get to;.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    SMD, your arguments are getting inaccurate so it’s hard to continue on.

    1. Your “average consumer” doesn’t know the difference between Random House and Author House so probably doesn’t even know that a book is self-published. It’s people who are more savvy – and so people who spend more time reading reviews and hanging out on places like Goodreads – who will know if a book is self-published, not an average reader.

    2. An average reader who buys three books a year that are all on the bestseller list are going to be hard to reach for EVERYBODY. You seem to be basing your arguments on what sells the most as being the best litmus test. 50,000 books? Really? Small presses don’t sell those numbers. We’re talking a great success if you sell 5000 books – whether on an independent press or via self-publishing. By your logic, even small presses shouldn’t bother because they’re bound to lose money – if we’re talking statistical probability, which you like to do.

    3. Repeating myself: you say that you need the experience of sniffing a book before purchase and then criticize self-publishing because it’s not selling in droves. Yes! It’s harder to sell books without bookstores, we all know that. But with the proliferation of ebook readers it’s going to change how the marketplace works. Frequently I write about here that the new paradigm isn’t here, but it’s coming. We’re basically at the ground floor and you’re criticizing the industry based on past preconceptions.

    4. Repeating myself again: the better self-published books will be reviewed more often. The truly poorly-done will sell five books and have limited visibility. I agree, searching for a book on Lulu probably isn’t the best method to find a book, unless you know what you’re looking for. But going to any publisher’s site isn’t the main way people shop for books – they go to bookstores, Amazon/Borders.com/etc. or brick and mortar.

    The argument has never been that self-publishing is an easy way to sell books. The argument is that because of the difficulty in getting traditionally published, writers should have an outlet. You yourself acknowledge how market-driven the publishing industry is. The strangest part of your argument is that people don’t search for information. The very mainstream book buyers may be lazy, but the web was built for people to find information. People like using the web. They’re going to be using it more – the iPhone is new. Again, I don’t know why I have to make that argument.

    In conclusion, self-publishing is:

    • Good, getting better
    • Will be better in the future.

  • Randall Radic

    Good points, Henry. I keep going back to the idea that SP needs a distribution arm. Someone (venture capital?) needs to step up to the plate and make it happen. It would be tricky, but I think it could be done.

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Randall: It would definitely be tricky, but a distribution arm could help the good folks get more recognized in the more mainstream market, amongst more average consumers. Henry is correct that average consumers don’t know the difference between Randomhouse and Authorhouse, but Authorhouse books don’t show up in their traditional bookstores (Borders, B&N, etc.–rare exceptions notwithstanding), so a way of getting the good books into bookstores would definitely be a good venture.

    But, I don’t think that will happen or do any good if there isn’t a measure of quality control. I don’t know why Henry is so deadset against the prospect of giving a boost to the good SPed books. It seems to me to be against some way to differentiate easily the crap from the good is essentially to condemn SP authors to the stigma we’ve been discussing here. Why wouldn’t you want to help those that deserve it to easily rise above all the crap? Yes, you can run a site like this, you can review them, point out the good ones, etc., but the crap authors are just as good at doing PR as the good ones (some of them, anyway–I’ve seen a lot of the crap ones even manipulate reviews in a way that most people aren’t even going to notice). I’ve been approached by numerous of such authors and unsuspecting buyers probably won’t know any better. Technically their fault for not looking closer, but not really the point. Self-publishing is a double-edged sword, so why you would be against making one edge sharper without having to spend hours at the sharpening wheel is beyond me.

    Zoe: Your points about indie music and books was irrelevant because it fails to acknowledge the reality that the mediums are entirely different. The industries may have similarities, but saying that an apple is like an orange doesn’t work. Good luck with the edits.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    My points weren’t irrelevant SMD, and I’m not sure why it’s so important to you to try to make them so.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    “I don’t know why Henry is so deadset against the prospect of giving a boost to the good SPed books.”

    You’re making stuff up. What do you think this site is set up to do? And my defense of services like Indie Reader. It’s all about improving self-published books and improving the attitude towards self-publishing.

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Henry: You’re right, it was someone else. My apologies. I mixed you up with someone elsewhere. And I agree, and maybe my problem is that for whatever reason I’m a magnet for so many of the bad ones. If there really are more good ones out there (and I know there are good ones, because I’ve read some of them, and I even was very open to self-pub books for review for several years after starting doing book reviews), why am I only being exposed to the bad ones? I don’t just mean in my review pool (which is particularly horrible), but anywhere. I even said in my original post that a lot of my issues with self-publishing were recent inventions due to some exceptionally horrible experiences. And for me I would drop anyone, even a traditional publisher, if I had those kinds of experiences. If Tor produced five books straight that were so horrible I wanted to chuck them across the room, I would probably stop reading anything by them ever again, even if it was free (and maybe that would change if something changed with Tor; thank goodness they haven’t ruined themselves in that manner, because I’m particularly fond of Tor).

    I still don’t think there are drastically more good books than bad ones, but that’s not the point in this particular response.

    Zoe: Because comparing two mediums that are completely different in how they are received is making an unsubstantiated argument. I can sit here and argue to you all day why an apple is like an orange, but in the end, is an apple an orange, even if there are similarities? No. Books and movies will never been the same in how they are received by an audience, because they are drastically different mediums. The industries behind them may have very similar practices in how to get the product to the consumer, but the consumer never will look at a movie the same way as a book, because you can’t.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Yeah, movies and music will always be different too. It doesn’t negate the whole “indie concept.”

    I guess the only thing left to say to you is, the world, she is changing. See you on the other side.

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    I’m not negating the “indie concept.” I indicated to you multiple times that the industries themselves may use the same kinds of tools, but that the way consumers buy and consume the mediums is different, thus making the comparison irrelevant. Books are not immediate gratification: they take a considerable amount of time, even with well-written ones, to know if you truly love a book. Music is not: consumers can usually tell if a song is for them right off the bat, and since indie music has always largely been Internet based, it’s built in fanbase has instant methods for testing the product without considerable strain on time. Thirty seconds on a song and that’s pretty much all most need. Movies are very similar, though “indie films” are somewhat different from the model being discussed here precisely because a good portion of films done independently from major studios are funded by external sources, or funded by smaller, non-major studios.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Okay… SMD here is the thing that you don’t seem to be getting… yes, books may take a long time to read and know if you love them, but guess what? That is true of a book no matter how it is published. I know you have this massive faith in the vetting system, but I can tell you 50% or more of the NY published books that I read I hate by about the midpoint and it is a struggle to get through it if I get through it at all.

    Further, I offer work for free, so people can test an entire story of mine before plunking down the big bucks.

    Books are sold mainly via word of mouth, but you have to make people aware of the book to get that rolling.

    Also, your thing you mentioned way back up there about how SP isn’t viable unless someone can sell like 500,000 copies, that’s an insane argument. Most books are lucky if they sell 5,000 copies. No matter HOW they are brought to market. But I will tell you I intend to sell at least 5,000 copies.

    My novella in the Amazon kindle store is ranked right now (and it fluctuates, but at this moment) at 1,555 out of 300,000 products. I’ve had over 6500 downloads in various venues since I put it out at the end of November, and I haven’t marketed it nearly as strongly as I could or should. Nevertheless I am working on my author platform.

    And unless you are already famous, author platform is built in pretty much the same way with trad and indie authors. One reader at a time. At some point you hope to reach critical mass where the word of mouth snowball gets going.

    I’m not sure what goal posts you have set up in your mind, but it seems to me that your goal posts are constantly moving and everchanging because you just plain don’t “like” the idea of self publishing.

    You have said yourself that you are starting a small press publishing someone else. How many copies do you expect to sell? What is in it for you? What is the point of your venture? Are you trying to make a profit? Is t just for the love of publishing? Because I’m telling you, as an indie author, I can do just as well as you. Period.

    So what is this argument really about?

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    I guess what ultimately puzzles me, SMD, is if you believe all the things you’re saying about how books are sold and blah blah blah, then why on earth would you start a small press to publish anyone? Obviously you don’t seem to believe it’s possible to sell books outside of venues and ways that would be closed to you anyway.

    The line between what you’re doing and what I’m doing is so so much thinner than you want to believe it is. So what do you hope to achieve? And why do you think there is a magical set of rules that are different for you, than for an indie?

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    Jumping in here — the original post quoted somebody as saying that amazon reviews are all plants — if that were true, my books would all be rated five stars instead of three

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tessa, over half of my Amazon reviews are from total strangers, so… yeah. While some people I do know online have reviewed me, I met all those people THROUGH my writing. My mother has not reviewed me, nor will she. etc.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    SMD, I can often tell within 30 seconds when I don’t like a book. I don’t have to read the whole thing if the opening doesn’t grab me. And errors in grammar, spelling, etc. will show up in the first few pages. So the song analogy is flawed.
    Indie publishing is an opportunity for readers to decide whether an author is readbale, even if the big publishers don’t see a nest seller in the work.
    ~~ Tessa Dick

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    yes, Amazon let’s everybody jump in and review things — not just friends and family — and my friends and family don’t review stuff — heck, half of them don’t even use Amazon

  • http://wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Zoe and Tessa: Neither of you would be considered average consumers. And that’s not necessarily true that errors will show up in the first pages. I’ve read a few where they didn’t start falling apart until the middle grammatically, etc.

    “You have said yourself that you are starting a small press publishing someone else. How many copies do you expect to sell? What is in it for you? What is the point of your venture? Are you trying to make a profit? Is t just for the love of publishing? Because I’m telling you, as an indie author, I can do just as well as you. Period.”

    We’re publishing a literary journal. I don’t expect to sell more than a few hundred, because the intention was never to sell more than that. We’re publishing young writers under the age of 25, with the target audience being members of my writing website for young writers. Most of the money goes to the authors. The only money we keep goes into the site to pay for hosting and to host writing contests with real prizes, and possibly to have an actual publishing rate later on. I wouldn’t say it’s for the love of publishing so much as just an avenue through which the members of the site can see their work in print in an edited magazine. It’s also somewhat to give them a taste of the kinds of things they’ll have to deal with when submitting short stories at bigger markets, since we do reject stories/poems that we simply don’t want or don’t like.

    And I’m sure you can do just as well. I’m not sure why you feel you need to say that. If you’re sure of yourself, then great, but there’s no need to prove that to me. You have your readers (seems like quite a few, actually), and if they like your work, then great. You’ve done your job.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    SMD, I am an average reader, altho’ not an average writer.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    SMD then I’m genuinely continually puzzled by WHY you have such an issue with self publishing. Why do you care? Why is there such a bug up your butt about this issue? You keep pointing out all the flaws with self publishing in general, but it’s been pointed out to you more than one time that those issues don’t really apply to serious indies who are concerned with quality and know anything about marketing. They have nothing to do with sites like this.

    But you just seem to want to argue for the sake of it. And I can’t really figure out why. What I want to know is, why are you above reproach. You lay out your goals for the small press thing you’re doing, which is perfectly fine. Well what if a SP author had the same type of goals?

    It feels like to me (and I could be wrong, but it’s very difficult to get at your point here in all these arguments), that you have this idea about self publishing authors that most of them suck, most of them are naive, most of them can’t reach an audience, because most readers buy a certain way and blah blah blah. But what does any of that have to do with anything?

    What does it have to do with the audience for this blog? What does it have to do with posts made on this blog?

    I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m just really slow today, but it feels like all the stuff you’re railing against has nothing to do with us. And I don’t really get why the issue matters to you one way or the other in the first place.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    SMD , you also ignore the growing trend for established writers to self-publish for a variety of reasons.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    One other thing… I don’t really believe there is this homogenous group of people called “the average reader” which you repeatedly refer to. There are many many different reading and buying habits among different groups of people. And really and truly, there are plenty of consumers who buy most of their books online and if they hear about that book in any way online, and they can get it on amazon, and they can see a sample, then those readers are just as likely to buy as they would any other book in any other venue.

    And I speak personally as one of those readers. I shop almost exclusively on Amazon. I couldn’t tell you what anybody’s publisher imprint really means. i.e. I don’t know if it’s an imprint of random house, a small publisher, or an indie author. Nor do I care. I look at reviews. I read excerpts. If I’ve heard of the book anywhere before or it’s been recommended to me, that factors in to.

    But I am part of a growing trend of shopping, and your references to “the average reader” acts as if all human beings who read or at least “the average ones” all shop in a certain given way all the time without deviation, and that’s just not realistic human behavior.

    There are niches within niches when it comes to what people read and how they buy those things, and my argument is that on the internet, there is a near limitless audience for me to market to, who would in turn buy my book off amazon if they A. heard about it somewhere and B. decided it sounded like something they’d like.

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    Zoe: I’m only here because Henry pointed a link to my blog and made an argument. Otherwise I would have left the argument on my own blog in the post he links to.

    My problem never was with the good SP authors. Ever. It’s always been with the crap. Yes, of course good indie authors are out there, are doing things and fighting to get the respect that they actually deserve, but there aren’t enough of you to deal with those that don’t give a crap about the craft of writing (or who “care,” but not enough to actually improve themselves or recognize when they just plain suck). My original post even indicated that there are good SP authors out there. My whole argument (here and in some of the comments back on my blog) was never one to say that good folks don’t exist, just that the industry has a flaw that needs to be dealt with more proactively. Just being good isn’t going to help deal with the issues of the industry. And it would help to have easier methods, as I’ve said, to get the good stuff to the consumer and keep the garbage in a metaphysical slush pile.

    Average consumers are based on statistics. And you’d be surprised what is ‘realistic human behavior.” We’re a gloriously habitual species. Philip K. Dick even noticed it in the 60s and called it the “android personality.” And this is actually what I study currently and what I will be studying in graduate school: the human. Our problem has always been that we are too easily sucked into habit, into “tradition.” In some cases it is not a big deal, but in others it’s obviously a problem. This is very true of the consumption habits of human beings. Capitalism in its merchantile form essentially demands impulsiveness in consumers in order to operate; the fact that some buyers are outside of this spectrum really only points to the minority who aren’t a part of the habitual consumptive model. Whether getting rid of this “traditional” model of consumption is possible, or even a good thing, is a whole other discussion.

    I am not, generally speaking, one of those average consumers either, Zoe. There’s nothing wrong with being outside of the majority, but that doesn’t mean that impulse doesn’t operate as a dominate feature within the buying habits of the majority. You said it well: niches. Niches are always small, and always isolated figures in a main group.

    The Internet is probably one of the best new marketing tools out there, particularly since those buyers who are not traditionally impulsive tend to get their product information online. It’s possible this will shift more and this “niche” will grow, but I think that really depends on what happens economically in the U.S. and in other capitalist societies over the next few years. It’s not looking good, though, since the way the markets have been run (in a sort of endless financializing/debt-selling/buying cycle) seems to have been upheld with the lack of required payback in the recent stimulus package (all for bailing out companies so long as they have to pay us back with interest…).

    But this is getting too political for the discussion at hand…

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    I think we’ve reached the crux of where you’re coming from. This is a whole other can of worms, but I think this kind of statistical analysis is dangerous: reducing people to numbers rather than individuals. Yes, there are trends, but it leads to mindsets like you have – because most people do something one way, there’s no reason to try another way. It’s a really spiritless way to look at reality. Most people are conformists, fine: but why accept that and try to fight the people who are nonconformists, non-androids? That’s what you’re missing. I don’t think PK Dick would ever say, OK, screw it, the marketers win. But maybe we should ask Tessa.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey SMD,

    I guess that I rely on the idea that the “average consumer” (pretending there is such a thing), buys at least SOME of their books via recommendation.

    So I don’t HAVE to be able to directly reach every reader. All I have to figure out how to do is to directly reach the niche group of people that I can most effectively reach, and if those readers like my work sufficiently then they will recommend my work to others.

    It’s not that complex of a concept to me and it doesn’t require an entire reworking of how any given nebulous majority does their shopping.

    Though I still can’t really fathom why you’re so worked up about self publishing in general. Yes you’ve pointed out several times you think there are some good self pubbed books out there but that there are way too many bad. Yes, but why am *I* judged on that based on my method of publication?

    I’m not saying you personally are doing that, but you seem to think that everybody judges self pubbed books based on all the bad apples out there. I’m not sure that’s really true. Since the “average consumer” you are talking about, doesn’t know crap about publisher labels.

    As I think Henry has stated, they don’t know the difference in random house and authorhouse. So you are applying your savvyness level to this “average consumer.” Who frankly doesn’t know who publishes anything, nor do they care. Most readers do not care who publishes a book.

    And if it looks good/professional and has good reviews and a good excerpt and blah blah blah, it looks no different to most readers than any other book.

    Frankly the good self pubbed books, most readers won’t know they are self pubbed because they will be of such quality that they blend in. Given that, what DIFFERENCE does it make if most self pubbed books suck?: Really? I’m really trying to understand your arguments but you’re all over the place here. And you’re applying things to the “average reader” that just aren’t realistic… such as this idea of bad self pubbed books bringing the rest of us down. No, the only people doing that are other writers, who are endlessly and anally obessed with “who is your publisher?”

  • http:/wisb.blogspot.com/ SMD

    I’m going to have to respond to these later. I need to get some of my own work done (two essays over 15 pages long, fiction, and a load of other stuff due in about a week).

  • http://inksnatcher.com Sally Hanan

    Is this the perfect moment to advertise my editing business or what?? LOL.
    We all know that SP has gained more popularity in that more great writers are taking this route to publish their books. Yes, it can be a hodgepodge of good and bad, and the possibility of finding worms in the apples is high, but the good ‘uns will get good reviews and the bad ‘uns will not. I would like to see more reviewers of SP books; that’s a high calling though.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMFAO Sally, OMG that was awesomely hilarious!

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    SMD called upon the magical name of my husband, so Imust respond.

    If the Internet form of SP had existed in the 1970s, Philip K. Dick’s VALIS trilogy would have been published ten years earlier, instead of posthumously, beginning around 1982.

    Phil couldn’t sell VALIS and the other books, despite his reputation. In fact, his agent begged him to quit writing and just live on the royalties from what he had already written.

    SP would have brought readers his most mature work a decade earlier, and that would have been a good thing.


  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    Sally: Thank You
    Finally, in all this mess of a conversation, the real issue has floated to the surface. This is what I have been saying all along. The “average reader” is not going to be inundated by a tsunami of bad books because of self-publishing. The “average reader” has little to no exposure to these books; in fact, they have little to no exposure to the vast number of books published in general. SP is a not swine flu. The real issue here is about gatekeepers. So let’s come right out and say it. This has nothing to do with the Indie business model. It’s about the changing of the guard. If the average consumer were at all concerned about quality, they wouldn’t be buying cheap lead paint-based toys produced by child-labour in foreign countries. The “average consumer” has no idea what quality means. The “average reader” reads between a 5th and 8th grade reading level. Look at the Flesch-Kincaid score chart if you don’t believe me. This all goes back to what I said before. If gate keeping and quality is the real issue, then we need more legitimate reviewers. More sites like this, among others, where the review staff has expertise not only in the field of SP but also literary expertise, which means theory and the craft in itself. Yes, we, as reviewers get exposed to much more crap than the “average reader” ever will, so it’s easy to become jaded, but it is our job as the new-world-order-gatekeepers to make sure the good work rises to the top.

    This is a higher calling, definitely. Over at the Podpeople, Emily started with like 12-17 reviewers. We have dwindled to a mere 3. It’s a tough gig, no doubt about that. (Anyone want a job?) We as reviewers also have to rise to the occasion. Arguing business model semantics is a waste of energy. We should be reviewing, expanding our readership, and thus earning our gatekeeper status. I can tell by a query whether or not a book is going to be worth looking at. If not the query, the first few pages. If it makes the cut, I review it, and I am a hardass when it comes to quality. I don’t look for mainstream diatribe; I look for an artistic literary approach and readability. I don’t mind a few typos or grammatical missteps so long as they aren’t egregious or widespread. Why? Cause the “average reader” won’t notice them anyway: they certainly don’t notice them in mainstream works, even if I do. Readability, relatability, and emotional relevance, that’s what Literature is all about. Grammar and style take care of the first part — that’s the writing bit — and the other two are subjective.

    Therefore, as a final note from me, if we want better self-published books to make it to the “average reader” then we, as reviewers, need to be the tried and true gatekeepers. The job has fallen upon our shoulders, whether we like it or not. We, the Indie reviewers, are the Editors of the new age. Crap job maybe, but someone has to do it.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMAO @ SP is not a swine flu.

    My issue in this debate has been trying to get a handle on where SMD is going in all this. I’ll admit that his first impression with me was a bad one with a post over on his own blog. He can come off very reasonable in comments, but then I’m left trying to figure out if he’s arguing just for the fun of it or what his “ultimate point’ is.

    I could be wrong in this, but it feels like there is an “anti-self publishing agenda” going on. (wow that sounds impressive and scary lol.) Maybe that’s my own misguided perception. Maybe I look like a giant arrogant ass trotting my numbers out (which I will be the first to admit aren’t like ZOMG wow or anything, but they certainly aren’t the “average” 100 or so books that supposedly is the most SPers can expect to move) but I’ve been trying to ascertain where he’s going with all this. And his earlier post involving SP and 500,000 sales, made me think he had unrealistic expectations of what is considered “successful” for average book sales.

    The point isn’t/wasn’t to say, “oh look how great I am.” I have much room left for improvement as a writer, publisher, and marketer, but… it is possible and even realistic to be able to reach an audience of several thousand through self publishing. And I feel like that point very often gets obscured in the noise over how much of it is crap.

    I also feel that many self publishing authors set their goals way too low in an effort not to come off as too self-important or naive. But setting goals low makes it unlikely you’ll rise about that. Maybe selling 100,000 copies is unrealistic. But certainly 5,000 copies is not an unrealistic goal to set for a book. Not saying it’s easy, or that you’ll get it on your first book out, but unless you’re writing something so niche that there just aren’t that many people to buy your book in the first place, it’s my opinion that you can reach that many at some point.

    Some SP’ers have no desire to build an audience of any given number. And that’s okay too. But very often I see an argument against self publishing having to do with reach and your ability to sell a certain number of books, as if it’s any easier for a small press pubbed author, or even “much” easier for a trad published author.

    Distribution isn’t marketing. If it was, then every book on mainstream published bookstore shelves would sell… at least until a certain number people decided they felt any one given book sucked.

    If what you put out is of a high enough quality it does not matter what other people are doing. We can’t judge self publishing as a concept or self published books based on the bad ones. That’s a type of prejudice we don’t allow in most other areas. But in the area of publishing we seem to almost snuggle that prejudice like a warm fluffy kitten.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    Actually I would make the very stupid argument that self-publishing is Swine Flu. Widely reported as bad, but not really as bad as it seems.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMAO Henry. When she mentioned swine flu I thought “well that’s not as bad as people thought” but then I didn’t make the further connection you did. Kudos! hahaha.

  • http://podpeep.blogspot.com Cheryl Anne Gardner

    Nice Henry, very nice. But I don’t think a self-published book ever made anyone sick enough to be hospitalized let alone killed anyone. Some of the SP forums I have stumbled into have given me a rash, but that was about it. Nothing dire.

  • Tom Dark

    The publishing industry belched out over 276,000 new titles last year. Sales plunged worse than ever. Which of them were good? I get e-mails from people who’ve walked out of a Barnes & Noble or Borders empty handed and angry. They feel “condescended to,” quote. Publishing bigwigs are blaming readers’ “shortened attention spans,” quote. Which of you has lost a portion of your attention spans? Know anybody who has?

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tom, I’ve walked out of bookstores with nothing too. Partly I’m disgruntled by “more of the same” everywhere, and partly I’m disgruntled by so many books in my face. The choices are overwhelming.

    Ironically, though Amazon.com has millions of books, because I can’t see them all at one time, I am significantly less overwhelmed. I’m also able to search reviews and do google searches on books before clicking the buy button.

  • Tom Dark

    Great little attention span, there, Zoe! Someday let’s read something complicated together, eh?

    Here’s my secret plan unveiled publicly here for the first time: mix the bookstores and coffeeshops together. I mean put the tables among the shelves. Stock just single copies of the books for sale — ones that can get greasy and dogeared. Let people browse around, siddown with their coffees and such, and pick something out to read.

    “Whatcha readin’?” Is the very best and only true reliable sales device a book has ever had. If people want to buy it, they can have a barrista go get a fresh copy in the stockroom, or order it online, or download it electronically.

    In the meantime, coffee and socializing keeps the bookstore operating. People pay “rent” with a coffee, minimum.

    Okay, now that I’ve revealed this publicly for the first time, who’s going to do it?

    It’s been working great for a coffeeshop/bookstore in Berkeley CA for decades. What I don’t understand is why it hasn’t spread. Maybe these corporate execs not only don’t read, they’re too good to get out among the real people who do.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LMAO @ “someday let’s read something complicated together”

    I actually had a similar idea. Thought it would be cool to have a coffee shop with one of those espresso book machines in it. Order a coffee and sandwich on your lunch break, and a book. The coffee shop could feature bands on the weekends and book discussion groups for different genres during the week.

    I think it’s cool Berkeley has that. Of course Berkeley also supposedly has “vampire clubs” too. So you know… it’s Berkeley hehe.

  • Tom Dark

    There we go, Zoe! Book on Lunchbreak. That’s exactly what I used to do on my lunch hour, and I still have a book with barbecue-sauce stains in it to prove it.

    I spent 10 years taking a daily break at one of 2 local coffeeshops. Half the customers were always reading, and I always took note of who and what age was reading what. In 10 years I never saw anybody reading anything that was on any best seller list. Somebody may’ve been, out of my notice, but the preponderance was always classics and authors who were generally dead — on one occasion a young lady was reading Erica Jong’s latest. She didn’t finish it and neither could I.

    This suggested to me what I now contend: the reason the publishing industry is in such trouble is because they’re not putting out much of anything people really want to read, among these 276,000 cookie-cutter titles last year alone. As to self-publishing and its supposed demerits, nobody wanted Shelley or Keats, either. They had to self-publish. And for better or worse, but in terms of sales, the mega-sellers Neil Whatsisname and Stephanie the Vampire writer also had to do the same.

    Re-vitalizing the coffeeshops — which experience an upturn because the entertainment there for a good long hang-out is far cheaper than a 2-hour extravaganza of computer graphics blowing stuff up real good — would indeed be a key.

    Friends sell books among friends… I rather doubt it’d work by stocking a coffeeshop/bookseller with paid shills.

    Another thought — the coffeeshop would pay for the overhead and the barristas. The barristas themselves would have intellectually challenging jobs.

    I’m going to see if I can’t make two separate postings. I have a news item worth noticing. Hang on.

  • Tom Dark

    (There. Now, what if these two stores did as suggested, above? If they ain’t got no good books, at least they could get along on good coffee)

    Shaman Drum Gives Up the Fight to Survive; Wisconsin Store to Close After 113 Years

    Owner of Ann Arbor bookstore Shaman Drum Karl Pohrt will close the store at the end of June. “I feel like I’ve had this charmed life to sell books in Ann Arbor for nearly 30 years,” he tells the Ann Arbor News (which will also close soon.) “That’s a good run.”

    The store’s site says, “On the advice of my accountant and my business manager, I am closing Shaman Drum Bookshop June 30. Despite a first rate staff, a fiercely loyal core of customers, a very decent landlord and my own commitment to the community of arts and letters in Ann Arbor, it is clear to me that the bookshop is not a sustainable business.”

    Pohrt had said earlier in the year that he was trying to save the store by reconstituting as a nonprofit. He indicates that plans to establish the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center continue, though he does not have a location for the center yet. On the store site, he notes that “I am decoupling Shaman Drum Bookshop from the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, which should simplify and streamline our IRS application. I will pursue this new venture after we close the store.”
    AA News

    Also set to close is Conkey’s Bookstore in Appleton, WI, where the shop has operated for 113 years. Owner John Zimmerman tells the local paper, “We’ve done the best we can under the situation we’re in now. What hurts the most is what will happen to the people who work for me.” He has not set a firm closing date, while the store holds a sale and employees look for other work. Mayor Tim Hanna says, “It’s one of those anchor stores … an icon in downtown Appleton.”

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    They need to turn their bookstores into coffee shops. Totally.

    And Walt Whitman also self published. Leaves of Grass. He even set the freaking type himself. Even if I’ll never be as great as someone like Walt Whitman or Poe, being in the company of those people as far as the “indie spirit” is something you can’t put a price tag on, IMO.

  • Tom Dark

    Gee, Zoey, I just read your self-publishing 5 minutes’ hate parody. I THOUGHT I liked you for some reason. You a musician or what? Ask me about Melissa Ferrick some time. Or google “Tom Dark Melissa Ferrick” for an artifact. We made that gal’s sales go ZOOOOOOOOOOOOM, we did. It’s a lesson for self-publishing in literature too.

  • http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com K.M. Weiland

    Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts. As a self-published author who adamantly defends self-publishing and rejects the prejudices and stigmas attached to it, my only caveat is the lack of quality control. I too believe the system will eventually grow to a place where some kind of quality control will evolve. Your post gives me hope that such will be so!

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    LOL nope, not a musician. Just thought many of the common arguments about why Self publishing is clearly the bane of all existence, sounded goofy if you changed it to music.

    And Cool.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    Self-publishing is not going to go away, so the literary snobs better just get used to it.
    And the internet is making self-publishing cheaper, easier and better.

  • Tom Dark

    Tessa, I believe your husband is the author of a story I read as a boy that continues to haunt me. It was not the clever device of a man stepping on a butterfly in prehistoric times which then turned George Abnego president in their return to the present, but the fact that I’ve seen the Abnego persona in every presidential regime since I noticed the similarity.

    And that’s what literature is for. It isn’t for “average readers.” The notion that there’s such a thing is illusory. It doesn’t matter if a potboiler can sell a hundred million copies. It does matter that those selling books know one when they see it. So, demographics are invented, marketing studies done, corporate drone editors given specific guidelines, and just about everything they pick tanks. They think they’re making scientific decisions based on the imaginary psychology of “the average reader.”

    Nobody wanted Dr. Seuss! Nobody wanted Kerouac. And nobody wanted JK Rowling — more telling, because by that time, corporate mentality was in full swing among the so-called “traditional publishers,” who aren’t traditional at all — the old names have long been taken over by corporations owned by mega-corporations.

    The parallels with the music business aren’t simply similar, they’re copy-cat. The corporate publishing industry is headed to where the music biz went: living off their catalogues and year after year producing “demographic models” of crap nobody wants to listen to. They’re both top-heavy with executives and surrounded by choosers chosen for their pliability and shows of fake gung-ho, not their imaginations.

    It is a widespread illusion that a “traditional publisher” — again, read “corporate publisher”, somehow validates and justifies a writer’s being. It’s akin to “god loves me! Oh, you’re self-published? God doesn’t love you!”

    For those still aching with this illusion, you should know that the average sales in 2007 through corporate publishing was 500 books per author. This means they made maybe 840 bucks. The rest got flushed down the labyrinth of executive salaries and so on. I haven’t yet seen the stats for 2008, but I know various corporate publishers did much worse in ’08.

    As with genuinely talented musicians (I’ve known quite a few and been one), self-publishing now makes more sense than ever. And aside from all-important matters of soul, as with any business prospect, eliminating every possible middleman, chief corporate feudal executive, and any bottle-washer not absolutely necessary and effective, has always been the way to go.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    thanx, Tom Dark
    — Phil was stuck in the relative obscurity of Ace doubles for many years
    — it was the science fiction equivalent of the Harlequin romance
    — and look how much respect he gets now, finally

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Actually, Tom, aside from a couple of publishers, Harlequin being one of them, almost no publisher is doing much in the way of market research and demographics studies. And if they are, it’s an incredibly recent phenomenon. I could respect the idea of corporate publishing more if more general business principles were applied to publishing, like they are applied in other industries. It seems like publishing can’t decide if they want to be in the business of selling “art” in which case, profit is generally a secondary concern, or if they want to sell widgets. Until they figure that out, it’s going to continue to be this way.

    As for sales, it was my understanding that your average NY pubbed book was selling at least 5,000 copies, because if it couldn’t sell that many they wouldn’t take it on. NY publishers seem to be looking in the neighborhood to sell 25,000 copies of a book or more. Am I mistaken in this notion? Where are your numbers from?


  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tessa,

    It’s sad that he couldn’t have gotten more of that respect when he was still here. Hopefully he’s somewhere where he can see where his writing has gone in his absence.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    I really do wish that Phil could be here to enjoy this.
    He would probably self-publish his Exegesis — in ten volumes.

  • Tom Dark

    Zoe, my numbers come from the various daily trades and sometimes direct from the publishers. It’s my job. The ’07 overall profit figure was .03% (BK Journal), which makes 500 books a lot more likely than 5,000 all-around. The fact that contracts aren’t being honored is first-hand as well as hearsay. Penguin-Putnam seems to be doing okay, and nearly all of Hatchette is being supported by Stephanie Meyers, so it appears. Returns from stores are “horrendous.” I also find that most of the editors are kids right out of college, usually young women (a long-standing corporate practice), the over-40s are still being fired, editor communications are largely in short little buzzwords, manuscripts aren’t actually being read before they’re sold (Editors from France and UK), and marketing departments are doing the whizz-work described, overriding what editors choose.

    Tess, years ago I was a critic for a couple-three East Bay papers in Oakland. I attended a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., titled “How to Get a Job Like Mine.” The answer: You can’t. Not even Mark Twain would have survived, he said, except that he married rich. So don’t think about trying to make a career as a writer, he concluded. He didn’t even say “just write.” I say “just write.” And if you don’t have to, don’t.

    The floor of history is littered with writers who died poor, who nevertheless live today in quite a few peoples’ minds. They were more of the order of prophets, weren’t they? Was not your husband one of them? “Not without honor in all places but his own country?”

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tom, are books published by small presses included in that, or are we talking imprints of major NY houses as well?

    And if we’re talking about major NY houses as well, how on EARTH are they surviving if some of their titles are only selling 500 copies?

    Of course if that’s so, it really underscores my point that distribution is not the same as marketing. So many titles all the marketing they get is the marketing necessary to sell it (on consignment) to bookstore buyers. That’s basically distribution. It’s not marketing. And it doesn’t count as sales until it sells-through to the end reader.

    Also… That is a bone of contention for me, these editors right out of college. *I* can easily get that kind of editing for my own work outside the system. So why would I need a trad publisher for the magically wonderful NY editing, if so many editors are so young and inexperienced? Whatever happened to Maxwell Perkins?

  • Tom Dark

    Damned if I know, Zoe. It probably all came from BookScan, or whatever that service is called. They list the sales of the majors, anyhow. I did read in PW that the little houses aren’t hurting as bad, but it’s up and down, some are going under. Remember, 500 is an average between, say Obama’s Book of Crowing and a lot of people who sold jack-nothing. How are they surviving? Back catalogues, I said, plus, apparently, loans. Some have decided to start cannibalizing a percentage of their authors’ personal appearances. Various novelists are now required reading in colleges, too.

    WHOOOAAAA about marketing. There are other comments above that are similarly non-sequitur (since when does somebody buy a book without first reading a bit of it, or hearing from a friend, etc. etc.? Are these hapless consumers just stupid?). Amen amen I say unto you, marketing doesn’t sell a book or a CD. They sell themselves from reader to reader, listener to listener. Recent marketing story? Well, let me not mention the name. But this writer went on Oprah. The publisher had 250,000 books shipped and sitting in the stores timed with the appearance. Plus, this writer got in TIME magazine and all this other happy stuff that costs a LOT to rig. In 3 months, only 7,500 copies had been sold. It’s since sunk out of sight. That’s how many books sheer “marketing” sold. I couldn’t read the damned thing. That’s one of a number of examples I learned about this past year. It really IS like they’re not reading what they’re selling.

    I’m 57. Imagine my non-plussment when I see a 26 year old cutie who’s somebody’s niece who has the title “Senior Editor.” And I get little fwippy notes with misspellings like “definately.” Perkins? Cerf? Ross? Anybody? They’ve probably worn themselves out rolling over in their graves.

    There’s now e-books. A wild card. Nobody knows what to do yet.

    Well Tess, Philip K. Dick is a god now, isn’t he? Anything stopping you from sorting out how to sell his unpublished works?

    Maybe not something to discuss in a public forum, but, a thought to mention aloud.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tom,

    Yeah, Marketing is just to make people “aware of” your book. It’s that whole thing about leading a horse to water. You hope to sell enough through your marketing efforts and for the book itself to resonate with people enough, that at some point you reach critical mass and the book feels like it’s selling itself because it’s fueled based on word of mouth.

    I wonder though how it’s possible for someone to sell jack nothing if they’re published by a major publisher and have major distribution. It just feels like they ought to all be selling 5,000 at least if they’re put out by someone like Penguin or some such.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    I am not in charge of Phil’s estate. His & Ann’s daughter is running the show.
    Wish I had a say.
    But then, I do have my own books.

  • Tom Dark

    Well Zoe, I’ll say this one out loud: Aviga’s WHITE TIGER got jillions in marketing. Jillions. They’d started that January. by that April they’d sold 4,000 books in India. Then Jamie Byng of Canongate went on record to say the MAN Booker prize, which “Tiger” won, was fixed. All I can tellya is I stopped into a bookstore a couple months ago to see about “Tiger” and the lady told me they’d sold less than before the MAN prize, tho’ all the hype said it’d since sold 200,000. Hmm. Nobody I know has yet read it. I tried — somebody made a gift of it — and got bored toot-sweet. They prob’ly sold “some.”

    So, I think back to when Green Day, Counting Crows and Smashing Pumpkins were all reported to have sold 12 million copies each, all in the same few months. I was living right where GD and CC lived, and never heard so much as a peep of them out of local windows (college town) and cars; just a bit from local radio. Then I read one of the guys in Green Day complaining that if they’d sold that much, how come they didn’t have any money? Then I learned this: the marketers make false claims. That many albums were printed and shipped to record stores. How many actually bought ‘em is… a secret.

    At the same time, a producer pal of mine had an act on the Beverly Hills 90210 album. 3 million copies, they said. That’s 14 cents a pop for each act on it, just to start with. But his 2-man act: one was in jail ‘cuz he couldn’t pay his traffic tickets, the other, working at a convenience store. No money at all. 3 million copies printed and shipped, no sales, no artist made any money.

    I also talked to a LOT of kids, Green-Day et-al buying age. Yeah, a few of their friends bought it, but nerds. One kid told me he bought it because he heard it sold a lot.

    So there’s the state of marketing. Snake-oil. On the other hand, ever heard of Slim Whitman? Self-promoter. He actually did outsell the Beatles.

    Hey Zoe and Tess, look at this:

    S&S Puts Almost 5,000 Titles On Sale At Scribd.com

    In a release originally set for announcement today that hit the wires last night after Business Week violated the embargo, Simon & Schuster is offering almost 5,000 of their titles available for sale on Scribd.com through a branded “storefront” on the site, including books from some of their bestselling authors. The books are priced at 20 percent below print retail, and the site provides the publisher with 80 percent of the revenue. S&S is also providing free previews with links to purchase print books from the publisher’s website.

    Scribd’s files are viewable online and download only as protected PDF files that the WSJ says are not currently viewable on Kindle, but will be viewable on the iPhone OS after a software update from Scribd.

    A Scribd spokesperson declined to provide information on sales so far of books in general following the launch of their beta store a few weeks ago. But Kathleen Miller indirectly acknowledged our assessment based on the site’s own displayed “views” that sales of books have been modest at best. She told us “it’s been our experience (with “pre-commerce” documents) that it often takes a while for things to take off.” Miller added that “‘views isn’t a good snapshot right now. We’ve experienced a glitch that undercounts views by up to 50%. We are in the process of fixing it.”

    S&S chief digital officer Ellie Hirschhorn says in the announcement “we’re pleased to offer them this convenient, user-friendly option for discovering, sampling, and purchasing Simon & Schuster books, any time and anywhere.” Scribd uses the release to remind publishers of their “Copyright Management System,” said to “help prevent the upload of unauthorized written works” by comparing them to legitimate files already provided to the site. Indeed, Hirschhorn tells the AP “It’s a way for them, in terms of technology, to match our files against any have been uploaded, to identify those uploaded files and then tell whether they’re legitimate. If you’re not in their program, the entire onus falls to the publisher, or to the author, or to the agent, for finding a pirated book. And now it’s a shared responsibility.”

    But Carolyn Pittis at HarperCollins says of that system, “Theoretically, it sounds great that technology can, in real time, alert Scribd about a pirated copy and prevent someone from actually uploading it. But I don’t know how sophisticated that system is and whether it can work on a large scale.”
    S&S Scribd store
    Press release

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Tom, yeah it’s that whole idea of perceived popularity makes you popular. (at least in theory it does) It’s why someone hitting the bestseller list means they’ll generally sell more. Because having: “NYT Bestselling author” on the cover of all future books is a marketing strategy.

    What you say about the dude that outsold the Beatles is interesting because just the other day I had someone ask me how many people had actually made money self publishing fiction. It’s assumed that you’ll have heard someone’s name if they’re making money selling fiction, but that’s not necessarily true. 20,000 copies would be an incredible amount for an SP author to sell and would be very healthy money. But selling 20,000 copies of anything isn’t really national news. Who is going to just ‘hear” about that? Even if it happens? How would one tally how many people had sold even 5,000 copies through self publishing fiction? (Another difficult feat, though not impossible, and probably there are a healthy number of people doing it. They just aren’t what people see as the “average self publishing author.”)

    Also on the music front, part of why indie music was embraced so strongly is that record companies really were screwing over the artists. Most people thought these famous recording artists were rich, but it was all just window dressing. They were indentured servants to the record company.

    Publishing at least isn’t run quite like that. There’s not a lot of money in publishing, but that’s true for publishers as well as authors.

    And yeah, I get PW Daily in my inbox each morning. They announced the S&S Scrib’d thing. And I have to admit I find it mildly annoying. Sites like Scrib’d weren’t really made to be platforms for corporate publishers to peddle their wares. I find it mildly annoying that after the denigration of ebooks within the industry, that now publishers are starting to flock to all these places to put their ebooks.

  • Tom Dark

    Tell me about it, Zoe. I visited Little Richard when he was living off his mom in Riverside CA years ago. I also knew Matthew Katz, who’d ripped off Jefferson Airplane and a lot of others when they were young and dumb. On the up side, a couple famous producers I knew who’d done a STRING of biggies from 60′s-80′s… called them up out of old time’s sakes a couple years ago and there they were, now in their 60s, living in their studio. So, nyah nyah.

    Well, I reckon indie music has been embraced because “they” are putting out more listenable stuff than the corporate wigs are. Here’s another plug for Melissa Ferrick; Ani DiFranco too — the only albums I’ve bought in 10 years, minus some old artifact stuff. With corporate music you’re paying to listen to a lot of expensive engineering tricks. Hear it once, toss it away.

    What worries me is that big publishing houses have been going the same way since their corporatizations; smoke, mirrors and a lot of shifty accountants. The scoop was, the average or traditional profit had always been 4%. On corporatization, they were all expected to make 20% profit. Send in the clowns!

    Any predictions we can make about the future of writing can only be ham-handed at best. Is S&S trying to dilute scribd?
    They were down 20% this past quarter, nearly double from 1st quarter last year. It sounds like HIV — that is, HIV is a retrovirus analogous to dead leaves that are harmless of themselves, except when they plug up the drainpipe.

    Here’s you, your keyboard, and you’re surrounded by people who read. What is on your mind?

    All, to this secret poet, boils down to: what is the point of being “a writer?” Money and fame? Why, please? I love to write. I’ve got lots of fans. I don’t care if they pay me or not.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    I believe if new york publishing is going the way of music, then it can only be good for indie authors.

  • http://tessadick.blogspot.com Tessa Dick

    Tom Dark, the purpose of writing is to write. It’s like breathing — it keeps you alive.

  • Tom Dark

    There ya go, Tess. We write because we have to.

    It’s like watching a glacier break up in every direction, Zoe. And I think this has to be, too…