How the Ebook Revolution is Changing the Quality of Published Work
For centuries, aspiring writers have vied for the attention of publishers and literary agents in the hopes that one day, their work could be appreciated by the world. But with the digital content revolution and self-publishing on the rise, many authors are forgoing the song-and-dance of begging book industry experts to notice their work, and deciding to publish their own books using popular services such as Amazon and Lulu.
While this news is upsetting to many status quo publishers, recent studies are showing that the reading market is receptive to independently-produced content―in 2011, Amazon sold more Kindle ebooks than hardcover and paperback books (Amazon sold 105 books for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, to be exact).
With today’s technology, everyone has the opportunity to create a bestseller. So the question becomes, now that New York publishers and agents are losing their hold on the industry, what would kind of book would Joe Schmoe write?
I don’t doubt that market demand for digital content will have both positive and negative long-term consequences for the publishing industry―I am not arguing that now. Instead, I am concerned with the quality of fiction being distributed by self-publishers. With all of the material being distributed, how can consumers find quality writing among the slush pile?
For years, writers have tailored their manuscripts to please the reading tastes of publishers and agents, rushing out to buy how-to guides, such as Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction–and Get It Published and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!. While the mainstream publishing method was long, sales-driven, and, sometimes flawed, there was one main benefit to the laborious process: Agents, editors and publishers still worked with budding writers to help them improve their craft. Most importantly to consumers, editors worked with writers to ensure that their work was at least proofread before being published.
I must admit, I am coming at this from a biased point of view—when the self-publishing revolution took off a few years ago, I checked out several self-published books that were riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, never mind issues with the overall writing capabilities of some of the authors.
Aside from editing issues with self-published work, there is also the larger problem for book consumers— in the future, how will consumers determine which books are worth buying? With self-publishing, it seems as though there are more books than ever, and the process for picking quality books is changing every day, but not a lot is being done to help consumers find books that are right for them. One of the perks of the old model was that large publishing houses could afford to market their books to the consumers more likely to be interested in their products. Now, with the new model, it is up to the consumer to find quality writing. More book recommendation websites need to crop up that help consumers select books that are high-quality.
Overall, I am hopeful for the future for the self-publishing, and I think the new business model for the industry has the potential expose readers to new stories, voices and perspectives. Who knows what kinds of writers will emerge from the new publishing model? What will they write about?
Jenny Bent wrote an excellent piece on Talking Writing about positive changes in the publishing industry now that paperbacks are not being pushed solely out of New York publishing houses:
Right now, however, I’m somewhat gleefully celebrating the fact that electronic publishing is blowing apart the idea that we in publishing have better taste than the average reader.
Why would this be so? Because some of us have Ivy League educations? Because we live in New York City and are therefore more sophisticated and urbane than most readers? Because we read the Paris Review and the New Yorker? Because we have chic haircuts and ironic sideburns and wear trendy little eyeglasses? (Full disclosure: I do not have ironic sideburns.)
What I love most about successful independently published e-books is that many of them didn’t pass the gatekeeper test. The individual authors tried and failed to get an agent or publisher, then decided to do it themselves. With e-publishing, it’s easier than ever to get books out there, and the list of successfully self-published e-book authors grows every day. Like Hocking, lots of these authors are now getting lucrative book deals as publishers struggle to catch up. And many of them are turning down agents and publishers because they want to keep doing it on their own terms.
Like Bent, I am looking forward to seeing what new ideas come out of the self-publishing revolution. I might even buy their books—just as long as they proofread them first.
-Naomi Rappaport is a contributor for Wrightspeak.