Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


Good Guide for Publishing Electronic Books and Stories

I’m always on the lookout for good guides on doing all things writerly, so I made sure and bookmarked this guide by “The Savvy Book Marketer” on How to Publish an Ebook for Multiple Platforms.  It’s very thorough and should prove to be a good primer guide for publishing just about anything in electronic format.  Of course, there are some details that are going to be product specific that you’re going to have to work out on your own as you go, but overall, a great guide on the basics.

Time to Look at Self Publishing Again?

The cycle seems to perpetually go around on this.  Every few months or years, we all start talking about self publishing and all the pros and cons that come with it.  The major difference this time around is that there’s been a pretty significant paradigm change in the publishing industry.  The rise in popularity of ebooks and ebook readers (like the Kindle and Nook) have made it easier than ever to get a book.  Even more important, it’s made it even easier to publish a book.

A writer can now choose to go exclusively electronic and publish a novel as an ebook.  It’s easy to get them listed in marketplaces like Amazon or Barnes and Noble as well.  Of course, the same questions come around about quality.  Is the author really doing himself/herself any good by skipping the editing process that happens when going through a traditional publisher?

One person who has been an advocate for self publishing recently is J.A. Konrath.  At the end of December, he even came right out and said that you should self publish.  And, I have to admit, he makes a pretty good argument for it as well.  He’s published quite a few posts recently by himself and others who self publish that make an even stronger argument for self publishing.  Here’s one by Aaron Patterson on his experiences.

I still have somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing.  I’ve argued before that there is a certain sense of acknowledgment that comes with getting the acceptance from an agent and then again when you sell a book.  However, I find myself wondering if that same sense couldn’t be achieved by having a book sell thousands of copies a month in ebook form?

There is no question that the quality issue will continue to come up.  But, I think that if you are planning on self publishing your novel, it’s your responsibility as the author to publish the best work you can.  Which should include at least one pass by a professional editor.  Sure, it’s going to cost you some money, but so will putting out sub-standard work.

I think this whole argument needs  a bit more thought before I can honestly say which way I would go, but recent changes and evidence seems to point to the self publishing ebook as the way of the future.  I’d still be curious to hear how these authors handle foreign rights (Konrath confirms having an agent for that), translating those same, and many of the other rights issues that come up that an agent would traditionally handle.  Or, perhaps if the book is popular enough to have those problems, the author then goes looking to hire an agent to do that part?

Update: Here’s a very good post by Jim C. Hines, whose opinion I deeply respect, on this whole thing.  I think he takes a much more level-headed approach to the whole thing.

The MacMillan – Amazon Dustup

Sometime Friday, people started noticing that all of the books published through the MacMillan family of publishers (which includes SF/F giant TOR) were no longer available for purchase directly from Amazon.  Of course, speculation grew wild and eventually, today, John Sargent of MacMillan sent out a release detailing the problem.

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on Amazon.com through third parties.

Essentially, MacMillan would like to price their ebook offerings at prices of about $12-$15 and Amazon is demanding that they stay at $10.

I think that it’s sad that it came this far, but publishing is a business just like any other.  Eventually, there will be disagreements.  Since I don’t have any books published, it’s hard for me to see things from the publisher/author point of view.  I can see where it would, obviously, be better to be able to sell the books for more money.  And it’s still a deal as most hardcovers are nearing the $30 mark these days.  But.  Looking at it from a readers perspective, I can’t help but wonder if the $15 is sustainable in the current methods.

Here’s the issue.  DRM.  Digital Rights.  Authors and publishers want to protect their rights to the works (rightfully so) and so they try to lock down the digital files so that the end user is unable to give copies away for free.  All well and good, right?  Wrong.  What happens when a book that you legitimately bought on Amazon or wherever is locked down and you are unable to transfer it?  What if I get an iPad to replace my Kindle (I don’t have a kindle, but we’re talking hypothetical here.)  and I can’t transfer my library of ebooks from my Kindle to my new iPad?  I become one ticked off reader.  Granted, that isn’t always the way it works.  Another key point here is the money saved by the publisher by being able to publish the book electronically rather than physically.  All the paper, and printing costs that are saved.  Is that 50% of costs?  I don’t know.

Overall, I think the whole mess is just Amazon flexing it’s muscle a little bit.  They have a pretty large market share for selling books online.  When it comes down to it, however, I don’t think they compare to the brick and mortar market share.  Not yet anyways. And there’s still walmart and B&N.  Not ideal, but in a pinch.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a resolution to this sometime this coming week and MacMillan books back on the “shelves” as well.