Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Tsunami of Crap

Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths.

Or something like that.

This is bullshit, of course. A myth. A fabrication. One rooted in envy and fear.

Readers aren't the ones worried about the scores of new ebooks being released. They have no need to be worried. There are already billions of books in the world. A few more million won't make a difference.

Readers are able to find what they want, quite easily. They can go into a bookstore and come out with a purchase, even though that store stocks 150,000 titles. They can go into a library, and ten minutes later walk out with a handful of books that interest them.

There are millions of websites, and YouTube videos, and things to buy on Amazon.com. There are thousands of choices on cable TV and Netflix and Hula. Yet we're always able to find gems.

No, the readers don't care if some moron uploads his ten-years-in-the-making opus "Me and My Boogers: A Love Story." They'll be able to avoid it just by looking at the crummy cover art, the poor description, and the handful of one star reviews.

Readers don't care if something is self-pubbed or not. They've read books they don't like by legacy publishers, and they may find books they don't like by indie authors, but they aren't going to give up reading. In fact, they're going to help each other find good things to read. Goodreads.com is a perfect example of readers becoming gatekeepers, sharing reviews and recommendations.

Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that ereaders are actually increasing the number of books bought, and causing people to read more. There aren't droves of readers ditching their Kindles because they bought a bad indie ebook. Rather, there are hundreds of new ereaders and many thousands of new ebooks sold every day.

So readers aren't the ones perpetuating this stupid myth that the crap will destroy the world. It's the writers--specifically the legacy writers--who keep trotting this one out.

The reason for it is disappointingly obvious. Legacy writers no longer feel special, because now anyone with a book can sell it. Even worse, they can sell it for cheap, and get higher royalty rates, meaning these pretenders to the throne can actually make more than those who "earned" their spots in the pecking order by kissing legacy butt and waving around their rejections as badges of honor.

These authors fear loss of income, and are envious of the ease in which indies can self-publish and the money they can earn. But saying that out loud would make them look petty.

So instead, they cloak their fear and envy in a poorly constructed argument that says their real intent is protecting readers from crap.

Newsflash: there has always been crap, and always will be crap. Get over it.

Whenever someone feels the need to make decisions for me because I'm apparently incapable of doing it myself, it irks me. I can decide by myself who to sleep with, what to smoke, what God to worship (or not worship), and what to read. I don't need anyone to protect me from indie ebooks, and neither does anyone else.

If you're really worried about readers being subjected to crap, here's what you can do:

DON'T WRITE CRAP.

But enough with the whining about it. It makes you look silly.

308 comments:

1 – 200 of 308   Newer›   Newest»
Lyn LeJeune said...

This is the best I've read about books and publishing in a long time. My sentiments exactly. You're the bomb!

Juliana said...

Amen!!

Sara Thacker said...

Good post. I've read legacy books that were crap and totally awesome self published works. Crap is crap and for some reason legacy publishers keep doing the same thing because they think they'll get different results.

Joyce said...

Rooted in envy and fear? Hardly. It's rooted in experience.

Take 10 self-pubbed novels at random. Ones you've never heard of. Now *try* to read them. If you find 1 out of the 10 that holds your attention for more than half a page, you're lucky.

How Publishing Really works has a normal feature where they review self-published books, and one of the best categories on there is the "page number test", where the reviewer says how many pages they got through before they just couldn't take it anymore. Most don't make it to the ten page mark.

The effect of all this is that, once exposed to so much awful, the next time a reader goes looking for something to read, they're going to stick to what and who they know.

Kate Madison, YA author said...

So true! The millions of websites thing is what makes it click for me.
I love this blog!
Kate Madison
WriterKMadison.blogspot.com

TheSFReader said...

I personally see ebooks as "things" thrown in the sea. Good books will keep to the top, while bad books will slide down to the bottom.
And while some readers will be content just to pick up books on the surface, some will dive down to find some "good enough" at mid-levels, and some others will try and find gold-gems down there...

Richard Raley said...

Readers are just people. They run the entire spectrum. Some are nice, some are mean, and some just don't care. There are those naturally supportive of Indie books and on the other side a group almost militarized against them.

Best way to look at it: no author has ever made all of them happy, why assume it's going to happen now?

Anonymous said...

Fair advice. And yes, I would suspect we will see countless articles from the mainstream media supporting the notion that self-published authors are garbage-mongers, and only those from the established houses have been vetted and are worth reading.

It could work, for a while, on some. But in the long run, it's a dead end. Writers of note will differentiate themselves over time with their work and marketing, and if they catch a tail-wind of luck, can go huge. It's actually what the biz is terrified of - one or two self-pubbers that are the same or better quality level of a Dan Brown and whose work catches the public in the right mood, and the quality house of cards comes falling down around them.

This is the classic IBM argument - fear, uncertainty and doubt. It didn't work so well in the PC market. Won't work so well here, either.

Russell Blake
RussellBlake(dot)com

David Barron said...

Pretty much. I've never really found any difficulty 'navigating' an Amazon search around crap. Most of my purchases get started by some sort of referral anyways, but sometimes I'll type a vague search in and check it out.

TheSFReader said...

Joyce, except readers don't take novels at random! They check cover, blurb, and sample into account before investing time and money into a book.

Jonas Saul said...

Legacy writers no longer feel special, because now anyone with a book can sell it.

I wondered at the motivation behind such fear inspired rants.

Well said and poignant because newbie's need to hear this from someone like yourself.

All the best,

Jonas Saul

TheSFReader said...

And not to forget reviews/ratings/recommendations/blogsand so much other "trails" that lead them to books...

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Joe. You know, there's been a subtle shift in the mantra of the "gatekeepers" lately. They're veering away from the "Our gates are open only to those who produce work of a high literary content" and they're now beginning to say, "By admitting a select few through our gates, we ensure that what they write will be professionally formatted and edited, and it will have a killer cover."

By moving their reason for existence from good books to good formatting, they're acknowledging the cracks in their own dam.

Joe Konrath said...

It's rooted in experience.

No it isn't. Reread my piece.

I'm not saying it isn't crap. I'm saying people don't care.

the effect of all this is that, once exposed to so much awful, the next time a reader goes looking for something to read, they're going to stick to what and who they know.

Youtube--uploaded by amateurs--is the third most popular site on the Internet. Is there crap on Youtube? Sure. But people don't care. They don't go rushing back to Hollywood or network TV because they run across some bad YouTube vids.

J.M.Cornwell said...

My sentiments exactly and I've said it many times before, just not with this wide an audience.

As for boogers, that reminds me of a guy, someone who rented a room in a house, and his walls, once white, became green as he picked his boogers and put them on the walls, his bed post, but mostly the walls. It was a nasty habit, but he paid his rent on time. Too bad the owner had to hire a crew that specialized in toxic waste to scrape the walls and cart out the debris before he rented it to someone else.

Sarra Cannon said...

"The reason for it is disappointingly obvious. Legacy writers no longer feel special, because now anyone with a book can sell it."

I think you make a good point here. After all, most legacy-published writers had to survive in the trenches for a while, hoping and praying for a chance to see their book in print, sometimes 5 or more years after they finished writing it! There is bound to be some jealousy involved. A lot of these authors want to point fingers at us and say that we're the reason the industry is dying.

The good news is time will show that good books will always find readers. The way they are published, marketed, and possibly monetized might change over time, but the end result will be the same. I, for one, am amazingly grateful for the changes that have allowed me to self-publish and still find readers, even when they have a tsunami of crap to choose from.

www.sarracannon.com

I.J.Parker said...

Well,I'm a legacy-published author who got disenchanted. I never ever thought of myself as special. I thought of myself as poorly treated and frequently humiliated.
There are an awful lot of bad books in the world. They are in book stores, libraries, and on Amazon. Out of 10 library books by unknown authors, I dump 7 after initial sampling. That means that they had already passed the subject matter, cover, blurb tests in the library. Reading is a hit-or-miss thing. That won't change.
What will change is that authors who can deliver will balk at typical publishers' contracts and go out on their own.

About Spotted Dog Ranch: said...

This argument is based on the "fact" that the big legacy publishers don't let crap go out their doors but instead select only the greatest writers, which is, of course, pure crap.

I think the legacy pubs put out a ton of pure crap for every ounce of gold they publish - and this has been going on for many years. So the argument itself is based on a false premise.

Adam Pepper said...

I’m working on my own bingo card, sort of the response to Scalsi’s.

B1: The Chicken Little Defense: NY could be blown to bits tomorrow and culture as we know it will not die. The sky isn’t falling!

John Barlow said...

Which authors are saying this?

I know agents and editors are saying it, but writers?

author Scott Nicholson said...

Oh, it is definitely an ego buzz to be "anointed" by the gatekeepers. You think you did something special, by the light of your talent, the sheer genius of your prose, and the need for your work in the commercial market. All sounds great for the ego, until you realize it's wrong.

It was timing and luck, with a little talent supported by hard work and persistence. I know, I was there. And it's hard to resist that slight feel of smugness and superiority. But it's an illusion. Some of my most successful indie books were turned down. One of my "accepted" books that I republished as indie doesn't sell for crap. Now who was right, NY or the readers?

The level of bad books will be nothing except the ocean upon which the good stuff floats. And, like the ocean, most of us will have no awareness of what's going on beneath.

In a year or two, all the badly written slush manuscripts will be published and the non-writers won't be writing more, so the streams will slow.

Sandy Williams said...

I hope you don't mind a comment from someone who's about to be traditionally published, but I've been reading a good amount of self-published nonfiction works lately, and the quality of those works was very, very poor. Not the content, exactly, but one or two of the books I've read lately had so many typos and grammar issues that it was very nearly unreadable. The surprising thing was that these books were from people who have a big online following and who should have known they needed to hire a proof reader. It reached the point where I was about to give up, but then - finally - I found a book on the subject I was reading about that was virtually typo-free (I found one formatting error in the whole thing). Turns out this book was traditionally published, though. *shrugs*

Perhaps it was my fault. The books I chose only had a handful of ratings. I should have only purchased the books that had more than a half dozen ratings and reviews that pointed out strengths AND weaknesses. I do think you have a very good point about relying on Goodreads reviews and such.

I find the changes in publishing to be fascinating, though. I'm especially interested in Courtney Milan's journey - she's taking the time and putting in the money to do it right - and I know there are a lot of others out there who are doing the same thing. But as a reader, I am much, much more comfortable purchasing a book from someone who's traditionally published than from an unknown.

Sandy

Sean Wills said...

Actually, you're presenting a strawman here. The 'tsunami of crap' that people are worried about is composed of a) barely-edited and barely-readable trainwrecks published in greater quantities than would ever be possible with regular publishing (see: any self-publishing distribution channel, also known as 'Sturgeons law on overdrive' or b) books that are composed entirely or almost entirely of content lifted from places like Wikipedia or other freely-available websites (see: Amazon).

They're not worried about 'books that are just okay but could maybe do with some better editing', although God knows there are enough of those being put out as well.

RCanipe said...

Most important aspect of e-books? THE SAMPLE. Just like when I stand or sit in a brick and mortar or library and read the first 20 pages or paragraphs, I can do the same with an e-book. E-books share more similarities with tree-books than one would think...

David Gaughran said...

Tell it all, brother!

I hear this "tsunami of crap" argument all the time, mostly from those with a trade deal, those pursuing one, or the gatekeepers themselves. No surprise there.

This is a classic "black swan" mistake. There is already one huge, giant, unmissable counter-example which destroys there whole thesis.

The internet.

There are one trillion unique web pages out there, and that number grows by BILLIONS every day.

Most of the sites are crap. A lot of them are from scammers.

That doesn't stop people using the internet in increasing numbers every day. It doesn't stop people finding stuff, sharing stuff, and buying stuff, in ever-growing numbers.

This whole myth is pretty brainless, and can be disproven in any number of ways. But it's a classic zombie myth, no matter how many times you kill it, it just won't die!

KL Mutter said...

I think a lot of this will have to do with education of the reader. Some of my first kindle purchases were impulses. The concept sounded clever and the price was low so "why not". If I had read the available samples, I would not have bought many of them.

It's a short learning curve and one that will correct itself quickly.

W. Dean said...

The biggest problem for self-publishing is not self-published authors, but content farmers, who not only publish public domain books, but thousands of dummy books meant to trick readers into buying them. Just as the problem with the Web was not that every Joe and Jane had a blog and website, but that content farmers filled the Web with SEO content. The difference here is that Google modified its algorithm to exclude content farmers. Amazon, meanwhile, shows little interest in doing anything about it—in spite of their claims to the contrary.

To answer David Gaughran’s metaphor, then, this zombie won’t die because it keeps coming back and biting people, not because some people keep reviving it.

Barry said...

Joyce, I was going to say it, but SFReader said it better -- people don't try books at random.

Still, I agree your larger point, which is that that being legacy published has traditionally been a sign, albeit an imperfect one, of some minimal level of quality. The mistake, though, is to conclude that readers require this particular form of choice-winnowing to make up their minds, and to assume that there are no other such choice-winnowing means (perhaps even better ones) available. Joe's YouTube example, IMO, is spot-on and worth considering. If people find what they love among the billions of uploaded self-published YouTube videos, why couldn't they find what they love among an equivalent number of self-published books?

Scott, here's just one example of a writer bemoaning the coming crap deluge:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/jun/16/ebook-needs-good-editor

My thoughts on that argument here:

http://letters.salon.com/books/feature/2011/06/21/ebooks_john_locke/permalink/2ac7069a1be8751b3988aaaf2ae69495.html

Taylor Napolsky said...

But really, Me and My Boogers: A Love Story, is a great read. An underrated classic in my opinion

Darlene Underdahl said...

"These authors fear loss of income, and are envious of the ease in which indies can self-publish and the money they can earn. But saying that out loud would make them look petty."

Absolutely, that's human nature.

Other things stirring the worries and causing bad feelings are the legacy deals going to know-nothing so-called celebrities. Those deals make a thoughtful person sad.

Todd Russell said...

Whenever this topic comes out I mention search engines. They help us find the good stuff despite the deluge of web sites. Google saw this a long time ago and it's why they've been trying very hard to index what's inside every book.

It's not a bad concept, really, as they've done a great job helping to wade through the billions of web pages.

wannabuy said...

@Joe""Rather, there are hundreds of new ereaders and many thousands of new ebooks sold every day.

Nitpick on the math. Ereaders are outselling tablets by 50% and tablets are selling about 40,000 per day... So we have just over a 60 thousand ereaders sold per day (Globally).

Otherwise I agree 100%. Readers have no issue, the 'save me from the slush pile' is utter BS.

Neil

Tony said...

I've known more than a few readers (not writers) who have told me they are "done with indie published books" (*not* ebooks)after purchasing one too many stinkers.

Sure, not a scientific poll, but an indication of how regular readers are behaving.

Something important to note is the link between "ebooks" and "indie published books." Not all ebooks are by indie authors.

I don't think anyone with any sense would argue that because of a ton of crap books, consumers will stop buying ebooks. Ain't gonna happen.

But they *might* stop buying books by indie authors. They *might* not be as adventurous with their purchases if 10 $1 purchases yields only two or three good books.

You can argue that people will find what they're looking for, that the cover of the book or the description will indicate whether or not it's a good book, but that isn't always the case. I think we've all know that.

Not to mention there is a tendency to support indie authors, which many times leads to skewed reviews. I think we all know *that* too.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Amen, Amen!!
Preach brother.

Readers will find the books they want to read, period. And books are like anything else: food (there's good and bad), people, retailers, etc.

True, true, true what you wrote here.

Anna Murray said...

A bit off topic, but another sign of the changing times:

http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/books/124974789.html

Will book signings move to public libraries?

Anna Murray said...

Sorry, meant to make that a hot link.

Bookstores charging admission to author events

Christopher Hudson said...

80% of everything is crap ... to somebody. It's a subjective measurement that's true for 'Legacy' publishers and it will hold true for the brave new world of self-publishing ... it means more crap, but it also means a whole lot more of the good stuff ... to somebody.

wannabuy said...

Todd Russell has the best counterpoint. SEARCH ENGINES.

Or as David noted, the internet is full of crap, we now know how to find exactly what we want (some better than others).

Amazon's recommendations? A sales oriented search engine 'shortcut.'

I agree with Todd that Google indexing every book is an advantage... Amazon had better keep their game hat on. So had B&N, Sony, Kobo, and Apple...

Neil

TheSFReader said...

@Neil except so far Google is way back in the "sales oriented" part of that proposition regarding ebooks. Their Ebooks site is way under anything usable.

Lexi said...

Joyce, you say,

"How Publishing Really works has a normal feature where they review self-published books, and one of the best categories on there is the "page number test", where the reviewer says how many pages they got through before they just couldn't take it anymore. Most don't make it to the ten page mark."

I emailed Jane Smith before sending her my paperback novel, Remix, last Christmas for review on her blog. Recently I emailed her to check progress. I got no reply.

I think my book must have got lost, and she is waiting to email me once it has turned up. Embarrassing for her. I can only sympathize. I'm certain it couldn't possibly be because she likes to showcase the more inept indie books on her blog...

Joe Vasicek said...

While I agree that the dangers of the "tsunami of crap" are greatly exaggerated, I strongly disagree that most "legacy" authors who warn against it are doing so out of oversized egos. To be sure, that is probably one of their motivations, but I think it is a relatively minor one compared to genuine fear. The system which they understand--the system that, for so many years, was the only way in--is now falling apart, and many of them don't know what to do or what to expect. That has to be tremendously upsetting.

The vast majority of "legacy" published authors whom I know personally (and I know several, having taken Brandon Sanderson's English 318 class at BYU and attended many writing conventions over the past few years) are genuinely good people. To give them anything other than the benefit of the doubt strikes me as vitriolic and counterproductive.

Brett Battles said...

Bingo.

Rebecca M. Senese said...

One person's crap is another person's treasure. Who decides which is which? The readers do!

It's the same with genre. Some people like romance, others like horror. Neither one is better, it's just a different choice.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thank you, as always, for being the voice of sanity. I'm so tired of the faux news about spam on Kindle. There is no such thing and whoever these people are that perpetrate this myth will not stop readers from making up their own minds and buying.

PolyWogg said...

While learning disabilities are rarely a source of humour, my dyslexia gave me a good chuckle thinking the headline was "The Tsunami of Carp" and the ending was "Don't Write Carp". :)

Could be a whole new blog entry for you JK...

P.

Christopher Wills said...

Now come on Joe, don't beat around the pile of legacy crap that gets published every year; say what you mean. Totally agree with you crap is crap.
I don't understand why more legacy authors don't realise how much money they could make with their backlists. The only thing I can think of is that they live in a cocoon; oh and they've never heard of you, of course :) .

sabrina said...

I'm also seeing the "tsunami of crap" line from a lot of indie writers as well. Usually the ones who are just starting out, have never had a legacy deal, and are understandably insecure about their first ever e-book getting lost in the noise. These are early days and it would not surprise me if Amazon et. al. develop better search methods and filtering to get the content spammers out -- probably by the end of the year to hopefully coincide with holiday ebook sales and the rumored Kindle price cut. I encourage lots of gentle demonstrations (some already posted here) of how we really can sift through the garbage to get the gems. Maybe some hints on how to make the gemlike qualities more apparent to the searching reader would be helpful at calming panic?

Michelle Muto said...

So true, Joe!

Hopefully, they'll start to read the blogs of agents and agencies and see the publishing world is changing. In time, they'll believe them. Sorry to say, they won't even believe the experienced writers such as yourself, despite the money you make or the success you have.

Most readers are smart and have no problem finding what they like. They look at the cover art, the title, the description. They download sample chapters! They do it regardless of the name on the cover or the price.

Doing things professionally pays off. You know you're on the right track when a reviewer says your book is as good and even better than some of the traditional work out there.

Chryse Wymer said...

@Tony They *might* not be as adventurous with their purchases if 10 $1 purchases yields only two or three good books.

Considering how expensive trad published ebooks are, that's still a savings. Personally, I'm only adventurous with the freebies.

~Chryse
http://www.chrysewymer.com

The Daring Novelist said...

Two thoughts:

When you tell people to look at YouTube, it isn't just an example of some outside thing which deals fine with junk -- YOUTUBE IS OUR COMPETITION. And "Mittens and his Roving Vacuum" is beating the pants off most fiction.

And yet publishing has survived.

Two: did anybody else suddenly get get the urge to write a story titles "Me and My Boogers, A Love Story"? (And if so, should we do a boogers anthology?)

Edward M. Grant said...

To be honest, as a reader I'd say that 90% of the indie ebooks I've looked at ranged from barely readable to horribly flawed and of those I bought whose sample looked good I've yet to find something I'd rate more than 3/5. That doesn't stop me looking for good ones, but I've become far more choosy than I originally was and generally won't bother with a book that has a poor description or has blatant problems on the first page; life's too short to spend ten hours hunting through a hundred ebook samples to find one worth reading.

So I suspect much of the fear comes not from writers with trade deals but new indie writers who worry that they won't be able to get through readers' increasingly demanding crap filters. But I agree that the solution is to write good books and ensure that the next one is always better than the last; even if finding readers takes a while, eventually enough people are going to find a good book and tell their friends about it for that book to take off.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

It's literary darwinism.

I respect anyone who works hard. That being said, last year I picked up a book at my local used book store. The title caught me initially and then reading the story overview on the inside flaps had me stoked. I was dying to dive in to it. Also, I should mention that one of my all-time favorite authors gave a short line of praise which the publisher felt would be appropriate to place on the front cover.

Usually, I read a few pages before I buy. On this day, I didn't have the chance to do this as I had several tasks on the agenda that afternoon. Finally, I got home and dove in to this book.

To call this book bad would be to grant it more praise than it deserves. The overall story was intriguing, but the execution was clunky, languid to the point of mental retardation, and frequently torturous. It wasn't just the over wrought use of adverbs nor was it the stream of passive voice verbs infecting every page. It was self indulgent shit.

I now keep this book in my bathroom in case I ever run out of toilet paper and need something with which to wipe my ass.

The point of all this is that some, probably most, self published material is crap. And that's ok. Those that pen such material will eventually fall by the way side; it's literary darwinism.

The other day, I checked on the author of the above mentioned book. He's written a total of three novels in nine years. I'm hoping he's taking time to improve his craft instead of cranking out more clumsy novels. At any rate, he's lost me as a reader.

Lisa Nowak said...

Amen, brother!

KL Mutter said...

One aspect that I think bears repeating is the new availability of niche genres. My bet is the booger love book would find a unique market that is underserved!

The discussion of quality and gatekeepers should include the fact that books now can be written and sold that aren't marketed to the largest base of readers.

I for one applaud the opportunity to lose the homogeneity of the market and will accept the broader range of quality.

T.S. O'Rourke said...

This is fun! :)

J.A. - you are right. Swimming against a tide is a purpose in life. Others don't get it. To be the dog turned underdog and then succeed against the better wishes of the 'flitterati' is a great position.

I've always been an underdog and loved it.

Keep shaking the can - more worms will fall out and we can all go fishing.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004QTOQFG

Anna Murray said...

I want to recommend an indie book I just discovered. I picked it up because it's one of the Indie Author Rock Star books this month.

Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika

Well written, original plot. I can't put it down.

Edward M. Grant said...

One person's crap is another person's treasure. Who decides which is which? The readers do!

I'm not sure anyone would regard some of the book samples I've read as treasure. But perhaps looking at fan fiction might be instructive.

A while back I spent an evening going through one of the big fan fiction sites and many of the stories I picked at random were so bad that I could feel my brain melting as I tried to read them. But at the same time, the better ones had risen to the top as people read them and rated them; so long as people are willing to do that honestly, then the good stuff can find its way to readers. And if people are reading thousands of 'Harry Potter gets pregnant' stories then perhaps there is a market for anything.

The problem I see on the indie publishing side is that Amazon reviews in particular seem totally untrustworthy so while readers may be able to avoid the really bad ebooks that only have one-star reviews there are plenty getting five-star reviews where I've barely managed to read through five pages of the sample before abandoning them. Without trustworthy reviews, readers can waste a lot of time looking at books they'd never want to buy before they find what they're looking for.

jtplayer said...

I've always had good luck with my book purchases, and never really bought a genuinely shitty book.

With indie ebooks, through careful selection, I've managed to stay reasonably satisfied.

Still, a lot of the "good" ebooks I read seem to lack something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's there.

I like to call it the "x" factor, and it's something I think separates most traditionally published books from the self-pubbed. It's like they're not quite ready for prime time, maybe a little less polished perhaps.

That being said, there are lots of really good indie authors out there putting out work that would otherwise not see the light of day. And that, to me, is all that matters.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I recently received an email from Amazon recommending six, $0.99, scifi ebooks. I sampled five of them. Two didn't do anything for me. The third has me quite entertained despite some strange formatting.

The $0.99 books I didn't like aren't crap, they are just not my cup of tea. If I hadn't been able to sample them, then I might be annoyed. But, just like at a book store or a library, I read some of the book and decided how I felt about it.

I am my own final gatekeeper.

The newest ebook release by one of my favorite legacy authors is priced at $7.99. The paperback is also $7.99. If the ebook had been priced reasonably (say $4.99 or less), I would have already bought it.

I know, I know, it's only a few bucks. That's true and I still can't convince myself that it's a good purchase.

In my mind, paperbacks and ebooks shouldn't cost the same amount.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Will Granger said...

The truth is that the agents/gatekeepers cannot be correct 100% of the time. If that were true, then no one would have ever sold a self-published ebook for Kindle, and we wouldn't be reading Joe's blog.
Just look a the music industry and others that have been affected by drastic changes. It is predictable that the legacy publishing world would resists this change, but change is still coming, regardless of what they say or hope.
http://anabarauthor.blogspot.com/

Eugene said...

"I calculate that, take the whole world over, from eighty to one hundred thousand books appear every year; at an average of a thousand copies, this makes more than a hundred millions of books, the majority of which contain only the wildest extravagances or the most chimerical follies, and propagate only prejudice and error. Our social condition forces us to hear many stupid things every day. A few more or less do not amount to very great suffering in the end; but what happiness not to be obliged to read them."

The above was published in Scribner's Magazine in 1894.

Karen Woodward said...

Me and My Boogers: A Love Story.

I was drinking coffee when I read this; bad idea. Too funny.

As always, great post Joe!

Eloheim and Veronica said...

@Michelle
You know you're on the right track when a reviewer says your book is as good and even better than some of the traditional work out there.

I know what they mean, but wow, that sentiment reminds me so much of, "That's pretty good for a girl."

How about, "It's GOOD." Period.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Edward M. Grant said...

The point of all this is that some, probably most, self published material is crap. And that's ok. Those that pen such material will eventually fall by the way side; it's literary darwinism.

I'm not entirely convinced. I think many of the people who write really bad novels will continue to do so no matter what, convinced that they're great writers and one day people will recognise them.

I suspect that most who fall to the Sword of Darwin will be writing half-decent novels that sell a few copies but never really go anywhere, because they're smart enough to realise that they aren't great writers but not dedicated enough to keep writing and improving until they are.

I've seen similar things in the indie movie world where a few of the competent people get lucky and progress upwards but the rest give up after a few years, while the inept keep making bad movies forever.

Anonymous said...

I do hope all of you are right and that over time it will be easier to find the "good stuff." My experience so far as a reader is mixed. I've been burned on several occasions by indie books that have had so-called good reviews and lots of star ratings and have still turned out to be pure crap (poorly formatted, bad grammar, ridiculous dialogue, etc.). On the other hand, I've been introduced to a few great writers who I otherwise wouldn't have heard about except through forums like this (Konrath and Crouch come to mind).

What I find myself doing now when I want a new book is looking at the author's background. I'm much more apt to buy from someone who, yes, has been "vetted" somehow by the system, either by a previous publishing company, magazine pieces, heck, even writing contest awards. To a certain extent I look at the star rating. Obviously, if the book is rated poorly, I steer clear. But it's just too easy to get four and five star ratings (friends, family, paid reviewers) for junk, so I don't rely on that alone.

So what's my point? Maybe just it's not so clear-cut that the wheat will be separated from the chaff anytime soon. I think the influx of mediocre to bad books will steer many readers, like myself, to big name writers and those who have proven themselves in other ways. I think it's going to be harder for many new indie writers to get the public to take a chance on them.

Hope I'm wrong.

Macie Blake said...

"Write" on Brotha! This is very encouraging. Thank you.

Edward M. Grant said...

I like to call it the "x" factor, and it's something I think separates most traditionally published books from the self-pubbed. It's like they're not quite ready for prime time, maybe a little less polished perhaps.

That was the disappointing thing about the best of the indie eoboks I've read so far. They were competently written, they had good ideas, the characters were interesting and the books could have been really good but there was some fundamental flaw that prevented me from really enjoying them.

In two cases it was a Deus Ex Machina ending where a minor character turned up and saved the day rather than having the main characters do the job; there were other problems too, but I could have forgiven them if the ending had been satisfying. I'm sure that any editor worth the name would have pointed that out to the writer and got it fixed.

That said, I suspect people are going to complain about the ambiguous ending of the novel I'm finishing off at the moment, but it's the one I want so they'll have to live with it. The next one will be more conventional :).

Joe Konrath said...

I don't expect the writing to get better. There will always be crap to wade through.

But readers are becoming better at spotting it before it takes up much of their time or money.

We're very good at finding what we want amid a multitude of choices. Just go to a 7-11 and count how many different candy bars they are.

I'm not saying that crap doesn't exists. I'm saying it doesn't matter that crap exists. If there is more indie crap than legacy crap, who cares? Readers will figure it out.

Mark Terry said...

"Youtube--uploaded by amateurs--is the third most popular site on the Internet. Is there crap on Youtube? Sure. But people don't care. They don't go rushing back to Hollywood or network TV because they run across some bad YouTube vids."

Except, of course, that nobody pays to watch a YouTube video.

S.E. Gordon said...

Actually I've been wanting to write a book called, "Me and My Boogers: A Love Story."

Lane Diamond said...

And can I have a "Amen!" How about a "Hallelujah!"

jtplayer said...

Don't discount the law of unintended consequences.

While flooding the market with lousy amateur product may seem insignificant, the reality may eventually prove far more damaging to the writers who take this stuff seriously.

MGalloway said...

The whole "self published work = junk" argument is in some ways reminiscent of what goes on in the software industry. Some software companies will often use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) as a means of retaining customers. It's tiring, predictable, and not all that effective if an end user spends some time online doing a bit of research.

Merrill Heath said...

I have a limited amount of time for reading. So, my process for selecting reading material is simple. I look for books that my friends and relatives have recommented. I buy books by authors whom I've read and like their previous books. I search for new talent scanning books in whatever genre interests me at the time. In all cases, even with known authors, I read the description and, if that catches my interest, I download a sample if it's an ebook or read the first few chapters if it's a print book. If it interests me I buy it or check it out of the local library.

I do pay attention to proper formatting, grammar, and typos because I believe that's an indication of professionalism. But I never buy a book based on it's ranking in the best seller lists. I never look to see who published it. I don't really care what the cover looks like. I don't pay any attention to reviews - unless as noted above when it comes from a friend or relative who knows what I like to read. And I don't really pay attention to the price; although, I will buy the cheaper version - paperback vs hardback or if I can find it on sale somewhere. If it's something I treasure and want to add to my library I'll buy the hardback even if I previously purchased the paperback or ebook.

That process works for me whether there are one hundred books to choose from or one hundred gazillion.

Merrill Heath
It's Always Five O'clock by W. L. Heath

Carolynp said...

Great post. Over the holiday I read a book published by a legacy publisher. I was surprised at how terribly it was edited. Before I started reading about publishing, I would have not really understood why I didn't like the book. Now that I can put a name to it, I wonder at the wrong done to this writer. The book itself could have been great, but the abrupt transitions and confusing timeline made it difficult to read. I think the legacy publisher is to blame. If you self publish, it becomes your problem to find a decent editor. It caused me to wonder how many really good books have been destroyed by publishers who just saw them as one of many income streams. I'm a prolific reader and I'm seeing myself buying far more indie works just out of curiousity.

A. Jarrell Hayes said...

Thanks for writing this post. People tend to think of it as one or the other: either readers buy legacy books or they buy indie books. That's a lie. I buy both. My friends buy both. Most people I talk to buy both. Readers know what stories and styles they're looking for. That's how it has always been. That's how it shall remain.

Have a good one, everybody.

orv said...

Some of the fear you're seeing from established writers is due to the knowledge of what supply and demand is going to do. What happened to photography is about to happen to writing -- it's going to go from a field where a select few, selected almost at random by publishers, could make a decent living, to one where a much larger number of people can just scrape out a poverty-level wage if they really work at it. This is what happens when you remove barriers to entry.

RobynBradley said...

I'm not saying that crap doesn't exists. I'm saying it doesn't matter that crap exists. If there is more indie crap than legacy crap, who cares? Readers will figure it out.

I was with you, Joe, until this comment. I think we self-published writers should care. Sure, whether a story is "good" or "crap" is subjective and up to the reader. But punctuation, grammar, and formatting are within our control as writers. We should endeavor to put out quality stuff, at least from a technical perspective (the readers will decide "quality" in terms of story). You're right that there's a lot of crap out there...but it doesn't need to be this way. (I realize this might be a Pollyanna point of view, but what can I say? I wish we legacy and SP writers could all just hold hands and sing kumbaya together. :))

Wayne Borean said...

I've been involved recently on a Wikipedia "Article For Deletion" call about a book called "Laywers in Hell". It's the thirteenth book in a series of anthologies, co-edited by the husband and wife team of Janet and Chris Morris. The series had taken a twenty year hiatus.

Someone decided that the book, which was part of a series which included a bunch of stories which won major awards wasn't "notable". Some of the arguments put forward were almost comical. They tried to claim that the publisher was a vanity press. Admittedly the publisher isn't Random House, but they aren't a Vanity Press.

We can skip the rest of the arguments, they don't really matter directly, what matters is that they show that Wikipedia hasn't caught on to the changes that are happening. The "major publishers" that they claim count won't exist within another few years (I'm guessing between 2 to 5).

The world is moving so fast that the world can't keep up :)

Wayne

Belle Whittington said...

Two snaps and a circle!

That was perfect! How is it that you looked into my brain and wrote what I was thinking! Genius! Brilliant!

I'm going to repost this blog post on my tumblr!

Thank you!

~Belle

Baalbuster said...

Enjoyed the rant. Here's another thought. So much gets in the bookstores that is cleanly edited, wonderfully typeset, and has an award winning cover, but is still crap! It's just clean crap.

It's all about story! Good story will get readers to overlook occasional typos. Self pubbers get hammered on editing all the time, but if they tell good stories, their stuff will SELL and keep Selling.

When has anyone put down a book because of a typo? If you did, you need some therapy.

Baalbuster said...

Enjoyed the rant. Here's another thought. So much gets in the bookstores that is cleanly edited, wonderfully typeset, and has an award winning cover, but is still crap! It's just clean crap.

It's all about story! Good story will get readers to overlook occasional typos. Self pubbers get hammered on editing all the time, but if they tell good stories, their stuff will SELL and keep Selling.

When has anyone put down a book because of a typo? If you did, you need some therapy.

tmsouders.com said...

Wonderful, as always. Thanks for sticking up for us.

Anonymous said...

indie movies, indie music, youtube, indie news/commentary blogs, etc, etc, etc but only the fiction reading public is too stupid to find something they like?

Bullshit.

Someone who was traditionally published and totally zen about things and confident in his own work would have no need to put down someone else, to paraphrase the great (traditionally published!) Alice Walker, in order for his own light to shine.

There's enough room. So chill.

It was like the blogging/tweeting agent who said self publishing is cheating. Really? Cheating?

Say it to Hocking's face, who, I bet has made more money than that agent.

SBJones said...

I am new to the self publishing world and publishing world in general so I do not doubt my opinions and theories will change as I learn more. However this type of propaganda I have seen before in other lines of business.

I think that there is some truth to the Tsunami of Crap. That's an easy math game you can not win an argument against. However the system is already in place to filter that crap out. The crap book at rank 1,942,458,123 is not going to be seen on the front page of Amazon, or even on the front page of any generic search. It is not going to get in the way of a good book that people like.

I think it is more of loss of control from traditional publishing than money that is driving this propaganda wagon, and writers themselves who buy into what they are being told.

In today's publishing world. I don't need their permission.

AnthonyNewman said...

Great post. There are always going to people who will be negative towards your work, even if you think it's the greatest piece you've ever written. That also works the other way as well. It's like a cd, you listen to some songs over and over and others you dont listen to at all. Everyone likes what they like, that's why critics pan some stuff and love others. Just keep writing and be happy with what you do.

frankp said...

I worked in Hollywood a little while reading scripts. Glad not to do it after 40 or so. The ones that were by good writers you could recognize. The others weren't so much bad but also variations of things that had been done better. The problem was so many people were writing them and sending them in including me.

ebooks are the same thing times a thousand and that's not a problem you can dismiss. Unlike movies it takes time to read. You can throw most of them out after a page, but this is a skill that implies you're a good writer yourself. Remember when you were younger and read something bad and probably were confused and didn't understand what was going on.

The solution will be different than what Hollywood came up with, which is they exclude most people, so most of their comedy writers went to Harvard. If I were a published writer I'd be worried if what I wrote wasn't that great and didn't really stand out because now you don't have that protection of being an insider.

wannabuy said...

@Edward:"The problem I see on the indie publishing side is that Amazon reviews in particular seem totally untrustworthy"
The trick is to find reviewers whom you share an interest. This is sort of like joining a book club focused on one genre.

Heck, there are 100X more 'tricks' to find good ebooks that take less effort than driving to a bookstore and asking the clerk 'what do you recommend.'

I've done really well with Amazon's reviews. My favorite trick is wait for a well written 'bad review' that is usually a 3* review. Why? The reviewer will tell you why the book didn't appeal to them. Sometimes it is for reasons to avoid the ebook, sometimes it is "you will only like this book if you enjoy X and Y" and I'm a reader of 'X and Y.' ;)

Avoid buying books on reviews based on "I love every book by Author AAA" or ones that just say they hated the book. Good reviews always answer 'why.'

Indie authors have brought a 'new life' into the genres I love. 80%+ of my reading is now indie author. Heck, half my big6 reading is now 'hand me down pbooks' The best part is that favorite authors of mine, that were 'constrained by the publishers', are soon going to release their newest novels sans the constraints of the old system.

Note: One reason I read so many fewer big6 novels is the slow "one a year" pace of a series. Why? Ugh... I'll wait until 3 books are ready and then buy. Why settle for less than a day's reading?

If I may, I've enjoyed the books from Ridan publishing:
http://www.ridanpublishing.com/ridan_publishing_news.html

There is a reason 'intense readers' migrate to ebooks and indie authors *fast*.

Neil

evilphilip said...

"I've known more than a few readers (not writers) who have told me they are "done with indie published books" (*not* ebooks)after purchasing one too many stinkers."

And I met two people on Thursday with eBook readers who only read free and cheap books and wouldn't touch a $9.99 Book with a 10-foot-cattle prod.

Anecdotal evidence is worthless. The reality is that there are many indie authors making good money from their self-published books (I made $2800.00 in June) and August 1st when I get that direct deposit from Amazon, I'm not going to care one way or the other what anyone says about indie authors, indie books or the future of publishing.

I'm only going to care about paying the electric bill on time.

Werner said...

Indie pubbed books aren't the only ones that can be considered 'crap'

Are Traditionally Published Books Really Better?

fantasydreamer12 said...

There are a lot of bad self pubbed books, but there are also a lot of horrible legacy books.

wannabuy said...

@Wayne:"The "major publishers" that they claim count won't exist within another few years (I'm guessing between 2 to 5)."

I might prefer indie authors, but I doubt all of the publishers counted in the 'big6' will epic fail. ;) (What, ten publishers?) Some will disappear (mergers?).

Heck, just the downsizing of Borders will force consolidation in the industry. Those that depend most on MMPB are currently at most risk. I'm amazed how MMPB is already at less than half normal sales. Those that sell quite a few gifted books (Hardcovers) will do well.

Neil

Silver Bowen said...

Ha! I've already had to disengage myself from conversations with legacy pubbed (or worse, wannabe pubbed) authors over this backwards way off thinking. They see all the crap, and head for the hills. I see it, and figure my stuff will look like Shakespeare by comparison.

Note - I'm not really in competition with anyone else, just making the point that opportunity and disaster are often two sides of the same coin.

Best thing about this lame argument, though - those of us that are more interested in finding readers than in getting a pat on the head can just ignore the hysterics, get our stuff up, and let the audience decide.

David Gaughran said...

There is another problem with this myth.

It's defenders don't seem to realize how people actually purchase books online.

These people seem to view Amazon as some giant warehouse of books. They seem to picture readers wandering – confused – through the aisles, flicking through piles and piles of poorly published dreck. They worry that readers will eventually tire of this, and leave the store without purchasing anything.

This has no basis in reality.

Even before KDP launched, there were several million books on Amazon. How did readers find what they want? How do they do it today? The same way they always have: they tell each other.

The #1 reason why readers buy any particular book is because they have read something by the author before and enjoyed it. The #2 reason is a recommendation from a trusted source (friend, reviewer, etc.).

The only thing that has changed is that “telling each other” has gotten much easier. People review books on Amazon, book bloggers share discoveries with the world, people tweet their favourites, they post on Facebook, they email each other, they press a book into a friend’s hand and say “you have to read this”.

It doesn’t matter if there are 10 self-published books, or 10 million, people will still find books the exact same way.

By telling each other.

Ursula said...

Joe sez: Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths.

You know, I have learned the hard way not to be drinking anything while reading your blog.

This is really funny. Not just what you wrote, but dude, that you even HAVE TO WRITE IT!!!!!!

There really is room for everyone right now. Probably will be down the road. The sky is not falling (last I checked). And it's not the limit anymore, either.

As an fyi, w/little to no promo,(I'm going to do it when I get around to it), I've sold more books of my new indie release, A Haunting Affair, in 8 days then I sell on average of my pub books, in a month.

Now, I'm not a huge author/seller/producer in any way, but I think statistically you can infer - readers don't care who turns out Ursula Bauer's books. They care about the story, not the manufacturing process. I'm pretty sure, for the average consumer, 'who publishes what' is so much white noise.

Out at breakfast the other day w/some friends, and all agreed price is playing a big role in choice, esp for those who shop digitally. They're willing to try new authors between 99 and 3 bucks because it's 'the cost of coffee', and they shop more heavily in that price range now because the budget dollar goes further.

And, wait for it: quality is essentially the same. And sometimes...better.

Richard Raley said...

Been thinking about this some more and I've come to the conclusion that the Crap itself isn't the biggest problem if the Crap is left to its own devises.

Joe's own argument is that readers will be able to filter through it and find the good stuff. But what if they can't? What if the system for shifting is itself being manipulated?

What if we see more "zombie" and "bot" five-star reviews flying around confusing readers about what book REALLY has a good ranking and what book just has an advertising team pumping it up to look good? We know it happens, many can spot it, and no it's not just Indies. It's a serious problem that could only get worse. How many times do readers have to get burned by this manipulation before they give up on the system?

THAT is more of a worry. Not the tsunami, the chimps throwing it up into people's faces.

Laura said...

I absolutely LOVE your spirit, Mr. Konrath! I love not only what you have to say, but that you're not afraid to say it in the first place. Many blessings to you for the regular inspiration that you serve on this blog and elsewhere.

As for a tsunami of crap, I cannot tell you how many books I've received as gifts or have run across on my own that were pure crap. Not only were they poorly written, but filled with grammatical and punctuation errors, as well. I forgot which one it was, but one of Terry McMillan's books was so hard to read that my cousin literally had to go through the book and insert her own punctuation just to get through it! I think it was How Stella Got Her Groove Back, which I recall struggling through also (a movie was eventually made from the book). Now, I've heard that the lack of punctuation was deliberate-- that it was meant to be a stream of consciousness type deal. Although the story was interesting, it was painful reading.

I can name at least three other books that I couldn't even complete for similar reasons. All of them were by African-American (AA) authors and were targeted toward AA readers. This tells me that not only does crap get past traditional publishers (and some of it sells), but it also suggests that there's a lower standard for AA publishing. Perhaps that's another story for another time, but the bar seems to be set rather low for that genre at times. Of course, authors like Mosley, Walker, Cleage and Morrison exist, but so do several (whose names I won't mention) who consistently produce crap. Every one of the ones I'm thinking of are published by traditional publishers, too.

Long before the invention of e-readers I was a fan of indie publishing (for books and music). The whole idea of an advance (loan) and giving publishers a cut of an artist's creative revenues for what she or he can do solo just never made sense to me. Yet, I've had writers argue me down about a writer not being a valid author without a "real" publisher. It's crazy the price that people clamor to pay for this thing called validation.

Recently, I read a blog where author Ellery Adams chose to disclose information about her actual writing income:

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2011/06/ellery-adams-bares-all.html

No disrespect to Ms. Adams, but I cannot believe that authors are willing to continue playing within the old model when there are other options that clearly work. I understand the idea of money not being a motivating factor for some, but if that's the case, why even seek a publisher at all? If a writer is publishing for the sheer joy of it, Kindle is still a much better option that gives an author the opportunity to reach just as many readers.

I recently published on Kindle for the first time (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050VILR8). While I have a lot to learn about writing and publishing, I trust my readers to be honest with me. I look forward to learning from you and others about promoting my work and I'm committed to improving as I go. Not calling my own work crap, but even if others do, my point is that authors can grow and improve. The best way to do so is by keeping a finger directly on the pulse of the market, which is what self-publishing enables us to do. Some authors with traditional publishers, however, may never see through the illusion of it all.

no-bull-steve said...

Ultimately I think there's some middle path here.

The "sky is falling" argument always riles people up, but it is rarely true. On the other hand, simple math disproves the theory that "it doesn't matter that crap exists". A movie clip takes 30 seconds to watch...but that film took a minimum of 6 months and $10M to produce. If movies could be produced for $500 and there were a million trailers, it's going to be harder to draw attention of the right crowd.

Yes. If readers had unlimited time and resources, they'd filter the crap and the cream would always rise. The problem is becoming that when there were 1,000 voices touting their work, it *was* easier to get reader attention than when there's 100,000 voices yelping on social media about their books.

But the sky isn't falling and the world isn't ending...at least not this week.

Edward M. Grant said...

The #1 reason why readers buy any particular book is because they have read something by the author before and enjoyed it. The #2 reason is a recommendation from a trusted source (friend, reviewer, etc.).

Absolutely. Once one person reads a good book they'll tell two more people who'll each tell two more people if they like it, etc... if you write a good book and people start reading it then the word of mouth is probably all you need.

The question, I think, is how does a new writer get from nowhere to the point where people are reading their books, if those people only read books that have been recommnded to them? Someone still has to swim through the Tsunami of Crap to collect the good books that are floating on the surface and spread the word.

Obviously some people will try, but in my experience it's a pretty thankless job and I'm not sure how long they'll last. Otherwise you're back to the old gatekeeper scenario with reviews or other publicity taking the place of agents and publishers.

Shelly Thacker said...

Great post, as always, Joe. I think there's another reason why some legacy authors feel hostile toward indie publishing: they sense that they're being left behind. They feel like they -can't- go indie, because it would mean kissing their backlists (and in some cases, continuing characters) goodbye. An astonishing number of authors signed over all their backlist e-rights to their NY publishers, way before Amazon started offering 70% royalties. So now they're doomed to collect 14.9% royalties on those books in perpetuity. Meanwhile, their incomes are shrinking as bookstores close and print sales dry up.

They feel like they're getting screwed. Which they are. I'm not being sarcastic when I say I feel sorry for them. I'm grateful every single day that I walked away from NY when I did -- and that I own all rights to all 9 of my backlist books.

Jim Crigler said...

Joe (J. Michael) Straczinski says that Harlan Ellison once gave him the same bit of advice you put at the end.

Ty Johnston said...

@wannabuy "My favorite trick is wait for a well written 'bad review' that is usually a 3* review. Why? The reviewer will tell you why the book didn't appeal to them."

Exactly. Even as a writer, I've found I tend to learn much more from 3-star reviews than 5-star or 1-star. The 5-star reviews usually just spew forth about how great you are, while the 1-star reviews tend to rant on about how you should be burned at the stake along with your family and friends and school chums. But the 3-star reviews are generally quite helpful, showing the reader actually read the book and often "got it," even though they might not like what they "got" or how the writer presented it.

wannabuy said...

@David:"There is another problem with this myth.

It's defenders don't seem to realize how people actually purchase books online."


Light goes on

David, in your succinct way I think you hit why we keep having this discussion. Online print book are what, 20% of pbook sales? That implies half to 80% of print book shoppers do not get how to buy online books.

I see that corrected weekly. Two of my coworkers bought Kindles to give to relatives and helped set up the gift recipients Amazon account over the long holiday.

Sadly, this FUD does work on those who do not select new books to read online. :( Perhaps that is why the publishers are trying everything they can to keep customers on print? (e.g., but stupidly over-priced ebooks.)

Neil

Walter Knight said...

I think people are finally coming around to believing they do not need protection from crap, and can make decisions for themselves.

Now if those same people can start voting republican, but, that would be way to radical of thinking.

David Gaughran said...

I have a question. Let's say there are some readers who decide they won't read any more indie books.

How will they know which is which?

Do self-publishers have some kind of “S” branded on their foreheads? I don’t think the average reader knows whether a book is self-published or not.

While some imprints and small presses in some genres might have a loyal fanbase, I don’t think the same can be said for the average imprint or the average reader.

How many imprints and small presses are there in the US alone? How many readers are familiar with even 5% of them?

The purveyors of this myth say that it’s easy to spot self-published work because of the aforementioned poor presentation or poor writing.

But, if you have a top cover, a great editor, perfect formatting, and a good story, you are indistinguishable from a trade published book.

LV Cabbie said...

You hit the nail on the head!
Great post. Thanks.

Austin_Gal said...

Joe, I agree and disagree with you. I’m not a legacy author. But I’m a damn good writer. I worked hard to perfect my craft at university when I studied with other authors. I listen to editors and other writers when they tell me what works, what doesn’t and what I need to work on. I suppose I shouldn’t care that people are scribbling a “novel” during the course of a week and slapping it up on Amazon, but I do care. That’s like saying that you can become a concert pianist in a month. It doesn’t work like that. I object to “crap” on principle.

For me, writing is not entirely about the money. It’s about crafting a book that people want to read and writing it from that very necessary objective distance that makes all good art meaningful. If you respect the craft (as I do), it’s bothersome to know that it’s turned into self-indulgence. There are fan fic sites for that kind of thing.

Be your own gatekeeper. If you have doubts about your work, enter writing contests. Seek out beta readers and critique partners. Read books on writing. Go back to university and take creative writing. Better yet, apply to MFA programs. But write for the people—not for your own ego. So many people are hung up on seeing their name on the cover of a book, they forget that writing is art.

Nancy Beck said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm so tired of all the articles, etc., that endlessly beat this.

Changing Faces is alive!

KL Mutter said...

The quantity of bad writing is unfortunate. But I can't help but think of the authors that I love that came out of sensationalist, pulp magazine writing (the equivalent of todays bloggers and indies): Twain, London, Alcott, PK Dick.

If we had self-publishing then, we might have an unknown number of books from Toole to stand beside Confederacy of Dunces.

Wayne Borean said...

@wannabuy

Back in April I predicted that the Brick and Mortar chain stores would be dead within two years:

http://weblit.ca/?q=node/39

I'm a futurist, as well as a professional writer. I do this sort of thing all the time. Now sit back and think. If the publishers customers are gone, what do the publishers do? Go EBook? They can't. Guys like Joe have already proved that it's not economical for the publishers to do EBooks, it makes more sense for the writer to do it directly, with maybe a bit of assistance from an Agent, or someone else to do some of the grunt work.

After all, why would give up 70% of the takings for less than 25% of the takings - I'll refer you to Amy Shojai's blog post about legacy Ebook publishing for the numbers:

http://amyshojai.com/2011/05/17/tuesday-tips-kindle-ization-2-brass-ring-or-lead-balloon/

Now if someone comes along, and can help me increase my sales by x% at y% cost, so that I increase my profits by z% as Joe put it, I'd be crazy not do go with them. I'm not in Joe's position though at present, i.e. I'm not as well known, since I do mostly non-fiction.

Still the next few years should be interesting.

Wayne

Scott Pinzon said...

I get tired of writers defending the traditional publishers as "gatekeepers of quality." If you really believe that, please respond with how many copies you purchased in hard cover of Snooki's "A Shore Thing" -- one of her three books brought to you by "gatekeepers of quality."

Michael E. Walston said...

Great stuff! That's exactly what I've been thinking. You're my new hero, Joe.

In a year or two, all the badly written slush manuscripts will be published and the non-writers won't be writing more, so the streams will slow.

Why, that's true, isn't it? Except there will always be new hopeful writers who haven't quite developed their chops...

it's going to go from a field where a select few, selected almost at random by publishers, could make a decent living, to one where a much larger number of people can just scrape out a poverty-level wage if they really work at it. This is what happens when you remove barriers to entry.

Some truth in that. But there will also be those who make good money.

Here's another thought. So much gets in the bookstores that is cleanly edited, wonderfully typeset, and has an award winning cover, but is still crap! It's just clean crap.

Very true, that!

It's all about story! Good story will get readers to overlook occasional typos. Self pubbers get hammered on editing all the time, but if they tell good stories, their stuff will SELL and keep selling.

Some truth in that, as well--but I'm still planning on putting out the most polished work I can manage...

--when I get that direct deposit from Amazon, I'm not going to care one way or the other what anyone says about indie authors, indie books or the future of publishing. I'm only going to care about paying the electric bill on time.

Bingo.

It's all about timing. I'm truly grateful to be in the position I'm in right now--if I had a book contract with a NY publisher, I think I'd be downright worried...

William Kendall said...

Bravo! Very well said!

Bill said...

Readers want a good story, whether e-book or paper.

www.BillDodds.com

John D said...

I have a question. Let's say there are some readers who decide they won't read any more indie books.

How will they know which is which?


Excellent point. As an experiment, I asked my wife, who reads an average of five books a week, who publishes her favorite author, Janet Evanovich. Her response was, "I have no idea." She's read everything Evanovich has written, and has read many of the books multiple times, yet doesn't know who published the books.

I think writers, wannabe-writers, agents, and publishing industry pros spend so much time focusing on inside baseball, and associating with others who focus on it, that they forget that most of the "regular folk" out there (i.e., the book buying public) don't have a clue who the players are behind the scenes. They know what writers and genres they like, and they'll give something new a try if it looks interesting and of good quality. The imprint on the spine is irrelevant to them.

Alain Gomez said...

What amuses me is the cycle of validation. What's to ensure the agent is a qualified judge of written works? Training? More training than say an author who has written for 30 years?

Dan Lawrence said...

Sure. But people don't care. They don't go rushing back to Hollywood or network TV because they run across some bad YouTube vids.

The bad ones are often the most popular! Though that's another discussion in the making.

Anonymous said...

Something like 150 agents rejected Water for Elephants.

How many agents rejected Snooki? I'm guessing she had her pick and then some.

So how are they doing as gatekeepers?

Joe Konrath said...

Something like 150 agents rejected Water for Elephants.

How many agents rejected Snooki? I'm guessing she had her pick and then some.

So how are they doing as gatekeepers?


For the win.

Melissa said...

@Alain

"What's to ensure the agent is a qualified judge of written works?"

That's the biggest flaw in this system. There are only X-number of agents. And because the selection process is so objective, a writer can be absolutely flawless in every way and still not pass muster. Where are the agents who look at a manuscript and wonder, "Will readers like this? Is there a market--even a niche market--for this work?"

What I find particularly ironic on numerous levels--as well as so obviously self-serving--is that Amanda Hocking was rejected by everyone. But as soon as she starts to make money as a self-published writer, everyone wants a piece of that action. Okay. Whatever...

Marie Simas said...

How many agents rejected Snooki? I'm guessing she had her pick and then some.

....aaaaand scene.

+1,000 internets for you sir.

Sariah S. Wilson said...

"I have a question. Let's say there are some readers who decide they won't read any more indie books.

How will they know which is which?"

This may be where it comes down to price point. I've seen a friend of mine on Twitter say he won't buy a book that's less than $9.99 (with the idea being that at $9.99 and above, it's with a trad publisher, and anything below must be indie and therefore crap).

We might get to the point where if a book is $.99 or $2.99, the reader will automatically assume it's an indie book.

But back to Konrath's original post, this was excellent. I think I worried about the Tsunami of Crap until I realized months ago that you were right about YouTube and other things that go viral - somehow we internet users manage to find the things that we want that interest and intrigue us. People will do the same thing for books.

Kiana Davenport said...

@JOE VASICEK...Joe, I agree with you. As a cross-over author I can confirm that print-published authors have over-sized egos. We HAD to develop them to survive. There was no caring community like there is in the indie world. There was mostly a sense of cut-throat competition in the struggle for visibiity and booksales.

So, like you, I am puzzled by the amount of vitriol and defensiveness directed at print-authors by indie-authors on so many blogsites. Including, ocassionally, this one. Digital is now the norm. Indie e-authors are in the catbird seat. It is diehard print-authors who should be defensive and terrified. They're too paralyzed to leave the 'cocoon' of print-publishing, even though its dying.

Some of my print friends are three months away from food-stamps, still...they can't make that leap to indie publishing. They think it means they have to give up 'quality writing.' They are disabled by their ignorance of what indie ebook publishing is. I know, I was there.

You folks are already lasar-leaps ahead of them. If you fear their future competition when they finally go digital, then concentrate on your writing, not your sales charts, for a while. Joe and all the pros keep saying it, the way to better sales is better writing.

Network. Join writer's groups. Write eight hours every day. And don't be in such a hurry to publish a book a month. Readers are intelligent. Don't insult them. Take the time to improve your writing, or you will lose them after one book. I've never seen such phenomenal, explosive talent as I have in this new
digital world. All writers have to do is bear down, and labor and sweat, and hone that talent.

(As for 'CRAP,' I don't believe in it. I think every book, every idea, has value. It just has to keep being revised and revised until the kernel, or core, or truth you seek comes clear.)

I have received so many queries from writing-students and first-time authors about ebooks vs. print publishing, that I addressed it recently on my blogsite. A lot of you will disagree with me, but have a look anyway. Chime in. "E-BOOKS VS. PRINT: WORKING BOTH SIDES OF THE STREET." kianadavenportdialogues.blogspot.com Alohas!

jon said...

LOL I love this its BANG ON...

Legacy and gatekeeper publishing houses are the only ones who are pissed.

Edward M. Grant said...

We might get to the point where if a book is $.99 or $2.99, the reader will automatically assume it's an indie book.

If readers refuse to buy books that cost less than $9.99, then we just increase the price of our books to $9.99. Which would be great, really.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was just awesome.

David Gaughran said...

@Sariah

If it ever happened that there was a widespread boycott of indies by readers who had been burned by poor books, and the only way to separate indies from trade published books was by price, then indies would simply raise their prices.

There is no way to tell the difference between a professionally produced well written indie book and anything coming from New York.

Unless you are willing to spend some serious time on Google verifying the status of each imprint attached to each book that you may be interested in purchasing, there is simply no way to tell.

They are indistinguishable.

If readers stop buying anything below $7.99 (which I severely doubt will ever happen), then I just raise my prices to $7.99.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

A little OT, but so encouraging I really wanted to share it.

I've mentioned before that I helped my 80 year old neighbor order a Kindle after we both went nearly crazy trying to get ebooks ordered and loaded on her Sony device.

She just reported that, on her recent vacation, she was able to download a book to her Kindle while sitting in a hotel room in Finland.

She was thrilled! She reads a lot and will continue to spend plenty on ebooks.

I was super happy for her - you should have seen her smile - and super happy for the future of ebooks.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

J. Tanner said...

The Snooki argument is clever, but seems to me to be a bit of a tangent.

I suspect "her" book is respectably edited, and almost certainly ghost written by a competent wordsmith (for whom I shed a tear and hope he was paid exhorbitantly.)

The Tsunami of Crap I see as potentially problematic in the short term is the new trend of book spam, where it goes beyond just not to your tastes and edited poorly but is in fact just content farmed from public domain or just undefended sources. Book spammers are already out there making money and will continue to bilk careless/naive ebook shoppers the way they continue to bilk careless web surfers and naive email users to this day.

With virtually nonexistent financial barriers to entry and a way to make money inevitibly comes the spam.

Luckily, it should impact fiction less than nonfiction, and probably by a wide margin because it's not as easy to farm content.

Future tools will likely mitigate it, but it's going to get worse before it gets better.

(This of course doesn't dispute Joe's central premise at all. The thing within your control is making sure your own work is not shoddy. The tools already in place will eventually allow people to find it regardless of whether there are are 10 million or 20 billion other choices and new tools will be developed if these fail because there's no option for them not to be the further the world progresses into the switch to digital.)

Eloheim and Veronica said...

This showed up on my Facebook feed today:

"Penguin Books will offer me a new sequel contract if I can sell the last 1500 books of the 2nd printing of the highly popular book LESSONS FROM STANLEY THE CAT. Please help me by buying this wonderful $10 book for yourself or a friend. Such an easy way to make a dream come true."

So much for legacy authors getting to "just write."

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Patti Ann Colt said...

Gee Joe, you have such a way with words. Ever think about writing a book?

Every post you write on this subject keeps me focused on the prize that is self-published. Thanks for that.

Just finished FLEE, btw. Seems you followed your rule - Don't Write Crap! Awesomeness between the off and on button. Thanks!

wannabuy said...

@Wayne:"Back in April I predicted that the Brick and Mortar chain stores would be dead within two years:"

Very interesting post. I agree in most novel genres there will be a mass defection of authors; all it takes is a fraction of the many who have already made it on their own. However, I expect that Hardcovers will remain a 'gift item.' The trick will be what bookstores morph into? Combo toy and bookstores? (I imagine as 'learning centers' for kids, etc.)

Certainly the toughest years are ahead for both bookstores and publishers. In many ways, publishers are going to morph into a holiday item a la those holiday cheese and sausage stores.

Neil

Wayne Borean said...

@wannabuy:

Actually I have a strong suspicion that there will continue to be a strong market for limited edition custom runs, but that a lot of that market will be for hand bound, gold leafed, signed copies. In other words it might be a good time to learn hand binding, I think that the trade might see a comeback.

Wayne

Mica Jade said...

Great Post Joe!

I would love to see Lee Goldberg join this discussion after his blog post yesterday (link below). Maybe a 10,000 word Konrath/Eisler type discussion between the two of you. But that maybe just more slush :) Lee's a great guy... just interesting perspectives between your blog posts.

Here Comes the Slush

Anonymous said...

Right on target!!

KR Jacobsen said...

I hate arriving at a good discussion late, but I agree with a lot of what Joe and the others have said.

I'd include the publishers as a major source of the venom and the FUD instead of heaping it (mostly?) on the traditionally published authors. I realize this may be entirely fantasy, but I like to think there's a lot of traditionally published authors who see the viability and veracity in self-publishing and are just as upset at the trash being thrown around about self-publishing as indies are (especially as many of them consider making the move themselves).

I know it's cliche, but the cream does rise to the top. As a fan of podcasts of a certain network, I've been hearing that for years. Considering they're roughly the equivalent of self-published authors within the tv/radio industries, and that network is specifically in the middle of a move to a massive new facility, I think they may be on to something.

W. Dean said...

Austin_ Gal,

Your complaint is the writer’s version of the “Life is not Fair” lament. Sure, no one should publish bad books and bad writing shouldn’t exist; but neither should Anderson Cooper, Ugs and MTV (and everything and everyone on it). Yet all these horrible things take up space in the Cosmos. We must therefore soldier on. So here are two considerations that may help, since I know you didn’t discuss such things in your MFA program.

1. There’s a difference between commercial fiction and literature that makes them beer and wine (though not apples and oranges). Literature is good if it’s good and the only reliable yardstick for good is time; commercial fiction, on the other hand, is good if it sells. True, writing well and thinking deeply is a reliable way to achieving success, but not sufficient or even a necessary one. Hundreds of poor writers have sold millions of books.

2. I wouldn’t be too eager to hold MFA programs up as a standard. It’s not hard to find writers and critics who blame these programs for what plagues contemporary literary fiction.

3. I’ve yet to meet a writer who teaches anything you could learn didactically.

Friendless said...

Funny you should mention that Joe, all of the books I've bought as a consequence of reading your blog HAVE been crap. And weren't you gloating about a hundred one star reviews on Amazon? I think self-publishing is great for writers, but as a reader I'm waiting for a better solution.

Marilyn Peake said...

Huzzah! Exactly! As a reader in addition to being a writer, I have absolutely, positively no problem sorting through all the self-published books to find the increasing number of treasures out there, including the Aurealis Award Finalist, THE SILENCE OF MEDAIR by Andrea K. Host, self-published and now available on Kindle for 99 cents. I avoid the poorly written self-published books in the same way I avoid the poorly written books published by the big publishing houses – I look through them, see flaws or meaningless stories and don’t buy them. Problem solved. I developed this approach after buying a number of very popular books at high prices from the big publishing houses and feeling it was like The Emperor’s New Clothes – the books were horrible by standards of literature, but had impossibly great reviews. I discovered that some of the best books are being published in ALL sorts of ways – some through the traditional large publishing houses, some through indie publishing, and some through self-publishing. And it’s disingenuous for people in the publishing industry to criticize self-publishing when the big publishing houses offer huge sums of money for the rights to self-published books that they previously rejected but suddenly start making a ton of money as self-published books. I mean, helloooo, it’s the same book! Yesterday, it was crap, but today it’s worth millions of dollars? Seriously?

kaliferdeil said...

In a very short time there will be damn few printed books, maybe only coffee table books or the Apple photo book of the pictures of your kids. This is freedom for independent writers just as the internet was for independent music artists. The publishing houses aren't too happy about this revolution but there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. This doesn't mean an artist or writer can get rich, far from it., but it does mean that the writer won't have to search high and low to find a publisher then wait a year and a half for the book to finally get published.

It does mean that independent writers will have to find some independent readers to help them proof read their tomes and they will also have to do their own marketing. Oddly enough, you have to do that now unless you are an established best selling author.

Joe Konrath said...

Also, it's difficult to judge quality if you're an idiot.

author Scott Nicholson said...

I love when established writers knock down successful indies, especially when basically a "traditional writer" is an indie writer whose slush got published. Not really much of a difference.

Like I'm in a big hurry to go see what a television writer--of all people--thinks of writers who dare to meet an audience.

Kris Yankee said...

I think there's crap in both legacy and self-pubbed books. I recently self-pubbed a book because my agent told me to. It's not that she wants me to not be a legacy author, but that she understands the market right now. I was hesitate because I didn't want to put more crap in the world. But I think I did it right - I hired an editor/proofer for the interior, as well a seasoned illustrator for the exterior. People can download a sample and if they are interested, they can purchase the entire text. The reader can decide if it's crap.

Isabella Amaris said...

I think the big problem is that a lot of publishers and writers who worry about 'quality' and 'gate-keeping' forget who's the most powerful party in the whole gatekeeping biz: readers.

And readers (in general) don't keep track of who's publishing who.

They want to read a BOOK, not read a 'publisher'.

p.s. crap is subjective and probably everywhere. Word of mouth and sampling have always helped readers decide which crap they enjoy reading hehe:D, and there's no reason for this to change...

Janice said...

Best writing advice ever--Don't write crap. I'm going to post it above my desk.

Seriously, you are slowly changing my mind about the traditional publishing route as being the only "legitimate" way to be published. I posted an excerpt from my manuscript and three Facebooks friends asked where they could buy it. I've shopped the book around to several agents, with some interest but no willingness to take on the book.

I'm thinking my market is already there judging by my Facebook response and that I really don't need a "middle man" to be published.

Heather Horrocks said...

As a writer, I work hard to write well, format well, and have a great cover. As a reader, I download samples, even of (or perhaps especially of) free books. Some crappy books aren't discovered until after the sample portion, but 98% of writers of crap can't hide the fact for that long.

Sue Santore said...

Well said.

There is one publishing house whose best-selling author turned over a series for a son to continue. His books are crap and they are still published, and hyped.

Dean said...

You're missing this piece of the big picture:

Amazon is where the overwhelming majority of e-books are bought--80% at minimum. But Amazon is not just a retailer, they are a publisher and an enabler of self-publishing. Solely as a retailer they had an economic interest in helping the customer find the best books, because those books sell better anyway. But as a publisher and platform for self-publishing their economic interests have shifted; now their highest economic interest is in selling what is produced by their platform--that's where their highest margin is.

Amazon is no longer a customer-focused business but a producer-focused one. Or at best, their focus has become diffused.

frankpalardy said...

I think the big issue missed is that everyone here is a writer. So you can all figure what you like and don't mind spending time looking. For the average reader this might be too much to ask. This is why stores put books in the front table. If you look what happened to the music industry it probably had something to do with their promotion system falling apart. It's not just that the record companies have gone down, but music isn't as influential as it used to be. You can call those people idiots, but I used to be a big music fan and now I'm confused how it works. If you could figure a solution you could increase the audience. There are some issues that might do that, like the lower price. Otherwise writers are going to be dependent on Amazon and their lists as much as any publisher. The better system in music was the dj. I guess a blog like this kind of like that, but again it's mostly writers here.

Joan Hall Hovey said...

It's clear why you're so successful. You're a terrific writer. Straight from the shoulder shooter, and very funny. I like that 'Me and My Boogers' - A love story. lol

Thanks, Joe.

Merrill Heath said...

@Sue, I think the author you're referring to is a friend of mine. I couldn't read his books when he was writing them. Still can't get through one now that his son is doing the bulk of the writing.

Merrill Heath
It's Always Five O'clock

Simon Haynes said...

You can't walk into a mall without seeing aisles of crap in the form of toys, trinkets and useless homewares, and yet every now and then a rubiks cube or a Furby or a hula hoop comes along. Nobody says 'you can't make that widget, we're drowning in crap and the market won't stand for it' - or 'you can't take that photo, we already have too many' Books aren't much different, and the market will decide.

Coral Russell said...

This made me smile. Amen. Amen. Amen!

JAMES BRUNO said...

I've lost count as to how many legacy published books in my genre that I've abandoned reading in disgust because of bad plotting and shallow characters, sometimes written in mangled English and with poor editing. Many of these are by big-name authors who have become complacent and take their audience for granted. I've been burned so many times that, by no means, do I hold trust in a Big-6 vetted book

My own two novels rose to three Kindle bestseller lists out of utter obscurity and have remained there for ten months now. I'm banking that my soon-to-be-released third will also shoot upward. Somehow, some way, the vast reading public discovered my stuff and like it, thus proving Joe's thesis that an ocean of crap will not deter readers from finding gems.

Stephen T. Harper said...

Good article, but the "crap" argument against non-legacy books is already sooo tired.

People don't buy crap just because it's there. You can go to the grocery store every week for your whole life and never buy a box of Twinkies. But if Twinkies are your kind of snack... not hard to find either.

I, for one, have never in my life bought a book by an unknown author that turned out to be crap. Why? Because I have opposable thumbs and am capable of flipping through the pages or clicking the "download a free sample" sample button.

On the other hand, I have bought books by known authors without checking first and did wind up with crap. As it turns out, all Tom Clancy books are not as good as "Red October." And "Jaws" is not as good as the movie. Now I know. But guess what? I still read books.

I'm new and still learning about this whole thing, but the trick with finding an audience for books doesn't seem to much different than finding customers for anything. It's about being interesting to a certain niche and learning how to not be hard to find.

Create a unique platform geared to your audience (easier said than done). Reach out to them. Some will take a look. If it's good, an audience will grow. If it's crap, it will probably be ignored.

Whoever is best at figuring out their audience and reaching out to them will determine what floats to the top. Probably won't be crap.

Then again, Twinkies have had a pretty long run.

TK Kenyon said...

Absolutement!

Four points:

1. The worst book I've read in a decade was from a major legacy publisher and was glowingly reviewed in major fiction review journals because its author works for a major fiction review journal (rhymes with View Pork Mimes) and the quid pro quo rule was in effect. All indie books that I've read were better, and quite a few were far, far better.

2. Legacy publishers publish crap if they think the crap will sell, and they often forget that crap does not sell. Snookie and The Situation both "wrote" books that the publishers thought would sell great, but they were wrong, because those books were crap.

3. Ebook readers can usually try the first 10-20% of the book for free, thus they can tell if they'll like it before they buy it.

4. Part of this hair-tearing may be in part because writers have been trained (by themselves, by programs, by tradition,) to write what editors like and will buy, because editors cut the checks. Now, with indie publishing, writers need to write what readers want to read and to buy, which is a whole different paradigm.

TK Kenyon


You can receive daily, relevant writing prompts by liking us on Facebook: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple or by subscribing to the RSS/Atom feed at Blog: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple Blogspot or be notified by Tweet by following @TKKenyon on Twitter

Merrill Heath said...

Then again, Twinkies have had a pretty long run.

Good point. Billions of McDonalds hamburgers have been sold, also. But it hasn't made it harder for me to find a good steak when I want one.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

w said...

TK Kenyon,

Regarding point 1:

I’ve heard this argument a hundred times, and it doesn’t get any better: point to one or two bad traditionally published books and then claim you’ve read dozens, or hundred, or millions of indie books that were better.

But that’s not saying much when it comes down to it, because you’re comparing the one, two, twenty lemons out of thousand of decent traditionally published books to the handful of good indie books out of thousands of lemons and calling it a draw, when it’s not even a contest. It’s like saying you’ve met four Iranians who were nicer than the four worst Americans you know, so there’s no deciding between the countries.

In this case you’ve unintentionally gone over the top in claiming that all the indie books you’ve read are better than the worst traditionally published book you’ve ever read. In another context, that would be taken as a backhanded compliment: like saying every writer you’ve ever met is more ethical than Ted Bundy.

Regarding 4:

In point 2 you berate legacy publishers for churning out anything that will make money, then in 4 you berate them for exactly the opposite crime, namely, ignoring what readers want. You can’t really have it both ways: either they publish what they think will sell or they publish what they personally like.

Ty Johnston said...

What I would like to know is this: Just what the hell do all the folks who have disdain for indie and/or digital publishing expect writers to do?

I hear and see a lot of bitching, but I have yet to see one single suggestion that would take publishing along a different, let alone a better, path.

Should we all get together and write Amazon a really nasty note? Should we drive around and kidnap the puppies and kittens of anyone who would dare tarnish the world with their self-published garbage? Or maybe all of us writers just stop writing? Is that what is expected?

The cat's already out of the bag, folks. It's not going back in. I suggest you get used to it.

SandyT said...

I remember about 10 years ago at the very last Dark & Stormy mystery conference, the guest speaker (NY pubbed author) literally said self-published authors were taking money out of her pocket. Back then ebooks weren't the rage -- it was the dastardly print-on-demand.

TheSanPintoTimes said...

"Me and My Boogers: A Love Story." Sounds like a winner!

Jesse said...

Sorry, Joyce, but you're wrong on this one:

Take 10 self-pubbed novels at random. Ones you've never heard of. Now *try* to read them. If you find 1 out of the 10 that holds your attention for more than half a page, you're lucky.

That has squat to do with being indie/self pubbed over being legacy pubbed. I can do that with 10 legacy published books and say the same thing.

I can also go find 10 indie pubbed books in a genre I like and I've done so. I've found far more really good stuff than I've found really bad stuff.

Your statement isn't correct since it's a subjective issue.

W. Dean said...

Ty Johnston,

I don’t see much disdain for self-publishing per se (more power to them, I say), but it seems rather naive (and ultimately counter-productive) to suggest that self-publishing has been an unmitigated boon for everyone concerned.

Second, if you think the cat can’t be put back in the bag, let’s see what happens when Amazon and the other retailers institute a “service/administrative fee” for uploading a book, so they can hire screeners (=editors) to vet manuscripts before offering them on their website. Won’t most of the cat be back in the bag then? I think the answer is yes.

Jesse,

Are the merits of the following sentences subjective: “It was darks and storym nite whn men said he will a jar pot. Ken ates Barbie head with a mousetash! Yet his caot was duty”?

What about paragraph breaks and punctuation? Does it matter if the pages are in order, and what about missing pages? Mere matters of taste?

There’s a difference between “well-written stories” and “stories we each prefer,” which is what most people are talking about.

M.P. McDonald said...

Thank you for a timely post. I came across this on another blog today. Amazon is doing what they can to help readers find books by adding the "Look Inside" feature to Kindle books. I don't know if it's in beta stage or what, but I first saw the feature in April, had it until late May, when it disappeared. Hardly anyone else saw it so I felt like I might have been hallucinating, but it rolled out again about two weeks ago, and this time, more people are seeing it. It lets you read the sample right in the browser. That, combined with reviews, should go a long way towards helping readers find books they will enjoy. It's actually a better set up than going to a physical bookstore.

TheSFReader said...

In the last year (since I have a reader), I read a few ebooks, most of them indie published. Some of them I found on par if not better than the "publisher's" ones. I blogged about them : http://readingandraytracing.blogspot.com/2011/07/gems-among-crap.html

David Gaughran said...

@M.P. McDonald

I saw the Look Inside feature, and I was very excited, as many readers don't know about sampling (especially those without e-readers).

It's on one of my books, but not the other. However, it doesn't like great. The formatting is all screwy.

Now, I know my books are perfectly formatted, because I hand-coded all the HTML myself (following Guido Henkel's great guide), and I know they look perfect on every device out there.

However, the Look Inside feature makes it look like my formatting is all over the place. I hope readers don't think the same thing. In fact, it could even be hurting my sales.

If anyone wants to see what I am talking about check out this link and click the "Look Inside":

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004YTI01Y

Robin Sullivan said...

Great post as usual Joe...I agree with you the ones who keep floating this around the most are legacy publishing wannabes. These people have a particularly sadistic aspect to their personality. They revel in years of wasted time and effort trying to maintain a system that is no longer relevent. They seem to feel that you MUST suffer for your art and only after after years of disappointment and degradation are you "worthy" of earning any money from your work.

When I was a young lass the one thing I learned was..."Work smarter, not harder." Well I now do a bit of both but I'm embrassing the changes that new technology has presented and that has made me a very happy camper.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Anonymous said...

I'm a traditionally published author and I have no problem with the "Tsunami of Crap" that is the self publishing ebook revolution. I fully agree that the readers make better gatekeepers, and if someone can sell a million copies of their pathetically, no, laughably bad self published mystery novels, Hey, good for them. This is America and all that really matters in our culture is the balance in your check book (the one end that always justifies the means), certainly not art.

Also, the "Tsunami of Crap" is the reason why 99% of all self published ebooks only sell a handful of copies, so it's obviously working.

And honestly, I don't know of any traditionally published authors that think about self published books at all. If they do think about self publishing, it's as something to do on the side for a few extra bucks. It's hardly a topic of concern. It's not like you need an invitation, or talent, to join this particular party. Just write down the words and push the upload button and you're part of the revolution.

Watcher said...

@W. Dean,

Your point is well taken, but we still have area for ambiguity. Is e.e. cummings lack of punctuation "bad"? What about Flowers for Algernon, which deliberately mis-spells words to keep in line with the protagonist's POV?

I'm sure you can find somebody who would have called each of these "crap" at some point. And going forward, who knows what will look like crap, only to be recognized as a classic later on. A book consisting entirely of tweets? A book written as obfuscated C code? There may be something that counts objectively as "crap", but identifying it will never be easy.

Joe Konrath said...

if someone can sell a million copies of their pathetically, no, laughably bad self published mystery novels

Here be the envy I spoke of in the post.

I haven't read Locke, but a few of my peers have, and they liked his stuff. So do hundreds of Amazon reviewers. I'm pretty sure they aren't laughably bad.

I'm going to blog in a few days about the difference between personal taste and whatever inherent merit a book has. In a nutshell, a book cannot be bad if it is deliberate and does what the author intentionally sets out to do.

Taste is subjective. But quality might not be...

Caledonia Lass said...

I agree!!! By the way, new follower here. Going to be a fan, love your post. ;)

Elisa Michelle said...

I don't think "legacy" authors ever had a valid argument with their "protecting against crap" spiel. Yeah, there may be more opportunities for writers who just want to make money and publish poorly written material, but the same thing can happen -- and does frequently happen -- within publishing houses all the time. Snookie being a key example...

Ty Johnston said...

W. Dean,

Of course the self-publishing boom isn't a boon for everyone. It's going to hurt a lot of people financially just as any other major shift in technology does. I'm a former newspaper journalist of 20 years, so been there, done that. The way I look at it, I've already lost one career to a big change in technology, but instead of being bitter and bitching about it, I've used the same (or similar) technology to start a new carer. To me, anything else is crying over spilled milk.

And no, I don't think an administrative fee from Amazon will put the cat back in the bag, not unless that fee ran into the thousands of dollars, and Amazon isn't stupid enough to cut its own throat that much. Besides, whether or not Amazon should ever institute such a fee is sky-is-falling guesswork at best. It might happen, it might not. I'll worry about it when it does.

A Real Writer said...

It appears to me that Anon a few posts above could learn some humility. I've seen this attitude so much from "published" authors that it's ridiculous. They are "real" writers because they've passed through the gauntlet of the elite Big 6 (or however many big publishers there are these days). Just because they happened to have some editor pick them, they're now real writers and everyone else is inferior.

My sister wrote a popular mystery series for Ballantine many years ago, yet she could barely put food on the table with her earnings. The Big 6 have screwed writers for so long, and yet the writers are willing victims, buying into the bullshit. I've made more in the past six months from ebooks than my sister would make in a year - well, actually not, if she hadn't had to give most of her book earnings to the publisher parasites.

Jude Hardin said...

In a nutshell, a book cannot be bad if it is deliberate and does what the author intentionally sets out to do.

Then Hannibal was a good book. ;)

Cathryn Grant said...

Anon @3:45pm

It's not like you need an invitation, or talent, to join this particular party. Just write down the words and push the upload button and you're part of the revolution.

You’re right. You don’t need talent or an invitation.

Surely you know the self-publishing “revolution” is not a single-celled organism. There are writers who have made a business decision to pursue self-publishing because they are more likely to be able to earn a living wage. There are those who want more creative control (or control period) over their voice, their work, marketing, and distribution.

There are those who say, “Hey! Those guys are making money writing, I can do that. I don’t have a job but I have a computer and I can tell stories.” Is that so terrible? Given the unemployment rate in the US? And yes, there are many who write without investing the years to learn the craft or polish their work, but maybe they can’t pay their rent.

And then, there are many who have a voice that hasn’t been listened to throughout their lives in many venues and they see an opportunity to express themselves. To find someone, anyone, who will listen.
Mocking those who fall into the latter categories is not, IMO, the mark of a writer with insight into the human condition.

Re “laughably bad” -- Sometimes I eat tuna salad with low fat mayo, sometimes I eat chips and dip. And some writers deliver art and some deliver a story that helps people forget the rent is due.

If you hang around this blog for awhile, you’ll see that the followers are serious about their craft and their careers – they use beta readers, they hire editors and copy editors, they hire cover designers, and develop marketing plans. They have been writing for years and have honed their craft. They are not just “pushing the upload button”.

You don’t need an invitation, Anon, but you’re welcome to join.

James said...

Every month, I download 50 or so sample chapters.

When I'm at lunch each day, I open a few and read the first several pages. I don't make it past the first couple of pages on 90% of them.

Out of the ones that are left, I can easily find a handful that are worth 99 cents or so.

If there is no sample chapter, I don't buy the ebook.

Nook Sale said...

I'm really not worried about self published books taking over my ereader. I do try to regularly read new books, but I try to be selective about it. I wouldn't particularly avoid something self published if it looked interesting.

Cyn Bagley said...

Hey - I have been finding a lot of new authors (self-published) who are writing books that have vibrant characters. In fact, I have quit reading some of my fav. authors because the characters feel bland against many of these self-published authors.

THANK YOU for taking the plunge and publishing. This thank you is for every one who is trying out the ebook revolution.

Cyn

Jacob said...

I know Joe is just stoking the fire with these kinds of posts, but the truth is that the only places self published writers matter are here and on the kindle boards. No one in the industry is afraid of them or even pays them much notice. If they get big, the publishers will scoop them up and absorb them. If they don't want to be scooped up, no one cares. They're as irrelevant as they've always been, only now a few of the lucky ones have a couple extra bucks in their pocket, and no one would deny them that money.

KL Mutter said...

Jacob, I'm open to the possibility that it's all nothing. But I think it's more likely that book publishing will wind up like the record industry - where the biggest selling artist is Susan Doyle. The reason is that her audience is the last remaining group of people that don't buy electronic.

W. Dean said...

Watcher,

You raise a fair objection. The difference, however, is that the postmodernists and other writers of “experimental fiction” break with convention on purpose. As you likely know, some even intentionally leave pages blank or fill them with repeated letters and so on. Others, like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx, write in a highly affected style (e.g., runs of short choppy sentences and long meandering ones, etc.).

I personally don’t like it and I don’t think any of these affectations even work as well as, say, Lovecraft’s and Poe’s ponderous pseudo-gothic style. But no one makes me buy the stuff, so I don’t care that much.

Anyway, the point is it’s all intentional and done within a cultural milieu where everyone knows they’re doing these sorts of things. So they’re not really “breaking rules” as much as trying out new ones. After all, none of these clever stunts would work (to whatever extent they actually do) if everyone thought they’d made mistakes.

Bottom line: no one is going to look back at the sentence like “Ken ates Barbie with a mousetash” in a thriller twenty years from now and say, “Wow, that guy was real innovator!”

W. Dean said...

Ty Johnston,

Well, it’s good that you’re not crying over spilt milk or worrying about the sky falling. As to the cat in the bag metaphor, I think an Amazonian cover charge and a gaggle of poorly paid editors weeding out submissions goes a long way toward re-packaging the feline in question.

TheSFReader said...

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's take on the "crap pile" is quite eloquent too !

http://kriswrites.com/2011/07/06/the-business-rusch-slush-pile-truths/

Kate Harper said...

Another excellent article. Thank You! I'm not a professional writer who has been vetted by anyone, although I do publish articles on the kindle.I've found that whenever I get a mediocre review, I respond to it immediately and improve my work. I try to give good value to my customers. Because of that action, I'm now almost covered by "Kindle Care", which is my goal to get the kindle to cover my health insurance.

Brett Henley said...

Oh hell yes ... it's amazing the amount of energy expended on publishing and half-ass marketing crap under this false pretense of publishing expertise.

I read bloggers with more marketing/writing chops than half the shit I've seen on the book shelves.

There's a place in the sandbox for each and all ... thanks Joe!

Nancy Beck said...

@David,

I clicked on the link out of curiosity and didn't find anything screwy with the formatting at all (and I know it was well formatted anyway, because I have the book :-)).

Maybe Amazon fixed the problem?

Word verification: petspit.

Yuck.

Merrill Heath said...

@TheSFReader, thanks for sharing the link to Kristine's blog. That's a very good article.

Merrill Heath
Alec Stover Mysteries

David Gaughran said...

@Nancy

I'm still seeing the same probs. There are gaps between each paragraph, huge gaps between scene breaks, and the indenting is off. Oh well.

Nancy Beck said...

@David,

How strange that none of that showed up for me.

David Gaughran said...

@Nancy

I'll take it as a good sign that they are ironing out whatever kinks there are in the system.

If they roll out the Look Inside feature for all e-books, that would be great - but only if they do it right.

Michael said...

@David - Or at least equally bad for everyone.

David Gaughran said...

@Michael

Heh. True. But if I have taken the time to hand-code the HTML so it's perfect, and someone has just slapped up their book and the formatting is all over the place - they will both look the same. I lose the advantage.

Katie McVay said...

Quite a lot of different opinions on this matter, makes for an awesome debate. There's crap indie books and crap legacy books. Hell, I just started reading a legacy book with an interesting premise and awesome cover and didn't make it through chapter three. I thought it totally blew. Someone else might love it. Reading is highly subjective, just like anything else. In any case, I got tired of waiting and wanting to be "accepted" by agents and went the self-publishing route. I have Konrath to thank for that. Thanks, man!

Selena Kitt said...

....the guest speaker (NY pubbed author) literally said self-published authors were taking money out of her pocket.

Then perhaps she should write better books...?

Ian Martin said...

Who is to tell what's crap, and what's not? One man's crap is another man's chocolate cake.

Anonymous said...

One hundred and ninety comments already confirm - you rock. But I will still add my afirmation. This is another one of thoes 'couldn't have come at a better time' types of messages we all need to hear from time to time. Thanks for being a voice of reason, perhpas a little strong at times, but always with reason. Bless you.....

BTW,I have to use anonymous due to computer limitations. Tricia

JP Kurzitza said...

YES!

Praise for the new gatekeepers of the book (ebook) world: the readers!

tyhutchinson said...

But the 3-star reviews are generally quite helpful, showing the reader actually read the book and often "got it," even though they might not like what they "got" or how the writer presented it.

I agree. I love reading the 3 and 3.5 stars. Even the ones I've gotten. They break it down in a really thought out way.

Joe, thanks for saying what needs to be said on a big scale. Mahalo brah.

Watcher said...

@W. Dean,

You're probably right, but not necessarily. Depends on context.

Going back to Algernon, suppose I replaced your sample sentences with:
"And he said that meens Im doing something grate for sience and Ill be famus and my name will go down in the books. I dont care so much about beeing famus. I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me."

If you showed those lines to a bunch of people not familiar with the story, I'm guessing they'd pretty unanimously agree with your conclusion - it's junk, and could never be a classic. Except that it IS a classic - one of the better SF stories ever written.

The problem is, I doubt there was ever a great work ever written that somebody didn't think was absolute junk. And any rule you care to mention, I'm betting that I or somebody on this board could find an example of how somebody broke it and came up with a masterpiece. For example, asked if it mattered if the pages were in order. How about the literary equivalent of the movie Memento? Or Pulp Fiction?

So when you look at an obvious piece of junk, while you're probably right, it's always possible that you're really looking at a masterpiece, and you're simply the only person who doesn't "get it".

I suppose I'm partly reacting to many conversations I had with my grandfather, who took a dim view to most of the books and movies I liked - they simply made no sense to him, because they were so different from all the things that he liked.

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