GUEST POST: Indie e-books: A Fantastic Opportunity or a Disaster Waiting to Happen? by Rachel Abbott
It's Wednesday, friends! Today is the day that I open my blog to the author I featured last week. Rachel wanted to share her thoughts on the self-published movement and I think you're going to find a lot of what she has to say interesting. Just please remember that everyone is entitled to their opinions and if you find yourself disagreeing with Rachel, myself or anyone in the comments that you express your differing opinion with respect. So without further ado, here is Rachel Abbott's post.
Indie e-books: A Fantastic Opportunity or a Disaster Waiting to Happen
I must start by saying that I am a huge fan of indie e-books – but I needed to get your attention!
I love the fact that writers everywhere are now able not only to publish books, but to take the vast majority of the revenue too. Unlike in a traditional bookstore, each book is given the same prominence – the same amount of “shelf space” – so even though most indie publishers, myself included, are working to a tight budget for publicity and have to rely on their own hard marketing efforts, I think it’s a great step in the right direction.
I want to raise a small note of caution. I suspect that the majority of books published in the early days were from authors who have been writing for some time, and either haven’t managed to get a publishing deal, or didn’t like the ones they were offered. But the point is, they wrote their books because they wanted to write. We might all dream of being the next J K Rowling, but we are probably all equally aware that we are unlikely to become rich on our efforts. We write because we love writing, and any financial gain is a huge plus. Most of us would have completed our novels with or without the e-book explosion, and the quality of the writing and the experience that our readers get is tremendously important. As it should be.
I read an article today that said many authors are now selling over a thousand e-books a month, which is brilliant news for the successful ones. Equally I read a different article last week that said that most e-books sell less than a hundred copies. But the lure of potential riches is starting to bring a plethora of poorly written books into the Amazon store, and something could – and probably will – break. Some commentators suggest that this is already happening. Maybe Amazon will decide to put some kind of restriction on publishing, charge for book uploads, or – possibly the worst case scenario – our readers get so fed up of buying indie published books that are poorly written, badly formatted and full of errors that they decide to go back to reading books only from recognised publishers. We don’t want either of these to happen – do we?
All of this reminds me of my early days in the educational software business. We are going back a lot of years here – but essentially there were two sorts of products; those devised by teachers who understood fully the educational requirements but who perhaps had only a rudimentary understanding of programming so the software didn’t work properly and looked pretty awful, or products designed by programmers that were swish and sophisticated, but actually didn’t deliver any educational gains. The programmers believed, of course, that as they had themselves been to school, they must automatically have an understanding of education. A very flaky premise! The net result was a whole heap of stuff that was poor in one respect or another (and – of course – some real gems). Teachers lost faith in independently published products – and the industry stayed that way for a long time. I was one of the lucky ones – I built my company by employing both educationalists and programmers. Not that difficult a concept, really! But it was a higher risk strategy than just ploughing away on my own at home, because it involved investment.
So how does this apply to us, here and now? The writers have perhaps been the equivalent of the teachers – producing great stuff that people want to read. And the publishers have been the programmers, making it all work and packaging it professionally – proof read, error checked and formatted correctly. Some indie publishers are paying for these services; most aren’t.
So where does this leave us? We’ve got people who are passionate about their writing, and to be fair the majority (but not all) seem to care enormously about the quality of the experience for their readers. But increasingly we will be seeing books from those who think they can write because they can read, and who see it as an opportunity to make easy money. I read the other week about a woman who aims to write six books a year in her spare time, purely to maximise her financial gain. I genuinely don’t know how that is possible, and I can only suspect that she hasn’t yet tried!
So what can we do to keep this as a successful business, serving writers and readers everywhere?
One thing that I have noticed in the short time that I have been an indie e-book publisher is that other serious authors are generally immensely kind people, who are looking for success themselves but equally are happy to lend a hand to other writers along the way. So with this spirit of kinship in mind, maybe we can proactively help each other by reading each other’s work, pointing out any issues that are found – whether they be formatting, grammatical or just mistakes in timelines or point of view. And we, as authors, need to be receptive to constructive criticism so that we are constantly improving the readers’ experience of our books.
Our individual views regarding the quality of the plot will always be subjective, and should be covered by reviewers of the genre in question. But my final plea would be to those reviewers. If a book is not going to provide a good experience to the reader – even if the plot is brilliant – I really think that the author should be informed of the flaws and given an opportunity to put them right before a misleading 5 star review is published. I don’t mean the odd missed full stop – but I do mean consistently poor editing.
Perhaps the time will come when we have to create some sort of Indie Authors’ Association, where we have a recognised quality mark that we assign to any book which meets the relevant criteria. And no, this is not like getting back to the old publisher model. The quality mark would show only that the book was well presented and error free. Judgement about the plot and the reading experience would remain in the hands of the readers and the reviewers.
But in the meantime, we all need to continue to take enormous pride in the quality of our own work, and be as supportive as possible to other indie authors to ensure that this industry continues to thrive and maintain a high level of professionalism.
I would love to hear what others think.