Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Million Jilted Girlfriends

I've been edging around this self-publishing question for a while now, and it finally struck me what I find so off-putting about the whole thing.

But before I go there, I'll say this: I have no doubt, zero, that the old business model for publishing is on its last legs. It will morph into something new, in the very near future. The traditional role of agent/editor/publisher will change, and at least for now, individual authors have unprecedented access to mass distribution. A window of opportunity has opened for people who are well-positioned to take advantage of it, and it's exciting to see authors empowered and a new urgency around the book industry. I love it, and I'm even working on a few of my own projects for this brave new world of publishing.

And yet ... I've had this niggling unpleasant sensation about the e-revolution and self-publishing wave. It's like a toothache, but less specific. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what was bugging me. I'm an entrepreneur by nature, right? I love it when writers get paid for their work. I love the idea of writers finding their own audience and the ability of technology to democratize publishing. And yet ...

I read JA Konrath's post yesterday about an article Publisher's Weekly ran about his deal with AmazonEncore. He called the article an "epic fail" and went on to detail some significant factual errors in the article. Worse yet, in a way, Konrath himself wasn't quoted in the article, and the reporter took some significant liberties with her editorializing. I'm a reporter myself, so I know a lousy article when I see it, and that was a lousy article. And yet ...

Then I read the comment thread and I had this very strong image. I pictured a whole football stadium of jilted girlfriends, all yelling at once about how their ex-boyfriends all got crabs and ha ha, sucks to be them. It's a toxic mixture of triumphalism, thin-skinned pique, gloating, and I-told-you-so. I was almost moved to comment, but then I figured there was no point in setting off an argument on someone else's blog. I wondered how many of those angry commenters have been unable to place books with traditional publishers. Then I realized it was probably all of them.

Like I said, I think this technological revolution is amazing and awesome, and there's no pretty way to create a new future. You have to break some crockery. But I have a feeling ... just a little tickle ... that all of this triumphalism is premature. There is a window of opportunity right now, as e-readers proliferate and people rush to stock up their new gadgets. But let's be honest ... this isn't how markets really work for long. After a while, they organize. After the initial rush passes, they consolidate. Before long, someone will figure out how to control and monetize the distribution channel.

And even if I'm wrong about all that, even if "they" are right that we stand on the threshold of a new era and New York publishing is truly a sinking ship that will soon be vaporized by a million $1.99 e-books, I still think it's a dangerous thing to drink too much wine made from bitter grapes.

16 comments:

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I posted a comment on the article before Joe's rebuttal column came out. But reading the comments on Joe's blog I was struck by the same thing. On his Facebook link to it I commented that "incompetence and laziness are not synonymous with vindictiveness." Joe questioned me on it, but I'm really not sure the writer of the article set out to make Joe look bad, but rather slapped together an article with a minimum amount of effort and research and got it published. Hey, the article sucked. I agree. The facts were erroneous and the tone was very snarky for a publication that's supposed to be reporting on the publishing industry. But I'm not completely sure it was an intentional attack on Joe, although it sounds like her phone call to him didn't go well from a writer's perspective. (Although, I've done a lot of interviews with CEOs and presidents of private companies and had to ask them for information I know damn well they won't reveal. It sounds like she kept nagging him about the NDA with Amazon rather than dropping the subject. Why she didn't try to get the info out of Amazon (good luck) is a bit of a mystery, although there's nothing in the article that makes me think she spent a lot of time on it.

LurkerMonkey said...

Yeah, I got the feeling from the article that she was in a hurry and slapped something together. I've done that before myself, and unfortunately been called on it also. But Konrath is smart to whip up a little controversy over it ...

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, we all make mistakes. I've gotten names wrong, even when I double-checked the spelling of their names. Embarrassing, to say the least.

And yeah, I thought Joe was using her screw-up to his advantage, although I wouldn't like my sales numbers being mis-represented that way in a public forum (actually, I wouldn't want my sales numbers put in a public forum at all, whether they were accurate or not--and they're rarely accurate).

Stephen Parrish said...

Wow, I could have written this post, except not nearly as well.

Mark Terry said...

I would add, too, that much of this "triumphalism" as you called it feels like deja vu to me--right back to when iUniverse came out and suddenly for just a small amount of money you could get your book published and anyone could order it from Amazon or iUniverse online. Voila, the end of publishing as we know it, freedom to all writers who no longer have to deal with the small-minded, near-sightedness of editors and their iron-fisted minders, the publishers. Blah, blah, blah...

Yeah, and anyone who tried it--mostly--found it just didn't solve the problems of quality and distribution.

Granted, one big change with the Kindle model is the writer can control the price. My biggest issue with my iUniverse experiment (Catfish Guru) was the price, which was set at $17.95 for a trade paperback in 2000. There were distribution issues, but they're the same ones you have with Kindle. Being able to set your Kindle book price at 99 cents or $3.99 or $200 gives you a lot of control over a key factor in self-publishing, and with the exception of paying for cover art and layout (if necessary), Kindle's not charging the writers for the privilege--yet.

I do think if anybody can make this work--for himself--it's Joe. That said, I'm hearing niggling little voices in my head too saying, "One exception doesn't make a rule" and "sure, a handful of authors are making money on Kindle books, but that was true of self-publishing before, too."

So ... we'll see.

LurkerMonkey said...

Stephen,

Thanks. Sometimes in all the noise, I've wondered if there are other people out there who feel the same way. Turns out there are .. and they're good writers too!

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

Good point vis a vis iUniverse and self-publishing's recent history. I suspect you're probably right, and I think the same thing. My problem is that I'm a poor prognosticator when it comes to what will actually happen, versus what the crowd seems to think is inevitable.

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Jon.

I'm against self-publishing for the most part, but I think it might be useful in certain circumstances. Novellas, for example. Too long for the short story market, too short to be bound and sold in brick and mortar stores. I'm actually planning to write a Nicholas Colt novella and self-pub it as an advertisement for Pocket-47. We'll see how it goes.

Erica Orloff said...

I pondered writing a blog about the whole Konrath thing, but then opted not to. And here you said what I was feeling better than I could have. As PW pointed out, mid-listers are in trouble. I see that--we all do. It's definitely an industry in flux. But in the end, the gloating is seriously . . . I don't know . . . leaves a bad taste. People don't want to hear that the reason they did not get published is they were not good enough. Period. Whatever bar NY set, it was indeed a bar that encouraged craft. And yes, people are free as "artists" to publish whatever they want, but to paint it that the NY model was created with evil editors/agents as gatekeepers is kind of silly. As we (Jon and I) have said a bunch of times, the more you wade through the self-pubbed stuff, you just see that most of it is in serious need of editing and just is not good. If people spent a fraction of their energy on becoming better writers . . . Even Joe has gone to great lengths to say whatever you put on Kindle should be your best work. He vets his stuff through some very experienced writers. As you posted last entry, many people following this model don't want to hear a word of criticism. They just want to publish. Again, their right . . . but it's kind of funny to me to see how whipped into a frenzy people get.

LurkerMonkey said...

You know, I actually favor in principle some of these developments—markets change, technology changes, etc. But like Mark said, I wonder how many people will get rich in this new environment. If it's one or two Konraths and a massive digital ghetto (a phrase I'm borrowing from Jude), then how is that different from evil traditional publishing?

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

I think that's a great idea, personally. I'd probably do the same thing, as long as it didn't conflict with any right-of-first-review with my publisher. But self-pubbing ancillary materials? I'm definitely on board with that.

And that brings up a good point. You're using self-pubbing in partnership with traditional print publishing. For that matter, so is Konrath. But most of the people who are making the most noise are relying it as an exclusive ticket to success.

notesfromnadir said...

LurkerMonkey,
Just discovered your blog & am i glad I did!

This issue has been in the media a lot lately about Kindle, Kindle, Kindle. 1 of his recent FB blurbs has been this: "Next month, the royalty rate goes to 70%. That's 14k a month." Right, maybe for him it is. But to some newbie writer 14K a month isn't likely.

But, I wonder how many more Kindle books will be popping up all over Amazon in July? And I wonder how many disillusioned authors there will be by the end of summer?

LurkerMonkey said...

Notes,

Good question. My guess? A lot.

I just checked out your blog and I have to say you've got about the nicest Blogspot page I've ever seen. Tabs? That's pretty awesome.

I still think some people will do very with Kindle, and at least it's free to writers, but ...

notesfromnadir said...

LurkerMonkey,
Thanks for stopping by my blog--it's all about being easy to navigate for everyone!

I think there will be some authors who do make a lot of money on Kindle. & that will include Mr. Konrath. Right now it's free, & I have the app so that's why I'm able to explore it a bit. But to me it's really not that much different from Adobe Acrobat.

Oh well, we'll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks...

Zoe Winters said...

I think what disturbs me is how little it takes for someone to think they've "stuck it to the man". I mean don't get me wrong, I'm excited every time my sales numbers go up.

These are my Spaghetti Days. I'm not sure if this is a "real term" that is commonly used but it was in a book I read called: "Making a Living Without a Job" and it was talking about how there is this time in the early stages of an enterprise where every small victory is a time for celebration.

And that's cool and all. But I "get" that what's big for me "as an indie" isn't "overall big".

And I think some people who are self-publishing or wanting to self-publish are losing sight of that.

I'm doing pretty well, for a beginner. And probably doing better than a lot of people thought I would, but my goals are bigger and I think it's a mistake for people to get too caught up in tiny victories for too long.

Also, I agree with you about being well-positioned, which is what I've been working at since I released the first novella a year and a half ago.

Things are starting to pick up a little bit of momentum, and it's starting to get interesting.

One more thing then I'll shut up...

I think part of what you're seeing with this attitude is backlash from the constant digs against self-publishing for so long. Sure there is a lot of stigma, and yes there are a lot of people can't write, package, or market, who have no business sense in their heads, who think they are JK Rowling and then self-publish utter crap.

And that's the stereotype. But at the same time, there are people who don't. And I think when you have decades of "the establishment" and everybody in it, berating the little self-publisher, it's a little tacky.

I mean if it's not a threat why kick the slow kid in the teeth? A lot of this tug-of-war is equal parts nastiness on both sides of the fence. IMO.

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