Friday, June 04, 2010

The Story Behind the Names in Our Digital Future

Let me start this post by saying I'm a bad blogger. I'm such a bad blogger. It's been weeks since my last post. (And yes, for those of you that can spot evidence of a Catholic upbringing...) As I have said before, if I could get this day job / salary / healthcare situation taken care of - ie, get salary and healthcare without the non-blogging day job - then I would be at your beck and call, reader.

But back to the point of this blog...

I followed a link today from Book Ninja to get to a Wall Street Journal article that is not, as of right now, restricted, that fits the usual formula for omg-self/digital-publishing-will-overthrow-the-establishment articles that happens more and more frequently.

In this case, this article by Geoffrey Fowler and Jeffrey Trachtenberg uses the lede these articles always use: author rejected by mainstream publishing houses self-publishes and reaps major rewards - big sales, movie option, glory. The author here is Karen McQuestion, with her first novel, A Scattered Life. I suppose this is available heuristics - the media always finds these isolated incidences and puts them out there, to please... whom? The authors? Well sure, but that's not enough reason to publish these stories. To annoy publishers? Well there's no good reason for the WSJ to slam Random House et al. What about the folks providing the self-publishing tools? Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

See, providing the tools for authors to publish their own work is big business, and e-books provide even lower risk for these places. They can move you from manuscript-on-Word-on-your-laptop to published "book" - digital edition - in very little time, and they can set the rates, with the "publishing" process remaining something of a mystery to the writer who is thinking of Karen McQuestion and her ilk. Will that be me now?!

If anyone doubts the viability of this business, here's an excerpt from the article that shows how many big kids are jumping into the pool:

Apple last week announced a digital self-publishing program for its iPad giving 70% of revenue to authors, similar to Amazon's formula. Last month, Barnes & Noble also announced a service called PubIt!, allowing authors to post and sell e-books online.

Last fall, Jane Friedman, former chief executive of News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, started Open Road Integrated Media LLC, which focuses on e-books, including authors who are willing to be published digitally before going into print. Traditional publishers such as Nashville, Tenn.-based Thomas Nelson Inc., a religious publisher, have struck alliances with Author Solutions Inc. for print and online self-publishing.

And a flurry of tech-focused startups now offers self-publishing services, including Smashwords, FastPencil Inc. and Lulu Enterprises Inc. Website says it publishes 290,000 independent books annually on its site, which authors sell at a price they set themselves.

Hot damn - Christopher, why ain't we in on this action?! (He may be spitting up his huevos rancheros in Albuquerque right now. My apologies to his hosts.)

While I'm all for writers finding the right venues for their work, I also find strength in solidarity. Yes I know, more leftist ranting, but seriously - this is capitalism in its purest form. These companies are giving writers the false sense of empowerment. They are helping you help yourself. They are helping you reach your readers, and now that everyone is going digital, it's easier than ever. Don't worry about those fatcat publishers - we're giving you THEIR tools! We'll show them! We'll stick it to th- wait, did you say the last four digits of your Amex was 3355 or 3356?

Anyone who reads this blog - and god knows I don't want to see hands up, let me live under the delusion that more read it than I know - should be doubting me, if you think I'm saying to screw these self-publishers and go to mainstream, corporate NY publishers. I ain't, I swear. In fact, there may very well be self-publishers I'd recommend - I'd have to do some research. What I am saying is that we should be reading articles such as this one with a healthy level of skepticism.

One point: the writers of this article say, "E-book sales could reach as high as 20% to 25% of the total book market by 2012, according to Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, up from an estimated 5% to 10% today." Um, Shatzkin is in on the game, folks. I'm not saying he's a bad person, but I am questioning the way in which he is plopped into this article uncritically.

But hey, there's no getting around that a place like Amazon can offer features to authors not available at publishing houses. Sure, you won't really get edited, but get this action:

Amazon executives say they signed Ms. McQuestion to the Encore imprint after noticing the positive user-generated reviews of her books. Thanks to its vast database, Amazon not only knows what people buy but also how they consume e-books—such as which passages readers most often highlight

As a reader, I cannot hate this idea any more than I do right at this moment. I hate the crowd-sourcing concept, which I blame for such cultural highlights at Jersey Shore, and I hate using technology to spy on consumers. It makes me want to run screaming from Amazon.

I know it's hard. You're a writer, you are frustrated by rejection. That rejection is so much about the lack of control - who is rejecting me and on what criteria? It's maddening, I know. As an Editor, I've struggled with rejection letters.

Self-publishing may be the way to go for some, but collective production with a point appeals to me so much more. I appreciate the model offered by The Nervous Breakdown, which publishes short pieces and hosts readings and parties, and has now announced that it will start publishing books through Hukilau - which admittedly, I know nothing about. But if you're going to get into the self-publishing game, this is the model I prefer. They have a community, they have standards, they have shared interests, and now they'll publish each other, for each other, and for others to learn more about and possibly join this community. I don't believe they are overtly political, but they are a community - and that I respect.

I must also say how impressed I am that bestselling author Brad Listi created this community after finding success. Now there's an author I can applaud - use him for your lede!

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