Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of eBooks is brought to you by crime fantasy and mainstream crime fiction author Dave Sivers.
Are eBooks fracturing the writing ‘family’?
Most writers are keen observers. We like nothing better than to see how different people respond to different circumstances. For me, ever since the eBook revolution really began to take off, with opportunities for writers to directly publish their work to the eBookstores for little or no financial outlay, it’s been fascinating to see how the battle lines have been shifting.
In the early days of eBook self-publishing, it was no real surprise to see publishers and agents doubting it would catch on and pointing out the advantages that their roles as the ‘gatekeepers’ of the publishing world offered to writers. But it was also pretty obvious that, if everyone direct-published and the physical book died a death (I don’t think that will happen for a long, long time), those people would soon be out of a job. A threat to one’s livelihood is bound to provoke a reaction.
What has surprised me more is the way self-published eBooks are dividing the writing fraternity. I’m not just talking about a healthy difference of opinion. Some commercially published writers are quite vitriolic in their blanket condemnation of those who take the new route to publication.
Not so long ago, writers who had enjoyed a bit, or even a lot, of success were only too ready to share their experience and tips with those who were still working at it. At writing conventions, published and unpublished writers often socialised like an extended family.
Now the revolution has come, and very many commercially published writers have indeed embraced eBooks and offered encouragement and support to self-publishers. But some seem to have adopted more of a ‘them and us’ approach.
There is a body of opinion out there that condemns all self-published eBooks, almost without exception, as ‘crap’. It insists that those who write such books have no right to call themselves ‘authors’; and that they should call themselves ‘self-published’, not ‘independently published’.
Part of this concern is that direct self-publishing allows writers to flood the market with so many ‘bad’ self-published eBooks that it can be hard to find the ‘good’ stuff. Interestingly, it’s not only the commercially published who are saying this. At least one successful self-published eBooker who was picked up by a commercial publisher now says he never felt like a ‘proper’ writer until he got that deal.
I have even seen a couple of self-published eBookers insisting that their stuff is fabulous, but the rubbishy rest is hiding their brilliance from would-be readers.
There’s no denying that the ease of self-publishing must tempt some inexperienced writers into publishing before either their craft, or their book, or both, are ready. And I have no difficulty in accepting that the professional input of an agent or an editor can only help.
This does not mean that every book that does not go through the traditional process is without merit. Many self-published eBookers do submit their work to serious scrutiny by critical and knowledgeable readers, including experienced writers, to help them make their book the best it can be before finally publishing.
The obvious weakness with condemning all writers who have not been commercially published is that even the top writers have known rejection. They and their books were not ‘bad’ up to the moment they were accepted and then miraculously transformed. Yes, the input of an editor may have made a difference, yet most of us have still thrown our share of commercially published books across the room. Commercial publishing does not have an absolute monopoly on quality, and self-publishing does not have an absolute monopoly on trash.
What about labels like ‘author’ and ‘indie’? This side of the debate has echoes of the recent row between Austria and Slovenia over the Krainer sausage. It’s of academic interest to some people, but the real issue is what the sausage tastes like.
Let me say straight away that I am clear that I am the ‘author’ of my work, but I tend to describe myself as a ‘writer’. If my writing comes up in conversation, and I am asked if I am an author, I usually say, ‘Yes – I’m a self-published eBooker’. And I make no apology for it.
I suspect there are many reasons for these attacks. They undoubtedly include a genuine belief that published writing needs to earn some sort of professional seal of approval. Some may slightly resent the fact that they had to get past the gatekeepers, only to find these self-publishing upstarts sharing the eBookshelves with them. There may even be a touch of elitism, a sense that the self-published are a second-class rabble.
Whatever the reasons, my worry is that writers who launch sweeping and savage attacks on other writers may have forgotten that most writers, like themselves, have dreams, a strong desire for their work to be read, and fragile egos. Whether they submit that work to an agent, show it to a critical friend, or self-publish for all to read, they are laying those egos on the line. Other writers are the last people who should sneer at them.
My crystal ball tells me that the self-published eBook genie is out of the bottle and will not willingly go back into it. It will take time to figure out the best ways to enable readers to identify the books they’re most likely to enjoy, but my guess is that eBook readers will gradually gravitate towards those on-line reviewers they most trust for recommendations.
I took the eBook plunge because I had received strong, positive feedback on my novels from serious people and because I wanted people to read them – that’s why I wrote them in the first place. It’s for me to do my best to promote them and for the readers to decide if they like them.
Do I still dream of one day seeing my titles on Waterstone’s shelves? You bet! Do I feel that not being commercially published makes me less of a proper writer? Sorry. No.
Morgen: Being a self-published eBooker myself, no apology needed here although a downside to eBooks is that a minority (I’m hoping) of authors do the editing themselves and have no-one to be their back-up eyes. I have a very good editor and two first readers and as you know, Dave, belonging to a writing group is a must. Providing an author gets constructive feedback and not just “that’s good” or “I don’t like that” then they’ll learn where their strengths and weaknesses are. Thank you, Dave!
Over the years, he has gained a First Class Honours degree from the Open University and moonlighted as, among other things, a night club bouncer, a bookmaker’s clerk and a freelance writer.
His published work includes short fiction, magazine articles and newspaper columns, and he has also found some success with stage and TV material.
Since taking early retirement from the day job, he has devoted more time to his writing, which includes both crime fantasy and mainstream crime fiction. His short mainstream crime can be sampled on his website, and his crime fantasy novel, A Sorcerer Slain, introducing personal inquisitor Lowmar Dashiel, is available as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle Store, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and all good e-book stores. Dave’s website is http://www.davesivers.co.uk and you can also read his author spotlight.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with novelist and screenwriter Mary Firmin – the three hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.