e-book Discipline

I’ve been reading a number of posts/pages on the subject of e-books and I’ve touched on the subject before.  I’ve been trying to get it straight in my head what I really think about the medium.  There seemed to be something not quite right but I couldn’t place it.  There is any number of postings for and against, some of them reasoned and some not so.  I like the idea of e-publishing.  It brings that fabled 15 minutes a bit closer to ‘the common man’ (in which category I include myself).  Then this morning as I waited to attend a job interview (yay!) it struck me.  The problem with e-books isn’t e-books – it’s self-publishing.

You see, publishing through the traditional route of literary agent/publisher/editor the author – especially the as yet undiscovered author – is generally compelled to observe certain rules and conditions:

  • Submissions must still be in hard copy, manuscript or typescript form, with the required SAE if you hope to receive any kind of response.  (This is changing, slowly, as more and more agencies now accept at least the first three chapters via email.)
  • There’s a need to know exactly what your audience is (young adult, child, gender, mature, etc.)
  • You have to decide which agency/publisher/editor will best represent you and your work although, of course, if you have no agency then just about any will do!
  • You have to observe word guidelines (‘sorry mate, we only handle submissions up to 99,999 words.  You’ll have to cut 50,001’)
  • You must present in a format dictated by the agent/publisher/editor
  • Even if you find someone to give you the break you need you have to wait for a slot in the production cycle or market, which can mean literally years of frustration

Notice that in the above list there’s no mention of any quality criteria.  Being able to write correct, ‘proper’ English (or whatever is your chosen language) seems to have little to do with being selected.  Even being able to tell a tale well doesn’t appear to be especially significant.  (And no, I’m not deluding myself that what I write is always of the highest quality.  But I do know a number of writers who’ve been turned down despite their work being, IMO, first class. And that statement is backed up by events some years ago where a work of Jane Austen – to name but one famous author – was doctored, resubmitted and rejected.  Of course literary style does play a part – an audience that doesn’t speak the language of the author won’t buy their work.)

No, the would-be author must write cogently in the language of the reader and coincide their writing with the perception of the publisher that there’s a gap in the market, or that the market can’t get enough of whatever the author’s subject matter is.

So what’s this got to do with self-publishing and e-books?

With the advent of the e-medium and the availability of good software to manufacture an e-book in your home the restrictions on becoming published are no longer relevant.  If you publish yourself you don’t need to fuss about word-count, reading vogue, catching a publisher on a good day.  None of that matters because you can just press a few keys and bingo!  There’s your work for the world to see, instantly.

And that’s where the problem lies.  There’s no discernible discipline required.  Bang off a few thousand words, find a nice glossy picture to represent it, hit the Enter button and sit back.  Done and dusted.  It doesn’t matter that your story isn’t really all that entertaining.  Who cares if it’s full of spelling and grammar mistakes?  Holes in the plot?  So what?

The upshot is that the e-market is becoming drenched with rubbish.  Books that are badly written, poorly thought out and overblown with the ego of the author abound, which makes things very difficult for (a) the reader, who can’t be certain that what they’re going to get for their 99 cents is worth the money and (b) the author who writes well, but can only hope that their work will somehow be discovered among the alluringly (or luridly) titled, prettily (or luridly) decked out dross.

But it can happen.  I wrote a short story, Waif, and Greyhart Press published it for me.  As a brand new author the price was set at $0.00 (i.e. free) and off it went into the ether to sink or swim with all the other tales.  Three readers posted favourable comments and bang! Into the top 3 or four best sellers (still counts, even if it free) list for Kindle on Amazon.com if you search for fantasy short story.  That was weeks ago and my title is still there, currently in the number 1 slot.

I know that’s boasting (shame on me) and a flagrant marketing ploy but it just goes to show that you can find success against the masses of toilet paper that are even now being published.  But I wonder how many readers are put off buying a second e-book after buying their first from an unknown author only to find nothing but disappointment on reading it?  If only there was less rubbish out there life would be so much better all round.


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