by Mark Chisnell
The USA has brought many new things to the world – rock and roll, cable tv and franchise hamburgers spring to mind. One of the latest is the eReader and eBooks, currently sweeping through a country near you – particularly if you live in Europe. If you live in the US, the transition from print has been underway for a while and although I was a little slow to that game, in Britain I count as an early adopter.
So just before Christmas, a writer’s group in the English south coast city of Portsmouth kindly invited me to talk to them about my experiences with the self- or indie-publishing programs, Kindle Direct and Smashwords.com.
There were a couple of traditionally published authors in the audience, and one of the topics in a lively Q&A discussion was the loss of the publisher in this straight-to-the-reader process. The point was that it’s all very well to self- or indie-publish a novel, but how does the potential reader then know if it’s any good? After all, if the writer hasn’t been permitted to pass into the hallowed, sunlight uplands of publication by an editor-cum-gatekeeper, then isn’t it just vanity publishing? And if it’s vanity publishing then it can’t be any good.
It was an argument that I had a lot of sympathy for until very recently. My first two novels (The Defector and The Wrecking Crew) were published by Random House and HarperCollins. The endorsement meant a lot to me at the time - as did the fancy Soho lunches with my editor - but all that is quickly being eroded by the simple fact that those two books have subsequently sold much better as self-published titles.
This vanishing sense of the importance of the gatekeepers is matched by plenty of evidence that ‘vanity-published’ books are every bit as good as what’s coming out of the major London and New York publishing houses. Recent news from the indie scene includes Joe Konrath (if he keeps up his January rate of sales) on target to make over a million dollars ‘vanity-publishing’ in 2012. While Darcie Chan - author of vanity-published The Mill River Recluse - hit number one in the Apple store early in the New Year.
It seems that while endorsement by a major publishing house still matters to some writers, many readers are long past caring. So what’s going on here, why were we all so wrong, for so long, about vanity publishing?
John Locke, one of the original self-published Kindle superstars has an interesting take on the notion of vanity publishing in his book, ‘How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!’ Here’s a little of what he has to say:
'What they’re saying [is that] when an author believes in his abilities to the extent he’s willing to invest his own money to publish a novel, he’s writing purely for his vanity!'
‘I have to give credit to the geniuses that came up with this hogwash, because publishing is the only business in the world that has managed to make such a ridiculous notion seem plausible.'
‘When I invested my own money to start my insurance agency no one accused me of making a vanity investment.... When Bill Gates and Paul Allen invested their time and money into developing code for the Altair computer, no one accused them of writing vanity code.’
Locke’s argument is that the notion of vanity publishing is just a means of controlling access to the market. It was just smart business for the publishers to convince writers and readers that the only route from one to the other was through them. Follow the money.
And when you look at the money, it’s easy to see that the business model of the author is way out of kilter with the publishers. How many books a year does a big New York publisher put into the shops? And how many of those need to be a success for them to have a profitable year? I don’t know the answers, but I do know that it’s a lot less than a hundred percent.
I finish maybe one book every year or two, and if it doesn’t succeed you can stick a fork in me. I’m done.
No one needs a book to succeed anywhere near as badly as its author. And yet, once the book is written and delivered to a traditional publisher, all control over every aspect of the subsequent process is taken over by the people who have the least stake in its success.
Make any sense to you?
It’s because this traditional business model didn’t make any sense to the writers that the coming of Kindle-Direct, Smashwords and PubIt led to such a complete revolution and the rise of indie publishing. Many authors could see the system was broken from their point of view, and when they were offered an alternative they grabbed it. The people with the biggest stake in a book were back in control of its destiny.
We’ve all seen how books now flow into the hands of readers in a way that was unimaginable five years ago. The gatekeepers are gone and the doors have been blown wide open - the slush-pile has moved from the in-tray of editors and agents, got itself a cover and a blurb and is now available online for the princely sum of 99c a pop. Or it’s free.
Unfortunately, even if the notion of validation by the traditional gatekeepers was just smart business by big corporations, it still leaves us with the original problem. How do we decide what’s worth reading? It was hard enough when there was just the books laid out for us on the front tables of the big stores by the big publishers, but who validates our choices now...?
The new validators are the people who should have had the job in the first place – the readers. Perhaps that’s why we are all fast ceasing to care about books getting the imprimatur of a publisher’s imprint. An endorsement of quality no longer needs to come from an editor in New York or London; it can come from five stars on My Reading Room. It can come when a complete stranger living several thousand miles away takes the trouble to write and post a four paragraph, five star review of your book on Amazon or B&N.com.
Personally, I’m very comfortable with that shift. I’m no longer looking for approval from New York or London. However, after the talk in Portsmouth, I have to recognise that some writers still feel it’s important. The beauty of the current situation is that writers and readers have a choice – validation? Find it where you look for it.
Mark Chisnell is the author of the Kindle chart-topping thrillers - The Defector and The Wrecking Crew - as well as award-winning works of non-fiction. He's a sometime professional racing sailor and also works as a broadcaster and journalist, writing for some of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the Guardian.
Free ebook - Today only
Mark is giving away his newest book, The Fulcrum Files for free today. Here is more information on the book:
The young Ben Clayton was one of Britain’s brightest boxing prospects, until the day he slammed a left hook into a fragile chin. Sickened by the consequences he turned away from the ring, found solace in the arms of the beautiful Lucy Kirk and looked for new challenges.
On the 7th March 1936, after almost two decades of peace in Europe, Hitler ordered the German Army back into the Rhineland. It was a direct challenge to Britain and France. Still unnerved by the toll of the Great War, the politicians dithered. The French Army stayed in its barracks, while the aristocratic British elite looked on from their country retreats.
History teetered on a knife edge, but the spymasters were busy.
Just one man could make the difference between war and peace, victory or defeat. And that man was Ben Clayton. Thrown into the maelstrom of plot and counter-plot, Ben must battle not just to survive, but to protect all that he loves and holds most dear.
Mark Chisnell’s thrillers include The Defector - a top download in the UK Kindle free eBook chart for over two weeks, subsequently charting in the Top 100 paid list. The Wrecking Crew was the sequel, and both books are regulars in the UK Spy Thriller charts.
Find it today on Amazon for free: http://www.amazon.com/The-Fulcrum-Files-ebook/dp/B0074HGO4S/