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Friday, April 20, 2012

Zen Musings on the Publishing Industry

As I've been sending my newly finished novel, Earth's Requiem, out into the world for consideration, I've thought a lot about the publishing industry. And how all the "old" rules seem to be lying like beached whales in the sand. Problem is that the "new" rules are vague and amorphous. Some say, "Oh, yes, you must develop a social media presence." Others say, "Do book signings." Yet others say, "Get reviews." The consensus seems to be that you need to get yourself out there. And I mean really out there. After all, no one will read your literary darlings if they've never heard of them. The truth of the matter is there are so many new books out there, readers have a difficult time figuring out what they want to look at. Even sticking with NY Times Bestsellers is far from a guarentee of getting a quality reading experience. More on that further down.

Reviews have become problemmatic. Now that everyone and their grandmother is free to post reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc., the overall quality of reviews has plunged. I never know whether to trust what I'm reading. For all I know, the review was written by the author's best friend. Or, the author swapped manuscripts with someone. Sort of an, "I'll read yours if you'll read mine. Then we'll review each other's books." If there was ever a formula for flawed reviews, that's it. Since you want your buddy to say nice things about your book, you rave about theirs, no matter how you really felt about it. There were a few months over the past couple of years when I read so many poorly constructed stories with flat characters and no plot line that I worried about the integrity of my own writing. Okay, I'm done whining now. Maybe.

But when I pick up a book that made the NY Times Bestseller list and discover the author head hops  constantly (those are frequent and egregious point of view shifts), or couldn't plot their way out of a paper sack, I wonder what's happened to our industry. Does it mirror society as a whole where all rules are loosening, or being jettisoned entirely as pointless or worthless? We need some rules. Society would devolve into anarchy without them. So, which rules should the publishing industry keep? Or is it too late to go there? I rather suspect it may be. There's something incredibly seductive about writing something, logging into Create Space and seeing your child there on the screen a few moments later.

If the cat won't go back into the bag, how can we improve the overall quality of what's being produced? Do we even want to? Or is this problem unique to me? Seriously, when I run into grammatical glitches on the first page of Amazon's convenient, "look inside" feature, I move on to another book. I really am interested how other people feel about what I see as an industry trend. So, feel free to comment.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting question, Ann. The rules are definitely changing. I'm not sure the issue is improving the overall quality of what's produced (though that would be nice) as filtering out the good stuff. The publication of anything and everything isn't a bad thing in itself, and the basic nature of capitalism gives Amazon no reason to close the gates now they're open.

    Better accountability with reviews would certainly be a help. The 'customer review' is a powerful tool, but easily abused. I'd like to see Amazon and other big online retailers provide more functionality to reviewers so that the ones who are serious about their reviewing can basically run a review blog on the site. Better information on a reviewer's track record would also be nice.

    Ultimately, there's something to be said for the analogy some people draw with YouTube; there's a lot of terrible stuff, but good stuff tends to rise to the top if its creators are prepared to play the game a little.

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    1. Hi Rik,
      Thanks for your comment. With their Vine Reviewers, I think Amazon has tried for more of a professional patina. As someone who's tried sorting through those reviewers trying to figure out who might be interested in SF/F novels, it's akin to hunting the proverbial needle in a haystack. (Or like trying to spin flax into gold.)
      You bring up an excellent point about YouTube and "the game". Most authors are introverted intuitives. It's why we can spend long hours in front of the keyboard, living in the mythical land of our stories. Unfortunately, that doesn't make us very good game players. Sigh . . .

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  2. No, the problem is not unique to you. I am frustrated by much of what is out there in the indie world. It feels a little like the writing equivalent of the California Gold Rush, with everyone racing to get their work out there before the 'gold' runs out. If the old model set the bar to high for publishing, perhaps this free for all sets the bar too low. There *are* good indie reads out there, they're just buried by too many books that are rushed into publication before they're ready for prime time.

    And with things as unsettled as they are in the publishing world, having a 'big 6' imprint is now guarantee of quality reading either.

    It feels like on BOTH sides, there is a rush to the marketplace and a drive to make the profit, regardless of the product. As a reader, I find this extremely disheartening. As a writer, frustrating.

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    1. Hi LJ
      Thanks for the great metaphor. Made me smile. I read a statistic somewhere that something like a thousand new books hit the e-pub industry every day. It it any wonder 99.9% of them end up buried in obscurity? Having POD paperback isn't much of a hedge either, though I find I sell more paperbacks than ebooks.
      We live in a throwaway society. That's true for books, cars, appliances and relationships. As soon as something doesn't catch our fancy anymore, the tendency is to chuck it. Unfortunately for books, the proliferation of the 99 cent (or worse, free) ebook has both cheapened our industry and made it really easy to toss something and go in search of something better. Gee, what happened to the days when you picked up a book with the expectation that, while you may not like it, at least English grammar and usage would be correct?

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