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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Amanda Hocking and the Self-Publishing Future


Big news on the blogosphere today is Amanda Hocking and her <bad 90's reference>one meelyon dollars</bad 90's reference> that she earned through eBooks alone priced at $.99. No publishers, no agents, just herself and her ingenuity. Everyone's heralding this as the watershed that paper books and publishing are old hat, and self-publishing is the way for you to get your book out there AND make moolah. People are wondering if publishers and agents are losing relevance. Authors are worried that they won't be able to make profit margins with such low-priced books. But readers couldn't be happier.

Most authors are saying "calm down, it's a sign of things to come, but those things are still a long way off". One thing I keep noticing that's consistent is that the publisher is doing less and less for the author. Because they're still following a business model that's a hundred years old. It's the same reason newspapers and education are failing -- they haven't changed the way they do things despite technological advancements and new insight into social culture. Publishers are doing this to themselves.

Here are some things publishers are supposed to do: edit, market, pay advances, cover design, get your product in a book store. But most publishers are claiming they don't have time to edit any more. Marketing? Only the big names get any kind of advertising I see. Advances are getting smaller. Cover design? Hire someone on DeviantArt -- they can draw a chick with a back tattoo and a sword looking at the moon as good as anyone. And more and more book stores are closing.

But most importantly, publishers are supposed to filter the wheat from the chaff. One basic rule of a free-market system: don't buy crap (let's ignore Snooki's book for the moment). And there is a lot of crap out there, so the poor mutations are left to die and good mutations are allowed to evolve on the shelves. It's a 98% rejection rate for a reason, or at least it's supposed to be. When everyone can self-publish, that means every Tom, Dick, and Harry who A) thinks they were ordained by God to write a book B) has never been given a fair evaluation of their work or C) can't even write passable paragraphs can sit at the same level as Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling. Imagine if everyone who auditioned for American Idol got on the radio? That's the sort of future we're talking about.

Here's my idea--it involves role reversal. Instead of authors kowtowing to the publishers, the publishers or agents do the jobs that the author doesn't want to do. This requires a new type of job that I'm just going to call an agent for simplicity's sake. It's much like when a celebrity hires a publicist or personal assistant. The agent is responsible for all the nooks and crannies -- getting cover art, arrangements for book tours, web site design, book trailers, interviews, publicity, negotiations. Kind of a jack of all trades. And I know it's possible for one person to do all this, because authors like Hocking and Konrath ARE doing this. And the point of this job is to A) free the author up to what he/she is good at -- writing and B) prevents the author from trying to do things beyond his/her talents or capabilities or connections.

I don't want to say "never", but I'm pretty sure self-publishing is not in the cards for me. At least at this stage. For one thing, I want to be able to break that 98% on my own merit, because then I'll know I'm a good enough writer. I've "made it" in terms of writing quality. The other reason is that I am introvert, and doing all those jobs would be A) too taxing on my psyche and B) I'm just no good at that kind of thing. I know I'd either screw it up because of my inability to think fast or offend someone. My job is to produce product, and it would be better if someone else's job was to do the jobs surrounding the presentation of that product.
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