Publishing Industry

I told you yesterday you should be reading Joe Konrath’s blog. Today he answers a few questions and one in particular jumped out at me. From his blog:

“Q: You seem to really be down on print publishers lately.

“A: I love print publishers. But the traditional publishing industry is flawed, and I don’t see any signs it will be fixed anytime soon. It used to be the only game in town. If you wanted to make a living as an author, you had to accept small royalties, no control, and a system dependent on others who may not have your best interests in mind. Not a healthy environment for an artist. While I’ve been extremely lucky in my career, I’ve also felt that I was at the mercy of a broken industry.

“With ebooks, the majority of the money, and all the control, goes to the writer. That’s incredibly liberating. I set my prices. I pick my titles. I choose the cover. I edit according to my taste. I’m not dependent on pre-sales or buy-ins. I’m not at the mercy of coop. I don’t worry about returns. I don’t have to tour, or advertise, or do all the crazy self-promotion I’ve done in the past. Distribution is no longer important. Going out of print is no longer a worry. I don’t have to wait 12 to 18 months for the book I wrote to get into the hands of readers. I don’t have to suffer because of someone else’s mistakes. I don’t have to try to fit a certain model. Past numbers don’t matter. I’m not tied in to any contract. I get paid once a month, not twice a year. And I don’t have to answer to anybody.

“Ebooks truly are the greatest thing to happen to writers since Gutenberg.”

I wrote about this flawed system a few months ago.

Imagine a wall. Readers are on one side, authors on the other. Authors have great stories in their heads; readers would like to hear them. Under the current system, literary agents, editors, publishers, and business folks have served as the gatekeepers. They make sure that only certain authors and their stories are allowed through the wall. Writers must past certain levels of quality before they are allowed to move through the wall.

Some argue that this is a good thing because there are a lot of authors with bad stories. They have not mastered their craft, and so, the gatekeepers tell us, we the readers don’t want to listen to them.

There is a serious flaw in this line of thinking. The self-imposed gatekeepers are not always the best judges of what is good. I know that is a bold statement, but take a look at this list. Gatekeepers, skilled as they may be, are prone to make errors just like the rest of us. Books like Harry Potter, The Diary of Anne Frank, Catch 22, and Animal Farm, and authors like Stephen King, Tony Hillerman, and Ursula K. LeGuin, could very well have never made it over the wall. Agents and editors do very well at spotting bad books, but I think it’s clear they can often miss the good ones. The really good ones. The paradigm shifting, world changing ones. And who suffers? The readers. How many really good books have never been published because the author gave up after rejection 52?

Ebooks provide a way for authors to get around the wall, and directly share their work with readers who are interested. There are still many things to consider before you throw your book on the kindle, but the simple fact of the matter is that in a digital world, we don’t need gatekeepers. What we need are more holes in the wall.

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