So yesterday I was talking about ebooks and self-publishing with my wife and she made a valid point: “Don’t be a [insert name of asshole author here] about ebooks.” I certainly don’t want that to be the case, so let me break down my thoughts in a way that might make more sense to those who think I’m condemning ebooks en masse, because that’s certainly not what’s going on.
No one can deny that certain aspects of the book biz are changing rapidly. For one thing, the book as a physical object is becoming a rarer beast. I think this is a real shame for two reasons: 1) nothing beats the real, solid feel of a physical book in your hand, no matter what anyone says, and 2) ebooks are not purchased, but licensed, which means that at any moment your library of books, all of which you paid for, can be taken from you. To expand on the second point, let me say that an electronic book also fails the other part of the ownership test, which is whether one can lend, give away or sell the item when one is done with it. You simply can’t and that’s a tremendous loss.
The other thing that’s changing is the relationship of authors to their publishers. Yes, it’s incredibly easy for anyone to take anything they’ve written and slap it up on Amazon. So easy, in fact, that Amazon is clogged with spam books and plagiarized books and just plain godawful crap. Even if your writing is exemplary, your work is diminished by association with that stuff. But there are some positives: once you’ve managed to establish a “brand” for yourself, you can cut the publishers right out of the process and sell directly to your readership. However, that’s a critical issue right there: brand.
Some authors have a brand thanks to their history of traditional publishing. A guy like JA Konrath fits this model perfectly, as he already had a chance to make a name for himself through the usual outlets. He may very well have expanded beyond that base now, thanks to his hard work, but he had a definite leg up from the start compared to you, internet-dwelling writer-person.
Did I say hard work? I mean hard work. People who fancy themselves the next Amanda Hocking overlook the fact that she spent as much time, if not more, shilling her stuff than she did writing. And she was lucky enough to have just the right material at just the right time to light up the marketplace. She fled to a traditional publishing deal as soon as she could because the expense and hassle of doing it all herself wasn’t worthwhile. Yes, she made money, but do you really want to be an internet marketer as much as you want to be a writer? I’m going to guess the answer is probably no.
If you’re absolutely convinced that self-publication is the way to go, obviously anything I say isn’t going to make a difference. I may even dip a toe into those waters myself in the near future, but I will not abandon the traditional publication model until the last publisher goes belly-up and I have no more outlets for my fiction. I like making money as much as the next guy, but I like a secure income even better. The world of ebooks is like the wild, wild west and if you’re not extraordinarily careful/lucky you’ll end up scalped.