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Saturday 4 August 2012

Smashwords: The Future of Ebook Publishing at RWA 2012

Here's a fascinating insight into the present and future of publishing by Mark Coker of Smashwords: Smashwords: The Future of Ebook Publishing at RWA 2012
At first glance, there's no limit to how much the self-published ebook author gains from this bright new dawn. The route to conventional publication is tough, and prone to detours and roadblocks. Cut out the middle men (and women), publish your own work and you'll bypass a lot of heartbreak.

On the other hand there is an unpleasant truth that must be faced. Conventional publishers have many reasons for turning down books, and one of them is quality control. Russell Lynes, one time editor of Harper's Magazine said: "Every journalist has a novel inside him, which is an excellent place for it." The rush to publish isn't necessarily good, or advisable. Victoria Beckham or Prince William could easily become million sellers overnight with self pubbed editions of "What I Did On My Holidays", but it would be an awful lot harder to shift many copies with that title if the author didn't have either a glamourous media image, a title, or both.

And another thing. Despite the explosion in titles on the market surely the number of readers worldwide must remain pretty constant. Once the initial thrill of the new technology has worn off and everyone who's likely to buy an ereader has one, maybe the market will settle down - and that's before we get around to pricing. There's an old saying: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" There are thousands of books on the internet downloadable for free, whether legally or illegally. The relentless driving down of prices is good for the reader, but not so good for the author and disastrous for small independent booksellers.

It's good to see authors taking the initiative, but how long can these trends continue?


  1. Interesting points. Though I have to say, mainstream publishers put out as much dross as indies (No names, but she's famous for her boobs and riding). And the rest. I've had 11 titles published via mainstream, just launched first ebook.I think the hard work and professionalism needed to garner sales will pretty soon weed out the good from the desperate.Re prices: agree. I won't do 'Kindle Select'. I don't expect my garage/cleaner to work for free for a week. So I won't either. Now, there's a blog post in waiting!

  2. Thanks for commenting Carol. I agree - authors work so hard, they ought to expect proper recognition for the hours they put in, and the pleasure they provide.

  3. Interesting post, Christina. I agree that finding the gold among the not-so-good is hard and will get harder as more people self publish.

    I see an increased role for soi-disant gatekeepers. Readers may well find publishers and blogger-reviewers whose taste they share and follow them. Which ought to have the nice corollary of shifting power in publishing houses away from bean counters and back to editors.

    Well, I can hope.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Jenny. I think the current feeling in some strands of society that "all must have prizes" may work to the dedicated writer's advantage. Those who have accepted "conventional" rejection in the past and learnt from it are bound to be more resilient than someone who uploads any old tosh merely on a get-rich-quick basis, then actually sells very few online copies.

  5. Great post, Christina! Quantity is certainly not always quality. I guess those writers who are providing the quality will have to just buckle down and wait for this publishing influx to pass. Hopefully it will soon.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Jolina. Writing as a craft certainly teaches patience so as you say, once the tidal wave of mass publications passes, the dedicated will still be going strong.

  7. I do hope it continues for a while yet. The wave is just building; there is an enormous swell ahead as other countries move to e-readers, with millions of potential readers -- some of whom will read books written in English (India, I'm lookin' at you).

    At the moment, I still have a toe in the water with a Big 6 publisher, but self-pubbing my backlist has been such an eye-opener that I would hesitate to jump back on board with another Big 6 contract. I mean, I'd love it - who wouldn't? - but I would negotiate, and negotiate hard, for a strict time limit. They are welcome to make as much money as they can off my book for, say, three years. Then I want the rights back.

    Meanwhile, Goodreads and customer reviews may help readers bypass the dreck. Perhaps a better system will be devised as time goes on.

    Excellent post - thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    Diane Farr

  8. Hi Diane, thanks for commenting and for your kind comments. You're right about the building wave - it's growing by the day. I've started to research the benefits, as it's obviously something that strikes a chord in every writer. One thing that pays careful attention is as you say, the retention of rights.
    Goodreads is a brilliant site, isn't it?

  9. I think the best thing to come from all the new ebook publishers is that there are more options for writers. My father-in-law was able to put together a collection of stories that are important to him and now he can easily share with friends and family with a cool looking little book. He wasn't looking to be the next famous writer. I think people will still seek traditional publishers, but it sounds like the whole pricing thing has a lot of kinks to work out.

  10. Thanks for commenting, Stephsco. There's a welcome opening for personalised books such as your father-in-law created. It was a great thing to do and I'll bet younger family members had a whale of a time at show and tell with "the book my granddad wrote"!