Monday, September 10, 2012

A Response to “Publishing is Broken” blog.

I read an excellent blog/article today on

Publishing Is Broken, We're Drowning In Indie Books - And That's A Good Thing

This is a (great) six page discussion on indie/self publishing and it hits on a recurring theme of mine, which is we need more reviewers (filters) that are trusted sources for independently published books (which category I include micro-publishers such as New Libri). Before going to that theme (reviews), I would like to digress to another point David Vinjamuri raises: “Mainstream authors …  are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold.”

First, any mainstream authors who stumble on this blog and vehemently disagree—save your breath, I know that not ALL mainstream authors feel this way. Vinjamuri gives quotable examples. This attitude pervades even MFA programs. It simply is not true. History is littered with authors who were diligent and good and only come to light after their death. Independent publishers (micro and self) provide an outlet for excellent books. They may not sell, but I think that is partially due to the prime subject of this blog. How to get noticed (with reviews) in a vast sea of … mediocrity.

The short answer is “I don’t know” and no one does.

Vinjamuri alludes to another theme I often bring up. Publishing (writing) is NOT the same as the music industry, despite everyone seeing eBooks as similar to MP3s and the industry shaking up in similar ways.  When was the last time you went to a bar to listen to an independent author read?  Vinjamuri notes that: “You don’t hear Christina Aguilera or Adam Levine knocking indie bands. Instead they joined a show called “The Voice” which aims to capitalize on the credibility of indie artists by finding journeyman artists and giving them a shot at major label contracts. Indie filmmakers are revered, not reviled, partly because they eschew the studio system and its constraints on artistic expression.”

Vinjamuri suggests a Rotten Tomatoes for books. Maybe. Goodreads comes close, in some ways. Even Amazon with its super reviewers comes close.  The difference (which Vinjamuri does not really discuss) is that even a Rotten Tomatoes can handle, say, a thousand movies a year. Could it handle 200,000?  There are a lot of self published books out there. The entire set of books for sale is now the “slush pile.”

Price is not a real criteria. Many indie books are overpriced, many mainstream publisher books are now becoming reasonably priced (especially mid-sized publishers).

Everyone points to “social media” as the solution. Pahleeze! Most really good fiction authors are similar to really good software programmers, they suck at social anything (I know there are exceptions, but as a tech geek and writer, I certainly fit the bill myself). This makes Vinjamuri’s prediction that “Mainstream Publishers Will Use Indie Publishing as a Minor League … And Find a New Profit Model” a bit scary. Because, he admits the criteria of picking a book out of that minor league is how well the author plays the social media game. I hope he is wrong. What I hope is that the tiny micro presses (not self publishing) act as the minor leagues.  If an author passes the bar with the micro press, who has skin in the game, then the author should be worth a second look. Somehow the big publisher should find a way to subsidize the small publisher for this work. Authors—persistent authors—will stay with the micro press because just like a baseball minor league player, they love the game and will play no matter what. In this respect I hope Vinjamuri is right, that the minor league exists, but I hope it is not a social media contest!

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