As always, it seems that topics for this blog pop up in bunches. After last week’s article about the problems the SF community is having with an invasion of political correctness activists, and our article of a couple of weeks ago about the way technology is finally making complete personalization possible (an article which even manages to plug our awesome coffee mug), we have one that combines the two, and also opens a more general discussion about how readers can go about choosing the right book to read in this era of excessive freedom of publication opportunities.
One of the arguments currently raging across the literary world (not just specific genres), is the validity of self-publishing. It’s an argument that has created heated, emotional discussion with former friends declaring their hatred for each other. If this were the middle ages as opposed to our milquetoast modern era, people would be picking up swords and building trebuchets over this.
The arguments that say that self-publishing is a positive thing essentially have to do with the fact that it is often extremely difficult for new voices to break into the traditional publishing model, and that affordable self-publishing immediately allows people to bypass a system that many see as broken. Additionally, SP’s proponents argue, a greater proportion of the profit goes to the creator in the SP model. In general, proponents tend to celebrate the everyman and democratic nature of the system as well.
The arguments against self-publishing, on the other hand, generally tend to focus on quality and the need for gatekeepers. The strongest argument, of course, is essentially “the fact that everyone can write a book in no way implies that everyone should“. Anyone who has ever been a first reader of manuscripts or a teacher of creative writing grading papers will be nodding vigorously at this point. Most of the work written on this planet should have been prohibited by law from ever being produced. It is truly, horribly, unimaginably bad, and that badness is being foisted on unsuspecting readers by the self-published millions. Most rejected manuscripts aren’t misunderstood – they are utter crap. I’m not talking about “Stephanie Meyer bad” or “Dan Brown bad”. Brown and Meyer are professional writers who can create sentences, stories, characters and tension – even if their style rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I’m talking about truly bad.
The second argument is that, even seasoned pros need editing, and they need a third party to edit their books. In fact one of the main reasons bestselling authors have declines is quality is because they become powerful and get edited less and less as their careers go on. Self-published books are usually edited by the author, who – even in the unlikely event that he is a decent writer – probably has the editing skills of a chipmunk.
And let’s not even get started on the usual level of art and cover design that self-publishing “distinguishes” itself by. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.
So a reader is faced with a conundrum. It’s clear that there must be diamonds waiting out there among the huge numbers of independent writers’ work, but how does one go about finding them? How to avoid falling into the inevitable traps predicted by Sturgeon’s Law in a field that hasn’t got gatekeepers removing the really bad stuff?
A group of science fiction authors seems to have come up with a great idea (which is unsurprising as Science Fiction is supposed to be the literature of ideas, right?). Eighteen writers who knew each other’s work because they’d been published in diverse traditional publications banded together to create an ebook “sampler” which can be downloaded free on B&N and Kobo (currently listed on Amazon at $0.99, but they assure me that this price will be lowered to zero soon!). This ebook allows readers to read work by any of these authors before deciding to plunk down their hard-earned cash on one of the books these writers have for sale.
It seems a brilliant, no-risk solution allowing readers to expose themselves to several different voices before making a purchasing decision.
Of course, this won’t solve everyones problems. This collection was created by a group of authors and editors that have been published repeatedly in traditional publications, and are all proven commodities (plus they clearly have access to a professional artist and cover designer). A quick google search for any of the names will show that they are polished professionals who probably didn’t need that much of a push. More than a search for new talent, this one seems to be a menu for people who want the latest from the up-and-coming writers in the field (list of the writers involved: Brad R. Torgersen, Jeffrey Thomas, Martin L. Shoemaker, Larry K. Pinaire, Konstantine Paradias, Geoff Nelder, M.O. Muriel, Roderick MacDonald, David Kernot, Patty Jansen, Guy Immega, Kevin Ikenberry, Mark Iles, Stephen Gaskell, Kary English, David Conyers, Gustavo Bondoni)
But maybe it’s a way forward, a business model which will allow new writers to reach their audience and for readers to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff without having to buy stuff to do so – at least until a new system of gatekeepers or reviewers which can handle the huge volume comes into being. There are signs of that, but there is still nothing like walking into a bookstore and pulling a book off the shelf for ensuring quality writing and production values. It will be fun to see how this evolves.
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