E-books, indie publishing and the future

I’ve run across a whole string of articles about e-books and indie publishing in the past day or so, and it seems like publishing is seeing the same trend as journalism — digital is starting to supplant print, and people going it on their own are becoming a legitimate alternative to the big firms in the industry. With obviously, in both cases, an entire spectrum in between.

In journalism, it means some bloggers are becoming brands that attract enough readers that they become a go-to news source for people in a specific field. In publishing, so-called indie authors, who publish through e-books and POD, are making a better living than a lot of mid-list traditionally published authors. And both changes seem to mean shifts in how things work in the industry as a whole.

Other similarities: In both cases, there’s a lot of dreck out there. Badly written e-books and boring or banal blogs are everywhere. On a purely numbers standpoint, the bad far outweighs the good. On the flip side, in both cases there are people who have gone the independent route, done a great job and cracked into the traditional world of publishing in that medium. For blogging, one example is Ezra Klein, who started with his own blog, then blogged for a number of specialty publications, online and print, before landing a job at the Washington Post. He’s my age, and he’s now getting paid to do what he started out doing on his own time. And there are indie authors, such as Amanda Hocking, who have parleyed their success selling their e-books into traditional publishing deals.

What’s interesting is that I’m seeing more and more anecdotes of people who start out e-publishing, build a fan base, and then use success there to land the traditional deal. It used to be that self-publishing was the kiss of death for a book — no reputable publisher would touch it. Now the most recent issue of Poets & Writers has a feature on the agents for four breakout debut novels last year, and one of them is an agent for a book that had been self-published successfully, then re-released by a major publisher.

The key things seem to be:

  • It works if you write a series
  • It works if you write genre
  • It works if you write quickly
  • It works if you have a good editor (hat tip: Kyrie)
  • It works if you’re able to market online to build a following
  • And, of course, you have to write a good book or books

So having lived through the shifts in journalism as we adjust to this new world where anybody can publish via the web, there is a part of me that wonders if it makes sense to go that route, at least with the Exeter short-story collection I’ve been noodling around with as I plot out the book series. I had been thinking that I would try and get some of the short stories published in magazines as a way to build my fiction credentials, since everything I have now is nonfiction. But with everything I read about the industry, it’s starting to sound like self-publishing to e-book might be the new version of that path.

Thoughts from writers and others in the publishing industry?


6 thoughts on “E-books, indie publishing and the future

  1. Even Perez Hilton started out as a little independent blooger before making it “big”. There are dozens of NY pubbed authors who got contracts because progressive agents and/or editors were fans of their small-press or E pubbed books. Keri Arthur and MaryJanice Davidson come immediately to mind.

    There are some self-published gems out there, but the trick is in sorting through the badly conceived, badly edited, and terribly written books. There’s also the question of effective cover art and marketing.

    Folks like John Locke, Serena Kitt, J.A. Konrath, and others have done well self-publishing, but I think it is very telling that Barry Eisler, who walked away from a reported 500,000 contract to self publish has since signed with Amazon’s new publishing endeavor.

  2. As I’m reading, what I’m starting to take away is that there’s a trade-off between recognition and money. Also, I know at the Virginia Festival of the Book, the agents panel talked a lot about how too much that comes into them hasn’t been well revised/edited before submission, and the ones that have stand out. Also, that it’s harder even for respected agents to get traction for new authors.

    What all of that says to me, especially as the entry barriers to e-pubbing have been almost eliminated, is that the industry could well evolve to one where the majority of authors have to e-pub first and prove a) they can write and revise on their own and b) they have a following. If they can do that, it lowers the risk for both agents and publishers considerably, and they’re going to decide that’s the best approach for all but a handful of books. At least on the fiction side of things.

  3. I was under contract with two different agents (for separate manuscripts), but still ended up with rejections. I finally started an indie publishing company called The Pantheon Collective and I’m more than happy with the result. And with social networking, indie publishers have many tools to market their books, and we’re using all of them with a fair amount of success.

  4. That seems to be the trend, and it tracks with a similar transition in newspapers, which has dramatically changed how we do things in the past 10 years. I think those of us who are comfortable with technology and social media will move more and more in that direction unless there are major changes in the legacy publishing business.

  5. Thought you might find this interesting. On page A4 of today’s Boston Globe there is a half page color ad for 3 e-books by the Spotlight Team on Whitey Bulger. They are available on Amazon for $2.99 each. Even newspapers are making the jump to e-publishing.

    • Interesting, but logical. I can actually think of a few things we’ve done over the years that would have worked in the e-book format, like the Statler section and the High’s coverage. I’d been ready to do another blog post on the idea of indie publishing and how it’s fitting into the industry, but this made a more timely one. 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

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