Thursday, May 3, 2012
Do You Get What You Pay For?
By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action
Hitch had a great post this week about new authors and their quest to turn their manuscript into a published book. Being a publisher encompasses a whole lot more than writing and her post “Writing The Book Was Step Zero” was apt. There is editing, cover art, then marketing, which is an occupation unto itself.
When all that is done, a book that might have spent an eternity in a hundred different slush piles comes to market. The new writer sees a world of opportunity and braces for an onslaught of attention and what he hears most often is crickets. He feels isolated. Locked out of the market.
I’m reminded of a story from a few years ago. I’d been self-publishing for about 5 years. I had a book optioned for film and was excited about my prospects. I’d had enough bookstore doors slammed in my face to know that the industry wasn’t receptive to self-publishers, but I ventured off to Bouchercon eager to meet other readers and writers.
I met a well-respected reviewer and we chatted several times about panels. This person was impressed by a large e-book panel I moderated. When the show was over, I was included in a roundup of the event. But when I read my name, I was “self-published author C.J. West”.
Self-published. Like a warning label. Or a contagious disease.
None of the other authors mentioned was linked to a publisher. Just me. A friend suggested the publicity was a good thing. It felt like discrimination and I still think I would have been happier if my name had been omitted.
Fortunately all those gatekeepers who held new writers back have become much less important. Self-published authors can easily get books into the hands of readers.
But that means the slush pile has moved to Amazon.com.
It’s now up to readers to discern if a book is worth reading. Readers see a book description, a cover, and list a price. If a self-publisher is a good marketer, it becomes really hard to tell their book from one that’s traditionally published.
Until you open it.
In the last few months I’ve been hearing frustrated comments from readers about ninety-nine cent books. I know from personal experience that many of these books are really disappointing. Some readers who have been disappointed enough times steer clear of deeply-discounted novels altogether.
I think this is a sign that Kindle is hitting the mainstream reader. The early adopters were excited about the technology and embraced pioneer writers that brought them inexpensive stories. Many Kindlers still go out of their way to read self-published books and offer “kid-glove” reviews.
The mainstream reader expects a well-edited story that hangs together until the end. This isn’t true for a lot of self-published books and unless you know the author or carefully read the reviews, sometimes you are in for a huge disappointment. Please note the distinction between a book that you don’t enjoy and one that is full of grammatical errors, sloppy writing, and plot inconsistencies.
At the same time I’m seeing writers experiment with price increases to move away from the self-published crowd. For now, the $2.99 price dominates for new writers, but I wonder if readers will begin to think these books are worth avoiding.
Will we see a time when a majority of readers treat inexpensive books like they deserve a warning label?
Are you willing to pay an extra $7.00 for a book you know was professionally published?