Oct 19, 2011

Apologies and Amazon

By Melinda Carroll

First, I have to apologize for completely missing my post two weeks ago.  Don't feel bad Tracy, you at least wrote a little note.

And speaking of apologies, or the fights that occasionally lead to them, there is a pretty big one brewing right now (fight, not apology).  Yesterday I read a NYT article by David Streitfeld (posted on FB by fellow ANWA member Donna Hatch-- thanks Donna!) about Amazon.com's new venture into publishing.  The article states that Amazon is now "encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers" and publish directly through them-- both in physical and e-book format.

As you can imagine, publishers are not happy.  They're worried that this new move by Amazon will do to publishers what the website has done to bookstores (like Borders, for example).  Agents aren't thrilled either.  The article states that if you're an agent, "Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out."

Amazon's reply to publishers' concerns?  Streitfeld quotes Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon's top executives, as responding that with publishers, "it's always the end of the world.  You could set your watch on it arriving."  Grandinetti also says that "the only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader.  Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

I think it's great that authors have more choices in their path to publishing, but the rush to take out the middle man concerns me.  I have yet to EVER read a good book that didn't take a whole team to put together. Yes, the writer is the creator.  But they are not always the best experts in editing and marketing their own work.  They can't be.  It's virtually impossible to read your own writing objectively.  And we all can't be experts in everything.  It's wise to utilize the knowledge and experience of those who've been working in the industry.

With this rush to publish, regardless of quality, are we just flooding the market with mediocre books?  If it's easy, will authors stop striving for excellence? Will the craft and art of writing be lost to the bottom dollar?

I hope not.  There are definitely great books out there that go the e-book and self-publishing route, so I know it's possible.  I just think we have to make sure that cutting out the middle man isn't actually cutting out the very tools we need to make our stories great.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Amazon moves forward.  It's definitely a crazy and exciting time to be a writer.


  1. Wow, I'm not sure completely getting rid of the middle man is such a great idea yet. This seems like a move on Amazon's part to encourage writers who would self-publish on an impulse, or are frustrated after a few rejections, to jump on their bandwagon. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but only if you're putting out quality work. I recently read the first chapter of a self-pubber on Amazon. He'd been heavily advertising it on Twitter, but it was clear from the spelling mistakes in every sentence and terrible opening pages that he needed a major line edit and MS overhaul before even considering publication. For many would-be authors, going the Amazon route is a quick way to get published while putting out really bad books.

    But I'm definitely not ruling it out as an option. I've decided to go the self-pubbing route if all my other options, including small presses, have been exhausted.

  2. Another blog I read had a similar discussion going last week.

    I haven't read a TON of self-published works, but what I have read... it ain't pretty.

    I think there are very talented writers, with great stories and strong characters who choose to self-publish for a myriad of reasons (bigger cut of the sales price, impatience, niche market, etc). But, in self-publishing, they are essentially cutting corners. The more people touch that MS, the more people can CORRECT that MS.

    Editing is not just for grammar and punctuation (though plenty of that slides through in self-pubbing), but for a lot of other things. I recently read a self-pubbed "character driven" story that went 38 consecutive pages without a single word of dialog. Weird inconsistencies, confusing timelines and awkward passages can all be virtually eliminated when you have a whole team of people working to create the best product possible.

    Unless Amazon employs a team to fill in these gaps, or self-publishers start hiring out freelancers (thus creating their own independent publishing house, really), the self-published industry is going to continue to look like a slush pile with a few rare jewels in it, no matter how big it gets.

  3. I totally agree with what everyone has said here. I attended a workshop on all things e-Book last Saturday and had a long discussion on the subject with my son. Then last night I attended a writing class that opened my eyes to the importance of editors, beta-readers, and moral support. It's a scary world out there...but it's also full of amazing opportunities if we are willing to work for it.
    Thanks for this great post, Melinda!

  4. I have to admit, some of the self-published books needed the middle man! They were terrible. I bought the book so I finished reading them.

    On the other hand, if an author takes the time to interview and hire a GREAT editor, honest critique groups and the middle people they choose I think the book could be just as good.

    I think if they take the time to be good and not rush then who needs to split the profits with someone they may not like.

    Interesting post!

  5. As a self-published/indie author since 2003--for reasons that still seem very good to me--I just have to laugh. There are so many advantages of indie publishing, and I believe, despite the flood of books that need the touch of an editor's hand, the cream rises. Readers have access to great authors and books that never would have seen the light of day if it weren't for this vast expansion in publication options.

    I did my due diligence in the editing and cover art departments, and the novels I self-published (despite the risk of acquiring the loathsome "self-published" stigma) are selling steadily, long after many of my traditionally-published fellow-authors' books are out of print and not available for purchase. Fortunately, in the readers' eyes, at least, that stigma has faded away.

    Since I hold all my publishing rights, I have re-launched the novels as ebooks. Therefore, the long tail of indie publishing just keeps bringing in the money while I write other stories. There's more than one way to skin a cat (or sell a book) when you've been given a seriously bad health prognosis. (Fortunately, the doctor was wrong.)

    Of course, as many of the folks who advocate independent publishing will tell you, the first commandment of successful indie publishing is: "Don't publish dreck!"

    They may use another noun, but I prefer the word dreck.

  6. Thanks Marsha, it's great to get a better perspective on the indie/self-publish benefits. I appreciate your comments.


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