I wish I had done something differently

I’ve noticed an idea come up in a few of my previous posts, so I decided it warrants its own post.

The idea is that if a book is good enough, it will rise to the top. One of the major criticisms of allowing self-publishing on sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Wattpad, Scribd etc is that it will create a ‘glut’ of low quality work, which disappoints consumers, gives self-published authors a bad name and generally muddies the competitive waters because consumers can’t find quality amongst the masses of mediocrity.

One of my friends has a Kindle and she mentioned to me that she had just read two books by the same author that she found in the Amazon Kindle store. Having liked the first one, she bought the second. Both were priced around $9, which is relatively expensive for an eBook. It wasn’t until she finished the second book that she realised the author was a self-published author. I asked her if she had any hint of that while she was reading and she said she had no idea. This is a great thing. It means that the work was high quality, well edited and professionally formatted, so my friend, who is a keen consumer of books, didn’t notice any difference.

My first book, Times of Trouble, could definitely benefit from some professional editing. I had the manuscript assessed, but I never had the funds to invest in a professional editor. I have decided, however, that my second book, Conspire, will be professionally edited. I was thrilled with the reviews I received for Times of Trouble, but I did get  one on Goodreads that said:

“I enjoyed this; a good plot with twists and turns; a somewhat naive style. Would benefit from a bit mor (sic) proof reading.”

The reader took the time to read the entire book, and seemed to enjoy it, but he is right about the proof reading. A truly professional book should be edited by a professional.

On the subject of Times of Trouble and Goodreads, there is another thing I would have done differently had I known what I do know when I finished that book. Remember, I decided to self-publish Times of Trouble after a few harrowing rejections from agents and publishers. My main motivation in posting the manuscript on WattPad, Free-eBooks and Smashwords was to get something that all new authors crave, like humans crave oxygen – Feedback! I just wanted an honest opinion about whether it was a good book! I thought it was good, my friends and family liked it, but none of us count. This is something worth remembering – your book is never going to take off with ‘reviews’, ‘likes’ and ‘five stars’ from friends and family only. It’s a nice way to get the ball rolling, but to gain real credibility and to stand out from the masses, you need genuine excitement amongst real consumers. You need people to recommend the book to their friends. You need the big wide world to notice your work.

I got what I asked for in posting the book online. A free book is obviously very easy to download, and I managed to get literally thousands of downloads across these sites. But I also got the feedback I craved, and it was very good feedback. (5 stars on all the reviews on Smashwords!). My mistake was, however, that I didn’t focus this feedback in one place. There are a few reviews on each of the sites I posted my work, but if I had just concentrated on one site, I could have up to 20 reviews, which is much more likely to be noticed by consumers looking for something good to read. I am definitely keeping this in mind for Conspire.

Looping back to the start of this post – the crème does rise to the top. But you need to pave a way for it to bypass the glut. To start out with, don’t fragment your efforts, as you divide the effectiveness of each of those sites in selling your work to the world. Once you have success on one site, it’s fine to move onto the next. But as I mentioned in a previous post, success breeds success. And the first round of success is by far the hardest to build.

I’m getting back to work now. I’ve got to make sure Conspire is the best I can possibly make it, or it definitely won’t be rising to the top.

Amazon Imprint – Thomas and Mercer

As mentioned in my previous post, Amazon recently announced the launch of another imprint – Thomas and Mercer. This imprint is for mysteries and thrillers, and joins their list of four other genre imprints.

So what does this news mean for us aspiring authors? Sadly, I think it makes the journey ahead even harder.

As far as I can tell, Thomas and Mercer are signing authors who are already top sellers on Amazon, including authors who have previously had traditional publishing deals, and those who have built success by self-publishing. As well as promoting these author’s eBooks, Thomas and Mercer will also be printing books and distributing them to bookstores. I haven’t seen how the figures work with royalties etc, but judging by Eisler’s statements, it looks like Amazon are probably continuing with their fixed 30% commission, which they take from every eBook sold on their site. I don’t know if this is the same percentage they will receive for the print books as well.

The disheartening news for newbie self-publishers is that Thomas and Mercer don’t appear to be accepting submissions for new work. They are cherry picking authors who are already successful on Amazon. This makes perfect business sense. They are only investing in authors who they know are popular and in high demand already. All these authors will have worked for years and years to get in the position they are now in, so of course they deserve all their success and the spoils that will come with Thomas and Mercer’s backing. Success breeds success. But you can bet that when you go into the Amazon eBook store, the books that will be promoted front and center, at the top of the page, will be Amazon imprint signed authors. I realise that Amazon was never a level playing field where all books were equal. But the bad news is that this playing field is now even less equal. It is now harder than ever for the crème of new self-published authors to rise to the top.

Barry Eisler, now famous for turning down a $500,000 publishing contract, was fleetingly considered the hero of the indie authors. In this interesting conversation with Joe Konrath, he describes the self-publishing movement as a peasant uprising against the kings of the publishing industry. It’s hard not to be a little bit inspired by this notion. I think I speak on behalf of all aspiring authors when I say that all we really ask of the publishing industry (which includes Amazon whether we like it or not) is to have an equal chance to market our work, regardless of the desires and opinions of a small monopoly of publishing heavyweights. We want out work to be given a chance to sit beside established authors who have publishing deals, and for consumers to judge based on the quality of the work, not the size of the publisher’s investment. Eisler’s decision to turn down  a massive publishing deal, to me, was the tipping point for the industry. It showed that self-publishing was not only a viable alternative, but that it was actually preferable to the legacy publishing path.

But there’s a small problem with Eisler’s position now. I don’t think he can quite count himself as ‘one of the peasants’ anymore. He might look like a self-published author, but with Thomas and Mercer’s backing, he most definitely is not one. Joe Konrath, his partner in the conversation, has also been signed by Thomas and Mercer and has received quite a backlash from supporters who feel he has ‘sold-out’ from his position as rebel leader of indie authors. There are even calls for indie book stores to boycott his new Thomas and Mercer book. His response to this criticism can be found here.

Both Eisler and Konrath, quite rightly, are doing what is best for their careers. And I don’t in any way resent them for their decision to join forces with Amazon. They worked tirelessly for many years to make a good living from their writing, and just like any business, they have to be profitable to survive. They never advocated self-publishing as an ideology – they advocated it as a viable way to make a living as an author. In saying this, I might not begrudge them their success, but I sure feel disheartened that my wave of optimism about a peasant uprising against traditional publishing, has been so quickly trodden on by the rise of a new publishing monopoly – Amazon.