I suppose this particular post is a celebration, of sorts, of freedom. E-publishing is a glorious thing, and has freed so many writers from the shackles and restrictions of the traditional publishing industry – the so-called gatekeepers of quality and taste. There is no doubt at all that the Trads did a very good job of stopping a lot of truly dreadful books being published – in all honesty, an incredibly high percentage of self-published e-books are either amateurish or just plain bad – but they also stopped an awful lot of decent writers from having the opportunity to show their wares in the marketplace, condemning them either to a life of enforced silence or to the parasitic horrors of vanity publishing.
And they did this not out of any sense of literary quality control, but out of an appreciation of economics that Dickens would have understood only too well:
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”
The simple fact is that Trads need to make a certain amount of money out of publishing a book in order to make it a viable business option. That’s not really a criticism, it’s a basic business reality. It doesn’t matter how good the book may be, or how well it’s written, how absorbing the story is, or how fascinating the characters are. That isn’t what it’s about. It’s all about the probability of sales, and it’s about ticking the little boxes in their little range of categories, usually the boxes that were ticked by books that had been successful in the past (or, more likely, books that are successful right now – there’s a certain amount of ambulance chasing involved in publishing).
So it’s a case of tick these boxes and you’re Fiction, these boxes and you’re Crime, or Horror, or Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, or Romance, or whatever. Tick these boxes and we have a chance of making some money. But tick only a few of the boxes, or more boxes than we believe you should have, and you’re out of the running, down the road, gone.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that it’s far from pleasant to be on the wrong end of these decisions, especially as they’re so often based on a criterion that has little or nothing to do with the actual quality of your work.
To be fair, E-books and self-published authors are also put in little boxes, of course – categorised within an inch of their lives, sometimes. But at least they’re generally the boxes we choose – and if it’s not just right, we can always clarify and explain what we’re about in our Product Description or on our Author Page. And no agent/editor/well-connected-intern-who-got-out-of-the-wrong-side-of-bed/had-a row-with-their-partner-last-night/has-the-trots-from-a-bad-curry/has-a-friend-who’s-written-something-similar can tell us we can’t publish the work we want to publish, how to publish it, or when. We’re free to publish or be damned, and the reading public now gets to decide what sells – they are the new gatekeepers. This is great.
At least, it’s great if your books sell…
And actually, thinking about it, this is a development the Trads should also embrace. In a way, the self-published realm is their new slush-pile, and they don’t even have to employ anyone to trawl through the slush to find the hidden gems, because there’s a world of readers out there who’ll do it for nothing. Who, in fact, will pay for the privilege. The more people who buy/review/recommend a self-published book, the higher up the rankings it goes, and then the Trads can analyse the figures and move in and make the lucky author an offer they can’t refuse. They don’t even have to bother to read it themselves, not with the vast, unpaid focus-group of the reading public at their disposal.
The best thing of all is that this success can happen to absolutely anyone.
For example, there’s a series of books out there that started life as an erotic blog. The blogs were made into E-books, the E-books took off, and the Trads moved in. The books were generally not very well-regarded, in a literary sense, but that didn’t matter – they sold tons, and that did. The Trads made the E-books into paperbacks and put them in supermarkets, and then they made them into hardbacks, too. Now films are being made of those books, and everyone’s getting very rich. Good for them. Also, the supermarket shelves are now stacked with lots of other books that resemble the very successful books in every way (remember that ambulance-chasing tendency?), so a lot of other writers got a free ride on the new wave. Good for them, too.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I am about to complete my new novel, which was going to be a Horror/Romance/Sci-Fi/ Semi-Autobiographical/Kiss’n’Tell/Spy-Thriller-in-Hell sort of thing, but now I’ve changed my mind. Instead, I’m going to concentrate all my attention on changing the focus of this book to something with a little more nudity…and possibly the odd whip or two…
The new title: How Many Shades of What?