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Self-Publishing, Fan Fiction, eBooks in General

The other day, we narrowly averted a self-publishing kerfuffle on this blog. Today, the news has broken that Amazon.com and Warner Brothers have created a platform called “KINDLE WORLDS” for WB related fan-fiction to flourish. And be monetized. Here’s the press release.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Check it out. The other day I got curious as to how many books were published every year. I stumbled upon this blog post that states:

300,000 books were published in the U.S. 2003.

411,422 books were published in the U.S. in 2007.

1,052,803 books were published in the U.S. 2009.

Approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011.

And . . . drum roll, please . . . in an online interview, Seth Godin suggests that 15,000, 000 books will be published in 2012.

15,000,000. Yikes.

Google estimates that as of August 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in existence. Which means that the total number of books that could be published in 2012 is more than 1/10 of all the books in existence. That is an unfathomable jump, a 500% increase in a single year. (That is correct, right? 3,000,000 times 500% = 15,000,000.) Unbelievable.

I can’t speak to the veracity of any of this info, but it is undeniable that the amount of “books” being published has reached nearly pandemic levels. So, during our narrowly averted self-publishing kerfuffle (where I referred to the glut of self-published books as CRAP) I went on to say this in response to an irate self-publisher. I think is my official position on self-publishing:

I do think that, taken on the whole, self-published work is often of inferior quality than traditionally published work. Why? With many self-published works there’s no editor focusing on character, theme, story arc, offering feedback, working with the author to create a story that fulfills the promise of the opening chapters of the book like you’d have at a traditional publisher. There’s no copyeditors going through the manuscript line by line. No professionally designed cover. No professional typesetting or optimization for ebook. Often, there’s none of the care and attention to detail that publishers put into a book. This is why I choose to publish traditionally because I know I wouldn’t want ANY of my first drafts up there. I like working collaboratively with people and think that in the end, a traditionally published book is better for me, my legacy. I have, however, self-published a collection of short-stories, most of which appeared in magazines or online and at least had one pass by an editor. I am not against self-publishing, having done it myself.

I don’t know that your book has any of those flaws I listed above. You could have hired freelancers to edit your work, copyeditors to scour your manuscript line by line. You could have hired a designer (like myself) to create a professional cover and prepare the digital files for becoming an ebook. Your book could be a masterpiece. I don’t know. I’m sure there are self-published books like that out there. Unfortunately, they’re swimming in a sea of first drafts priced at 99 cents (or free) and that makes for a cluttered marketplace. Because anyone can publish whatever they write now, to me, makes the gatekeepers all that more important. To me, that means the majority of self-published stuff out there is crap. All my experience tells me so.

So, the way I see this new fanfic venture, and self-publishing in general, is that corporations – namely Amazon.com – have, in the guise of providing people a way to get published (it’s so very altruistic), they have also found a way to make lots of money, as is their wont. Of course they want fanfic and unpublishable short stories to be self-published. Even if each story or “book” only sells one or two copies, hey, they didn’t have to do any work other than build the platform. And who knows, anther 50 Shades of Gray might come along and boost the third quarter profits. Actually, the odds are that it will. And, sweet! With Kindle Worlds, the author won’t have any rights to the work.

There’s a disturbing movement by corporations to want to crowdsource talent so that they don’t have to actually pay top dollar for it. Companies will want a logo redesign, or redesign of a classic novel, and will hold a contest and award the winner $500. They dangle a carrot (totally made of dreams *cue rainbow and sparkles) and pick the strongest, fastest donkey from the stampeding herd.

The issue I have with the whole thing is that promoting 15 or 20 million books to be placed in the marketplace every year means that it will make it that much harder to make a living as a writer, and, surprise! I am a writer. On the whole, a bajillion 99¢ self-published novels debases the currency of literature somewhat. On the flip side, when anyone can get published at a click of a button, someday people might begin to value the gatekeepers again, the agents and publishing houses with some standards. Obviously, I’m bucking for this because I’ve totally slurped down a big ole cup of traditional publishing Kool-Aid.

Anywho, can’t fault Amazon.com for figuring out more ways to monetize our dreams. You can only fault the poor sods willing to give them up so easily.

Notes: John Scalzi, usually a great barometer for things like this, has some to say on the subject and I found myself nodding.

6 replies on “Self-Publishing, Fan Fiction, eBooks in General”

Good point. And, your point on the Twitters (and I shall quote you in your entirety): “This is a risk-free way to monetize work they made no money on before.” So, there’s more to the issue than I’ve thought about.

Part of the “self-publishing is crap” problem is that a lot of writers now don’t have to do their homework and learn their “business.” Writing a book isn’t “writing a book.” It’s creating a draft and then hammering the shit out of it until it turns into a book. This includes getting a lot of people to read it and telling you all the ways it sucks (if you can find people that honest) and then learning to control your emotional weaknesses long enough to figure out they are right. Self-publishing creates a free-for-all in which you can operate completely independently of any outside forces. The people who do it badly don’t realize there are no shortcuts. To produce a good book you still need to run it through all the same filters, but the beauty part is that you’re the one controlling the process. But the key is doing that and not kidding yourself that you’re good enough to do without it.

And I hope I’m not creating another kerfuffle for you on your nice calm post. 🙂

A pleasure to make your acquaintance on the panel “How Do You Write So Fast?” at CONQuesT this afternoon. Interesting notes here on the “averted Kerfuffle,” and some clear-eyed commentary on the trade in dreams.

On self-publishing generally: The paradox of creation is keeping the believer and the skeptic (or creator and editor) in balance. That’s a nail-biting proposition solo. None of the self-publishing greats of the past did it alone, and we can’t expect ourselves to pull that off either.

It was good meeting you at ConQuest. I hadn’t heard much about Kindle Worlds until the convention. I am with you in wondering if the flood of self-published books and now fan fiction will swing the pendulum back the other way, placing more emphasis on the publisher. With 15 million writers to choose from, will readers instead gravitate to publishers who share their tastes, instead of solely following authors, sort of like some music fans follow certain labels? I think self-publishing can be done well. We had a guest at ConQuest 43 who self-publishes. She hires professional editors, printers, cover artists, publicists, an agent for foreign rights, etc. She makes quite a bit of money by essentially approaching publishing the same way a house would. But I do think she is in the minority.

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