Monday, July 5, 2010

"Readers will not come"

Here's an agent's blog entry (pointed out by Moses Siregar III on J.A. Konrath's blog) that has some fairly typical comments about self-publishing. For example:

-From now on, I’ll be talking about these people self-publishing. The people who don’t believe what editors and agents keep telling them: their work isn’t ready.

The problem is that it can be difficult to tell if your work isn't being picked up because it isn't ready, or because of bad timing/bad luck or whatever. We've all seen stuff up on Amazon that is embarrassingly bad, and for those authors we all cringe in embarrassed sympathy. But how about Boyd Morrison? His book was rejected by numerous pubs, and then after a few months on Amazon, it got picked up by a major publisher. Did it suddenly improve? Nope; it was the same exact book it was when it was rejected.

By bypassing the traditional "gatekeepers," then, authors aren't necessarily ignoring a clear message from publishers. They're acknowledging that there are a lot of good books out there, and not every good book is going to find a happy home at the major publishers. They also may be acknowledging that nowadays, it might actually make more financial sense to hold onto your e-rights, rather than sign them away to the major pubs, who don't seem to have a clue how to sell ebooks effectively.

Sure, there ARE authors out there who are terrible, and who just don't realize it. In fact, there are lots and lots of such authors. But there are also good authors out there who are frustrated because their good books aren't getting picked up, or who aren't even trying because they think the publishing industry is dysfunctional.

-The Internet disproves a simple, old-fashioned idea: “If you build it, (throw it up on Lulu or Amazon or any of these other websites) they will come.” Readers will not come. They have too much other stuff on their browser.

As I've said before, it depends. Certainly if it's crap, they will not come. Crap just sits there in its obscure little corner, keeping itself company. But Konrath is not (despite what this blog post seems to imply) the only person making money on Amazon. There are quite a few indie authors doing pretty well. Maybe not paying their mortgage, but sometimes making a fair amount. They are building an audience, all on their own.

-The Internet is flooded with content. As a reader, my time and psychic space are limited. I seek only the things I’m looking for or already know about. I don’t go trolling for complete unknowns just to check out a new ebook, and I certainly would never pay money to try random self-published wares.

Fortunately, there seem to be a lot of readers who don't think this way. I don't think I've sold so many indie books because people were out there looking specifically for Ellen Fisher books-- after all, it's been over three years since my last release, and to be honest, most people had never heard of me anyway. Some readers-- maybe even a lot of readers-- are out there looking intentionally for new content.

-When folks actually self-publish, they’ll figure out firsthand how difficult it is to get their books in the hands of readers.

Very true. It's a sink or swim kind of thing. I like to think that good content will rise to the top, but it's possible that even good stuff sometimes won't make it into the hands of many readers. It happens in regular publishing too, sadly. There is no guarantee someone will read your book even if it's the best book ever, whether in indie publishing or traditional publishing. Publishing of any stripe is hard.

-Sure, there are exceptions. Joe Konrath’s success with bringing his existing readers to a new format has been noteworthy. And there are self-published books for the mass market that have sold huge. Two things come to mind: the work of Christopher Paolini and an adult book called THE LACE READER. And you know what happened to them? Both moved on to traditional publication. You know why? Because that was probably the writers’ goal in the first place, and they took a circuitous route.

Well, let's be fair. Paolini self-pubbed quite a while ago now. Becoming an indie author on Kindle was never an option for him. At that point, yes, most self-publishers wanted to sell to major publishers. This may not be as true now. I'm not familiar with the other book mentioned, but a glance at Amazon suggests it was released in 2008-- again, before the Kindle ball really got rolling. I'd have wanted to sell to a big publisher back then, too. Now, as ebooks are beginning to take a larger portion of the market, it becomes more of a question for many authors.

Also, the above seems to basically dismiss Konrath as "bringing his existing readers to a new format," thus suggesting that he's not won any new readers by going to Kindle format. I don't think that's the case. Certainly the rest of us indies who are selling fairly well aren't just bringing over existing readers. Indies seem to be developing a new customer base, one that's willing to look at samples and take a chance on authors they're not familiar with. And judging from what people report about their sales, that customer base seems to be growing.

-And you know why I know about these exceptions? Because they’re news. They’re rare. The other hundreds of thousands of self-published books? They’re unvisited websites and unopened boxes in somebody’s garage...

That's because most of them are in fact crap. But for the ones that aren't crap, indie publishing seems to be working fairly well, at least in many cases. I personally think we're going to start seeing a lot more "exceptions."


  1. I think the biggest problem with this kind of advice is that agents aren't actually going where the readers (particularly Kindle/ereader owners) are. Those people ARE taking a chance self-published authors and are the foundation for our growing fanbase.

  2. I agree. I was a bit surprised by the idea that people aren't willing to look around for anything new. But I'm hanging out on the Amazon boards, where people are at least AWARE of indies (whether they love looking for new books or disparage all indies as hacks). So my viewpoint is probably very different from this agent's.