Home Truths About ePublishing

Getting screwed by a self-published novel is one thing. Getting screwed by one that’s put out by a publisher is another. It was my own fault, really, for buying a book on its publication day, based just on the sample and the subject matter, but it pointed up a lot of important things that don’t get talked about much. The most obvious one is that buying a book from a publisher is no guarantee of quality. If the publisher is an epublisher in a genre niche, quality is going to be even more variable than from from long-established print publishers.

Of the three or four genre epublishers that I’ve bought books from more than once, the quality has ranged from excellent to abysmal. And regardless of the size of the sample, the number of the author’s previous books, or the favorable reviews, buying a book that’s worth your money is a crapshoot. The truth is that there aren’t a hell of a lot of good writers — in any genre. But publishers have to keep putting out product. So a lot of mediocre to just plain bad stuff gets published. And if the publishers are small enough that they can’t afford to edit the books, and depend on the authors to do that themselves, the overall quality of the company’s lists isn’t really much better than the average of self-published books.

Is this situation likely to improve? I don’t think so. The novel I just finished would have been rejected by any traditional publisher. It read like the second draft of someone’s first novel. But it was by a writer with a long string of publishing credits behind her. What this tells me is that there has been no motivation for this writer to improve. After all, her books sell. And there has been no one to do the job of showing her what’s wrong. After all, her books sell.

If I’d waited until the book had been out for a while and I could read the reviews, the chances are that I still wouldn’t have had any idea how bad it was. The majority of ebook reviewers use the same standards that the readers do — do I like the plot and the characters? They could care less about things like minimally correct grammar and word usage, character development, plot continuity, internal logic, or a host of other picky details. Proof? One rating already on a popular social network site for book lovers. Rating? Four.

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14 thoughts on “Home Truths About ePublishing

  1. I think of it as creeping illiteracy. It won’t get better because the schools have pretty much abandoned their role. Students aren’t expected to read the classics or anything that’s long or difficult. Kids are steeped in computer games, TV, and movies and grow up with little familiarity with books. But everybody has at least one book in them. So goes the conventional wisdom.

  2. Well, it only goes to show that the general public wants a good story, first and foremost. And right they are, too. The best editing in the world can not cover up a dull plot, predictable characters, and regurgitated soap opera.

    As far as getting ripped off goes: After I purchased my Kindle, I was delighted to be able to download a samples of the books. However, I’ve noticed that a good portion of the sample is introduction by the author or, worse yet, an editor. I do not understand this; it does not encourage me yank out the plastic.

    If I were standing in a bookstore with a hardback, I would not be limited to the introduction. Just yesterday, I downloaded a sample of The Year’s Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011, and it was nothing but the editor squawking, surprise-surprise, about how great the stories were. I did not buy it. Be wary, I say, of anyone who won’t show you a peek of their writing.

  3. If you look at Smashwords, you’ll see that some people offer only a small sample. But they probably don’t realize that most of it (or all) will be taken up with the front matter. If they have chapters, that makes it even worse. I downloaded a sample that had a dozen or so pages of just chapter headings. It seems that Kindle authors have the same right to determine how much of a sample will be offered, because it varies quite a lot. The real problem is that ebooks are formatted exactly the way print books have always been, without taking into consideration that readers aren’t free to dip into the book just anywhere. Amazon’s Search inside this Book feature gets past that, but ebooks need to rethink it. Maybe I’ll send Mark Coker a suggestion about that.

  4. As far as samples go, I will always offer the maxium amount on a sample. If I recall, that’s 30 percent on Smashwords. For an unknown author to do otherwise does not be-speak of be-smarts.

    Today I went to the bookstore and wrote down about 5 titles to find in ebook format. For now, this is the best method that I can figure, since I’m not swayed by introductions or prologues.

    I totally agree with you about ebooks needing to rethink it. People always have trouble keeping up with technology. ‘Let us go where no man has gone before.’

    Amazon’s Search inside this book??? Are you talking about the front cover, back cover and random page? No, I find that insufficent also. I don’t want to get ready to read; I want to read. I’m one of those people who sit down in the store; I’ve even been known to squat in the aisle. whahah.

  5. Oh, yeah. I was thinking about the guy with all the chapters in his book. So…if you had a lot of chapters, you want to use the smallest font possible and not double space. Correct?

    1. I’m not sure the smaller font would make that much difference. And the chapters should be single spaced anyway. But on top of front pages that are mostly white space, it does really eat into the sample. I think it was Mark Coker who commented that it’s hard enough to get people to follow basic directions. If you start adding details like formatting to maximize your sample, it would just go in one ear and out the other, metaphorically speaking. My own choice, if I wanted to list my chapters, would be to set them up in two columns, unless the titles were too long for that. And not use the word “chapter” at all, because that’s a trigger for Meatgrinder to format them as a column. You could also save that as a jpg, but then you wouldn’t be able to set the chapters up as links.

  6. Lucky you, to have a bookstore to get to. It’s probably been more than a year since I’ve been in one, a Borders that probably doesn’t exist any more. I wasn’t a sitter. There was always too much to look at. I always grasshoppered my way through book stores. And my notes were to see if I could find the books used, somewhere.

    Unless they’ve changed it, you can put up more than a 30%
    sample on Smashwords. I read half of a book and really wanted to read the rest, but it was too damned expensive. Not that it was really excessive ($9.00 for a really looong novel), but I can’t spend that much for a novel at this point in my life. Maybe when I start publishing my own stuff and have money trickling in, that won’t be a problem.

  7. I agree – that a book is put out by a commercial epublisher is no guarantee of quality – their aim is to make money, not promote literacy and love of language. I have seen much better writing offered for free online, for the mere joy of writing, that is far superior to a lot of fiction offered commercially.

  8. It always amazes me when I come across an online author who should be published and who apparently isn’t interested. Some of it is fanfic, which they *can’t* publish, but I’ve seen some amazing original work, too.

  9. …for the mere joy of writing… love that. Yes, I’ve seen some really great stuff published for free by lots of authors. Perhaps they are like me: Can’t be bothered with butting their heads up against a brick wall. I mean, really, between subbing, waiting for a response, publishing, socializing, tweeting, blogging, facebooking–how much time does all that take and to what avail?

    Sure, I’ve heard stories about someone becoming a famous blogger, but that’s not exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m not, at all sure, that I want to be famous. Rich, okay. I’ll take it. Fame, eh.

  10. I think we won’t have to deal with this problem for too long. ebooks are pretty new right now, and everyone is in there trying to make it.

    Eventually the market will start buying more from e publishers who have a better track record, and they will get better reputations.

    I think in a few years the market will fix it (by creating big corporate ebook monsters of course).

    1. This is probably true. The market is in flux right now. Someone smart will come up with a way to assure readers of a certain quality. Of course, they will face the same Slush Pile that traditional publishers face. But if someone opened a site “Best of ebooks,” I rush right over.

      Say, I’m going to type that in my search engine. Maybe, they already have it.

  11. Oh yes, the publishers that are now trying to pretend that they can keep doing business the way they always have will finally get on the bandwagon. The difference is that they won’t be able to monopolize publishing the way they did in the past. But it’s so easy to bypass them now that lots of small, half-assed publishers will keep popping up. And they’ll be the ones to pick up the writers who want to be “professionally” published but aren’t good enough for the bigger publishers.

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