Shorter version of my…

Shorter version of my long post: If ebooks were to be actually free for publishers to produce, all they'd have to do is set up a script to automatically accept all submitted manuscripts, send a standard electronic rights contract for the author to sign, and then 'publish' the book online. They could automate the whole thing, including a tag, 'unedited manuscript', so readers know what they're getting. Throw on a default book cover: author / title of book, black on white, in Times New Roman, font size 24. Trust the author to format the book readably. The entire process would be near instantaneous, and practically free to the publisher. (Not quite free, since there are some server costs).

Result: Amazon, etc. are DROWNED in unedited manuscripts, straight from author to reader. It becomes impossible to find anything decent to read, aside from a pitiful few books that somehow get a bit of online attention, mostly because their authors are either extremely savvy marketers, or incredibly lucky.

Is that really what readers want?

(I think it was TIME magazine that ran a survey a few years back, that found that about 70% of Americans planned to write a book before they died.)

10 thoughts on “Shorter version of my…”

  1. I guess I need to clarify: With Lulu offering the option you just mentioned, more or less, readers have both options. Of course, Lulu books are not cheap, but I have been glad they exist the few times I have bought one. Overall, I of course prefer the more traditional publisher model.

  2. Is that really what readers want?

    More or less, yes. 🙂

    At least the bit about the unfiltered deluge of manuscripts. I reject the premises that this would lead to it becoming impossible to find anything decent to read, and that editors wouldn’t find a place in this brave new world.

    (For evidence that this is more than a pipe dream on my part, one need look no further than the flourishing world of fanfic, which has evolved its own editing practices and means of finding the good stuff without using a traditional publishing model. For even more decentralized models, see Wikipedia and YouTube, at least in some respects.)

    As somebody who earns his living from editing, I’m naturally concerned about where I’m going to fit into the new model. Perhaps the traditional publishers will manage to retain a role as pointers to the good stuff. I tend to doubt it, but if I knew how this will all shake out I could quit editing and make my fortune as a psychic.

    Still, if I were betting, my money would be on the crowds instead of the conglomerates. And that’s what I’m rooting for as well.

  3. I don’t know — I think some good stuff will get found, but a lot more will fall through the cracks. Happy to be wrong, of course.

  4. And of course, fanfic is a small niche community; we already know that niches are your best bet for self-publishing success. I’m just not sure how well that’s going to translate to the wider world.

    For what it’s worth, Kevin is on your side in this. It’s weird for me to be the pessimist in an argument with him!

  5. Shmuel, for a counter-example, look at the Apple app store. Even with Apple serving as a crude (and sometimes irrational) gatekeeper, there are a ton of apps out there, and it’s hard to tell on the surface what the good ones are. And I’d think it’d be easier to review programs for a mobile device than books.

  6. Michael: I don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch, so I’ll have to take your word for that one. (I do wonder whether that’s in spite of Apple’s gatekeeping, or a result of it; that is, if the App Store isn’t designed for crowdsourcing, I can imagine that making it harder to find stuff? But I really don’t know.)

    Mary Anne: I’m sure good books will slip through the cracks, but plenty of good books slip through the cracks in the traditional model as well. I expect significant differences in the sort of things that fail to find their audiences, but not in the overall success rate. (Which has always been smaller than any of us would probably like to think.)

  7. I agree that good books slip through the cracks now, but I think the problem would be an order of magnitude worse, at least, in the no-editors scenario.

    I’m just thinking of the slush piles I’ve seen — anywhere from 100 – 1000 unpublishable stories for every publishable one, and those authors sent them in, thinking they were ready to publish.

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