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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Why e-publish? Why not?

A couple of people have asked me why I've decided to release The Unearthing as a free ebook download, instead of charging for it. Well, never being one to pass up the opportunity to talk about myself or why I do the things I do, here's why:

A few years ago, the philosophy was “Who would be stupid enough to pay for something, when you can get it for free online?” Now, Wired Magazine has just done an essay on how it makes good business sense to give product away for free, in order to drum up sales.

My friends concurred, and encouraged me to launch the free e-book version of “The Unearthing”. Since its launch a couple of days ago, I’ve had as many downloads of the book as I have had sales in the year and a half it’s been published.

I don’t know if any of those people are actually going to buy the book, and you know what? I don’t care. The only thing I’ve ever wanted is for people to read my writing…that’s happening now, and though the numbers aren’t huge as of yet, they are starting to pick up. The only thing I can to is try and drum up interest in the story and hopefully generate more readers.

What I don’t understand is why independent authors, be they self-publishers or e-publishers are so oftentimes dismissed out of hand as being vanity authors.

Yet that is the commonly held opinion, even among the writing community; take Robert J Sawyer, for example. The Canadian sci-fi author claims on his site that: “In general, "online publishing" is an oxymoron; don't do it. If you can't make it in print, you're not yet good enough. Become a better writer, and continue to try to crack the print markets.”

Then just a couple of paragraphs later, he writes, “Fewer than one percent of those who want to be science-fiction writers ever publish even a single story. This is a tough, tough game to get into, and there are thousands of aspirant writers just like you. Almost all will fail, and 90% of those who manage to sell a first novel or a few short stories will also fail after that, never selling anything again.

Tell me; doesn’t that sound a little contradictory to you? If you can't make it in print, you're not yet good enough and yet Fewer than one percent of those who want to be science-fiction writers ever publish even a single story? Let's see if I have this right: he's saying that if you self-or e-publish you’re obviously not good enough, but if you try to publish with a “real” publisher you’re likely to fall flat on your face?

Not only do I disagree with that statement, I think that it is an example of outmoded thinking that, especially for a sci-fi writer, shows a complete lack of insight into how technology has changed the rules.

I really do believe that the future, the Great White Hope, for new talent to be discovered is through self-publishing and online publishing.

Agents won’t touch us because we’re unknown.

Most publishers won’t consider us without an agent and/or a pedigree.

The thing is, not all of us can write short stories to get into magazines. I can’t write a short story to save my life. Let me have between 300 and 500 pages, though, and I can give you something wonderful.

So how then do we get exposure? The best thing I can think of is doing it ourselves.

And yet, I understand the problem on the flipside: it means everyone—regardless of talent—can have several books out there.

That automatically damages everyone’s reputations, because there is inevitably a disproportionate amount of garbage out there—and I don’t discount the possibility that my own writing would count among that garbage.

But the thing is, in the electronic frontier shit doesn’t float, it sinks. People who start to read a bad e-book aren’t likely to keep reading it—especially if it was free or cost next-to-nothing. They can quickly move on to the next book, a better book.

Because of the communal nature of the Internet, with everyone these days belonging to social networks and sharing information, good e-books are more likely to be talked about than bad ones. We’ll share our gripes, but if we think our friends or message board buddies or subscribers or whatever are going to like something, we’ll likely talk about it.

Also, the quid-pro-quo between writers online means we’ll refer and link back to other writers whose work we enjoy. Of course in my case, that means I actually have to update my link list (something, like tidying up my desk at home, I can’t seem to bring myself to do very often).

Then, any work that the independent author/e-book author does on their own time, such as building a Facebook page, finding websites by like-minded individuals to share information on, discussing their work on message boards, et cetera, only adds to the pool of links and online references that lead back to the book in question.

Book sales have been on the decline for quite some time. And more and more people are downloading e-books from the Internet. I really think that the formulaic tripe that is getting published by the big name "Houses" is driving readers to seek out new material elsewhere. And as long as big publishing doesn't wake up to the fact that treating books as product to be sold instead of literature to be printed, they are going to keep losing readers to the Internet. Why pay $10 for a book that 's exactly like a dozen other books you've read, when you can go online and download something new, something original for next-to-nothing?

Why e-publish?

Because that's where the future is.