Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote about how this new wild frontier, this stampede to publish and be damned (or not) of the new publishing world and how it could be lowering literacy standards because of the almost blythe acceptance of errors in books. The prevailing attitude is that as long as the writer is satisfied with the book, that’s all that matters. Neither they nor their readers seem to care if their story is derivative, if the editing is slipshod, if typos litter the pages.

To add to the confusion of this anything-goes publishing world, books that do well are seldom the best. Often, these successful books are the result of a very aggressive promotion campaign or the result of luck — by being chosen by Amazon for an aggressive promotion campaign or by hitting the right market at the right time.

It seems as if the world is a poorer place if good books are destined to remain undiscovered simply because the author is a wonderful writer and a mediocre promoter. Since we reward wonderful promoters who are mediocre writers with huge numbers of sales, the whole book business becomes even more skewed than it already is. People think that good books will rise to the top, that such books will automatically find a readership, but that is not always the case. And shrugging off the conundrum as “survival of the fittest” doesn’t help matters.

Some people think readers are screaming for quality, that readers are lost in the stampede, but when you consider the vast number of sales made by a few mediocre but bestselling traditionally published authors, most people are not screaming for quality. They are screaming for . . . comfort, perhaps. Predictability. A community of like-minded readers.

To make the situation even more complicated, publishers are not taking responsibility for marketing the books they publish. They want their authors to do that.

I recently read an article by a publisher who said that a publisher’s role was simply to prepare a book for market and to make it available. That’s it. Learning how to promote, navigating the insanely competitive book market, marketing one’s book, paying for book tours and conferences — all of that is the responsibility of the author. So then why does an author need a publisher at all? With Create Space, Lulu, Smashwords, and now Goodreads getting into the epublishing business, authors can prepare their own books for market. And what they can’t do, they can hire done, and keep all the profits. And authors by the millions are doing that very thing.

Maybe the problem I’m having coming to terms with this new wild frontier stems from a life-long respect for books, a sense that books are somehow sacred. Maybe it’s time for me to give up that old-fashioned attitude and treat books like any other temporary reading commodity, such as a blog post or a cereal box.