As a constant traveller, carrying enough books to read used to be a nightmare. Even planning which books to take on a two week vacation and trying to keep within the baggage allowance was a major logistical exercise.
A serious expedition, like a six month jungle hop or a year long teaching assignment in a far flung wilderness, meant carrying entire suitcases full of books. Many times I’d been known to pay more in excess baggage than the actual flight would cost.
But it’s done much more than that. It’s changed the way I write.
No surprise there, perhaps. Ninety per cent of our sales are through Amazon. But here I’m talking about e-publishing, not just Amazon’s Kindle. (Nooks don’t work outside the US, and an iPad is useless to me here in Africa, as are most other e-readers, so I’m reliant on Amazon.)
But epublishing has changed the very process of writing, not just for me but for many others. By eliminating the gatekeepers epublishing is not just increasing the number of books available. It is transforming literature.
Last week over on MWi chick-lit author Sibel Hodge was telling us about her dark faction novel Trafficked. This would never in a million years have seen the light of day if Sibel had been lumbered with a trad publisher.
Elizabeth Ann West picked up on the same topic during the week. Digital publishing means we can write what we want to write, not what the gatekeepers think will make them the most money. (By the way, Elizabeth is over on MWi today with some interesting ideas on how debut authors can grab that all important initial market share. Be sure to pop over and say hello!)
So now we can publish pretty much anything we want to.
But doesn’t this just bring on the dreaded tsunami of crap as wannabe writers run off fifty thousand words during NaNoWriMo and then self-publish without even running a spell-check, just because they can?
Well yes, there will be some bozos who do just that. But who cares?
Readers don’t just randomly download a title on Amazon without checking it out any more than they walk into a bookstore and randomly buy a book just for the hell of it. Unless you deliberately go out of your way to find, pay for and download rubbish, there’s no way that crap will end up on your Kindle, nook or iPad. So forget about it.
Instead spend a few minutes looking at the quality reading now available that we previously never had an option to buy, because the gatekeepers didn’t like it.
As I’ve argued for a long time on MWi, the digital revolution heralds a New Renaissance in literature. Far from drowning in a tsunami of crap we are in danger of drowning in a tsunami of excellence, as indie writers grow in confidence and step further and further outside the box.
And it is this tsunami of excellence that is the single biggest threat to traditional publishers, and is why serious indie writers can beat the trad publishers at their own game.
I’ve said many times that the trad publishers will turn their ship and embrace digital. It’s happening. They have the money and muscle to fight back, and they are doing so.
But I’ve also argued the trad guys don’t understand the new paradigm. They think they can just convert a trad file to digital and that’s it. Sit back and watch the money roll in.
The fear is the same old trad names will regain their poll position by bullying, bribery and corruption. No question that’s beginning to happen. And no question it will continue to happen.
To repeat, the trad publishers do not understand the new paradigm. And that gives us indies the edge. Because epublishing is not just changing what we can write. It’s changing the way we read.
And by that I don’t just mean the obvious transition from paper to screen. I mean how often we read, where we read, and most importantly what we read.
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The dedicated reader might carry a book with them for train journeys, flights, doctors’ appointments, etc. But lugging a heavy book around is not always practical, and you’re always guaranteed to finish it with plenty of time to spare and be left with nothing to read and a heavy book to lug home. And maybe you preferred not to have your reading choices displayed to all and sundry. Remember when the trads re- published Harry Potter with “adult” covers so embarrassed execs could keep up with what Harry, Ron and Hermione were up to?
Ereading is changing all that. Suddenly we can have a thousand books at our fingertips, and a million just a click away. We can carry them around with us all day, and no-one will know if we’re reading Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Stephanie Meyer or Sleazy Sue’s Sauna Sessions Volume 31. (Btw if anyone’s got Vol 29 can they lend it to me ? I missed thast one.)
We can grab a quick ten minute read in the supermarket queue or while waiting to collect the kids from school. We can read on our lunch breaks, or when an appointment is cancelled at the last moment, or whenever we have five minutes spare. Which means we end up reading more.
Almost everyone who has a ereader says they read more than before. Much more.
But they also read differently. They read short stories and novellas. They like novels with shorter chapters that mean they can manage a whole chapter in those five minute reading breaks.
And slowly but surely readers are beginning to look for a new kind of reading experience. The indie experience.
On my last trip to the UK in the summer I didn’t buy a single print book. But friends looking out for me had collected a fine range of paperbacks from my favourite authors for me to bring back. Top names that in previous years (or even months!) I would have paid serious money for. So I now have a collection of twenty-two new print books on my rickety apology for a book-shelf.
They look wonderful. They smell wonderful. They’ve got colorful covers, and back covers. And spines!
When I first got back to sunny West Africa I’d sometimes open them and caress the pages and inhale, as one does, looking at the different fonts, and paper color and texture. Then I’d look at the titles and the author names. Major best-selling names that in a previous life I’d have started reading in the book-store before I’d even paid for them. I would have cancelled engagements to make sure I had time to read them.
Names that for years epitomised my dreams of being a writer.
Three months on and I’ve not read any of them. Not one.
During the Amazon summer sale a lot of my favourite authors were being almost given away, at indie prices. I took full advantage and bought dozens of top trad names.
I’ve not read any of them. Not one.
Yet my Kindle goes everywhere with me. At every opportunity it’s switched on and I’m devouring a new book. So what am I reading?
As a reader I know that, with very, very, very few exceptions, the trad pubbed books will be the same old same old. They will be predictable. Sterile. Safe. After all, that’s why they got the gatekeepers’ approval. That’s why they were trad published.
Sure, they’ll be good. I’m not suggesting otherwise. They’ll mostly be well edited, proofread, etc, and if I had nothing else to read I’d still enjoy them, of course. It’s not that these famous authors have suddenly declined in quality. They’re the same as they’ve always been.
And that’s the problem.
I don’t buy trad names anymore. I deliberately seek out indie authors. Not because I’m an indie author. But because I want to read something fresh and original. And I know that, while there will of course be lousy indie books out there, there’s also a tsunami of excellence to choose from.
And it’s not just me. I’m hearing time and time again from other readers, not just indie writers, that trad pubbed books have no allure anymore. That readers are deliberately seeking out indie books because they want something fresh and original. And as word of mouth spreads indie authors are getting name recognition out of all proportion to their sales and exposure.
Take us as an example. You all know out story. The novel the gatekeepers said was unsellable, that topped Kindle UK to become Britain’s biggest selling indie book. But that was all down to Amazon’s algorithms, right?
Well, no question they helped. But ponder this. The biggest bookstore chain in the UK is Waterstone’s. It’s the UK equivalent of Barnes & Noble. It doesn’t let indies list direct, so it’s 99.9% trad pubbed books. Yet we have two books in the top twenty. Sugar & Spice is at #2 as I write this. Snow White is racing up behind. Obviously we’re delighted. A year after its release, and six months after we topped Kindle UK, the same book is back in the best-seller charts.
This is just remarkable.
Waterstone’s and Amazon are two different worlds. Their ebooks are not interchangeable. Hard to imagine any dedicated customer at one store would frequent the other. Safe to say Waterstone’s readers do not frequent or even know the existence of the Kindle forums. And given we are almost the only indie author available I doubt most Waterstone’s customers even know what an indie author is. We don’t even carry links to Waterstone’s on our promo.
Bear in mind too there is no print edition of any Saffina Desforges title. We have no print history whatsoever, nor any loyal print readership that Waterstone’s customers might be following through to know about us. And we don’t buy advertising.
The only conceivable way we can be the most searched for name in the charts of the biggest bookstore chain in the UK is through word of mouth. Yet we are being searched for more than the biggest names in UK commercial literature, including books with film versions in the cinema, and including the winner of the Man Booker prize.
This isn’t luck with the algorithms giving us a ride. This is readers who shouldn’t even know we exist, physically typing our brand into the search box. What’s going on?
What’s going on is proof that readers want something different. Something original. Something with edge. Something that is not the same old same old. Give your readers that and, without spending a penny buying hype and bribing reviewers like only the trad pubs can do, word of mouth will let you compete with the biggest names in commercial literature.