In all this discussion about the explosion of ebooks, very little is being said about the quality of the work resulting from this newfound freedom, and that disturbs author James W. Hall, who wrote in a comment here:
You know one thing that keeps being left out of this discussion, Lee, is the writing itself. The traditional publishers (I find the term 'legacy publishers' patronizing and silly) served and continue to serve an important function as gate-keepers. They weren't always right, of course. But by and large good books got published and the "tsunami of sludge" that we're seeing now was kept offshore. Book reviewers had their role in all this, steering readers to 'literary' novels and maintaining or trying to maintain some conventional standards. Again, reviewers often got it wrong, and their bias toward a high culture novel often missed the books that people were actually reading and loving. Books like Peyton Place, say, which was an incredible success despite terrible reviews. That list is endless.
Anyway, with the huge sea change underway, neither reviewers nor publishers have the power they once had and many will say we're better off for that. I'm not one of those. I lament the loss of quality writing in this deluge of self-publishing. Being a hustler is now more important than writing well, creating rich, dimensional people, plots that are both full of surprise but are also coherent.
Writers interviews and blog posts are becoming all about cover art and social networking and the masterful manipulation of Internet outlets. I'm trying to learn my way in this new world even as I keep one foot solidly in the establishment publishing world. I read more than half the books I read on my iPad and my Kindle and realize these new delivery systems are inevitable and very positive in many ways. However, in our rush to embrace what's good about the new, there is far too much dismissiveness and self-congratulation by the emerging New Media stars.
In all this discussion about Hocking and Eisler and Konrath, everything seems to be about the marketing and profitability issues. I've yet to see any real discussion of the aesthetic issues, of storytelling, of graceful style, of all those features that writers and readers used to hold dear. Getting a 70% profit on every book sold is fine. More power to all of us. Karen's comment above is right. These are interesting days. I simply hope that what was good in the best books of the past will survive.
And that in our hurry to embrace and celebrate the new forms of delivery, we will not abandon our love for good writing and the well told story and solid, three-dimensional characters. And the discussion of literary values will someday again be about more than 2.99 versus 1.99.
I agree with his concerns about content and over-emphasis right now on money and marketing. The writing is getting lost in the discussion.
As exciting as this new world is for authors, it's creating a new set of obstacles for novelists hoping to stand out and for consumers trying to find the good stuff amidst the preponderance of unreadable, previously unpublishable, self-published crap that is flooding the e-marketplace.
In the near term, the writers who will benefit are those who already have a platform, mostly from having been published by the old guard before the e-revolution, because that's who readers will turn to first…names and franchises they can depend on…especially after they've been repeatedly burned by horrendous crap from writers they have never heard of.
Even 99 cents is too much when what you are buying is nicely packaged, but unreadable swill.
That's not to say there aren't some great self-published, unknown authors out there…there are many (David Dalglish and David McAfee are just two that I'm happy to have stumbled across). But there's far more who aren't. Far, far more. One need only look at most of the stuff on Smashwords, the aggregator many writers use (including yours truly) to get their books on the iPad, Nook, etc.
Go on, I dare you. It's not pretty.
Despite all the hoopla surrounding Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, John Locke and Amanda Hocking, it could actually get harder, rather than easier, for new writers to break-through the ever-increasing clutter and sell books in this new, e-publishing world than it was in the "old" print-centric one…
I'm still wildly excited about the opportunities for writers now…but I'm not so caught up in my own enthusiasm not to see the pitfalls for writers and readers alike.