Sorry Mr Russo, but E-publishing is here to stay

24 Sep 2012

So you’ve written a book – something you have worked on for years, something you have nurtured, loved, hated, cried and laughed with.  You want to share it with the world.  So you buy a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook, knock out letters and a synopsis to a few agents, and hey-presto, before long you’re a published author, raking in the cash.  Right?  Well...not quite.

When I completed my first novel early last year, after a number of years of writing, re-writing and re-writing again, I was so delighted with my work I immediately wrote to agents, singing my own praises, but one by one the rejections came in.  Searching through various internet discussion boards, I soon discovered the reality of the world of publishing – rejection was the norm.  Agents are overwhelmed, as are publishers, and many are reluctant to take on anyone not already established.  The big question then is: how do you get discovered, if nobody has the time to discover you? 


I then came across the Amazon self-publishing programme (KDP) and Smashwords, and the growing interest in e-books.  Some self-published authors bypass traditional publishers entirely because they feel they have a better deal with e-publishing.  It is cheaper and the rewards are bigger, and the main selling point is that it is you who is in control of everything, including the pricing.  But, in the main, e-book authors have done it because they are sick of rejection and hitting the literary brick wall of publishing houses.  Why bother with more heartache if you can go straight to your audience?

I was, of course, sceptical at first.  Where was the catch?  But I was determined to get my work out there, so I approached a professional critic, re-wrote my book again, had it proof-read, employed a wonderful cover designer, put the earlier rejection behind me and built up the courage to ‘go it alone’ on the Amazon KDP programme.  And I can say that I am delighted that I did.  

There is something thrilling about stepping out into the unknown and a feeling of accomplishment when you sell your first few copies, but it takes energy, dedication and a lot of hard graft to get there.  Many of us out there are serious about our writing, always looking to gain new readers and reviews, so I was dismayed to read on my commute in this morning that author Richard Russo is guilty of ‘anti e-book snobbery’, and has banned his publisher from digitally releasing his book.  Well, more fool him, and more fool the publishing industry if they follow his view.  

Mr Russo has apparently said that e-books ‘pose threats to bookstores, the book publishing industry and the rise of new authors’.  Well, firstly, I do not see how e-books are a threat to the rise of new authors – indeed, this seems quite the oxymoron.  E-books are increasingly the very essence of new authors.  Take E L James and her ‘50 Shades’ phenomenon.  Whether you rate her skills as a writer or not, she is an extreme example of how modern ‘people power’ is affecting the publishing industry.  I do not know if she would have been snapped up by a publisher before her e-book success, but it seems inevitable that more and more publishers will wait to see what sells in e-book form before scooping them up for traditional publication.  

Secondly, I do not understand why there is a feeling of rivalry between digital and print versions.  Bookshops, I believe (and hope), will always exist.  For all the practicality of a Kindle, I can well appreciate those who would rather feel a book in their hand, and I think it is important that children have access to physical books and are encouraged to visit their local libraries.  Print and digital can, and already are, coexisting well.  Book sales are still extremely high, and although e-books are catching up, I do not think they are the threat publishers and bookshops make out.  Yet.  I do think, however, that the biggest barrier – this ‘anti e-book snobbery’ – is still there to be broken down.  As with the music industry, and newspapers, publishers (and booksellers) need to provide that competitive edge.  It sounds tough, but that’s capitalism. And reality.

But what is the future for ‘indie’ e-book authors like me?  Like many of my fellow authors I would love to be ‘discovered’ by a traditional publisher and have the deal of my dreams, so for some published, well-established authors to suggest that we are deliberately trying to put publishers and bookshops out of business is completely untrue.  Self-preservation and self-promotion dictates that a person determined enough will go where the audience is and, if there is a way to go about it which you can control (however incredibly time-consuming it may be), then I’m all for it.  Take this very website.  Without the digital age you would simply still have newspapers and print publications for opinion. Some may hark back to those days when only a blessed few could control the agenda, but e-books, like the internet, have opened up a whole new way of thinking.  Surely it is all wonderfully Conservative – the Big Society in action, seeing independent authors helping each other out on Twitter, sharing tips and experiences, reaching as many people as possible.

So the future would appear to be bright, and Mr Russo dismisses ‘indie’ authors at his peril.  Like it or loathe it, e-publishers such as Amazon and Smashwords will have the last laugh if traditional publishers continue to turn up their noses.  The rise of ‘people power’ e-books is the most exciting thing to happen to publishing since the printing press. And, as every good democrat knows, the ‘people’ are not to be ignored.

By Emma Gray


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