From Dave Zeltserman
I've been having this same discussion for months with a friend of mine from my old technology world. This guy is very bright, normally very insightful, and he does make some good points as he keeps trying to argue that ebook revolution is going to be a boon for writers--one of his points being that while we're very spoiled living in the Boston area and having access to so many great bookstores, a large part of this country doesn't have this kind of access and being able to buy a book with a click of the button will lead to far more books being bought. Where we keep hitting a brick wall with these arguments is how are readers going to find books among the millions of self-published books that are going to get dumped into these ebook stores? He keeps arguing that the diamonds among these millions will find a way to be reviewed and noticed, and I keep asking him how that's going to happen and he'll mumble that some mechanism will be created, and then we inevitably switch topics to the Patriots or mutual friends of ours in the industry.
While it's far from perfect, there is a filtering system in place today. First line are the agents, then the publishing houses, then the prepub reviews, then newspaper and other reviewers, then the booksellers who'll handsell the books they truly love. And when someone goes into a bookstore today, there's a valid expectation that every book in the store meets some minimum standard, and that expectation is going to be wiped out in this ebook world.
I fully understood the frustration a lot of writers feel and the temptation for writers to self-publish their works this way, especially when you have a few writers for their own self-interest trumpeting loudly and frequently how you can make money hand over fist by self-publishing any ebook as long as it has an attractive cover and a catchy book description (remember that old saying if it sounds too good to be true..), and I'm also sure a few self-published ebooks will occasionally pop up and have some success. The reality is for most new writers, and probably for most midlist writers also, your best chance is to be traditionally published, as hard as it might be. And it is hard, and it takes years, but at least this way you're getting the prepub reviews, newspaper reviews, booksellers discovering your books and handselling, and all this gives you a chance of finding an audience and building a writing career.
There are a couple of points from Ms. Miller's excellent article (and since she's making the exact same arguments I've been making for months to my technology friend, how could I think it's anything but excellent??) that I'd like to point out:
"Also, bloggers or self-appointed experts on particular genres and types of writing are, in my experience, just as clubby and as likely to plug or promote their friends and associates as anybody else."
This is very true, but it has to be very true. People only have a limited bandwidth. How many books can the average person read a year when reading through slush is not their livelihood? 50-100 books, maybe? So it's only human nature for people to limit these books to people they know or heard about from their circle. In current traditional publishing there are 1000s of people sifting through the slush, and you can't expect this burden to be dumped on this new generation of bloggers and "self-annointed experts" and not expect them to be clubby. Hell, even though my last two books were picked by Washington Post as best books of the year, I still can't get a certain mystery trade magazine to review me--but I understand this clubbiness exists and will continue to exist because of people's limited bandwidths.
"Writers who are charming in person and happy to promote themselves and interact with fans will prosper, while antisocial geniuses may fail. (It's unsettling to wonder how the Salingers, Pynchons, Naipauls and David Foster Wallaces of tomorrow will fare in a world where social networking and glad-handing are de rigueur. Why should extroversion be required of a great novelist?"
This is another reality. In this new world where there will be a sea of self-published books out there, is it only going to be those who make the most noise who get discovered and read? Is that the way it should be? And if we then have a sea of desperate writers making noise, how is anyone going to be noticed?
"Instead, if they aren't utterly paralyzed by the prospect, their decisions become even more conservative, zeroing in on what everyone else is buying and grabbing for recognizable brands because making a fully informed decision is just too difficult and time-consuming. As a result, introducing massive amounts of consumer choice leads to situations in which the 10 most popular items command the vast majority of the market share, while thousands of lesser alternatives must divide the leftovers into many tiny portions. This has been going on in the book world for at least a couple of decades now, since long before the rise of e-books: Bestselling authors continue to sell better and better, while everyone else does worse and worse."
I think this is the key. Far from liberating writers + readers, I think our sea of ebooks will only be driving readers even more to the biggest and most recognizable names. ebook stores will look a lot like Walmart today, where 100 or so of the biggest names will be pushed heavily, and buried underneath will be pages containing millions of other books, where most readers (99.9%??) will never venture.