Advent of the Electronic Writer

By: Karla Fetrow

Self Publishing: Vanity or Common Sense

There was a time, back when publishing houses had  good reputations, and reading books was a general pastime, that self-publishing was unthinkable to an earnest writer determined to create a niche in whatever genre he or she had chosen.  Whether it was fine literature or a Harlequin romance, the main point was that it had been accepted by a House, thereby earning the writer the title of “author”.  A self published book meant going through a press that may or may not be credible, that often resorted to generic covers and cheap bindings; sometimes with nothing more than a stapled middle.  The self-published writer was expected to shell out the funds for a minimum quantity and it was up to the writer to discover the ways and means of acquiring a return on his investment; making the rounds of book stores, clubs and conventions, often surrendering in self-defeat after a few months, with a packing crate full of books moldering in the attic.

Along came the Internet.  It not only changed the avenues for self-publishing, it changed the attitudes about publishing in general.  Ironically, it was the publishing companies themselves that generated this new awareness in the trials, errors and difficulties of breaking in to a publishing house.  The Writer’s Market, once the handbook of every aspiring author, began suggesting that before looking for a publisher, a writer should gain an online reputation.  It advised joining writing groups that would help build the strength of the written hand and guide the writer into the best places to be published.

The Tightening Circle

The previously naive writer was about to make a shocking discovery.  Published writers did not really want to share their trade secrets and unpublished writers; even ones so good it made you wonder why in the world they’ve been ignored, produced horror story after horror story.  Rejection slips filled their mail boxes or e-mail boxes.  They went through the rounds of agents, sub-agents and editors, paying more for their agent services than a profit margin would allow in royalties if they did get published.

Nor were these agents, editors or even online publishers very scrupulous, either.  Oftentimes, the ideas were stolen while the author was told to re-write.  Sometimes the online sites stole the writer’s work outright, promising a published story, then disappearing from the Internet once they had a collection of material.  Catering to a new vanity mode, many publishers began offering no payment at all for short stories, only a copy of the book it was published in.

Writers were truly faced with a dilemma.  The publishing houses only wanted established writers.  They only wanted writers that would promote their own work, or that had sponsors waiting to eat up sixty percent of their royalties.  The one avenue that offered hope was free offers for blog writing, but even that came with its pitfalls.  The blogs were not copyright protected.  In fact, the content often actually belonged to the company that sponsored them, which meant, once again, the intellectual property of the author could be stolen.

The vanity press began to look pretty good, especially since books no longer had to be distributed by hand, but could go through online book selling services, like Amazon and Alibris.  Not only that, the self published writer no longer had to publish in bulk, but use Publish on Demand services, selling five books or five hundred as needed.  Self-promotion was still involved, but agents, sub-agents, editors and sponsors were trimmed from the expense account.

Paper publishing in general, however, was beginning to lose its appeal.  The huge paper publishing houses were beginning to shudder, some of them going under.  A new form of reading was lurking on the horizon.  Electronic books; or e-books, were capturing the market.

Expiration Date for Publishing Houses

E-books, are electronic books, have actually been around for quite awhile.  They were used in the 1940’s as a digitalized indexing file, although not as a published edition of text.  By the 1980″s, they were being used by laboratories, Universities and libraries as a means of retaining and accessing scholarly material.  It wasn’t until the widespread use of the Internet however, that e-books came into their own as a means of distributing leisure reading to the public.

What had once been a means of storing and distributing technical material and scholarly information, is now the ability to read entire books, both fiction and non-fiction in electronic form.  Much of e-book popularity is due to the ease and convenience with which it can be accessed from not only computers, but cell phones.  This mobility allows a person to electronically read while strolling, traveling, or waiting in sitting rooms without having to carry bulky books.

Libraries buy ten percent of the books published by commercial publishers, and forty percent of the children’s books.  With millions of dollars invested in the publishing companies, libraries generally receive a discount for book purchases, creating a lucrative business for publishers and a satisfying relationship for libraries.

In recent more and more people have been requesting e-books from libraries, generating an interest in keeping a larger selection in supply.  However, just as the characteristics of major publishers have changed in regard to publishing unknown or unsolicited writers, their policies have changed in regard to what they will charge libraries for e-books.  Of the six major houses, four of them will not seel e-books to libraries at all.  The two that do, have upped their ante.

Harper Collins now requires libraries  to “buy” the book again after 26 checkouts – making it more like  a license to read than a purchase, and  Random House recently raised the price of a new ebook by 300%. So a fiction title might cost $80; and a non-fiction title, $120.

Douglas County libraries have decided this is neither practical or sustainable.  While they will continue to buy paper print titles by the Big Six, they will not be purchasing e-books for $120.  Their attitude is that in a free market, companies are free to set their own prices.  But if the terms are not acceptable, the libraries are free to look for a better deal.

They  have  identified some 12 groups of publishers, comprising over 800 individual companies. They have purchased from them over 7,000 ebook titles, which are available from their catalog. They buy their  titles at discount, and actually own them. This model of distribution, created by Douglas County Libraries, is now being picked up by hundreds of libraries across the nation. And they are signing up new publishers every day.

It’s a brave new world for writers.  Through elitism policies, the major publishers have discouraged the progression of fresh new talent into the writing field.  Many prospective authors  feel if they must promote themselves anyway, they might as well cut the middle man and do their own publishing.  The ones who do get published have either given away their work, or receive returns so low as to drop below minimum wage for their years of research, labor and love.  E-books are an open market, as easy to access as self-published paper print.  They can be sponsored at literary sites and e-zines, benefitting both the writer and the sponsor.  This is the healthy way to do business.

Here at Subversify, our mission is the promotion of literary talent.  We encourage writers with our freedom of press and free speech policy, and copyright protect their work.  Our future includes e-book listings.  If you are an author interested in promoting an electronic book, consider using the services of Subversify for sponsoring it.  If you are a reader, keep an eye on Subversify, as we herald in the future; electronic reading at its best.