amazon · e-book · kindle · writing

Self-publishing in the digital age

For as long as I have been writing with the intent to eventually try to sell what I write I have had people ask if I would self-publish. My answer was always no. Self-publishing, vanity press and print-on-demand always seemed like a bit of a cop out. Like giving up before I had even started. If I couldn’t get industry professionals to put money up to get the book out there why would I want to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of my own money on it? Getting an agent and then subsequently getting a publisher seems like a kind of quality control process. If you can’t make it down those traditional channels maybe the book isn’t good enough.

With my manuscript almost ready to start submitting it remains my intention to approach the best industry professionals with it rather than self-publishing. But self-publishing has changed. It is no longer the domain of those willing to spend money in order to side-step the traditional publishing industry. It can now be achieved with no start-up cost whatsoever and seemingly very little to lose.

My objection to self-publishing has always been two-fold. First of all, it is expensive. Secondly, perhaps cynically, it seems like a way for people to continue to fool themselves. I always felt that if my book were to be roundly rejected by everyone I submitted it to that would be a clear sign that the book was not good enough. To then go and spend a lot of money at a vanity press seems like a ridiculous and arrogant thing to do. I’m sure there are a number of very popular writers who began as self-published and went on to great success, but I can’t help but feel they are in the minority. Self-publishing, and then the subsequent self-promotion required, are not likely to lead to great success.

A lot of these objections are made somewhat redundant by Amazon’s self-publishing service on their Kindle format. Any book correctly formatted and uploaded to their servers can be available for purchase and automatic download in only a few days and it costs nothing to do so. It is possible to go from a finished manuscript to an e-book available for purchase with a purpose built market place ready to host it in an incredibly short space of time. That the first ten percent of all books on the kindle store are available as a free trial is the crucial ingredient that makes this whole process commercially viable.

My personal inclination is still to avoid self-publication. When my manuscript is finished I will ambitiously submit to the best literary agents and collect my rejection slips like the hordes of aspiring writers before me. But once I have exhausted that avenue, when every agent in the UK has taken their turn to pass on it, I am having a hard time to see why I wouldn’t upload it to the kindle store. Rather than putting it away and letting it sit dusty and forgotten in a cupboard instead it can have a chance to do something. Even though it would instead likely sit on Amazon’s server, dusty and forgotten, it will have cost nothing to take that chance.

So for the writer it looks like a risk-free, low barrier to entry means of getting a book out into the world. For the reader it means that there is an opportunity to read books they would never otherwise have had the opportunity to read. But, it seems logical to assume, there is a reason those books would have been impossible to read. The ease with which a book can be uploaded to Amazon seems like it would lead to an inevitable decrease in the overall quality of available books. For every gem how many poorly written books will be clogging up the catalogue? This is where that free ten percent sample is so crucial, but still when I walk into a bookshop and start browsing the shelves there is an implicit suggestion that every book there will be to a professional standard. I might not like them all, they might not all be to my taste, but they will at the very least be of a certain standard. Amazon guidelines for uploading a book to the kindle store makes no mention at all of overall quality of the writing. In time will this mean that the kindle store will be saturated with self-published books of dubious quality?

I imagine I would upload my book to the kindle store if in the future I fail to have any success with it elsewhere. Like I say, I can’t really see much of a reason not to.

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