A Glut of e-Books – Quality over Quantity?

 

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I saw a couple of James Bond movies last night. They’re showing classic films at our local theatre. So, I got to see Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on the big screen. It was very cool. So today, in my usual pedantic manner, I Googled and Wikipediaed all things James Bond looking for little known facts about the movies. And, in my research I checked out Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond books. Did you know that he wrote Casino Royale, the first book in the Bond series, in only two months? He even did the art work within that time frame. Keep that in mind as you read this article.

I wrote a blog recently about word count targets. You can find it Here.   Some of the authors commenting at the end of the article talked about producing as much as a book a month. It’s being done. I have a friend who publishes a new book every four to six weeks. She’s selling about twenty thousand e-books monthly. It seems like there are a lot of books hitting Amazon’s product pages right now. Authors have found a genre where they excel and they’re writing books in a series and their readers are supporting them. And, when the series is complete they release the books in a box set. The turnaround time between completion and publishing is very fast now that there are no gatekeepers. Nobody is telling us that it can’t be done. The stories go from our minds to our computers, then to our beta-readers and editors, and then directly to our readers. It just seems to me that there are a lot of books being produced really quickly. It makes me a little concerned.

Have you attended a book related event recently? Perhaps a conference or library event where there are both traditionally and self-published authors present? I have. Everybody is always very nice to me – the self-published guy. The more progressive traditionally published authors want to know what we’re up to in Indie-Land. They ask questions and congratulate me on my success. Some of them don’t want to change though. I sat on a panel some time ago and a traditionally published author, answering a question from the audience said “There are no readers for my books; that’s just the way it is.” When the crowd nervously laughed he said, “No really, there aren’t.”

He described his genre and the plot of his most recent book and it sounded really interesting, and I happen to know the man can write. But, he’s not interested in learning about what we’re doing. The whispers you hear from that particular quarter when they talk about self-publishing is that if they give us enough rope we’ll hang ourselves. That’s incredibly short-sighted thinking but the whispers are real. I’ve heard them. Any time there are extreme changes within an accepted practice prejudices are formed and those are based on lack of information and that of course comes from fear. Those who haven’t come over here to see what’s going on probably don’t realize how many books are being sold. If they did they’d be here. I think.

My personal book sales have plateaued. I’m working on book two in one series and book three in a trilogy and hopefully when those are complete I’ll see another surge in sales. So, I plod along and run a promotion here and there and sell my share. There are others who are selling the lights out though, consistently. And, if those whispering trad published authors who aren’t interested in expanding their minds, the same ones who are throwing us all that rope, if they did their due diligence they’d see that there is huge potential for their own books here too.

Have mistakes been made? Yes, they have. We’ve had controversies with paid reviews, piracy, censorship, and many other things. But, as an industry, through our forums and groups we’ve learned from them and tried to professionalize our work. When I teach workshops I stress to authors that it is possible to produce professional product that can stand spine to (virtual) spine with traditionally published work. And, it’s possible to do that in a cost-effective manner too. Compare book covers today to those advertised on Amazon a year or two ago. The difference is startling. We’re getting better at what we do. We’ve raised the bar. Yes, there are still exceptions and always will be. It’s easy to upload a book and again, there are no gatekeepers here. If readers want Bigfoot erotica then they shall have Bigfoot erotica. And, if authors want to produce a book a month then they will produce a book a month. At the sake of sounding like I’m trying to hoist a creaky, old gate back up, I’ll say it – we need to reach and maintain and hopefully exceed a certain standard. We have to make sure that our best words are the final words that are put on the page. In our groups and forums we talk about making sure our books are professionally edited. That’s a necessity. Beta-reading is too. Beta-readers are folks who will test-read your book. For free. Yes, at no charge to you. And, there are lots of them around. Beta-readers, and I mean multiple beta-readers should be utilized for each book we want to release.

I’ll give you an example of how important beta-reading is. Last year I decided to write a romance. Fortunately I have a friend who is a very successful romance writer, so when I completed what I believed to be my final draft she read it and passed it along to her group of twenty beta-readers. These readers read romance novels, traditional romances – the kind with happy endings and fluffy, light plots. So, I was able to receive input from my potential audience before I released my book. Their comments were invaluable. They told me they didn’t like my book and that it wasn’t a romance. They didn’t have an issue with the writing; it just wasn’t what they were looking for, and if I released and promoted it as a romance they felt that I may run into a problem. So, I made major changes to my manuscript.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons from working with those readers. I learned that I can’t write a conventional romance story to save myself and that I should always get as much input as I can. The next three drafts of that novel were read by twelve other beta-readers and fortunately the finished product, Believing Again A Tale Of_Two Christmases has done very well. In fact it’s done so well that due to reader requests I’m currently writing a sequel even though, strictly speaking it’s still not a romance in the traditional sense.

That book went through a process and it’s the same process that I use each time. My name is on the cover and if I’m going to release a book it has to be a finished product. I have a trilogy that is currently missing book three. I worked very hard writing the third book last year but at the end of 2013 I ditched my efforts and started over because I didn’t feel it was up to par. The first book in the trilogy has sold really well. I’m a lucky guy; I receive emails every week from readers asking when book three will be ready, but I won’t release it until it’s done and I wasn’t happy with the manuscript I worked on last year. I won’t upload that book until I know it’s the best work that I can produce.

So, as authors scramble to reach their book a month goal for 2014 I dearly hope that the majority of books hitting those Amazon product pages are the best they can possibly produce. I’m not worried about the whispering fear-mongers talking about giving us enough rope. That just simply won’t happen. We recognize our mistakes and correct them. We adjust the way we run our businesses and produce our product through online discussions and by writing articles like this and having someone tell me they think I’m wrong, or perhaps even telling me they think I’m right. Remember, Ian Fleming was one of the most popular and widely-read authors of the twentieth century, and he wrote Casino Royale in two months. My friend will get seven or eight books produced this year, and sell tens of thousands of them, so I know it’s possible. I just hope the words on the page are the best words we can produce because at the end of the day it’s not the cowering trad published author that I’m concerned about, it’s our reputation, and that is determined by our audience – our readers. That’s who I’m writing for.

Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is a B.R.A.G. Medallion recipient for My Temporary Life and My Name Is Hardly-Book Two of the My Temporary Life Trilogy. He’s also written a book of short stories Lies I Never Told, the bestselling novel Believing Again: A Tale Of Two Christmases, and a bestselling non-fiction book How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle-An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook.

 

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7 responses to “A Glut of e-Books – Quality over Quantity?”

  1. Lorraine Devon Wilke says:

    Martin: The fact of the matter is that glut is happening in every artistic and creative medium due to the ease and ubiquity of the internet and self-(fill in the blank). When the music industry changed a decade or so ago with the lessening interest of traditional labels and the advent of digital technology, everyone and their brother put out a Pro Tools CD and the naysayers worried and complained about “glut” and the “diluting of the product.”

    And there was glut. There were many CDs that went up at CDBaby and other online sites that were nowhere near as good as those put out by the labels. And… there were also many that were exceptional, recorded by artists who couldn’t get a label deal and decided that rather than keep chasing after the traditional brass ring, they’d take their destiny in their own hands and put out their product.

    The same is happening in now photography, art, journalism, etc. Some of the news/media sites I write for will use writers with little experience and no depth and no one cares because it’s all about clicks and a fast-moving 24/7 feed. Even if the work’s NOT good, it’ll be so long-gone by the morning no one cares. And yet… even in that environment, the excellent writers prevail to produce excellent work because it’s mandated by their own work ethic and sense of personal pride and artistic integrity.

    The indie publishing industry is no different. As you and I have discussed before, there are many excellent books that were not given the time of day by traditional publishers yet deserved to see that light of day. What’s the solution? Exactly what you and others who are succeeding in the indie publishing arena are doing: putting out your own work. The fact that many subpar authors – without the qualifying filter of gatekeepers – are also putting out their own work is unavoidable and, really, a moot point. It’s a cat that’s long out of the bag and it’s not going back in, ever. And, it doesn’t take away from the great work that’s put out.

    As a writer, I have a standard of excellence that I’d impose on myself whether I was being published by a big company or doing what I’ll ultimately be doing: putting my work out on Kindle and Create Space. It will not be any less good or any less worthy, and as writers (and readers) our own barometer is all we can honestly go by. I don’t give a damn how many books anyone puts out (quantity will never trump quality), I don’t care who’s at the top of what list (I usually buy older books that are no longer being talked about anyway) and none of us can control the junk glutting the market. (And by the way, there are plenty of crappy writers glutting the traditional market as well… don’t get me started on the 50 Shades of Gray phenom!). All we can do is our good work.

    Because all that ultimately matters is that artists who are compelled to write, who want to tell great stories or share good information; who have put in the time and the work to hone their skills to offer a great product to the public, have the freedom and the outlet with which to do so. If that, consequently, lets in a little glut as well – so be it. It’s a worthy trade-off!

  2. Geri says:

    Very well said Lorraine. More and more often indieBRAG is beeing referred to as a “Gatekeeper” and I suppose we should embrace that. We are trying to mine the diamonds from that enormous cool heap of self-published books and shine a light on them. Although we only consider self-published books, we are shining a light on books that are worth a readers time and money. I say this because most readers, unless burned in the past by a nasty self-published book, really don’t care who published it. They look at many things- cover, description, reviews- but rarely do they concern themselves with the publisher. Therefore, it is our job to bring to a readers attention these worthy books, not because they are good self-published books, but because they are good books!

  3. Lorraine Devon Wilke says:

    Geri: I think your “gatekeeper” status is necessary in this arena; helpful in doing some of the filtering that may get missed in the rush, of some, to publish. And I so agree that most readers don’t give a hoot how a book is published… they just want a good book! So thank you for bringing those good books to the attention of readers… it’s good for them AND us writers (who are hopefully writing good books! 🙂

  4. Bryan Koepke says:

    Very interesting post Geri. I found indieBRAG while reading the Bookbaby Blog. When I read that authors are producing a book a month it kind of shocked me. I work full time and have a commute as well, so my goal is a book every year at best. My current project, the debut mystery thriller in a series has taken about two years. I’m hopeful that the few of us that put quality over quantity see our books rise up to the top of the rankings, but with hundreds of thousands of new books coming out every month there may be too many choices for the reading public. I wrote a similar topic recently on my own blog stressing the need for multiple revisions and the use of an qualified editor. By qualified I mean someone who knows what the various types of editing are all about. I’ve had too many people find out I write and off to edit my work. When I engage them in a discussion about editing it seems that most folks think editing means proofreading. Glad to find a site that is the “Gatekeeper” for indies.

  5. Martin Crosbie says:

    Thanks Lorraine, that’s interesting to hear about the comparisons with the music business. Reminds me of the line “the only thing that stays the same is change”.
    Things will keep changing and all we can do is look after our own side of the street and keep trying to produce quality, professional material.
    And, places like BRAG are going to be more and more important in terms of readers knowing where to go to find material that has reached a certain standard.
    Thanks for your comments Lorraine and Geri.

  6. Derek Birks says:

    The sheer volume of books produced is a little frightening – both as an indie writer and as a reader trying to find books I like. I tend to agree that the glut of not-so-good books just goes with the territory. One has to believe that quality of writing counts.

  7. Geri says:

    Quality absolutely does count- the problem is letting the reading public know which books are worth their time and money. Hopefully we here at indieBRAG are doing this. A favorite saying of mine is-“You don’t often get a second chance to make a good first impression!” Before hitting that “publish” button, a writer better be sure their book is the very best it can be. This means the best book and not just the best self-published book. I fear once burned, a reader will not come back to an author who put out a book of poor quality.

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