Monday, April 18, 2011

The Disturbing Trend In E-Publishing

In 2010 we saw for the first time that electronic downloads of books outsold hard copy books for the first time. That does not necessarily mean what it appears to on the surface however. E-publishers often sell very short works of fiction and poetry which traditional hard copy publishers wouldn't be able to make available because the cost involved in printing a hard copy of a short work would barely bring any profit. For instance, you couldn't very well sell a 10,000 word short story or essay for the same price as a 120,000 word novel, but the cost in putting together the print version of each wouldn't be much different. It's fairly easy however, and cost next to nothing, to make a work of any size available for electronic download. So by default, there are many more works available for download than there are for hard copy, and as such, there will be more works sold via downloads. But those downloads won't necessarily bring in more money for e-publishers.

Short works are in fact one of the good aspects to e-publishing. Let's say for instance, that you're a new writer of fiction. A short story through an e-publisher may be a good way to test the waters and see if anyone likes your work before committing to spending months, or even years, at hard work on a novel that no one will read. Also, starting your own e-publishing company is child's play, and there are times when self-publishing is actually the best way to go. For instance, if you have a popular website that focuses on a particular subject in which you have a fair amount of expertise, but you know there wouldn't be enough sales in writing a book about that subject for a print publication to take it on. Self-publishing can work in a situation like that where only a few hundred sales are expected. But other than these types of examples, a traditional publisher through a good agent is still the only road worth taking. The reason why involves a disturbing trend that e-publishing has brought about, and that trend involves a cesspool of sharks.

Many e-publishers will take just about anything you send them. It cost next to nothing to list books with online retailers. Some will even ask you to format your own book for them. They'll ask, no, demand, that you join some silly online network or mail-list, and then count on each of the authors in that network to become friendly enough to buy one another's books along with what family and real world friends the authors can badger into buying their books as well. Of course the author makes no money if what little profit they have goes into buying the books of their friends in the network. Many of the books may sell less than ten copies. But the publisher keeps the largest percentage of the profits, so all they have to do is publish as many books as they can to make a good profit. Instead of a handful of truly good authors selling thousands of books each, they'll have thousands of authors selling ten books each. They make a profit either way. The only one who really loses is the author. Actually, we may all lose in the end when we find the online book seller sites absolutely flooded with books, most of which never should have been written, let alone sold. It will become very difficult in coming years to find anything worth reading when you have to plow your way through mounds of sludge to find that one diamond in the electron stack.

I came across this posting in an online group by a women identified as Sandra who just had her book accepted by an e-publisher a few weeks prior:

Edits are coming along. But last night I realized 500 words into a scene, staring at white space, that most of an entire chapter was missing. Not just any chapter. THE CLIMAX CHAPTER, in ALL the copies I submitted to agents and publishers last January! ... Honestly, this is the confrontation with the head bad guy, the heroine in a potentially fatal position, the hero having to save her....of all scenes to go missing! ... I'm surprised it was accepted at all.
It was no surprise to me.

So how do you know if an e-publisher is one of the good ones?

Look online for posts by people saying they had a book rejected by them. Let's say the publisher is called ABC Publishing. Google something like "ABC Publishing rejected" or "rejected by ABC". If your search turns up empty, this is probably a publisher to avoid. And of course, be very leery of any publisher who demands that you to join any kind of online networking group. Look through their book catalog. Is it listed with Amazon? If so, Amazon has a service that allows you to browse through their books to see if you think you might like them before you buy anything. The publisher, however, can deny access. If a publishing house doesn't want perspective buyers to be able to browse books before they buy them, then there's a good chance they don't want you to know just how poor quality those books are. Don't go by excerpts. Almost any book can have at least a few well written paragraphs. And lastly, find out what kind of material the publisher asks you to send in for their consideration. Any reputable publisher will only want to see a few pages and/or a synopsis of the chapters, at least for the most part. If they say right up front to send them the entire MS, and especially if they ask you to format it to anything other than Courier, such as Georgia, Garamond, or any other popular font that e-publishing uses—this is a real danger sign.

E-publishing has a good purpose, but there are plenty of sharks in those waters too. Swimmers beware. You are your own best lifeguard.


  1. Good idea. Good luck with the publishing though. Let me know when it's out there.

  2. Well my publisher for this story is just as bad. Had I known that they publish erotica under a subsidary on a separate website, I wouldn't have gone after them at all.

  3. I bet a lot of them do this, not just books either. The only thing I can think to say is treat it like satellite (or cable) tv. Those signals are transmitted to your house even if you don't subscribe, you just don't get it from the satellite/outside cable box into your home if you don't pay for it. Nevertheless, the signal is still beaming down on you. It is up to you to choose to pay for the bad stuff or not. Same with the publishers, just stay away from ordering the bad stuff.

  4. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you