The birth of blogging was heralded as the death of traditional publishing. Now anyone could be a writer, and anyone could see their words distributed to any audience anywhere.
It also meant that anyone could be a writer. The editorial barriers to entry were gone, and content of all types and qualities began to make their way online. 1
The birth of vanity publishing was heralded with similar praise and prediction. Websites like Lulu.com meant anyone could become a published author overnight. No more long processes of sending manuscripts into obscurity and just hoping that an editor somewhere would pick you up and publish.
It also meant (again) that anyone could publish anything.
The First Hundred
When I first began blogging in 2007, my goal was to build a body of content worthy of traditional publishing. I worked diligently to regularly write feature-length articles and set what, at the time, felt like an insanely ambitious three-day-per-week publication schedule.
I wasn’t picked up by any professional shops. I didn’t even receive stellar traffic on the site. 2 Instead, I took a half day away from freelancing and writing to build my own manuscript and published Mindshare Marketing: The First Hundred on Lulu.com,
I think, to date, I’ve had a total of 2 sales of that book. Only one of them was me, so I’d consider it a success. But I won’t be pushing for Amazon or Barnes & Noble to carry this title any time soon because, honestly, it’s not that good.
It’s been a great experience, and I look forward to continuing to publish titles under this imprint. It’s taught be a lot about the editorial process, marketing the printed word, and working with powerful wholesalers. 4
I love to read, and I take the opportunity to pick up new material every chance I get. Sometimes it’s spectacular. Other times it’s junk that reads as if no one bothers to proofread or offer editorial advice. More often than not, I find out that books in this second category were either published through services like Lulu or Amazon CreateSpace, of the imprint publishing the book is a vanity shop owned by the author.
The ability to publish one’s work independently has definitely challenged traditional publishers, but it’s also dragged the quality of published work down considerably. Anyone with an idea can now be a published author, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
As the median quality of novels goes down, so does the price sellers ask from their customers. Just as we’ve watched software applications drop to and below the $0.99 price point, 5 we’ve watched the price of books drop for $29.99 for a new edition to $9.99/month for unlimited titles via Kindle Unlimited.
The tale of indie publishing isn’t all doom and gloom, though. The fact that new authors can now find their way to bookshelves and readers’ homes where stuffy publishing policies would have otherwise blocked them is inspiring. The trick is twofold: to help these new authors find quality editorial resources to review/edit/polish their work before release and to help readers wade through the mountains of muck to find the gems out there waiting to be read.
Sites like Geeky Library aim to do that, placing the burden of editorial review on a team of individuals and making recommendations to would-be readers based on their own experience. No one-off reviews like Amazon. No somewhat-anonymous reviews like mainstream news media.
Indie publishing has been both a boon and a bane to the world of publishing, simultaneously increasing access for new writers and muddying the waters for readers looking for new books. Seeing how things continue to develop in the next month/year/decade will be very telling for the future of the written word.
- Just think about the number of parody or intentionally misleading fake news sites propagated online. ↩
- The first time I had more than 10 unique visitors in a week I thought it was a mistake by Google Analytics. ↩
- One was a very limited print run of an outdoors botany guide. You can only purchase copies of the book while on-site at the region it covers. ↩
- In the publishing world, you’re essentially required to avail your titles to large booksellers at a 50% discount. You’re also required to allow returns from these booksellers, at their full payment price, in perpetuity if they decide their inventory is not maintainable. For a small publishing shop, knowing that the 10 copies you sell today might be returned for a full refund 3 years from now is incredibly stressful. ↩
- A price point wholly unsustainable for all but the most successful (or lucky) development shops. ↩