This was a discussion panel chaired by Harry Bingham, founder of the Writers’ Workshop, and featured panellists from various areas of the publishing industry: a British agent, an American agent, a publisher, and self-pubbed author David Gaughran. As can be expected, the debate swung towards traditional versus self-publishing, and it was a fierce one. Here are just some interesting points raised:
The Transatlantic e-book divide
- There is mutual agreement that the UK is up to 2 years behind the US in terms of embracing the e-book. This Christmas is expected to bring about another e-book boom in the UK.
- Based on the popularity of e-books in the States today, it will only be a matter of time before they take off here as well
- Considering this, self-publishing is becoming more and more of a viable option for writers to pursue, resulting in higher royalty rates compared to the agency model
- Agents and publishers need to learn to adapt in this fast-changing climate: publishers have had to review old contracts to include an e-book clause, and some agencies have become publishers themselves in a way by re-releasing their clients’ back-lists and out-of-print titles in e-book form.
The Amazon monopoly
- Whilst the US has got the Nook and Barnes & Noble, here in the UK, the Kindle and Amazon appears to be monopolising the e-book market
- Now that Amazon is becoming a publisher in its own right, with various imprints, competition has become even tougher for both publishers and self-pubbed authors alike
E-book price wars
- With a smaller overhead, self-published authors can afford to sell their e-books at very low prices, something traditional publishers cannot compete against
- But does this devalue the worth of an e-book, and the hard work of the writer?
- Does a low price mean low quality? (Interestingly, here’s an article I came across about the most expensive e-books on the market)
- It is also worth noting that despite the successes of many self-published authors, the top spots in the Amazon e-book rankings remain monopolised by books from traditional publishers
- One suggestion for traditional publishers to remain competitive is to offer a free e-book copy to every reader who purchases a hardback of their book
Publishers as gatekeepers of quality
- While the agents and publisher both agree that there are some very well-written self-published books out there, they are concerned that these are overshadowed by the masses of poor quality works. How do you make your work stand out from the crowd? How can a reader separate the wheat from the chaff? With so many e-books on the market, having a publisher’s name behind a title is similar to having someone knowledgable recommend a book to you
- Self-pubber David Gaughran argued that the majority of readers may be able to name their favourite book and author, but how many can actually name the publisher said book or author is published under?
- While publishers being gatekeepers of quality may by and large be true, there are examples of traditionally published books by big-name authors with glaring errors in them
- David Gaughran explained how he maintains the quality of his self-published works, including investing in a good editor and cover designer. After all, his name is his brand, and he would not want to tarnish it with low-quality products
- He also mentioned the great flexibility allowed self-published authors to publish what they wish, regardless of market trends, and when they wish. (Susan Kaye Quinn has an interesting post on innovative self-publishers taking advantage of this flexibility)
- The question was raised as to just how critical and honest an editor would be if he/she was being paid by a self-pubbed writer to edit their work. And with the lack of a gatekeeper, could the quality of the story and not the writing, limit just how much an editor can help polish up a book?
- Finally, the agents assured us that they will happily consider a client who has previously self-published successfully, although the definition for “success” varies wildly between the UK and US: in the UK, selling 7,500 copies of your e-book may be considered a success, but in the States, they will be looking at 25,000 copies and up!
- One word of warning though: the publisher explained that sometimes a self-publisher’s success could be their downfall. Publishers may not want to take on a self-pubbed title that has sold, say 7,000 copies, because that’s 7,000 readers that has already purchased the book, and so will not purchase it again when the publishers re-release the title.
As with many of these panels, it is fair to say that many of us came away with more questions than answers, but it was nevertheless an interesting panel.
What are YOUR thoughts? Is Amazon becoming the world’s biggest slush pile? Are poorly edited self-published titles giving reputable self-pubbed authors a bad name? Are there ways to assure the quality of a self-published e-book you purchase?