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Self-Publishing Explosion: Good or Bad for Readers?

Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine.
Reading a Kindle in the beautiful sunshine. Used under Creative Commons License from tripu on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripu/8661744360/

I keep reading about the huge shift that’s happening in the publishing world, mainly due to the explosion of indie books. One figure said there are at least 3,500 books being published in the U.S. every day, and that figure isn’t complete because not all of the self-published books will have an ISBN and be counted.

Usually I hear discussions of what this means to authors—whether they can make more money self-publishing than with a traditional contract, whether they should jump on board the self-publishing train, how they should tackle the marketing.

But I started wondering…just what does this self-publishing explosion mean for readers, for the people who need to decide where to spend their precious book money?

Partially it depends on where you buy your books. If you still mainly get your books from a physical bookstore or a library, you may be missing the publishing revolution altogether. It’s still deadly hard for an indie author to get their work into those physical venues, for a variety of reasons. But if this describes you, did you know you’re in a very small minority—that most people buy their books online these days?

And the biggest retailer by far is, of course, Amazon.

So if you buy from Amazon or another online retailer—whether ebooks or print—you are now faced with far more reading choices than ever. Thousands more choices in any genre or style or cross-over than you could imagine. Self-published mingled with small presses mingled with traditional offerings from large houses—sometimes hard to tell apart unless you really do your research.

For you, the reader, is that good or bad? Again…it depends.

The very idea of all those self-published books out there, with no quality controls at all, just flung out there willy-nilly by anyone with a computer and the ability to type, may fill you with a nameless dread. They’re bound to be chock full of mistakes and bad writing, right? If they weren’t, their authors would get a real publishing contract, wouldn’t they?

I won’t lie. That’s probably true for some of the books out there. But let me ask you something. If you’ve mainly been reading the popular current fiction, or genre fiction put out by traditional houses, do you ever start to feel a little…let down? As though you’re reading the same thing over and over? Do those books ever seem a little bland and predictable?

As a reader myself, I had frankly been growing less and less enthusiastic about reading. I even noticed something strange I was starting to do. I would read a book all the way until the last couple of chapters and then quit. I wasn’t hating the book, and I had stuck with it that long. But there didn’t even seem any reason to read the last chapter, because without even reading it, I could tell you exactly what was going to happen to wrap things up.

As I started going to writers’ conferences—where we were warned about the evils of self-publishing and not “learning our craft”—one of the teachers on writing romantic suspense basically gave a laundry list of what a romantic suspense book must contain. (For example, the heroine has to be in a certain age range, and she must have an interesting profession.) In the climax, the heroine must be backed into a corner and her life endangered by the villain, and her hero must come to her aid, but she must not be passive. She should find a way to escape or to at least help overcome the villain. And then she and the hero come together in triumph and love.

Then I realized—that’s why I was putting those books down when I reached the predictable ending.

That’s also why my romantic suspense book, in which I tried to dash people’s expectations of the predictable ending, was getting turned down with suggestions for rewrites.

As blogger Jack Woe wrote, “A publisher’s job is to sell books. It’s safer to choose books that fit into the current trend than to take a chance, even though the chances tend to create trends when they’re successful…I don’t want to read the same story over and over and over again, only written by different authors. I want something new.”

Of course, as Hugh Howey points out, when you look at traditional vs. self-published books, you’re comparing “the tip of one iceberg (the books that made it through the gauntlet and into bookstores) with an entire iceberg (all self-published books).” In other words, readers now become the judges of what’s good and what they should read—but that means they’re faced with that huge slush pile that publishers usually wade through for them.

But there is more good news for readers. First of all, with Amazon ebooks, you can sample the books for free and check out whether the story grabs you, or whether it’s poorly written. Many times, you can get the whole book for free, or for a very low price. It’s a lot less of a commitment to sample and look for that one shining gem.

And instead of picking up a book in a store and seeing nothing but the blurbs and descriptions the publisher wanted to see, we now have reader reviews! If a book is poorly written, some reviewer is going to tell you so. And if a book can rise to the top of an Amazon list and be self-published, you know that book has something special, probably something new and refreshing, that’s grabbing readers’ attention.

So yes, as both a reader and an author, I’m excited about the new world of publishing.

What do you think? Have you read any self-published books? What have your reading experiences been—good or bad?

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