Self-publishing is booming...but not for authors
The rule in business is -- “It’s not what you expect, but what you inspect.” The self-publishing business is a model of high expectations and ho-hum inspection. Tales of woe from deceived authors fill the internet complaint departments. Some people are victims because they didn’t read the paperwork, but I did, and still the fog of confusion hangs heavy over the industry.
No author comes to this melee thinking s/he will be another John Grisham. We know we must start somewhere, but the blinders are on the whole way. My e-book’s International Book Number has not yet been sent to the Library of Congress. If that’s the case -- why don’t I just buy my numbers from Bowker? A publisher should at least have a checklist of what is not done by them. I was never told this.
Amazon has an arcane way of reporting book sales designed by some green-shaded computer whiz in the basement of a New York skyscraper. I know his name. It’s Al Gorithm, and he has not produced any information I can use. There is nothing to inspect.
I have 14 books in process. Book #1 was a short bellwether-book to make a path through the system from doc file to the bookstore, to the e-book store, to the royalties. Two years have gone by and I still have no clue. Amazon says I have sold books, and yes, it sells 47% of the books published in the English language, and yes, I know those guys are wildly busy, but a check for even $10.20 would let me know someone there was alive and interested in their business and mine as well. There is no way to inspect.
The Internet has literally dozens of companies whose ads promise everything, but what do they deliver? There are a few testimonials which might be doctored panegyrics penned by effusive Victorians, but no data -- no Google analytics or anyone’s analysis outlining before-ad-placement and after-ad-placement sales figures. We don’t need or want proprietary information from vendors, just proof that their hype is substantiated. There is nothing to inspect.
Furthermore, we need to know their limitations as well. I learned that Smashwords does not have a way to market my e–book to the Baltic States. I downloaded and printed every document describing their system without learning this. Estonia is the most e-wired nation in Europe; they even vote by Internet, so there will be no print book. I’ve struggled to find a company to handle this.
My Book #2 is unique material start to finish; I’ve checked against published books, so I require -- no, demand -- a Non-Disclosure Agreement. I have one with my book cover artist. It is protection for both of us. If I had this option I could at least start the business on a basis of trust.
Book Baby outlined with care the price of each process; that was helpful. But nothing about stuff I needed to do on my own.
The Internet has opened up the gates for good writers -- and bad ones too -- so they don’t need to be cut down by lack of transparency, a problem for fiction writers as well. There is plenty of Cloud out there.
Every artistic system has its barricades. It used to be the Guild System in Europe, so creative people moved to the USA. Hollywood has the casting couch, possibly after so much scandal a thing of the past. Publishing needs to open its doors as well. The notion that starving writers can shiver in their hovels writing the Great American Whatever is no longer an option. Well, maybe for a Russian dissident, but it won’t fly in the USA.
Cornelia Scott Cree is the author of Dream Interpretation & Biblical Symbolism (November, 2018), and Immaculate Assumptions: All the Stuff You Heard about the Bible that Isn't True (Immaculate Assumptions, Publishers).