Why So Many Self-Published Books?

I just finished reading a young adult novel that was self-published. I will probably review it, but this is not a review. This is a reflection on the changes in the publishing industry. It looks sad from here.

Yes, some changes are technological. Amazon and Ebay changed the way many books are sold. Electronic books like those on Kindle and Apple iBooks have changed the medium.

But the biggest change seems to have little or nothing to do with those things. Publishers have simply cut back. Blame it on consolidation—most American books are published by two conglomerates. They may have many imprints and divisions, but chances are those are merely subdivisions of the giants. With consolidation comes staff cutbacks and more interest in the bottom line and less about what is good writing.

First, this means that a writer has limited places to get published. Most publishers nowadays require an agent before even considering a work. Of course, that is a great Catch-22. Agents won’t represent anyone who has not been published.

What this means for many writers, like it or not, is self-publishing. One problem with self-publishing is that it is self-promoted. If the writer does not have a network or is not a skilled salesman, there is little chance of getting noticed.

Some are capable of doing this to some degree. A local cookbook author comes out with a new book every year and sells enough copies to local book stores, gift shops, and libraries to make it profitable. Another local writer has made book presentations wherever she can and has generated some online buzz that she has broken even.

I have recently read two books—I will no doubt post reviews here eventually—that were published by the self-publishing arms of what at least used to be legitimate commercial publishers. Both are excellent books, and had they been promoted by the publisher, they both could have done well.

The YA book I mentioned at the beginning is one of them. It reminded me of a book from one of the Scholastic Book Clubs that I enjoyed when I was a kid and remember even today. The plotting of the newer book may actually have been better.

I do not know why the publisher’s commercial arm did not pick it up. They would have designed a more effective cover, likely come up with a better title, and they certainly would have caught some editing problems. For example, I noticed the “subjunctive case” (cases are for nouns and pronouns, not verbs), the Beatles’ “Yesterday’s Gone” (they did “Yesterday,” “Yesterday’s Gone” was by Chad and Jeremy), and two different spellings for the name of one of the main characters. An editor would have caught those as well as other typographic errors. Too bad. What has changed? Have editors gotten lazy?

There are simply fewer of them. Even thirty years ago most editors were recent college grads being paid peanuts. Now a lot times they are unpaid interns. Those who are paid are encouraged not to take risks. With a generation of “politically correct” grads coming out of schools, the risk avoidance is even higher. Doesn’t anyone want to take a chance any more?

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