Monday, 7 February 2011

More thoughts on the mysterious realm of the ebook

Back in Cambridge at the moment...and I should be working, but I'm a bit tired from reading all day and it's not long until I'll head off for some food. But there's just enough time to write a quick blog. On the writing front, I've not done a huge amount of late (the rewrite of 54321 is around 5K at the moment), but that's not a surprise because I'm so busy with Cambridge essays and such.

However, I have committed myself to Critique Circle this term, and I'm managing to keep active there - chapter six of Zack is currently up for review, so it's making slow progress through the queues. I haven't yet looked through any of the critiques, but hopefully they're okay and there won't be too much major stuff to change when summer comes...

Because I keep going on Critique Circle, I keep seeing the 'hot threads'. A lot of them are about the epublishing fad. It seems as though everyone is getting epublished, or is at least curious about it. I've been thinking more about it, and I think there's a real danger that it could be swamped by people who aren't ready to publish.

Let me elaborate...

We all think we're amazing writers when we first put pen to paper. I remember finishing Shadow Lords and thinking I'd have it published by the end of the year (ahh, eight years ago and still nothing). I discovered Critique Circle after receiving two rejections and put it on there. Only when I received a bunch of honest crits from fellow writers did I realise how much work it really needed.

Thanks to that, I've worked hard over the years, editing, rewriting and writing new things. I know my style has matured and the quality of my writing has improved - but I would never submit something now without running it through Critique Circle first! I may one day find a break, when I have time to submit stuff to the publishers (I'm hopeful about Between Time and Zack).

However, imagine a new writer who has just written a book. They don't know about writing workshops like Critique Circle. They haven't read the 'how to' manuals. All they know is that they've written a book, and when they read it, they think it's great. They might have read it to their family and friends, who confirm their opinions.

So they send it out to agents and publishers, fully expecting something, and don't hear anything positive. Perhaps they're confused, perhaps they're angry. But then they hear that you can self-publish on Kindle, via Amazon and they jump on there, make a rough cover, and publish their book without a second thought. It's out there at last!

There have to be thousands of books on Kindle already like that - books that are simply not ready to be on read by the general consumer. You can usually tell from the cover design - the more amateur it looks, the less time has been spent in polishing in general. Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, cliches and wonky plots fill the pages, and the negative reviews build up.

What it makes me wonder, though, is what sort of wider implications this will have on the emarket. Has Amazon opened up a path to self-destruction for the ebook? It's easy enough to imagine: if readers have widespread experience of 'bad' books, isn't it likely they will be turned away from purchasing on Kindle? If it happens enough, won't the market fail?

That's one extreme. Another possible future for the market is that Amazon stops allowing anyone to publish online: only people who are represented by an agent/publisher. This would, perhaps, restore things to the old system. This option may not, however, be possible, as the gap left by Amazon ebooks may allow other sites to become popular for epublishing, based on the Amazon model.

Perhaps the emarket and the book publishing market can coincide. It may be that something similar to the production of the "penny dreadful" in the Victorian age occurs. The ebook market will gain a reputation for 'bad' books, but at the same time, because those books are cheap, their consumers won't mind. At the same time, the book publishing market will become the grounds for the more established authors and the 'better' fiction, bought by those who can afford it. It could perhaps even become into a literary/genre divide.

I don't know where children's literature fits into all this, however...

So, what do you think will happen to books? Do you think the ebook market will eventually kill off the printed market? Or is the ebook market, at least in its present form, unsustainable?