This very moment, as I sit at my computer sipping wine in between righteous thoughts, people are arguing over whether or not the new trend toward online self-publishing is going to bring any tangible results (read: money) to the authors who indulge in it.

A lot has been written about a few who have become hugely successful. By now, a lot of us know about Joe Konrath and Boyd Morrison and their unlikely triumphs in the e-world. “Flashes in the pan,” some say. “They’re not typical of what an author can expect if he or she self-publishes online.”

“But it’s the coming thing,” others say. “If they can do it, I can do it, too. I just have to work hard at promoting myself and my book.”

Pardon me while I take another sip. This is good stuff.

I have to come down on the side of the true believers. There are some big changes coming, and they’re coming sooner than we think. It’s not happening in a vacuum, though. There’s some historical perspective that should be considered.

Just a very few years ago, if you wanted to buy a book, you got your ass off the couch, went out to your car, got in it, and drove to a bookstore, or somewhere else that offered books for sale, such as Wal-Mart. Maybe you knew the exact book you wanted, or maybe you didn’t. Either way, off your ass and out the door, or else no book.

Then: Amazon. As home computers spread across the land, Amazon proved that people would sit home and order books by the millions. Before you could say, “One-click ordering”, independent bookstores all over the country started closing down. Even big chains like Doubleday were gobbled up by bigger chains. And when Amazon started the clever come-on of “now that you bought this book, you’ll love these”, people were instantly exposed to more books in that genre. Many people obediently bought some of those books that they might otherwise never have known about.

Amazon’s bigshots were undoubtedly sitting around one day asking themselves, “Well, now that we’ve got everybody ordering books from us, what do we do for an encore?” And somebody around the table blurted out “Kindle!”

So here comes the e-reader. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and even Apple begin shoveling these devices out as fast as they can. Dad gives Mom one for Mother’s Day, they give Junior one for Christmas, boyfriend gives one to girlfriend, and on and on. Pretty soon, millions of people have them and they’re buying NY-published books at $9.99 apiece. What a deal! Right?

Whew! My heart is pumping here. Time for another sip of the vino.

Okay, now Amazon is making about fifty billion dollars a day and the heavyweights are sitting around saying, “How can we top this?” And somebody suggests, “How about letting people self-publish on Kindle?”

Well, this one probably spurred a little discussion, you know, about letting just anybody self-publish or restricting it only to “real” authors. Of course, the open-door faction won that one, and here we are.

Millions of self-pubbed books will clutter up the e-bookstores for sure. And most of them will be crap. But many will be very good, and some will be great, and most if not all of these would’ve had no shot whatsoever with the bloated New York publishing world, insatiably thirsting for blockbusters. These gems WILL find an audience. Maybe not in the same easy fashion as Stephen King finds his audience, but the readers out there will open themselves up to these new authors.

How, you might ask?  For starters, not everyone lives in LA (something that is hard for LA residents to grasp), and therefore most of us lack easy access to quality bookstores. Amazon has proven that people don’t really need a neighborhood bookstore, or even a big-box Barnes & Noble.

Secondly, through online reviews and recommendations (which are being read more and more), self-published online authors will get their noses above the waterline. Remember, people who own an e-reader will never tire of finding books to download into it, and they will search these books out through online book clubs and reviews.

Thirdly, and this is very important, with prices of self-published books generally ranging from $1-$3, they look awfully good to someone who’s been shelling out ten bucks a pop for his favorite digital bestsellers. At that price, they can afford a couple of missteps without being discouraged. This goes a long way toward exposing them to authors and books they might otherwise never consider.

Some say that authors will now have to go online and slap a lot of backs and come across as a gregarious social butterfly, when many of us are in fact born introverts. Why should being an extrovert be a requirement for a successful author, some ask. To which I reply: for the same reason that a successful author is required to be a marketer, salesman, blogger, and book tour promoter. You know, the same stuff that NY publishers pay people to do, but which they now insist that we must do.

Finally, authors are now able to draw a straight line from their computer screens directly to the readers, much the same as musicians before us, who can now sell their albums directly to their fans without having to wait for the one-in-a-million shot at a record deal.

By the way, did I mention I have a rock & roll novel up on Kindle? No? Well, let me say that Cadillac’s Comin’, a hard tale of a rockabilly one-hit wonder who recorded for Sun Records in the 1950s, is now available at your friendly neighborhood Kindle store.

I think I’m going to pour another glass of this wine. I really like it.

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  1. Joyce Ann Fugit

    Well Heck,
    I wrote a paper on this a few years ago, which is not saved on this PC and I do not want to go upstairs into the hot attic and locate. Roughly it explained that following the invention of paper, then moveable type this resulted (but, keep reading):

    “The amounts printed were absolutely fantastic compared with medieval production. Scholars estimate–and this is a very hard thing to agree on — that there were somewhere between 8 million and 20 million incunables, or books printed before 1500. This, of course, vastly exceeds the number of books produced in all of western history up to that point. The amounts were so fantastic that some people saw printing as an invention of the devil. This opinion did not halt the spread of printing, however, and by 1600, scholars estimate that there had been about 200,000 different books or editions printed, in press runs that averaged about 1000 copies each. (This might seem like a small press run if you compare it with modern blockbusters, but it is roughly comparable to the size of a press run for a normal academic monograph published today.) By 1600, printing had also spread to the European colonies and empires in the Americas, India, Japan and China.”

    Unfortunately, in less than 200 years, there was only one official publisher in London and maybe 50 controlled presses in Paris (that is the citation I cannot locate right now.)

    So, e-publishing is nothing new; and, if there is money or power to be gained from it–someone will get it under control–I don’t care what the First Amendment says.

  2. Patti Abbott

    I think self-publishing will only work for those who have published and grown known through traditional publishing first. Like Joe did.

  3. Mike Dennis

    Patti–Boyd Morrison is the prime example of someone who had no following, was never published, and still made a big noise through self-publishing online. Check out Joe Konrath’s blog. He mentions about a dozen others.

  4. Joyce Ann

    E-publishing has long been an issue in librarianship. There are several Discussion Lists and blogs one can join to learn what other librarians are thinking about the impending demise of libraries as we have known them. One of my favorite blogs is “The Annoyed Librarian.” She had her own site, but sold out to Library Journal a few years ago and can be located at their site under “blogs.” She is quite amusing and is practical and
    conservative, unlike many vocal liberal librarians. You can read this blog entry if you want; but the title pretty much sums up the content: “If A Library Fell in the Forest.” Her response favors a laissez faire attitude about the subject. The web site is: http://blog.libraryjournal.com/annoyedlibrarian/2008/12/04/if-a-library-fell-in-the-forest/. I believe she prefers martinis, rather than wine.

  5. nice post, thanks for shariong

  6. valuable info. thanks for sharing.

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