Genre Talk

Lies, and damned lies…

kool-aid-1If you haven’t been drunk or under a rock (or, ahem, living in the real world, which doesn’t actually give a damn) you’ll have heard something this week about author Hugh Howey’s Amazon stats.

Y’know. The ones that PROVE that self-publishing is BETTER GODDAMIT because Amazon data scraping and graphs and charts and shiz… and then there was this post here from Dear Author (summary: statistical wtf?) and this one from Courtney Milan (summary: common sense as well as statistical wtf?) and this one among a dozen others plus comments yes read the comments (overall summary: Hugh HOWEY in a KONRATH SUIT frickin’ Kool-Aid do you think we’re stupid WTF?) and here’s a link to Konrath on the subject… or not. Hah! Fooled you. Google that fine gentleman, if you want. I won’t enable.

Anyway. Some people think Howey’s stats prove what they’ve all been saying all along, that self-pub is the only and best and gold-plated way and the big pubs are just lying to you, man. Some think the figures are an intriguing snapshot of a few hours of one retailer’s data, but prove nothing in general. Still others say that it’s all very well to show the figures for a few bestselling books on any given day, and thanks very much Hugh, but it all counts for three-eighths of nine-tenths of jack shit when it comes to deciding what any particular author should actually do.

Whichever way, everyone seems to have an opinion.

Or not.

What about you? I’m not asking authors. I’m asking readers. Do you, as a reader (and we authors love saying that) – as a reader, do you even look to see who a book is published by before you buy? Do you admit to a bias against self-published books, because of quality or editing or whatever? Do you have your indie on, and are  biased in favour of self-pub? Or are you, in fact, format and publisher neutral?

cavemanDo you care how much an author (or the publisher, or the retailer) makes from your purchase? Do you, in fact, wander around Barnes & Noble saying to your friends, “Well, Fred, I’d love to buy this here shiny paperback, but I happen to know that the author only gets eight measly percent from their greedy big 5 publisher, whereas if I buy the ebook edition, they’ll get twenty-five!” Whereupon Fred pipes up and says, “But Sven, at this small digital press over here, they get forty!” And then Sven says, “Well, fuck it, Rufus, let’s go buy some self-pubbed books so they’ll get SEVENTY!! Amazon is so AWESOME!!”

Or do you just go, “well, I want this book, because it sounds brilliant, and I don’t care if it’s a self-published ebook with bad spelling or a glossy Big 5 hardcover with embossed silver lettering and a cover quote from Jesus Christ or a scrap of ancient parchment written in stale mucus and tied to the leg of a plague-ridden carrier pigeon because OG WANT READ…”

All and any comments welcome. We’re interested. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the glassy fake world of author-ness, where this shit matters.

P.S. One more thing. As a reader of paranormal (which I’m assuming you are, or you wouldn’t be here listening to me rant and dribble) what do you think of the influx of self-pubbed books in our genre?

Because {cough, I might be about to become unpopular, but I’m just calling it the way I see it, cough} it seems to me that the paranormal and urban fantasy bestseller lists (shut up, okay? If Hugh Howey can extrapolate THE LAWS OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE from an hour of Amazon bestseller lists, then I can at least sell ‘em to buy a pack of gum) the paranormal bestseller lists are chock full of the exact same shiz we’ve all been trying to sell to NY for the past five years, but got rejected for ‘not fresh enough’ and ‘too much the same’ and ‘I have something just like this already’ and ‘what, MORE kick-ass-chick vampire-hunting demon werewolf angel circus-acrobat Navy SEALS in space? Snore.

Editors were bored. Editors were frustrated. Editors were so over it… but it appears that readers weren’t. Sheesh, it’s like every old, ragged, beaten-to-death idea any of us ever had and dismissed as unsellable is now published, complete with lovely bad-dialogue sex scenes and cringe-worthy cliched cover art that looks like it’s from the late nineties… but don’t knock it, because people are buying it.

By the squillion. According to the Amazon lists – because Amazon KNOWS, y’all – it’s “what readers want”.

So what do you think? Is it what readers want? Were those bored, over-it editors right to try to move on? Or is this, for you, the true beauty of the self-pub ‘revolution’: you get what you like to read, over and over, until the end of time – and who cares who published it or what format it’s in?

26 thoughts on “Lies, and damned lies…

  1. It never even occurred to me to check the publisher. I get books to read the story, not to enrich shareholders.

    Remember “the play’s the thing”? (Not sure if that was Shakespeare or not.) Well, for me, the story’s the thing.

    • Exactly. I imagine a lot of people do just that. When you’re in the book industry, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in stuff like who publishes what – and in the big scheme of things? It’s pretty much irrelevant to the consumer.

    • It also occurs to me that that takes a lot of pressure off of authors – we don’t have to try to follow trends before they peter out or try to discern the next one coming down the road. We’re free to write the story we have in our hearts.

  2. I never check the publisher of a book. I buy whatever interests me. The caution I have with self publishing is that it needs a good editor. Some books I have purchased were just poorly edited and it detracts from the story. However, I think self publishing allows the author and the reader to try something different!

  3. I do read books that I know are self pub’d. There are a lot of mystery series that have been dropped by traditional publishers which the authors have continued. And I have read a number of indie paranormal books too. I don’t really care who publishes a book. If it’s good I’ll read it. But my biggest turn off is poorly edited self published books with typos and formatting issues.

    • Regarding typos and formatting issues, though, when I first got my Kindle, I paid about $10 for “The Wheelman” by Duane Swierczynski. It was a good book, but it was riddled with typos and formatting errors. This despite its having been published by Macmillan and priced accordingly, so I have a hard time buying the argument that the higher prices the “Big 5″ charge buy you quality.

  4. Okay, I know I’m an author as well as a reader, so I’ll wear two hats. As an author who keeps getting told “no more paranormal,” HERE, HERE! But I’ll add that it’s a self-feeding issue. Sales have fallen on Big 5 paranormal because so many self-pubbed paranormals are coming out that the reader dollars are spread across more options. Big 5 has interpreted that as “paranormal bubble burst,” but I don’t think that’s true. It’s more like “paranormal options explosion.”

    As a reader, no, I don’t check who publishes a book unless it has a really ’80s cover (forget the ’90s) and the blurb has a grammatical error or typo. I’m amazed by how many of those I see. Those red-flag me and I won’t pick the book up. But it’s not because they’re self-pubbed; it’s because I can tell no one took the time or spent the money to get a decent cover and an editor.

  5. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain.

    I did have one bad experience with a self-published book. It was a local author at a book singing, and the book really needed some editing help, read it anyway. Other than that I don’t care who publishes the book. I do have some publishers pages bookmarked, think Tor.com.

  6. I’m not a reader of paranormal; but I have a friend who is an author of paranormal and she linked this on Facebook, so I can’t speak specifically to that issue. But as a reader generally, I am barely aware of who publishes what I read. I only go as far as “barely” because there are a few imprints that I am aware of which, in turn, indicates publisher.

    Self publishing carries no stigma for me. Some of the issues that can go along with self-publishing do – a crappy cover can turn me off of a book, but there are at least some “Big 5″ books with crappy covers, too.

    In terms of format, I almost exclusively buy ebooks, which I read on my Kindle, though I don’t buy exclusivity from Amazon. I guess that points to one preference I have in the “indie” vs. “Big 5″ debate. I am generally unwilling to pay paperback prices for ebooks, and smaller publishers and self-pubs seem to price ebooks better than the “Big 5.”

  7. Great post Erica, thank you!

    I am absolutely not interested in the publisher of a book, I buy books because I admire the author’s work. But as I still prefer paper books over ebooks, I do end up mostly with the big publishers I guess. As self published is not often for sale as paper books, or way too expensive because they are print on demand. If I already love an author or series, I will follow if they go to self pub route. And yes, then I will get the ebook somehow (in casu: Chenoire by Susannah Sandlin). But trying new authors by buying ebooks, that is not for me.

    I hate it when publishers decide to end a series, especially if the last book had a big cliffhanger. And yes then I do hope that the author has the right to self publish the next book herself. Which is another thing I can get very mad about, if the publisher doesn’t want the next book, do give back the rights to the most important person in this list: the author. She is the one who creates it. Without authors and their imagination and hard work, there are no publishers anymore.

    In Germany it is even worse with the Harlequin books (or series like them) they sometimes don’t even put the authors name on the cover, they think people buy a series. A genre. For me as a reader, I buy an author’s work, and I don’t think: o that is paranormal romance as well, I will buy that one instead.

    But ladies, paranormal romance and urban fantasy is not dead, please keep writing it.

  8. I do look to see if the book is indie or NY published. It wouldn’t necessarily stop me from reading the indie, but might sway me to buy/read the NY book for the same reasons a lot of other people have mentioned: poorly written and edited books by self-pubbers who seem to justify the lack of quality control with $.99 prices. That’s not a good trade-off for me as a reader.

  9. As a PNR/UF reader I cannot tell you the amount of times the “big 5″ dropped a series because low sells and author turns around and self pubs the rest. What I love most about my freaky reading habits is Amazon ebooks if I have to return it because I will not read past chapter 3 makes no judgement. If an author is willing to write quirky books I like to read woohoo. I don’t even look at publisher.

  10. I am probably about to become unpopular here. I have been an indie supporter, BUT I have grown tired of trying to slog through the quagmire of poorly edited slush that has tried to pass itself off as high-class ice-sculpture. I just finished one book (for a tour company) and it gave me a headache with the author’s lack of understanding of plurals and possessives, misuse of “heal” for “heel”, “waive” for “wave”, and absolutely abysmal sentence structure. I no longer purchase self-published novels unless that author FIRST had a long run as a professionally published author so s/he understands the importance of good writing and great editing. A good story line is important, but if it’s buried in crappy writing, I’m not wasting my money on it. I’ll stick with the big guns, thank you. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way.

  11. I do check the publisher. And yes, I am an author (self-pub, small press, and NY), but I am a reader first and foremost. I grew up buying books in a bookstore and I expect that my age (50) has something to do with checking publishers. I was reading fantasy and I knew what I would get out of a Tor book vs. an Ace book vs a Baen book. Mysteries and thrillers were different. I could scan shelves for the little handprint that showed Berkely Prime Crime and knew I was going to get a cozy mystery. When I shifted to romance, I was still reading a lot of suspense, so I started looking for the star on the spine that showed it was a Mira book.

    In short, I was trained, and trained well, to look at publishers in order to find what I wanted.

    When I first got my Kindle, I learned to look at Amazon the same way I had looked at bookshops. The cover took on more importance because I was seeing the cover before the imprint on the spine, but I still took time to look at the imprint. (There were no self-pubs yet, really, the vanity press stuff still ruled.)

    Now, I look at imprints, covers, prices, and cover copy. It takes on average three times as many recommendations from people I know to make me read a self-pub book and when my own self-pub book comes out this summer I expect to face that same kind of disadvantage.

    Every book is different, but in this age of more choices and more decisions to be made, I am finding that looking for the imprint helps me more than it ever did. Sometimes, yes, I get a stinker from a big publisher (and by that I don’t just mean the Big 5 NY, I also mean Harlequin, Angry Robot, Kensington…). But it’s not nearly as often as it is from the micro-presses and self-pubs.

    On the other hand, if you’re an indie author and I buy and like one of your books, I have a tendency to trust you quite a bit. I assume that from book to book you will have the same copy editor (not always true in big pub houses) and the same formatter. I remember reading Rachel Grant–romantic suspense self-pub–and immediately glomming the other two because I knew they’d be good and I could afford to.

    So, yeah. I read it all, but it’s much harder to GET me to read a self-pub.

  12. Team Traditional. (Sorry, hybrids et al.) I tend to believe (foolishly, perhaps) that traditionally published books have been through more gatekeepers, so the quality should be better. And that traditionally published books are more likely to be reviewed by trade magazines, rather than just fangirlies. (Yes, trad-pubbed are reviewed by fangirlies, too. But they ALSO get trade magazine reviews, and that’s important to me.)

  13. I work for an indie publisher and read voraciously. I don’t have a bias against purchasing authors who use the traditional route of seeing an agent + Big 5 publishing house. I did not, though, as a buyer, appreciate the price fixing efforts that started a few years ago. I travel so much that I do buy books primarily for my Kindle and to see that I was paying more for an e-book than I would for a paper copy…well. That was not cool and it began to strip away my impression that the larger publishers are interested in quality literature, that they are gatekeepers of great books. This became especially clear as I began to notice more and more errors in the e-books that came from those same, expensive large publishers. It was as if they were publishing their pre-proof copies as e-books. That is what started me down the path of purchasing more self published or small publisher titles.

    I will grant that not all small or medium sized publishers are equal. Of course they aren’t. Most certainly many self publishing authors are in dire need of an editor. But the idea that they’re all low quality because they aren’t a Big Five is not the responding correlation. So many barely adequate quality books have been coming out of the larger houses (and let’s be honest, they always have) that I no longer find the argument that “large house = better quality” to be a compelling one. I feel much better about spending my limited finances on a cheap e-book that has errors but a good story than I do about spending triple the price. The larger houses are reducing their editing staff and cutting corners everywhere they can. As editors who are competent, but unable to find employment in the large publishers, begin to work with some of these mid sized publishers, I think the margin of quality will change.

    Of course, that still leaves self publishing in its own little sphere. Self publishing is sort of like participating in an office white elephant gift exchange — perhaps you get a great box of chocolate, but your friend gets a pair of ugly socks. Next time, you get the socks. Yes, the likelihood that you will purchase a book with some grammar errors is much higher with self publishing. But look at what you could be getting: a potentially solid storytelling experience at a fraction of the price. I generally look at buying a self published book like I would at sitting down for an hour of TV or a night at the movies. It might be trite and dull, or it might become my new favourite thing. And if you’re a reader or author of a niche genre, I think it provides an excellent opportunity to find things you like to read or get a story you want to share out into the world. I think that breaking down that particular aspect of big publishing gatekeeping is a good thing for both readers and authors. I think it’s also something that makes the big publishers really nervous. They had their own graphs and charts about what was and wasn’t worth their time. And with big print runs, and stocking bookstore shelves, and paying advances, etc. they probably weren’t wrong on the large scale. Self publishing and print-on-demand changes that entire equation for readers and authors, but not for the big publishers yet.

    tl;dr Back to your first question. What I normally do before purchasing is to look at a combination of the publisher’s information, the author’s information, goodreads discussions, and the reviews to see what is being criticised. If it is the plot or characterisation, and the comments make it look deeply flawed, I’m not likely to buy it at any price or from any publisher. If the plot of a self or indie published e-book is praised, but the grammar is noted as needing work, I may purchase it. (And I might have a chance to laugh when said reviewer is saying something like “if your not too worried about grammar, you won’t mind”.)

    I will say, though, that I feel the best chance you have of finding a really good book is to be a part of a reading community. That means that someone, sometimes (and it might be you) will “take one for the team” and buy a dud. But it also puts you in the path of some great reads.

  14. Great comments! And I agree that editors got tired, and readers did not… I’m guessing contemporary will be the next bubble. They are churning them out so fast right now it makes my head spin! Yow!

    But knowing that self-publishing is available for authors is a HUGE freeing thought. Your story won’t be under your bed because publishers have released a glut of them… Not anymore… I love that!

    Lisa :)

  15. Personally speaking as a reader, I go by book summaries. I can’t tell you the last time I checked who published a book. And if it’s an author I enjoy, I’ll read whatever I can get my hands on, whether it’s self-published, small press, Big 5, or what have you. In short, it’s story over company for me.

  16. I rarely look at publisher, I tend to avoid the ones though that i’ve had several bad experiences with though I read a lot of books and that has indeed been a decline in quality from the big 5. I’m reading more self-published books these days too as the quality out there is starting to improve. But you do still find the ‘ugly socks’ here and there that really needed an editor to poke at it with a stick

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