unpublished authors have complained that traditional publishing
houses do not look for, support or grow new voices. Recently,
many of those same authors have taken to the web like lemmings
and published their tomes through online publishing cooperatives
that release manuscripts via e-books or Print on Demand softbound
But on May
23rd Time Warner Publishing announced that it too will take to the
web and starting in January invite all those unpublished authors
to submit their work to iPublish.com.
This is the
first time in over a decade that a major publisher has opened it's
doors to authors without agents. Claire Zion, editorial director
of iPublish, expects to e-publish 20% of all submissions.
If you are
wondering who is going to slip and slide through the thousands of
unsolicited submissions iPublish gets -- just think Zeotrope --
In a similar
vetting process to that well known literary magazine, authors who
submit work to iPublish, will also have to critique others author's
initial selection process, iPublish's editorial staff will take
over. Most books will be only published in e-format. The best of
the best will also make it to print.
In an interview,
Zion was excited about the idea that for the first time editors
would not be the dictators of what should be published, but rather
There is no
question -- this is great news for authors.
But what does
all of it mean to readers?
How many of
the hundreds of thousands of new e-book and POD titles will be read?
How will they be discovered?
asked -- from the Chairman of iUniverse.com to the President of
Simon & Schuster -- has said that cream rises to the top. But how
will this work with so many new titles on the market? Sophisticated
search engines? Maybe -- but only if you already know what you are
looking for. Word of mouth? PR and promotion? Perhaps, but that
takes more time and money than most authors have.
As we sit on
the dawn of a new digital book age, one wonders about the upcoming
proliferation and democratizing of the book biz.
currently unhappy about what is currently being publishing? Are
readers complaining that there aren't enough good books out there
and combing the web to find the hidden gems?
spend 100 hours (not in one sitting) talking to readers at AOL's
Book Report chat room - Bookaccino. (AOL keyword: TBR)
chat rooms, there is nothing unsavory going on in Bookaccino unless
you consider talking about Hannibal Lecter at 2AM unsavory.
Carol Fitzgerald, creator of
The Book Report Network , Bookaccino is monitored 24 hours a
day, seven days a week by book obsessed volunteers who keep the
conversation on topic, greet chatters and offer reading advice.
of book lovers I talked to online are not unhappy readers. They
are discerning, dedicated, have their favorites and are not easily
persuaded to try anything unproved.
distressing is that they are already overwhelmed by the amount of
traditionally published fiction already on the shelves.
complaint is an oft-repeated phrase "Too many books …
too little time."
When I asked
these fans of authors as diverse as Anne Perry and Brett Easton
Ellis if they would be interested in e-books by new authors I'd
recently heard about on line, they scoffed in unison.
"Too many books
… too little time
as it is," they replied.
In fact one
night they were down right rude to one author who came in to chat
up the novel she had just published with Xlibris.com. Fans may flock
when a traditionally published author does a chat -- but a self-published
author garners no respect from these bookaholics.
When I asked
the Bookaccino readers if they felt they were being spoon fed the
same old, same old by NY's publishing houses, they disagreed vehemently.
"Too many books…too
little time," they repeated.
threw out new books and new authors at me faster than any search
engine could. They listed newcomers in both commercial fiction and
genre categories. In fact they even recommend dozens of new literary
voices -- current favorites included: Charles Frazier, Chang rae-Lee,
Jumpa Lahiri, Zadie Ha Jin, and Jeffrey Lent.
were not interested in the titles coming out of web based publishing
I interviewed was willing to talk candidly about sales. The best
information I got was from one source that requested anonymity.
She admitted selling 500 copies of any single title would be very
a mere 55 copies sold in one week can get an author on the e-book
"99% of our
titles sell a few dozen copies at best," another e-publisher told
me. "No one I know in the business is making any kind of profit."
So it's no
surprise that when you talk to these same e-publishers about marketing
you get even more dire information.
have plans on how to get individual titles to the reading public.
Too many books,
too little time. Add to that too little money to put into marketing
What's a writer
to do? Especially a writer who is sure that his or her manuscript
was passed over unfairly.
Well, to be
fair, in the traditional publishing world some great manuscripts
do get lost in the vetting process.
A typical NY
agent gets over 25,000 submission letters a year. Of those, about
1200 lucky writers get their SASE's back with a note asking to see
the full manuscript. Of those 1200, about 5 will get offers of representation.
Multiply that by all agents and you get about 350 new authors a
year who are chosen for representation.
Of those, about
half get published. That leaves about 150,000 authors who don't
Which is where
the new author as auteur theory comes into play.
Now that self-publishing
or cooperative publishing is as easy as e-mail and just as free,
many authors are trying the do-it-yourself route. Even authors who
are currently published by the NY houses feel they have to supplement
their publisher's publicity budgets.
in fact, the original auteurs, long before movie directors were
pinned with the label.
When a movie
director is called an auteur it means that he or she is just doing
in a film setting what any prose writer does on paper naturally
and must do (which is why the task of writing a novel is greater
than the task of directing a movie). But for some reason many of
these movie auteurs have been great at promotion and publicity.
The book world
still has not seen any title come close to the Blair Witch buzz.
auteur authors must take marketing and publicity on as their second
jobs and moonlight in the shameless world of self-promotion.
A handful of
authors have tried it only to discover that self-promotion is not
for the faint of heart. It requires not only chutzpah but also brass
balls and a thick skin. And most important -- more time than most
But it's all
The real page
turner is: Who is going to concentrate on readers and figure out
how to introduce new authors to the public in a substantive way?
Who is going to apply creativity to the problem and offer up a break
filtering is always mentioned but no one has made it work as yet.
Someone had better hurry up. By the end of next year estimates are
there will be 500,000 new titles available via the net.
many books for readers who currently have too little time and not
a whole lot of curiosity.
© 2000 M.J. Rose All Rights Reserved
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