E-books, indie publishing and the future

I’ve run across a whole string of articles about e-books and indie publishing in the past day or so, and it seems like publishing is seeing the same trend as journalism — digital is starting to supplant print, and people going it on their own are becoming a legitimate alternative to the big firms in the industry. With obviously, in both cases, an entire spectrum in between.

In journalism, it means some bloggers are becoming brands that attract enough readers that they become a go-to news source for people in a specific field. In publishing, so-called indie authors, who publish through e-books and POD, are making a better living than a lot of mid-list traditionally published authors. And both changes seem to mean shifts in how things work in the industry as a whole.

Other similarities: In both cases, there’s a lot of dreck out there. Badly written e-books and boring or banal blogs are everywhere. On a purely numbers standpoint, the bad far outweighs the good. On the flip side, in both cases there are people who have gone the independent route, done a great job and cracked into the traditional world of publishing in that medium. For blogging, one example is Ezra Klein, who started with his own blog, then blogged for a number of specialty publications, online and print, before landing a job at the Washington Post. He’s my age, and he’s now getting paid to do what he started out doing on his own time. And there are indie authors, such as Amanda Hocking, who have parleyed their success selling their e-books into traditional publishing deals.

What’s interesting is that I’m seeing more and more anecdotes of people who start out e-publishing, build a fan base, and then use success there to land the traditional deal. It used to be that self-publishing was the kiss of death for a book — no reputable publisher would touch it. Now the most recent issue of Poets & Writers has a feature on the agents for four breakout debut novels last year, and one of them is an agent for a book that had been self-published successfully, then re-released by a major publisher.

The key things seem to be:

  • It works if you write a series
  • It works if you write genre
  • It works if you write quickly
  • It works if you have a good editor (hat tip: Kyrie)
  • It works if you’re able to market online to build a following
  • And, of course, you have to write a good book or books

So having lived through the shifts in journalism as we adjust to this new world where anybody can publish via the web, there is a part of me that wonders if it makes sense to go that route, at least with the Exeter short-story collection I’ve been noodling around with as I plot out the book series. I had been thinking that I would try and get some of the short stories published in magazines as a way to build my fiction credentials, since everything I have now is nonfiction. But with everything I read about the industry, it’s starting to sound like self-publishing to e-book might be the new version of that path.

Thoughts from writers and others in the publishing industry?