Kindle publishing – the new slush pile?

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I’ve become a bit of a Womans Hour listener while on my summer holiday, and quite enjoy the mix of discussion that they have – plus I find Jenni Murray’s voice very soothing!!

I listened to one programme in particular, hosted actually by Kate Mosse whose books I love and which I found fascinating, about publishing. The programme’s described thus:

Author Kate Mosse interviews Woman’s Hour Power Lister Ursula Mackensie on her role as Chief Executive of Little, Brown and Lennie Goodings, Publisher at Virago. Are fewer women reaching the top in publishing in the digital age? Former publisher, now agent, Clare Alexander; author and chair of the Society of Authors Anne Sebba and Philip Jones, editor of the Bookseller join Kate to discuss. Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement and journalist and reviewer Alex Clark debate why books by men, reviewed by men, dominate the pages of newspapers and journals.

I might talk about the male-skewed statistics another day, but for the moment this tallied with a particularly harsh article I read here (thanks to The Parasite Guy for directing me to this interesting topic!). The article suggests that all indie authors are all terrible (they use stronger language than that) who can’t write, want a quick buck and think the world owes them a living. In the programme, Mosse asks whether the indie publishing so prevalent on Amazon in particular is ‘the slush pile in which we all started’. The R4 programme is pretty balanced, really – the participants agree that there is some rubbish out there, but they are surprisingly (to me) positive about the indie publishing experience and that it can be a very positive thing for authors.

I’ve just published a novella on Kindle – Balancing Act – and several short stories before that, and I think that self-publishing this way can be a very useful thing for a new author to do. It encourages you to write better – to thoroughly edit, to make sure that you’re telling the best story that you can so that people want to buy it. The power of having an audience – any audience – is an enormous confidence boost; for anyone suffering low self-esteem or the chronic fear of ‘is this good enough?’ it is brilliant to realise that people you don’t know are buying something that you wrote!

Building the habit of finishing

It can be a training ground. I wouldn’t suggest anyone published something that they thought was terrible, but I would suggest that people who want to write publish. Whether you send it to magazines for consideration or whether you e-publish, writers need the habit of finishing work to the best of their ability and putting it out there for other people instead of just leaving it on your hard drive. At the end of every project, you should feel that you have done something worthwhile. I also often feel that if I was going to start this project again, I could do better – but that’s where moving on to the next project is incredibly important, because otherwise you run the risk of starting and restarting, and never truly finishing anything.

There’s a lot of argument to be had about it, but I think it comes down to some key ideas:

Are indie authors all simply rubbish writers who can’t get a ‘proper’ publishing contract?

No. Of course not. There are some great indie authors who write powerful, interesting work that for one reason or another aren’t with a traditional publisher. Conversely, there are some terrible ones as well. That’s inevitable in any platform which is open access. But there are some traditional authors who aren’t that good as well – they might have fixed the typos but it might still be a bad book, or even just simply not to your taste.

So how does a reader find a good book?

In exactly the same way as with traditional publishing! You listen to who your friends are reading, you read reviews (magazines, newspapers, online) and see what other people think. You browse the top 100, whether of fiction in general or in a category that you particularly like, you look at the ‘people also bought’ at the bottom of the Amazon page.

Once you’re on an item’s page, Amazon is great for weeding out books you’re not interested in – in just the same way as you can browse in a bookshop, you can read the blurb, look at the cover and read the first few pages to see what you think. If the blurb sounds like a rough translation or is badly misspelled, or the formatting of the first few pages looks terrible, then don’t buy the book! But if you like the look of it, the first pages get your attention and you want to read more – well, then why would it matter if an editor likes it, as long as you do?

The programme is available here.

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