An American Editor

June 24, 2010

Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers

Here’s the question of the day: Why should ebookers buy and read an author’s ebook if the author him-/herself doesn’t believe enough in his/her own work to invest in it?

I’m not talking about investing time to write the book, but about investing money to perfect the book, such as by hiring professional production services.

Yes, we know, that hiring professional services is not any guarantor that an ebook will be a quality read. At worst professional services might eliminate embarrassing mistakes (see, e.g., On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! and For the Lack of an Editor, the Debate Changed); at best the work would greatly improve.

And there is also the problem of how do we identify an author who hasn’t invested in professional services before we buy the ebook.

These problems have moved again to the forefront of my thinking because yet again I have found myself staring at a couple of badly done ebooks. Thankfully, my Sony Reader has a delete button! Also, thankfully, these ebooks were inexpensive.

One of the things that has always annoyed me about some of my editorial colleagues who are independents (i.e., freelancers) is their unwillingness to invest money in their business — if it isn’t free or dirt cheap, they aren’t interested no matter how much it will help their productivity or enhance the quality of their work. Would I knowingly hire such a person? No, because it seems to me that a business that has pride in its work must continually strive to improve that work, and one signal of that attitude is investment in the tools of one’s profession. It is also one of the differences, to my way of thinking, between the professional and the amateur.

Just as this is true for the production aspects of publishing, it is true for the authorship aspects. Today, anyone with a computer and Internet access can proclaim themselves an author and publish an ebook. Because of how scattered the Internet is, there is no single source where someone must “publish” their ebook. But even if we say that Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords is such a site, none of them acts as a gatekeeper of quality; anyone with a manuscript can follow the process and be “published.”

Sadly, that is what too many “authors” are doing and the people who suffer are the readers. These authors aren’t investing in their books. If they aren’t investing in their books, why should the reader invest in them? Increasingly, I am becoming hardened to the idea that no ebook is worth more than $2.99 and even then I am balking, often limiting my looking to books priced at 99¢ or less. And this is bad — bad for me and bad for authors who really do care and who do invest in their books. But very cheap pricing lets me gamble on an ebook and then when I hit the delete button, not think I wasted a lot of money on garbage.

The obverse side to cheap pricing is that very good authors who have invested in their ebook suffer too because the market forces them to price competitively.

We’ve had this discussion before — numerous times, in fact — about the gatekeeping role. The loudest voices are those who dislike traditional publishers for lots of reasons, many of which are justifiable. But their alternative — to let the readers sort it out via the Internet — really is no solution; it is, as we are currently seeing, an invitation to chaos.

One proposal that has been bandied about is to have several friends read the manuscript and mark it up, make corrections, and have a group of friends read it a second or third time, each time making corrections. Works great until the first major embarrassment.

One author was promoting his/her ebooks and gave a synopsis of the plot in his/her promotions. I was intrigued so I went to Smashwords to look at the first book in the series. I stopped reading after the first few pages, because there were numerous errors. I wrote the author about the errors. The author was appreciative but surprised because the book had been edited by committee multiple times, yet these errors remained. Why? Because there is a difference between a professional editor (who is not perfect) and an amateur editor. This author got back the value of what he/she paid.

So amongst this chaos, how do I find a good ebook? With a great deal of difficulty. I’m not sure there is really a satisfactory approach, one that will assure me that at least I do not have to worry about spelling and grammar, but I am certain that I am unwilling to invest in an ebook by an author who is unwilling to invest in it. Unfortunately, because of the chaos of ebook publishing, it means I am becoming increasingly hardened to the exceedingly low price, which creates its own problems by not providing an author with sufficient income to solve these problems. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.

7 Comments »

  1. [...] is the original post: Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers « An … Comments [...]

    Pingback by Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers « An … « Ebooks Extra — June 24, 2010 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  2. You raise a interesting point, but this also applies to self-publishing in print as well. POD (print on demand) books more often than not suffer from poor editing, even though the author may well have invested in the book through purchasing an ISBN, paid editing, promotion, etc. I imagine e-book authors face the same dilemma. I think the solution lies in diversifying the industry. Currently, big publishing houses are the standard because they handle everything in house: editing, cover art, marketing, etc. Any author lucky enough to get signed has all this taken care of by professionals kept on staff. The major downside is that these publishers cannot publish everyone, not even everyone who may be worthy. There are too many niche genres, and publishers are mostly unwilling to invest in something not already proven. Look at paranormal romance. Once scorned, it’s now the hot thing. Can’t get your romance published? Add werewolves and your chances increase many times over.

    So, authors increasingly take whatever route they can. What we need are separate industries for these duties. An e-book author might be willing/able to invest in a professional editor, while perhaps skipping the marketing or cover design if they can’t afford to do those. For most readers, the most important thing is the writing. So professional editing would be worth the investment, but where do authors go for this? Lulu, iUniverse, Amazon’s kindle publishing – these can offer marketing and editing services, but they are not equal to true professional editing done by major publishers.

    You asked “Why should ebookers buy…if the author doesn’t believe enough in his/her own work to invest in it?” Maybe the question that should be asked is “Where should authors go to do this if they can’t get picked up by major publishers?” You also asked, “how do we identify an author who hasn’t invested in professional services…?” That one has a partial solution at least. You mention that you’ve been burned by poor ebooks. How many reviews did you write for those on distributor sites, like Amazon? How many did you write for ebooks that turned out to be great stories? Reviews are a great way to help other readers AND help authors.

    I have read many POD books and ebooks that had horrible editing. Some were garbage to begin with, and not worth my time even if the author had “invested” in them. Sadder though, many have been jewels in the rough that if polished would have been real treasures.

    Comment by J'aime Maynard — June 24, 2010 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t really equate ebook with self-publishing. Self-published books, whether in print or in ebook definitely need an edit by someone who knows what they are doing. Nothing will make me stop reading a book faster than simple errors.

    Comment by Marguerite Butler — June 24, 2010 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

  4. I should have elaborated a bit more. Not all epublishers are equal. Honestly, an author should NEVER have to invest in an editor if going with a publisher. If a publisher does not have a professional edting staff, run the other way. Period. If you are doing your own cover art, editing, and formatting, you might as well be self-publishing.

    I pay attention to which e-press something is published by. I’m a member of several reader loops on Yahoo. I scan the exerpts. When I see exerpts–which should be your strongest, cleanest writing–in dire need of an edit, I not only take a pass on that author, but on the publisher as well.

    Comment by Marguerite Butler — June 24, 2010 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  5. [...] whether we find physical bookstores less interesting after becoming immersed in ebooks. The second asked why readers should bother investing in crappily done ebooks when the author or publisher doesn’t believe in the book enough to put out a good [...]

    Pingback by Stumbling Over Chaos :: Lost lands of linkity — June 25, 2010 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  6. [...] believe in the quality or value of your own product (which makes me wonder why readers should; see Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers) or you would hesitate to accept the “good-enough” standard for your [...]

    Pingback by I Published My Book But Readers Keep Finding Errors « An American Editor — June 28, 2010 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  7. [...] The trend will, I expect, follow this path: Increasingly authors will “abandon” the large publishing houses and strike out on their own. In the beginning, they will believe they can do it all themselves, with the help of a few friends, and they will be encouraged to believe so by their organizations, such as SWFA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). But as fewer authors succeed in making a living from their writing, the trend will begin to alter and authors will start seeking professional help. (For past discussions along these lines, see, e.g., I Published My Book But Readers Keep Finding Errors and Question of the Day: Investing in eBooks by Authors & Readers.) [...]

    Pingback by The Times are Changing! Will Editors Change with Them? « An American Editor — August 9, 2010 @ 5:31 am | Reply


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