Thursday, February 16, 2012

Etc., etc.


This post is going to discuss several different subjects related to the world of the eReader. While at first glance they seem unrelated, they really aren’t.

“If the book was any good a publisher would have picked it up.”

If you haven’t seen or heard anything like this in reference to an Indie book, you are either new to the Indie book world or you haven’t been listening. This attitude is based on the assumption that a publishing house decides whether to offer a publishing contract based on the quality of a book. Good, “sign here;” bad, “no thanks.” If only anything in life was this simple.

Readers and publishers have different goals. Decision makers at a publishing house may look at many factors before giving a thumbs up or down, but the ultimate question is whether a book will make them money. Quality is often in the eye of the beholder, but only the most diehard Jersey Girl would point to Snooki’s book as an example of quality in literature (the average Amazon reviewer gives it three stars). However, the publisher had reason to believe it would make them a profit, and it probably has. If you’re a fan of an out-of-favor genre, say the western or any genre that doesn’t typically have paranormal creatures, you might feel underserved, but the publishers may not see the market for these selections as being large enough. An author might be the Zane Grey of his generation, but, chances are, nothing is going to get him a publishing contract.

Then you have the tastes of the individuals making the decisions at the publishers’. There are questions of capacity; not every book with potential can be published, and the infrastructure each publisher has in place can only accommodate a finite number of books each season.

None of this means that there aren’t bad Indie books, even horrible ones. Those are out there, and the percentages of these are higher amongst Indie books than amongst those traditionally published.

However, for anyone who persists in believing that, if a book is good enough, it will find a home, I think you’re kidding yourself. For evidence, I present this blog post. Read it and come back.

Yes, this book finally found a home at a publisher. Had the author or her agent given up (and they had every reason to do so), it wouldn’t have been. Note the positive reactions received prior to release and then the feedback, often contradictory, received from the many publishers who rejected it.

“There is a lot of crap out there.”

Yes, there is. In this section, I’m going to talk about one specific kind. I’ll use the same term as was used by the person who brought it to my attention and call it a “scam.” It definitely scams any reader who buys the “book,” and may have a negative effect on a legitimate author.

All of these book are partially (probably almost completely) excerpts of Wikipedia articles on a particular subject formatted and published as a book, either an eBook or a paper book. These books don’t violate any copyright law, because Wikipedia uses a “creative commons” license, which allows this if properly attributed. Those instances I’ve seen so far have always mentioned in the description that the book is primarily Wikipedia articles and are all non-fiction, although this might not always be clear. A little due diligence up front will prevent you from being taken in.

These scams have two variations that I’ve seen. The one I first saw is the mysterious case of Ira Krakow, “author” extraordinaire. <link to author search on Amazon> As I’m writing this, Mr. Krakow has 128 “books” available on Amazon, some co-written by Dr. Samuel Krakow (brother, son, or long dead grandfather?). Most are priced between $2.99 and $4.99. All appear to be participants in the KDP Select program, which means they are eligible for borrowing from the Kindle Lending Library. They will sometimes show up on the list of free books, which serves to bump them up on the various bestseller lists. I suspect there are others, just like Mr. Krakow, following this pattern. If you’re interested in sampling one of Krakow’s books, I might suggest The Story of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.


I’ll illustrate a variation using the example of Rashi’s Daughters, available in paper form from Barnes & Noble. The price, while high, isn’t out of line for many legitimate non-fiction books on specialized subjects. The description and even a sticker on the front of the pictured cover make it clear where the contents came from. In this case, the title is shared by a legitimate work of historical fiction, also available from B&N, which could cause confusion and lost sales of the other book. 


There is a theory, as yet unproven, that this may actually be a money laundering operation. Apparently, Amazon has banned this and other related publishers for not including the Wikipedia citation as well as publishing copyrighted material. If you’re interested in more on this, start with this article or this one, which talks about the money laundering potential with this variation of the scam using higher priced books.

“How do I wade through this crap?”

With so many more books to choose from and no sign of a slowdown, naysayers seem to think they won’t be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve seen many answers to this question. One of my favorites is author J.A. Konrath’s response, which is that people don’t seem to have any problems finding the best videos on Youtube. His point, as I see it, is twofold.

First, there have always been more books available than anyone could ever read. Yet we’ve always managed to make our picks. Some grab whatever jumps out at them from the racks at the grocery store or in the pyramids just inside the door of the bookstore. Those people can go to the Kindle or Nook homepages and have their choices narrowed to the same basic selections for them. Those who used The New York Review of Books or one of the many bestseller lists still have those options available. Word of mouth is still the most powerful and, I suspect, most common, and this still works.

Second, is that new methods to zero in on books you might like keep appearing. Many of these I view as an extension of word of mouth. I see Books and Pals and similar blogs this way. Simon Royle’s website, The Indie View, has an index of reviews from several different blogs. Sites like Goodreads and Library Thing are other examples. Amazon’s various recommendation algorithms are part of the answer. The latest tool I’ve become aware of is a new site called Yasiv. This site takes data based on Amazon’s recommendation engines and aggregates it in a visual display. On the blog associated with the site, examples show how this can be used to find the best books on a specific non-fiction subject. This same technique can find books you might enjoy based on another similar book that you liked.

You really think these are related?

Yes, I do. What do you think (on the individual subjects and whether they relate to each other)?

12 comments:

Dazrin said...

Thanks for the link to Yasiv, I ran into gnot.net a little while ago and this looks to compliment it nicely (Gnod also has movie and music searches similar to this.)

Dazrin said...

Hmmm, apparently I need to proof read better. That should have been to gnod.net, not gnot.net. Fortunately gnot.net is not up and running instead of being something obscene. (Although, with my luck it will be in a couple days...)

Helen Smith said...

An interesting post, as always. Thanks for drawing my attention to the works of Ira Krakow.

I like the wildness and the madness of the self-publishing world. If we had to read everything that was published, it would be tiresome. But I have a hard time getting through all the books I want to read that I know will be good, without worrying that I'm going to be compelled to read the crap. So... I think it will be OK.

BooksAndPals said...

Helen says, "I like the wildness and the madness of the self-publishing world."

I've seen the new world of publishing as being like "the wild west." I think that metaphor is fitting. Lots of opportunity. Some big winners and some big losers. Not a lot of rules and people having to figure out and learn what works and what doesn't. Some big winners and some losers. Often a lot of cooperation among a group to help all in the group hopefully succeed, yet ultimately having to depend on yourself. I'm sure I could go on and on (and already have).

SM Johnson said...

I was initially excited about discovering new writers to love through the "indie movement," but wading through the crap is exhausting. I find it increasingly frustrating that indie promotional events seek to manipulate Amazon rankings via "likes and tags" and "I'll five-star you, if you five-star me" techniques. As if readers can be fooled for longer than a page or two. But I guess that's long enough to get their money, isn't it?

Jessica L. Buike said...

I actually find just as much crap OUTSIDE the Indie world as in it!! In fact, several of my favorite reads last year were Indie books rather than traditionally published books. I appreciate this post, and shared a link to it on my blog today: http://authorjess.blogspot.com/2012/02/trip-around-thursday-happenings-in.html

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks Jessica and SM Johnson. One person's crap is often another person's treasure. Every time I want to be reminded of that I read the one star reviews on Amazon for the books that are almost universally considered classics. Even after you throw out those complaining about conversion, formatting, and other things having nothing to do with the story there will be many remaining.

Simon Royle said...

Thanks for the shout out, BigAl.

Agree with what you've written here. I saw, can't remember where now, a comparison between the Gold Rush and Indie Publishing - very apt I thought. Especially in reference to those "selling the Levi jeans" to the miners i.e. editors, cover artists etc.

I still buy and read "trad published" books, just as much as I do indie. Some are fantastic; some I stop reading because either the plot or the style loses me. I NEVER used to stop reading a book, never. But the fact is that I have enough reading material right now, to last a good few years - why suffer? I can point to quite a few trad published books that I forked over $10 or more for that I stopped reading (a few of the one's I stopped reading carried an endorsement by Lee Child - who must make a lot of money from that little side business - I no longer read books endorsed by Lee Child).

In fact there is no difference between an indie author or a trad published author - none.

What should be self-evident by now is that the trad publishing world simply cannot cope with the volume of work (content) that is being produced.

That bottleneck has gone.

@SM Johnson - agree that those tactics are underhand, but I think they are easily spotted - personally, if in doubt or a new author I always d/l the sample and read for a bit. And of course Big Six have been using similar tactics and indeed institutionalized some of them - How many times have you seen - "Her new Bestseller" printed on the cover of a book just released... how does that work?

Joansz said...

Simon Royle wrote, "- "Her new Bestseller" printed on the cover of a book just released... how does that work?"

Phillipa Gregory seems to have figured that one out. I couldn't get through even one of her books, and yet she is a best selling author. How does that work?

"In fact there is no difference between an indie author or a trad published author - none."

As an indie author, I'd like to believe that. Yet most trade published works have for the most part been properly edited. I don't think indies are quite there as yet. Professional copy editing is expensive--I know, I've paid for it and will do it again--but right now, it doesn't seem to be standard operating procedure.

BooksAndPals said...

"In fact there is no difference between an indie author or a trad published author - none."

IMO, that should be the goal of an Indie author. For many it is. Some aren't even close. I think it would be fair to say that the best of Indie authors are indistinguishable from trad published. By best I mean not only their ability to tell a story, but their understanding of the full publishing process and making sure their books go through this, even though they need to hire people to help with some aspects of it.

Joansz said...

Meant to mention, thanks for the Yasiv link--it is so cool.

Simon Royle said...

"Yasiv link--it is so cool."

Ditto - I just checked it out, great fun and useful.