The Literati. Who are they? What are they? From whence do they hail? I would define the Literati as the literary gatekeepers. They are the sophisticated readers. Generally, they have degrees in English–usually a Ph.D. or something like that. They are the editors of giant publishing companies; they decide which books to print and which to not. Because of them, you have received hundreds of rejections for that book you spent so many long hours writing. But because of the Internet, the Literati are losing power.
Because of the Internet and similar technologies, the ebook is becoming the wave of the future. One can find a whole horde of ebooks on smashwords.com and other sites ranging in price from just a few bucks to even free. Many of these ebooks are by self-published authors. The Literati tell us to avoid these self-published authors; they have not taken the traditional route; they have not passed the gauntlet… hence, their books are inevitable of poorer quality than those anointed with the blessing of the Literati.
I’m inclined to agree, but only to a limited extent. A book blessed by the Literati is probably going to be of higher quality than one you download for free from some random website. But there is a subtle issue here: how sophisticated of a reader are you? Will you pick up on all the flaws that a “lower-quality” ebook has? I have friends who read a lot. They are smart people… but they aren’t English majors. They probably would not notice a number of problems with a book that the Literati would certainly jump on. Yet, they still read quite a lot. Basically, my point is that the Literati suffer from literary skills that are too developed, as far as the marketplace is concerned. While it is good to refine your literary skills to such a high degree, one must realize that after a certain point it becomes esoteric. Only a select group of people will understand all the critical points and distinctions that separate a literary classic from the mass market. Like any other discipline, be it philosophy, mathematics, biology, or what have you, the Literati run the risk of submerging themselves in their own private language. Although there is such a thing as terrible writing which most educated individuals will recognize, there is also such a thing as “good enough” that will pass muster for all but the most exacting and technical minds.
It goes without saying that a writer should always want her book to be as good as possible, and,
given the choice, she should always go with an industry-level editor to improve her book, for improve it he will. My point, however, is that after a certain stage, the improvements gained will be lost on the bulk of the readers–at least for mass market readers. And mass market readership is where the bulk of profits come from.
What does this mean to readers and writers alike? Please, feel free to share your thoughts.
It’s official. I have to eat my own words because I’m now “selling” my dark fantasy ebook “Drasmyr” for free. Yep. I took the leap… or I fell on my own sword, I don’t know which. I’ve written a number of blogs on the changes ebook publishing are bringing to the industry. “Oh no!” I said. “Free ebooks are going to force all the other books out of production. Why pay five dollars for any ebook, when you can get something of comparable value for free?” I gloomily prophesied the imminent end of writing and publishing as the tsunami of free books forced down the prices of all books everywhere until profit margins shrank to nonexistent levels and the entire publishing industry collapsed in on itself. Well, I’m still waiting for that to happen; well, not eagerly.
Anyway, I guess it’s a question of branding. And the brand of an author is his (or her) name. I’m a beginning author. “Drasmyr” is my first fantasy book. At the moment, no one on the planet knows who Matthew D. Ryan is. And it’s my job to change that. The theory behind giving a book away for free is to develop a following. The first book acts as the hook; the rest of the series is where you will make your money (I hope). I spent several months trying to “sell” my book, but sample downloads were few, and actual purchases were even rarer. In the beginning, I was hell-bent against giving my book away for free. I mean, I had literally spent years slaving away, writing the best book I possibly could and now you expect me to hand the product of all that labor away for free? No way! I thought. By the time month four of sales had rolled around, however, my perspective on the matter had changed. I see now, that it’s not enough just to write a good book, you need exposure. And the best way to get exposure is to remove as many barriers to purchase the item in question as you can. The biggest barrier is price. Hence, I cut the price to zero. The number of downloads is increasing—not as quickly as I’d like, but it’s a positive sign.
This approach is more effective when you are writing a series. People are more likely to buy your next book, if they are already invested in the characters and plot that has come before. Fortunately, since “Drasmyr” was always intended as the prequel of a four book series, that’s a plus for me. I look forward to publishing the next book and actually charging money for it (Let’s hope the entire industry doesn’t collapse in the interim).
I’ve written previously on this topic, but I felt inclined to revisit it today.
The writing industry, like many other industries, is in the process of being transformed by technology, specifically the Internet. Technology is having a variety of effects on the written word, many of which are detrimental. First, the English language (and most probably all the other ones) are disintegrating beneath an avalanche of abbreviations. Dn’t u think so 2? The art of writing still exists, and there are a select number of individuals who can still make a living at it, but a new threat is rising. The ebook.
The ebook is, basically, a digital book. As opposed to the standard paperback or hardcover, the digital book can be copied almost endlessly, and transferred over wires and through the air. This leads to a few difficult issues, such as copyright problems, and perhaps even easier information theft, however, the ease of production and copying has led to a reduction in prices (excepting where a few monopolistic concerns are involved) and increased availability. If one visits a site like Smashwords one will find a host of books under $5 or even free, a far cry from the typical $10 or $12 normally required for a traditional book. A search on Google for “free ebooks” leads to a whole page of options where one can be entertained for free. One takes a risk, though, with a free ebook—because it is so easy to produce one, quality is not guaranteed. What has happened is that all the books which would normally make up the infamous “slush pile” at a traditional publishing house have found their way on-line. The result is a hodgepodge of books on everything under the sun, written at varying levels of ability.
It is the free ebook that I worry about the most as a threat to the writing industry. Whether intentionally or not, they may drive the more traditional publishing houses out of business. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But the problem is twofold: as the literary skills (dn’t u think so 2?) of the general population decline, the literary ability required to satisfy them will also decline. Combine this with an enormous influx of free ebooks, and the traditional book industry might have a serious problem. Why spend $12 on a traditional book, or $6 on a traditional book houses’ ebook, when one can get comparable entertainment from a free ebook? Taken together these factors may spell the death of the writing industry.
Perhaps I’m being paranoid. The writing industry has survived other technological upheavals in the past; perhaps it will survive this one as well. I hope so.