Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Problem with POD...

When I talk to people not directly involved in self-publishing (as a writer or reviewer) I generally get one of two responses.

What?

or

Ewww!

Both people really don't know about self-publishing and have not come across, as far as they know, any self-published books. Once told about the phenomenon they usually continue to not really care.

Those who have come across it, in my experience, have hit something they didn't like. This isn't surprising, the only gatekeepers of quality are that the author has to be capable of finishing and publishing the book. And via a service like Lulu this is not anywhere near as arduous as it once was.

This means self-published books are roughly equivalent in average quality to the slush pile at a publisher. The general reader, of course, is not being paid to read this material--quite the reverse.

It seems to me that this means readers of self-published books fall into four rough categories.

1) Whoops I bought a self-published book.
If a local author slips a book on the shelf, a good proportion of the customers will probably not know that iUniverse or Lulu are not third party publishers. Of course this kind of distribution is rare.

2) The fearless adventurer
Some readers will take their chances, at least to begin with, and buy anything that looks interesting.

3) The niche reader
If a reader really wants a book about a specialist topic, and the mainstream presses aren't providing it, they will actively seek out self-published material. They will probably also be somewhat forgiving of variable quality.

4) The referral
Just like the editor dealing with slush, people can try and cherry pick the pile through recommendations and referrals. There isn't a publisher out there selecting what they deem the top few percent, but there are other ways to be selective. The difference is that the reader can try to be selective to meet their own tastes not that of a generic readership.

This is what we are trying to help with. But I wonder. Have any of our reviews influenced anyone's decision to purchase a book?

4 comments:

Will said...

I wonder if, at least partially, the problem with POD is the same problem as has always been with genre; it remains rather ghetto-ised. Messily compartmentalized, with some stuff in it that shouldn't be and quite a lot not in it that would fit just fine. The biggest example I can think of is Margaret Atwood, although a good current one is Cormac McCarthy. Sorry, but I've read the whole "man walks across post-apocalyptic countryside" thing hundreds of times, because I've read plenty of science fiction. But it won the Pulitzer, and Mr. McCarthy is a serious writer, so it can't be scifi, right? It's the same reason books like "The Lovely Bones" and "The Time-Traveler's Wife" are shelved in the fiction section, rather than the fantasy/science fiction section (respectively).

Because it seems to me that your four-point hypothesis/categorization can extend to much genre (with the possible exception of mystery).

L.K. Campbell said...

The success of a self-published author (or any author for that matter) depends on two things: quality of writing and quality of promotion. That being said, I've sampled some self-pubbed work that seemed to be a dashed-off rough draft. As a book reviewer, I can almost say the same thing about some traditionally-pubbed books. There's always room for improvement no matter how the books are published. I work very hard to make sure that my books are the best they can be, and I'll admit that I'm offended when someone dismisses my work as substandard without even downloading the free preview and sampling it. I can tell you from personal experience that the average Mrs. Reader who lives next door has no idea or even cares that my books are self-pubbed. She just knows that she likes the way I write and wants to read my books.
Selling the book takes as much hard work as writing it, and sometimes it's all in the presentation. More than once, I've read promos by self-pubbed authors that weren't even spellchecked. Again, I can say the same thing for some traditionally-pubbed authors. An author who's with a well-known epub posted this in a bulletin on MySpace. "Read my book. Its the bestest book you'll ever love." Do you think that induced me to read the book?
Granted, there are readers who WILL NOT (even if Oprah recommended it!) buy a self-pubbed book, but I've found that these readers are either a. other traditionally pubbed authors, or b. people in the publishing industry. The comments that are made in some of the writing forums about self-pubbed authors are so unnecessary. I don't know why these people feel that it's their mission to tear down what other people are doing. And more often the not, the comments are made by people who've never been published at all—either traditionally or self-pubbed.
I don't have any illusions that I'm the next William Faulkner or that I'm going to sell as many books as Dan Brown. I write as a hobby to relieve the stress of a very demanding newspaper career. Every copy that I sell is just icing on the cake for me. I'm thrilled that hundreds of people in countries all over the world have paid money to read what I write.

PODler said...

I think that the problem is that review sites do not attract much traffic; consequently, their influence on book buying is probably very slight. One way to deal with this is to post reviews on Amazon or barnes and noble and this will in time create a recognition for the pod book reviewer and for pod books

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I do believe that sites like this do help the authors of course, but they also influence readers. Trouble is there is not enough traffic. If all the pod review sites also put their reviews on Amazon and B&N, it would not only help the author gain more traffic but it would also help the blog site as well.

I am not into main stream lit. I buy a great deal of books that are self-pubbed and books that are put out through small presses. I buy a book based on subject matter and reviews. And I can tell a real reviewer's words right away.

So, yes, sites like these are very valuable ... now we have to work on the traffic situation.