Why the “We’re Drowning in Ebooks” Diatribe needs to stop

According to Forbes we’re drowning in Indie books. The blogosphere has taken up this catch phrase, we’re drowning in ebooks and we’re drowning in ebooks. And those are just in the first page of results on my google search. I could easily find a dozen or more references to the idea that we are drowning in ebooks.

Closely related to the drowning in ebooks meme is the catch phrase “discoverability.” Its all the rage right now as well. How are authors going to get discovered in an era where we are drowning in ebooks?

This has to stop. I don’t care if the article is mostly positive about indie publishing or negative, the term itself makes me cringe. Here are five reasons why I cringe whenever I read the term “drowning in ebooks.”

  1. Readers aren’t drowning. If we are experiencing a “sea” of Indie books then our readers are the fish.

Is anyone complaining about cable TV? Remember the good ole days when you had three networks and public television? Anyone pine for those days? Me, neither. Consumers love choice. Readers are no different. In fact, sales figure show that the choices available on ereaders mean consumers are buying more, rather than fewer, ebooks. This is good news for everyone.

Cable TV and, more recently, streaming video, have changed the way we watch TV. But it hasn’t spelled the end of the networks and no one seriously complains about having too much choice. By the same token I never hear this “too many ebooks” line for avid readers.

  1. Sales aren’t a zero sum game

Inherent in this argument is the assumption that book sales are a zero sum game. There are x number of readers who will by x number of books this year. A sale in someone else’s pocket is a lost sales for you.

This is not true. For one thing, readers are not a specific demographic. Women who read trashy romance novels are not the same demographic as men who read historical fiction. The blistering success of the Fifty Shades series is not hurting your five hundred page opus about the Crimean War, because those readerships don’t overlap.

Even within a genre or a demographic its hard to draw any specific conclusions about sales, so arguing that an established romance series is being hurt by a dozen of similar Indie series is a fruitless exercise. The same can be said of free promotions and piracy. People download free ebooks by the hundreds from both legitimate promotions and from pirate sites. But how many would pay for a similar book if it weren’t available for free? No one knows. So stop worrying about it and start worry about things that are under your control, like your own writing.

  1. Crappy products don’t replace good products for long

There are twin illogical assumptions at work in this diatribe. A) most Indie books are poorly written, poorly edited crap and B) most Indie books don’t sell. How exactly do poorly written books that don’t sell hurt the chances of better authors that are selling? Most of the examples of poorly written books you can give, quickly sink to far back pages of Amazon or Smashwords where they have little effect on anyone else’s sales.

The fact that people in the traditional publishing industry are complaining about indie books is telling. If they were really all as bad as critics claim, there would be nothing to fear from the indie revolution.

  1. It’s always been hard to get discovered.

Back in the olden days, and the olden days means anytime before 2010, most writers were struggling to get published through a big publishing company. It was hard and odds were not in your favor. The big publishing houses saw hundreds of submissions every day. Most were put in the “slush pile” and read by poorly paid interns. One bad mark from one intern and the book was in the trash.

Still writers persevered. They went to writer’s workshops and networked with fellow writers. They showed their manuscript to everyone and anyone who was willing to read it. They queried agents and publishers by the hundreds. It was often a vicious cycle, writers desperate to get published, sent out mass queries to anyone and everyone. Publishers, responding to a huge influx of inappropriate submissions, dumped books into the slush pile, outsourced the reading of said pile and sent form rejection letters. Every writer hoped and dreamed of the day when one of those agents, editors or poorly paid interns would read their manuscript, be totally overwhelmed by its greatness and publish them.

Indie ebooks are now the slush pile, or so we are told. Most writers I know have bypassed the years or heartache and toil trying to get the attention of one of the big publishing houses. They self publish and take their books straight to the readers.

And they face the same challenges they did before. Instead of poorly paid interns, its unpaid reviewers/book bloggers. The rejection letter has been replaced with the bad review.  Instead of a publishing contract, it’s slowly rising sales figures until that glorious day when your book goes viral and really takes off.

For many years, getting published meant you had “made it” as an author. Indie publishing and the ebook revolution has made it easier than ever to reach that goal, but it’s also made the goal meaningless. Hitting the publish button is only the first step towards making it. The cold hard truth of Indie publishing is that you are still a nobody. A nobody with a book maybe, but a nobody. It takes months, or even years, to build up a reliable readership. Getting “discovered” is largely a myth perpetuated by readers who don’t see the years of struggle that “overnight successes” have already put in.

  1. It sounds self serving.

The drowning in ebooks diatribe can be found, in one form or another, from all corners of the web. I don’t care if you are a traditionally published novelist, an Indie novelist or a supposedly “unbiased” journalist. Anytime a writer starts in on this subject I hear the same thing. “All those other writers should stop writing so much crap so readers can discover my work.”

So if we are really drowning in ebooks, why not stop writing? Go find something else to do with your life. It’s really the only fair solution. Asking other writers to stop writing so many books so that you can succeed certainly isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to the other writers and it isn’t fair to readers, who would rather have a choice.

And there’s the problem right there. It’s like the scene in virtually every B movie where the good guy and bad guy have guns pointed at each other. Who should put down their gun first? Everyone put down their word processor on the count of three, okay?

As for me, I am going to go right on writing as many books as I can, because it’s what I want to do. Hopefully I can become one of the lucky few that makes a living at it, but even if I can’t, I will still write. It’s part of who I am. And I am going to go right on encouraging my writer friends to do the same because anything else would be hypocritical of me.

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