There has been a lot of talk lately about a self-publishing “bubble.” There was the Guardian article in January, a response by Melville House, and the idea has been percolating around the Internet ever since.
Having emerged from a decade of bubbles in our economy, it may be natural to see some parallels between the self-publishing revolution and a new gold rush. There were a few early people striking the mother lode, a rush of excitement, and now it’s off to the races.
So is it a bubble? Is all the initial enthusiasm about self-publishing going to wear off? Is the bubble going to burst?
There’s another parallel that comes to mind, and that’s the blog bubble. A couple of years ago you weren’t a living breathing human if you didn’t have a blog. Everyone was blogging, everyone was commenting, blogging was the way people connected with each other and promoted their work. It was new and fun and exciting.
Now… not so much. There are definitely still people in the blogging game (as you well know since you’re reading one right now), but blogging has seemingly peaked, replaced by activity on other social media.
Is the same thing going to happen with e-publishing? Will people put their book out there, struggle to build a following, and then have their attention diverted elsewhere?
What’s Permanent About Writing
I say no. We’re not in a bubble. This is not a temporary blip.
There are sooo many people who are writing books out there. There even more who want to write a book and believe they have a book in them. There are thousands upon thousands of unpublished manuscripts out there and even more in progress.
And it’s not new. People have been writing books for years.
Blogging was a blip. Books are far more central to our culture and are far, far more glamorized than blogs. Lots of people want to grow up and be a famous author. Fewer want to be a famous blogger.
And the ease of entry into the self-publishing game is only getting smoother. Right now it’s still somewhat challenging to make your book available in all channels, but those barriers are coming down. There is a massive supply of books in the pipeline.
Get used to the self-publishing boom. We’re just getting started.
Art: Soap Bubbles by
Jean Siméon Chardin
After the froth of every man jack horse writing his/her/its dream horror chick lit fantasy and the inevitable shenanigannery twixt trad and indie, the future for writers and writing (and readers and reading) can only be advanced by this new-found means of allowing people to do stuff.
It's messy right now, and as bubbles are inflated and burst there will be bizarre gains and losses on all sides.
One thing is certain: like the very best friendship cakes, there can be no unmixing of the ingredients.
Interesting times for all.
Catherine Stine says
In the last 8 months, I've read a lot of great indie pubbed books. I only choose ones that have compelling covers, some good reviews and that have a killer premise. And I made sure that the first novel that I published this way, was flawless, a page-turner, and written well. I loved that I could art direct it, and illustrate it, as I am also a published illustrator.
Is self publishing a bubble? No. Will the cream rise to the top. Yes. The filters will be online indie publishers and collectives that promote only the best of the genres they like.
I agree completely. All those people frequenting used bookstores and taking home sacks of books? They're turning to cheaper ebooks now and still buying, still reading. Most of us can read more than we can afford.
I do think the bubble bursting will be that of traditional pubs who are trying to market and price ebooks like print books. You know, the pubs who can only do so many books a year costwise. The ones who once picked and chose the authors to be published.
M.P. McDonald says
Two years ago, I saw self-publishing as a last resort, but right about then, I started reading Konrath's blog. In fact, I think I first linked to it from here, so I should be thanking you. Anyway, I don't think there is a bubble. Like any venture, some will succeed and continue, some will find it's not for them and stop writing/publishing.
I've been at it 20 months now, and can't foresee quitting anytime soon. In fact, I'm doing well enough to cut down on my day job hours to part-time.
Susan Kaye Quinn says
It's tempting to look at times of rapid change as a "bubble" but what's happening is essentially a technology revolution touching the book industry. Every industry that technology has "touched" hasn't been a bubble – it's been a fundamental change in how business is done. That's what I see happening here.
And I think we're a long ways from done. Self-pub (and the rest of the industry) is still evolving rapidly. 2012 still has many changes ahead of us.
Kelly Barnes says
Why did Mary's garden grow? Because she was quite contrary and she uprooted everything that wasn't a silverbell, a cockle shell, or a pretty maid.
Economies are the same way. I think the self epub trend is more of a rush than it is a bubble.
It's new and there IS a lot of profit (insert your definition here) to be had. When the dust settles, the successful will have elbow room and the others will move on to other things.
Dara Beevas says
As someone who works with indie authors, I have to agree that self-publishing isn't going anywhere. Where traditional publishers are reshaping and adjusting with sales numbers declining, our business is thriving. The desire to become an author is a dream for so many that I can't see the self-publishing trend as going away.
Sheila Cull says
Blogging a blip! Maybe everybody did it at first but I think, hope, that a market for it will remain. I recently turned my daily (except for the break to learn more about computers because I was touting e friendly books but wasn't doing it and for a short time turned into a hypocrite)blog into a Podcast and that's absolutely a proliferating market. And hey! Bransford, I grew as a blogger because of your steady advice and I also decided, per you, that I'm a writer, not an author.
Although I absolutely agree with you about the value of a book!
But when something bursts,it's a pretty final event so I don't think burst is appropriate. What it boils down to is that the better the material, the better chance of success, no?
Marion Gropen says
The rush of people who think that they can write a manuscript feed it into some sort of conversion program, for little or no money, and publish for fame and fortune will fade.
The fame and fortune that a few lucky folks found is never going to happen for most self-publishers.
BUT, those who choose to learn how to publish their own books WELL, those types of self-publishers will continue to do well, as a group. And they will do better because of the ongoing digital revolution.
There's a lot that happens between the manuscript and the publication IF YOU DO IT RIGHT. And if you do it right, your readers will be more likely to find your book, and will enjoy it more when they do.
Publishing well is complex, and requires skill and hard work, just as writing well does.
I tells ya' it's a bubble!
Even dead people are self-publishing!
Here's one that just went up today:
This guy left the room 35 years ago, for pete's sake!
Jules Hojnacki says
I'm working on the final draft of my first book and eagerly tip-toeing into the query and publishing process. If anything, the ability and option to self-publish gives optimistic, yet easily discouraged writers like myself, hope that one day a stranger will read their creation and enjoy it. But the various and non-uniform options of self-publishing websites currently poses a major problem for writers and readers. Just being able to find self-published books on the major sites, like barnes and nobles for example, is like mining HTML for the first time. There is no guidance for which books are really good in and of themselves, or any indication on how these books are promoted by the site. That being said, as a novice to the self-publishing world, which sites are recommended for publishing, and which for buying?
K. C. Blake says
One of the problems with self-publishing is that a lot of people rush to put their books out. They don't edit enough. It's too easy to put their stuff out there. I've run across quite a few people who say they won't ever read a self-published book again because of a few bad apples. That's what concerns me most. I think a lot of people will stop buying self-published books because they spend their money on the wrong ones and get burned.
Also, I think a lot of 'writers' will quit once they see they aren't going to make a million dollars. Those of us who write because we love it and because we can't stop will continue on.
Peter Dudley says
Another difference between blogs and books: There was a time when you couldn't turn around without someone telling you "you must have a blog!" When friends found out I had a blog, they always said, "Yeah, I really should do that, too." My response was always, "Why?" They never had a good answer.
Books are the opposite. When I tell people I've written a book, they say, "Wow, I don't think I could do that." They never say, "I really need to do that, too."
Blogs have zero barrier to entry. You can be blog-curious and get all experimental, then wake up the next day and realize it was just a phase you were going through.
Self-publishing, while shockingly easy, still requires that you first write a book.
Certainly there's a bit of a mania right now, but I believe that will settle out over time. It's not a bubble; it's a change in the market.
Janice Seagraves says
I think too many authors are frustrated by the slush pile and self-publishing is their way out of the slush pile and it gets they're book out there.
Judith Briles says
I agree. I don't think self-publishing will ever be gone in this world. Many people in this generation continue hoping on having their books published and they are not giving up. Future generations will, in fact, be inspired by such persistent process and somehow give them hope that someday, their books too will be distributed out there.
Bryce Anderson says
The implication here is that we can't be in a bubble if the underlying phenomenon isn't going away. This is wrong.
There are plenty of examples to choose from. When a real estate bubble collapses, the underlying land and buildings don't disappear. They just get devalued to reflect their actual importance within the economy.
When the dot com crash hit, wiping out trillions in paper wealth, the Internet didn't disappear. Society as a whole didn't stop writing web apps, the tools that made the rise possible (programming languages, web standards, web server programs, etc.) didn't go anywhere. The hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber that was put down in anticipation of a sharp spike in web traffic didn't dig itself back up, and in fact came in handy once everyone got a Netflix account.
Nathan Bransford even mentions a recent bubble: the blogging bubble. Blogging didn't disappear. It just got its hype stolen by the social media trend. A lot of people stopped blogging, as their blog-ish activity moved to Facebook. But blogs still remain a vital part of our Internet cultural life.
The only evidence presented against the idea that we're in a bubble is that the underlying trend is not illusory. But even in the 17th century, there was a legitimate underlying demand for tulip bulbs.
Even if this is a bubble that's destined to crash, we can still come out on top. As long as a few of the players in this space survive the crash and keep their sites running, self-publishers will continue to have powerful tools for making their creative works available to the public.
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