Ewan Morrison, self-proclaimed doomsayer of the imminent death of literature, publishing and Western culture as we know it, is at it again and informs us at the Guardian that social media does not sell books (he does have a point there) and that self-publishing is a bubble that will burst within the next 18 months. Mind you, he already that the very same thing (minus social media references) last year. I blogged about Mr Morrison’s previous predictions of doom here, here and here.
Meanwhile, Ewan Morrison’s doomsayings were also quoted in this article at the Toronto Globe & Mail along with similar predictions of the imminent death of the professional writer by Scott Turow and the chairwoman of the Writer’s Union of Canada. The Globe & Mail article was picked apart at various indie publishing sites and blogs, not entirely without justification. However, the line that most commenters seem to pick on was one that struck me as probably the least controversial bit in the whole article, namely this quote by Ewan Morrison:
I’ve been making culture professionally for 20 years
I really fail to see what is so controversial about making culture, but a lot of indie writers seemed to think that this was the silliest and most pretentious idea ever. Instead, many of them said. e.g. at this thread on the Kindleboards, that their sole aim was to entertain, as if entertainment and making culture were mutually exclusive. Because I certainly consider myself a maker of culture and said as much on the Kindleboards. Does this mean that I don’t want my work to entertain? Definitely not.
The subsequent comments, which basically boiled down to “You don’t get to decide what culture is”, finally brought it home to me that I and the other posters were talking about two very different definitions of culture here. To the (American) posters, “culture” meant solely high culture, anointed by some kind of critical gatekeeper. However, that definition of culture died out sometime in the 1970s here in Germany and nowadays we define “culture” as “any artistic and cultural expression” and that’s the narrow definition. So an indie author writing thrillers for entertainment is making culture. The street artist spraying graffiti on a wall is making culture. The alternative theatre group performing in an old warehouse is making culture. The garage band is making culture. Just as Booker Prize winning authors and the stars performing at the festivals of Salzburg and Bayreuth are making culture.
David Gaughran has a detailed takedown of Ewan Morrison and his points at Let’s Get Digital, wherein he also addresses Morrison’s earlier gloom and doom posts.
Meanwhile, Paul Jessup responds to Ewan Morrison’s latest Guardian article here and comments on the latest e-publishing scandal involving British indie author Stephen Leather allegedly using sockpuppets here and here.
Now I did not follow the Stephen Leather scandal closely and know very little about it except that the crime writing festival where Leather was booed on stage took place in Harrogate, which is an extremely lovely spa town in North Yorkshire. Besides, the use of sock puppets and harassing reviewers is frowned upon in the indie writing community, though I’m not naive enough to believe that it doesn’t happen. And it’s not just indie authors who do it either, here is an example of a trad published romance author doing something very similar.
I actually do agree with Paul Jessup in part (which is pretty rare), because the “money, money, money – get rich quick” attitude of many indie writers is annoying. I see these people on the Kindleboards a lot, always discussing about how to make their work more commercial, how to find the hottest genres and chase the latest trends, always changing their covers and tweaking their blurbs and running one free promotion after another. And yes, these people and their ultra-commercialism are annoying. Because money is all you want to make, writing is not the best way to do it. And many of those “get rich quick” people will probably depart for greener pastures once their writing fails to make them rich.
Though I still believe that indie publishing can be more than just commercially minded people publishing derivative works optimized for maximum commercial performance. It can be a place for out of print backlist works and for all sorts of quirky and different works that haven’t found a home for whatever reason. And of course there already are all of those difficult to classify and to market works available on the major self-publishing sites, though we rarely hear of them over the noise caused by John Locke or Joe Konrath or the latest Fifty Shades of Grey clone, unless one of those hard to classify stories breaks out like George Berger’s Midnight’s Tale.
And now for my own not quite so successful attempts at striking it rich in indie publishing.
For starters, Seraglio has briefly hit two genre bestseller lists at Amazon Germany:
- Nr. 49 in Kindle-Shop > eBooks > Fremdsprachige eBooks > Englische eBooks > Belletristik > Populäre Belletristik > Action & Abenteuer
- Nr. 56 in Kindle-Shop > eBooks > Fremdsprachige eBooks > Englische eBooks > Belletristik > Populäre Belletristik > Historisch
Finally, for more amazing success, here are my July sales figures. In July 2012, I sold 13 e-books across all titles and platforms, so I still have to wait a while to strike it rich. This time around, I only sold at Amazon.com and Amazon UK, whereby my Amazon UK sales exceeded my Amazon.com sales for the first time since I started. Indeed, my Amazon UK sales have been going steadily up, whereas my Amazon.com sales collapsed with the beginning of summer. And so far, the pattern seems to continue in August. My latest release Under the Knout got off to a good start, though interestingly all sales were in the UK. I have no idea why that particular story appeals only to British readers. My Mom has a theory, but that’s not exactly fit for printing here.
Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my first Kobo sale.
Get rich quick? More like get rich slowly.