I made the decision to e-publish after some degree of cajoling by my cousin Carla, who is herself a writer of considerable talent. I accused her of devising a cunning plan, in which I would act as advance scout into the Kingdom of E-Publica, mapping out all of the pitfalls and traps, figuring out the dodgy bits, and generally scoping out the territory, with her all the while sitting in her boudoir eating bonbons while I run all the risks.
"Of course I am," Carla said. If there's one thing that runs in our family, it's straightforwardness.
So, here I am, six weeks after e-publishing my manuscripts. I have a few reflections on the whole process that others might find interesting.
Years ago, when the only option available to writers (short of vanity publishing) was the traditional route of querying an agent and hoping that the agent could sell your work to a publishing firm, it was damn near impossible for a new writer even to have his/her voice heard. Agents were swamped with query letters, and only one in a thousand was from someone who had salable work that the agent could successfully market. The competition was fierce, which explains the success of books like The Writers' Market, which gives tips on "Writing an Irresistible Query Letter" as well as names, addresses, and target genres for thousands of agents and publishers.
It was an immensely frustrating scene, and one which in my opinion directly excluded up-and-coming writers, even talented ones, from ever having their work see print. But then e-publishing was invented, and now anyone with a computer and enough tech-savvy to manage the formatting software could upload their work to big-name hosts.
This is both a benefit and a curse. One of my online writing friends commented, "The upside of e-publishing is that anyone can e-publish. The downside of e-publishing is that anyone can e-publish." I took her meaning immediately. The swamp of query letters has become a swamp of books, all in competition for sales, and all hovering around the bottom of the Popularity and Sales Rankings. Amazon and Barnes&Noble don't care, particularly; they don't have to edit, or even vet, the books, and in exchange for the minimal cost of hosting your book they get 30% of the profit. They undertake no marketing for you -- it's all up to the author. And whether your book sells ten copies or ten thousand, the host company still wins.
So, basically, new authors are pretty much where they've always been, vis-à-vis getting that Big Break. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Having my work online has been kind of a rush, and that alone was worth the trouble of formatting and uploading it. I've had a few sales, and along the way am discovering how completely hapless at self-promotion I am. My knowledge of marketing begins and ends with saying, in a wheedling tone of voice, "Please please PLEEEEEZE buy my books." Not, I will admit, the most inspired strategy in the world. Fortunately, I've had some help and advice from friends, which has proven invaluable.
In any case, the publishing world will certainly never be the same. I suspect there will always be a place for traditional agents and book publishers, but e-publication is, I think, only going to get bigger. I can only hope that I am able to navigate its twisty paths, find my readership, and use word of mouth and my cunning sales techniques to get my writing known.