These days, it seems as if everyone is terrified by the fact that anyone can publish a book.  Indies, self-published writers, authors with traditional book contracts–it doesn’t matter.  Everyone is mortified by the sheer volume of crap books coming out nowadays, as if Sturgeon’s Law is a new thing.  The assumption is that all this noise is making it harder to get noticed–that readers have to slog through all the crap to find the good stuff.

I’ve blogged about this twice before, here and here.  My views haven’t changed–I still think that the flood of crap ebooks is nothing for writers or readers to fear.  However, I’ve found a new way to think about it.

Message in a Bottle Washed AshoreIt’s been almost two years since I tested the waters of self/indie publishing.  Since then, I’ve learned that an ebook is like a message in a bottle, floating in the midst of a stormy sea.  Readers make up the ocean, and the vicissitudes of the market are the storms that rage across it.

A good book will tend to float, whereas a bad book will tend to sink.  Gimmicks like Select freebies and other promotional activities may pull the bottle back up to the surface, but they won’t make it float.  And maybe, if a bottle sinks to the bottom of the ocean, someone will come trawling for sunken treasure and haul it up, but more likely than not it will just stay there.

Most readers don’t go to the bottom of the ocean to find their books.  They go to the beaches, where the bottles eventually wash up. These represent communities like book clubs or Goodreads, or just groups of friends who like to talk about books.  When a bottle does wash up on a beach, that represents a book coming into its natural audience.  It might take years, but if the book is good enough to float, eventually it will wash up somewhere.

As long as the bottle floats, it doesn’t matter how deep the ocean is beneath it.  Similarly, as long as a book is selling a handful of copies a month, it doesn’t matter that there are ten million bazillion crap ebooks on Amazon, or Smashwords, or Kobo, or wherever.  Those books are all at the bottom of the ocean, where the waters are calm and cold.

When I was a kid, I was terrified of deep water.  Then I had a swimming instructor who told me that it didn’t matter how deep the water was–so long as I could swim, the ocean could be a mile deep and it wouldn’t matter.  Since then, I’ve swum in some pretty deep waters, and I can say with complete confidence that my swimming instructor was right.

Discoverability and visibility are challenges for authors everywhere, but the problem is not the flood of crap that everyone always worries about.  It doesn’t matter how deep the ocean is, or how many ebooks are being published.  Instead, the problem is making sure that your writing is good enough to float.  If it is, then with enough courage and perseverance, you’re going to make it.

Right now, I feel like most of my books are floating on the face of that stormy ocean.  A couple of them have sunk, mostly the short stories.  I’m not much of a short story writer, though, so that makes sense–I still have a lot to learn in that area.  But the novels and novellas are all selling, with no promotion other than the first title in the series set to perma-free.  That tells me that they aren’t crap.  So long as I can keep telling good stories, I’m confident that my books will find their audience.  When and where they’ll wash up, I have no idea, but one thing is certain: all the crap at the bottom of the ebook ocean isn’t going to keep me from making it.

Image taken from this site here, which I recommend checking out.  Interesting stories!

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this perspective. I really love the ocean metaphor. I’d just never thought of it that way before. It weirdly makes me want to learn how to swim.

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