I’ve wanted to post about this subject for a while, but haven’t gotten around to. It was only after listening to an episode of the Rocking Self Publishing podcast that the question resurfaced in my mind and I wanted to pen my thoughts.
First, this is NOT a gripe or attack post on Amazon. I use their Kindle Direct Publishing platform to self-publish my work, and I think they have done writers a great service by removing “gatekeepers” and releasing some great books that might otherwise have languished forever in some publishing house slush pile.
My concern surrounds the idea of book quality and how author creativity might actually be stifled by the cottage industries that have sprung up around the behemoth.
If you’ve spent any time researching self-publishing on Kindle, listening to podcasts or browsing forums like KBoards, you know that there is a sub-culture that has grown out of its massive ecosystem. While Kindle Direct Publishing isn’t the only game in town, it’s the largest by far, dwarfing competition even from the likes of giants like Apple and Google. I think that pervasive success, combined with the culture around it, has caused negative side effects.
For instance, how many times have you seen a self-publishing topic concerning KDP say “write to market, look at what’s selling” and in the same breath “write what you’re passionate about because it all begins with authoring a great book!” I’ve read and heard numerous conflicting statements like this, and they are bothersome. It seems many groups and businesses (some of which stand to make money off of self-published authors) spur writers on by encouraging them to output in massive volume and “write what sells”.
I’m not naive. I know books are products. Just like music, graphic design, etc. If you want to make a living writing, you need to create works of quality that an audience enjoys. But on another level, writing is art, and should be treated as such. It seems the sheer size and nature of Amazon has ushered in an era of “quantity over quality” in order to play into the “rules” of its ecosystem. Does anyone really believe the average author (even full time) can crank out a novel-length work of excellent quality every 3 months for any extended period of time? I personally don’t. I’m sure there are a few exceptionally gifted writers who can, but I’ve never met one.
The popular argument seems to be that laissez-faire attitude of “Amazon’s market will take care of itself and the best stuff will float to the top”. That may be true, but from another, less business-minded perspective, is that same culture steering authors to create a flood of “also rans” that drown unique ideas while they all sink to the bottom?
Joey sits down to “write what he’s passionate about” which, in my example, will be vampires (everyone loves vampires!). He has an idea that will revolutionize the genre and make Bram Stoker look like a hack. However, on his way home from work he listened to some podcasts and decides “I’d better write to market so someone actually sees and reads this” and he intentionally shoehorns a love triangle into the book with a doughty lip-biting teen and the mummy who loves her.
Yeah, because Twilight.
Now, we have another Twilight clone in the growing pile of Twilight clones trying to claw their way up the Kindle charts, when his original idea might have been a horror masterpiece that eventually took the world by storm.
I know you’re thinking “that’s a pretty specific scenario”, but the volume of books in the Kindle Store is mind boggling. It’s up to roughly 4 million total books now in the marketplace , and keeps climbing. It’s getting tougher and tougher for new authors to be found, and I think most self-publishers will eventually burn out if they just keep churning out works to “appease the market” and “game the system” for promotional visibility. I’ve also noticed in the past year that many 5-star books in the Kindle store have objectively lower ratings on other book reviewing sites, if they are there at all, which lends itself to the idea the retailer has nurtured its own unique readership who (and I don’t want to believe this) has lower standards.
Again, I think Amazon’s capability to open doors for writers and give authors a platform is terrific. However, that level of influence comes at a price.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re a fellow self-published author. Do you use Amazon’s KDP service? Do you write to market? Did you just finish revising your new vampire love-triangle novel and think I totally missed the mark?
Let me know in the comments!