Come Together

Image created by Guy FrancisWe are all aware of the publishing sea change that has been occurring over the past several years. Through e-books and POD publishing, authors have been bypassing the traditional publishing houses in droves, even when the traditional publishers were willing to put their books out.

The logic is irrefutable. A self published book allows an author to make more money on less books sold while retaining all of the creative control. Provided the numbers are good (that puts the burden on the author to promote and distribute their own books, no easy task), why wouldn’t you go this route? It only makes sense, especially when book readers are abandoning the brick and mortar stores for the Internet. It’s leveled the playing field considerably.

The days of big-name writers looking down their collective noses at so-called “vanity presses” is essentially over. Those authors are self-publishing as well, if only to keep formerly out of print works available to their fans.

While this revolution is undoubtedly a good thing in many ways, it has its downside, most notably the lack of quality. When anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish their own books, the inevitable result is a market glutted with thousands of titles that are not worth reading at all. Poor layout, poor artwork, and just plain poor writing is abundant.

Like them or not, the traditional print publishers all had standards, whether low or high, and all of them used editors. Very few authors, no matter how talented, can put out a really good book in the absence of a good editor, a fact which almost every published author will attest to.

It’s even difficult to put complete faith in online reviews anymore, as the recent Todd Rutherford scandal illustrated. How do you know that those glowing five-star reviews were not bought, either in cash or in the nefarious review-trading parasitism that is all too common in the small press? I’ve read bad books that have a string of great reviews, and I’ll bet you have too. So how do we sort through the massive amounts of bad books and find the good ones?

The book you’re looking for is right THERE!

One possible solution is author collectives. These are loose organizations of authors and publishers who are all about maintaining standards of quality, not helping out friends. Ideally, if a book isn’t good, it doesn’t get the recommendation of the collective. Of course “good” is still a subjective term. That aforementioned parasitism can infect a collective as surely as an individual review. I’m wary of any organization where all that is required to get in is to pay a fee.

Even if you find a reliable collective, there is no guarantee that you will like all of the books it recommends, but it still sounds like a far more reliable method for choosing your next beach read than random chance or counting five star reviews.

But big-name writers are getting in on these. I was first made aware of this phenomenon through Killer Thrillers, an author collective that includes David Morrell, one of my all time favorite authors (and a fellow New Mexican). If you haven’t read him, you should. And although I’m not well read in the thriller genre, if Morrell recommends them, I can too.

Awesome Indies is another site I ran across that looks interesting, although I’m not familiar with any of the authors listed. It’s arranged by category, which is convenient, but sadly there is only one horror book listed. I checked out the preview of it, and while we haven’t stumbled upon a new Joe R. Lansdale, it’s pretty good. I’ve certainly read far worse.

I searched around some, but could not find a collective that is specifically horror oriented. If anyone knows of one, please point it out. If one does not exist, perhaps it’s time to start one, but I’m only interested if it’s going to reward good writing. We don’t need another parasitic clique of the sort that the small press is infamous for.

About Nick Contor

Nick Contor lives in southwest New Mexico with his wife and two children. In his spare time, he writes lyrics, plays drums, and sings in a local band.
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4 Responses to Come Together

  1. Kelly says:

    Although I am new to the author collective idea, if you’re paying to be part of a group that helps you promote your book, that doesn’t seem much different in the long run than paying for a review. Granted, the authors in the collective might give a more complete look at your book, but who’s to say that anyone you pay to write a review hasn’t taken the same amount of time? The author’s review may be worth more, but someone who is not an author might have equally sound ideas and praise. Sort of hard to sort through any of them at all. It will be interesting to see if collectives become more widespread.
    – Kelly

  2. Nick Contor says:

    Hi Kelly, thanks for the feedback!

    I addressed that in an earlier draft of this essay. I ran across a few author collectives that anyone could join by paying a fee per book submitted to the group, which does indeed stray into the same swampy waters as paying for a review. If all they are offering is promotional assistance that might be okay, but in that case they should be calling it a PR group, not an author collective. If they are offering a recommendation or a good review, then I agree that it is no different than paying for a review on Amazon.

    I can see a collective having membership dues to pay for website maintenance or other costs, but if they accept just anyone who applies, that violates the spirit of an author collective as I understand it. These groups should be recommending books and authors they like, not one’s who have paid their fees.


  3. Christopher Joseph says:

    I really dug this article because what is currently in flux with the literary environment is exactly what corrupted the music environment a few years back. It’s wonderful that nearly anyone with an internet connection can produce and release their art, but with that ease certainly comes the over-saturation with mediocre (at best) product. Coupled with the ability to produce and host music videos and promos for free (via youtube), offer “pay your own price” and free downloads through Bandcamp (which I’m guilty of using for my own musical ventures) and Sound Cloud, and privatizing of street teams (see: Rock Star Motel), it’s so easy to just stick to the pre 21st century greats or (if you are really suffering for something new) listen to pop radio instead of spending hours scouring through myspace and in the hopes of finding a new band worth your while.

    Luckily, this music model was a precursor to the literary change we are seeing today. If it is any indication of what’s to come, in the coming years the “fad” will plateau and a sense of quality will return to the book world. I think part of the reason why quality has returned to some of the music world is actual due to technology in the form of Kickstarter. I believe it is a wonderful tool for up-and-comings and established artists a like. If you have quality work, but wish to maintain complete control over the product, Kickstarter is a great way to gain new followers while offering them the ability to obtain exclusive products (hell, sometimes the main product it’s self is exclusive only to Kickstarter). For already established artists, it’s the perfect way to maximize profit while offering the fans to choose how far they wish to follow you. Of course, TALENT is still key, but I think it says more about the quality one has to offer to allow followers and potential fans to fund the next venture, rather than just ebooking and amazoning something.

    All Kickstarter placement aside (I promise I’m not receiving kick backs lol), the music world is finally embracing quality and originality once more. While collectives don’t exist in the same way for music as they do in the literary world, there are plenty of sites devoted to such ideas, and “tape trading” still exists (if you can find them). I believe what makes me more hopeful for books is the fact that readers tend to be “far and few between” as compared to movie/tv/music patrons… which I assume would weed out the rubble faster than it took the music industry. Hopefully, anyway.

  4. Nick Contor says:

    I agree, Christopher. The backlash against the record labels was made worse because of their long history of cheating artists out of a reasonable amount of profits. Add to that the ease of producing a physical product and the ready acceptance of mp3s and you have a tailor made revolution.

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