Those who read books now have more power than ever before. The independent publishing movement spurred on by electronic and POD (Print On Demand) publishing means that readers of books now have direct access to the work of authors and millions of new titles at affordable prices.
To a large extent what readers chose to read was once controlled by those who published books. Traditional publishers decided what readers would or would not be interested in. If those few influential gatekeepers decided that those who read books would not be interested in the work of particular authors, such authors would find it difficult or impossible to have their work published and available to readers. What was unfair to readers (and to authors) was that publishers did not necessarily make their choices about books on whether a book was well written, or presented a good story. They made business decisions based on how many copies of a particular book they thought they might be able to sell. That meant that a book written by someone who had established a public profile, or someone who had media contacts willing to promote them and their book, was more likely to be published than a book that simply presented a well written story e.g. (if I might be so bold) Whisper My Secret.
Writers, especially emerging writers, had to stand in line behind celebrities such as television personalities, football players, and even criminals. Books by people such as these were considered suitable for readers because they were guaranteed to make money for the publisher. Some publishing companies had political reasons for refusing to accept a writer’s book. In Australia publishers are often interested in publishing books written by Aboriginal people and refugees but prejudiced against ‘white’ Australians. When ‘white’ Australian author Leon Carmen wrote My Own Sweet Time as the autobiography of an Aboriginal woman, Wanda Koolmatrie, he got his book published almost instantly, despite previously failing to become published under his own identity. His second book, again submitted as Wanda Koolmatrie, was also accepted for publication but the offer was withdrawn when he revealed he was not Aboriginal. John Bayley, who posed as Carmen’s literary agent reported on the Tuesday Book Club that a producer told him ‘she wouldn’t look at a play script I submitted that had a white middle aged, Anglo Celtic male as its author’.
Such choices made by publishing gatekeepers meant that many excellent writers were not given the opportunity to reach readers. Some of those writers have been forced to give up writing to focus on the jobs that earn them money. One such writer is Robert Bidinotto, author of the best-selling book Hunter. Disillusionment had caused him to suppress his ‘dream of publishing novels’ until he heard about the Indie publishing movement. Now his book has been read by thousands. While some writers gave up writing to focus on earning a living, others may have come to the conclusion, as a result of repeated rejections from publishers, that their writing was simply not good enough and given up writing in despair. All of those writers were lost to readers.
The good news for readers is that writers are now being encouraged to write! Readers now have access to a wide range of writers including those who simply wish to write a good story for others to read. Readers can read or not read according to personal taste, without being limited to what publishers think they should read. Readers have helped to make Ania Ahlborn’s gothic horror novel Seed a top selling title now being optioned by Amazon Studios. Ania went directly to readers by self publishing her book in 2010. Those readers spread the word and the novel climbed the charts. Fifty Shades of Grey is another best seller that owes its early success to reader power. It was originally published as an e-book and a POD paperback by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, a small publisher with a restricted budget for marketing relying on book bloggers and readers to spread the word.
As a reader I am delighted that I have access to books that I might not otherwise have had the opportunity to read. As a writer I am thrilled that Whisper My Secret, originally published in paperback by the small publisher Zeus Publications and rejected by many publishers in Australia has, as an e-book, already reached almost 40 000 readers. The book’s success (as well as the feedback sent directly to me by readers) has detonated my motivation to write.
Until next time…JB