Aliske Webb has been an unpublished author, a self-published author, a NYC published author and is now the Publisher of Bookmice.com, a royalty-paying electronic publisher of quality fiction and nonfiction. Her email address is: aliskewebb@bookmice.com

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e-book Bytes

This month: Are e-Books Storming the Gateway?One of the biggest debates concerning the evolution of electronic publishing is the worry thatwith such easy accessibility to the Internet, the quality of content will be severely eroded.
The theory goes that "any old fool (or young one) can now publish a book." Yes, this is true, and it always has been. There has always been a large and continuously thriving "vanity publishing" business which has provided a "published" book for anyone willing to pay the price. (And we all know the stories of the great writers of the past who were actually self-publishers.) In the case of an e-book, the price paid to publish is either to: 1) do all the technical formatting, website creation and marketing that is required or, 2) paying a service provider or "partnership publisher" to do it for you.

There is always a chance the resulting e-books may be poorly written, not professionally edited, or not deliver valuable content. However, we've all bought paper books which turned out to be poorly written, full of typographical mistakes, and far below the expectation created by its dust jacket. The mere fact that the medium has changed doesn't mean an erosion of quality. One might contend that e-books in general are far better quality--because they have to be--in order to compete.

E-books certainly have many more bells and whistles to offer than paper books, eg type sizes you can change to suit your reading preferences, hyper-linking, embedding of music, film and other enhancements that are impossible with paper. Regardless of all other considerations, there are people who will buy e-books because of the added-value they provide. Why would you buy a shelf full of encyclopedia volumes when you can get the entire thing on one tiny CD? It's a bit like the appeal of this year's model car compared to the clunker you've been used to driving.

Who Needs Those Editors Anyway?

Most professional writers and anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer understands the value that professional editing of their manuscript provides, whether it is through the publishing house or through an independent editing service paid for by the author. I think there is little risk that the market is going to be flooded with a plethora of poor quality e-books--at least no more so than is already out there in the paper medium. There may seem to be more of them, because as the market grows there will be even more e-books produced every year than paper books. And, as with any business, only those who provide a quality and service level to match consumer expectations will stay in business. So, in the long run the e-book market is a very quickly self-cleaning mechanism.

Authors need to understand in advance exactly what services are going to be provided by an electronic publisher. At the present time there is a wide range, from those who provide no editing at all, to those who offer editing for a fee, and then to those who offer full editing services as part of the publication package. There is no point in authors complaining afterward that their book was poorly produced.

To put it in computer terms, GIGO or, garbage-in garbage-out. With whatever type of e-publisher is involved, the first step in avoiding a poor quality book is for the author to prepare the material properly, even at the submission stage. If you can't afford to pay an editor, have every one of your friends and family read it for typos, inconsistencies, or garbled grammar.

The second step is to ask to receive galleys for your own proof-reading. Very few publishers would refuse such a request and most send them out automatically. Depending on the type of publisher, they may well balk at the amount of corrections necessary after your proof-reading (hence the importance of step one) and charge for this, but at least you have the opportunity make sure your e-book is the best representation of your talent and topic. The further and larger issue on content devolves on the Editor's task as guardian of the gateway. Editors in the role of Acquisition executives for publishing houses (paper or electronic) are the decision-makers as to whether a book is accepted for publication or not. And this is the argument hurled at the portals of NYC paper publishers--the gateway is too narrow, too few books can pass through it, and those that do are often for the "wrong" reasons eg commercial considerations rather than quality. It's an old hammer. And until now, the titans could sit back and say, "too bad, it's our game." Only now, the rabble is storming the gateway with a new weapon--the infinite capabilities and accessibility of the Internet--which allows anyone with a will, the way to merely step around the obstacle.

As all of the NYC publishers finally (and reluctantly) move into electronic publishing, they can bring all of their reputation and "editorial expertise" to bear, and stake the claim that their e-books have the only quality in the marketplace (and hope to justify the higher prices which they have so far tried to establish). But they already have a tarnished reputation for the quality or lack thereof which they produce now. The perception for many is that NYC has failed dismally in its obligation to provide quality content in much the same way that television fails to provide worthwhile programming. Both entities are too consumed with commercialism and that will be their ultimate downfall. They make big expensive mistakes and misjudge the intelligence of the buying public. Witness the DK fiasco over the Star Wars release in England.

If the e-book revolution is to prevail, all of us involved must take as many steps as possible to ensure that e-books are the best they can be. We are the ones who will create expectations in the mind's of consumers and build the market accordingly. If we build it, they will come. And our gateway is wide.


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