Book Outrage In The Era of Self Publishing

Over the last couple of weeks, a couple of different outrages have been ravaging the book world. In one, a romance publisher that published predominantly non-white authors shut its doors claiming low sales, while a particular seller claims that sales of non-white authors’ books account for 60% of its bestsellers. In the other, at least one author is complaining about the amount of physical bookstore shelf space dedicated to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

These controversies wouldn’t normally seem to be linked, but in the era of self publishing they most certainly are.

In the era of self publishing and in the new freelance economy, quite honestly the Mega Publishers don’t have the stranglehold on the market they once did. There is no doubt that they still hold considerable sway, I’m not denying that reality at all. I am simply noting that in this new era, one does not have to possess the ability to churn out hundreds of thousands of printed books and distribute them to a worldwide network of physical stores to be able to publish a book and have it do well enough to support an author.

Indeed, in my near decade of being Kindle exclusive, I have read literally hundreds of books – over 400 verified books in just the last 3.25 years alone. While I do not keep track of the actual publisher of the books I read, I can tell you from having run experiments trying to find them in my local brick and mortar stores that such stores normally only carry about 10% of the books I’ve read. Using the 400 number, that means that I’ve read 360 books in 3.25 years that you will never find on a shelf of a physical bookstore. And since my average lifetime rating on Goodreads is around 4.8 stars, it is rare that I find a book I don’t like. So clearly there are many quality books out there that don’t find themselves on the shelves of at least the physical bookstores I have checked.

But what about the actual controversies? Should publishers make a concerted effort to publish minority books or books featuring minorities on the covers? Should physical stores devote less space to legendary authors in order to give a wider range of authors a chance?

I’m not going to directly answer those questions, as I think they are actually irrelevant.

You see, in the Era of Self Publishing, there are actually better questions to ask:

If I see a particular group not being served well enough, is there a chance to make money myself by serving that group? If I see a particular small subset of authors dominating a particular space, is there a way to make money by highlighting other authors in other spaces?

Ultimately, for authors and publishers in particular, the book business is indeed a business. Yes, you want to create things you are proud of, but you also want to be able to feed your family with the money you earn from people paying for your creation. And so that means that you have to find ways to do that – which is why these controversies exist. The thought there is that these authors are owed these publishers or shelf space.

Instead, why don’t we seek out alternatives? Invest in or create new publishers that serve these particular niches. Invest in or create new marketing companies to push these books just as hard as the Mega Publishers’ internal marketing personnel do. Figure out exactly how they operate – and it isn’t exactly a secret – and figure out ways to undercut and oversell them. Any elephant can be eaten one bite at a time, no matter how big or ornery it is.

And the Era of Self Publishing, the freelance economy, make all of this possible.

We see it every day. 20 years ago, the taxi cab companies were the only real way to get around many urban areas. Getting in with them was a pain, but nearly instantly rewarding. Now with the rise of Uber, Lyft, and others, far more people can provide cabbie services far more effectively… and the cabbie companies of old are falling.

Why can’t the same thing happen to the Mega Publishers? Are authors any less creative than Uber drivers? Can we not find some way to undercut the Megas?

Wait a minute. What if I as an Autistic began publishing Autistic authors via Kindle Direct Publishing (which now includes CreateSpace for actual printing of physical books)? Could I get an author published that a Mega might never take a risk on? Oh yeah, I’ve been doing that far longer than I’ve been operating this site, and almost longer than I’ve been reviewing books. And I’m open to taking on more authors. I’m open to showing you what I know so that you can serve your community just as I serve mine. I relish the opportunity to help others – and to compete with them. There is more than enough money to be had in the book space for all of us, there is no real reason to hoard knowledge or opportunity.

And there is no reason for outrage that someone else isn’t doing something that you can do for yourself with a little hard work.

Featured New Release of The Week: Drugs, Money, and Secret Handshakes by Robin Feldman

This week we are looking at an eye opening klaxon call warning us of the inner workings of the drug industry in the US. This week, we are looking at Drugs, Money, and Secret Handshakes by Robin Feldman.

Quite simply, if you are an American reading this and you only read a single book between now and the November 2020 elections, it needs to be this one.

Fully 46% of the edition I read was bibliography and index – that is how well documented this treatise is. Indeed, at times it seemed that literally every sentence Feldman wrote had a footnote marker at the end of it.

And what she documents here is simply astonishing. I think many of us have suspected various pieces of the problem for quite a while, and indeed reform efforts as long ago as the mid 80s, when I was a toddler, have sought to correct some of what is described in this book. But as Feldman points out, many of these reforms have only exacerbated the problem rather than solving it.

Feldman does an excellent job introducing the problem in Chapter 1, spends chapters 2-4 detailing the problem from multiple perspectives, discusses an actual study of the problem she executed in chapter 5 – which is astonishing in its own right and not to be missed – and finally details some potential solutions in Chapter 6. It is refreshing that she explicitly states in the introduction to Chapter 6 that many of her proposals won’t be politically palatable and so gives a range of options from possibly politically palatable yet likely ineffective to almost a third rail of politics yet could likely actually solve the issue.

If this book gets the discussion it deserves, it will likely be a driving force in at least some of the 2020 campaigns, and it deserves to be. Feldman truly does a superb job of documenting and explaining her case, and I look forward to seeing where this goes.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: Optimisfits by Ben Courson

This week we are looking at a frenetically paced Christian self help book that contains a message many need to hear. This week, we aer looking at Optimisfits by Ben Courson.

This book was truly a frenetically paced manifesto of radical hope by clinging to nothing but Jesus Christ. At times, the wording evoked images of being shouted through a megaphone. The overall tone felt like a cross between WWE’s Mojo Rawley and his “All Hype All The Time” gimmick crossed with Canadian rapper Manafest’s breakout single “No Plan B” from several years ago. Courson does a great job explaining his philosophy and even references quite a few legendary Christian thinkers, from CS Lewis to G.K. Chesterton, and his message is one that should resonate in self help and Christian millenial/ GenX circles in particular.

The book as a whole is truly a great work, but there were a couple of problems with it. For one, Courson relies a bit too much on cliche catchphrases, liberally sprinkling them across nearly every chapter of the book. Another is that he proof texts quite a bit, though he also does a solid job of explaining several Biblical stories in more modern language. And the final problem is a general lack of citation. Given how much Courson makes some claim about something someone said and then just moves on with his point, a hearty bibliography and footnotes would generally be expected… but were not present in the Advance Reader Copy edition I read. Perhaps this will be better presented in the full publication edition, in which case this particular criticism would be rendered moot.

Overall this was an excellent introduction to a new to me Christian speaker and thinker, and I’ll likely be paying a bit more attention to future efforts from this author and recommend that you both pick up this book and check out his other efforts.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: It’s In His Forever by Shelly Alexander

Finally Forever. This book has all the feels and hijinx of a novel length Red River Valley tale, but in shorter novella form – though closer to 80 pages or so, rather than the 13 pages Goodreads currently claims. To put that in a bit of perspective, Goodreads claims that the previous book in the series was 318 pages – making this one roughly 1/4 the length of the previous one. And honestly, just as good. We already know both of these characters and their issues from being secondary characters in previous books, so this one can and does ignore all of that setup that the previous books required for their couples. Instead, we get the more or less straight relationship stuff, beginning with where we left this couple before and progressing to a happier ending for them – their forever. Very much looking forward to where Alexander takes this series next.

This review of It’s In His Forever by Shelly Alexander was originally published on March 12, 2019.

#BookReview: Forever Home by Blake Roland

Fur-ever Home. This was an excellent story that also served as a potential launching pad for a new series, and it executed both brilliantly. Samir and Luis come from opposite ends of the economic spectrum, but are both highly damaged in their own ways. Roland does a superb job of showing these two come together to heal the other via the power of love, and dog lovers in particular will love the idea of a rescue shelter being central to this series. Very much looking forward to more from this author and in this series.

This review of Forever Home by Blake Roland was originally published on March 7, 2019.

#BookReview: My Virtual Prince Charming by Maggie Dallen

Virtually Perfect. In this continuation of Dallen’s new #GeeksGoneWild series, we open up at the very same point the first book does – the Labor Day Weekend party that created the hashtag and all of its subsequent fallout. But then we quickly skip ahead to after the events of the first book, so this book *can* be read standalone, but it does have expected spoilers… and one MAJOR reveal that has been a question for nearly two full books at the time it is revealed here. The story is typical Dallen – light, sweet, and fun, with just enough angst and drama to keep things moving. And while this professional software developer that moonlights as a reviewer and blogger was hoping to see a bit more actual coding, coding generally was presented in a somewhat real world (if amateur – these kids *are* high school students) setting, and that alone makes it different than many books out there. Excellent continuation of the series, and I’m very much looking forward to the conclusion!

This review of My Virtual Prince Charming by Maggie Dallen was originally published on March 6, 2019.

#BookReview: Ghost Story by Pandora Pine

Beware Hitchhiking Ghosts! In this sequel to Ghost of Himself, we come back to Jude and Cope’s slow-burn romance as it continues to slowly burn, but with some pretty significant developments here for Jude in particular. All of this happens against the story of a mysterious Woman in White who is haunting and even outright harming a 15 yo boy. And yes, there are hitchhiking ghosts involved as well – including ghost HTML in my read through! Excellent story yet again, and I’m very much looking forward to coming back to Jude and Cope in their next adventure!

This review of Ghost Story by Pandora Pine was originally published on March 5, 2019.

#BookReview: Ark Found by Rick Chesler

Amazing Adventure. In this second outing of the Omega Team, Chesler pairs taut action sequences with stunningly beautiful set pieces… and manages to toss in a couple of points to ponder as well. Even though it is Book 2, it can absolutely be read first, as virtually nothing from the first adventure is spoiled in this book other than the basic setup of who the adversaries are on each side. Fans of Clive Cussler or James Rollins should enjoy this combination of sea and historical mystery with globe spanning action and adventure, and I for one am looking forward to the next entry in the series!

This review of Ark Found by Rick Chesler was originally published on February 27, 2019.

#BookReview: Coming Home by Carly Marie

Sophomore Effort Arguably Stronger Than Debut. This is number 2 in the series and blatantly labeled as such, but it *can* be read independently of the first book, if you don’t mind major spoilers of what happens in the first book. I was fortunate enough to read that first book as an ARC as well, and Marie is absolutely beginning a pattern – but a pattern which I’ve never seen from any other author. The books are strong, relatable romances featuring a large extended family on at least one side (the connective tissue in the series) that could work no matter the genders of the pairing. But where Marie truly shines is picking up on “less than normal” kinks and sexualities and building strong characters that happen to have them. Very nice to catch up with the couple from the first book and the entire extended family originally introduced there, and devastating to have some secrets hinted at in the first book revealed here. Absolutely looking forward to the next tale in this series and future work from this author.

This review of Coming Home by Carly Marie was originally published on February 27, 2018.

#BookReview: At War with a Broken Heart by Dahlia Donovan

Simply Excellent. This is a gay polyamorous romance wherein each of the three men in the relationship have different reasons to be broken, and the author does an excellent job of showing all the warts yet also showing how they heal each other. Truly an excellent romance, even without my next points.

One of the three men in question is Autistic, as is this reader. And this is one of the better representations of Autism I’ve ever seen in a novel. The author understands Autistics in such depth that she either is Autistic herself or has a very close relationship with an Autistic – I’ve never known anyone else to understand us this deeply. Her discussions of meltdowns and personhood in particular sound identical to what many Autistics describe, including myself.

Overall a truly remarkable work, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

This review of At War with a Broken Heart by Dahlia Donovan was originally published on February 26, 2019.