Before the digital age the reader did not have that much power. Readers as a group did in so far that they could express their like for a particular author by buying their book but the individual reader, they had very little influence. Since the revolution, however, the power of the individual has grown exponentially. Whereas previously publisher only took notice of sale figures and the comments of reviews appearing in Sunday newspapers the rise of social media and internet based market platforms like Amazon has shifted that focus somewhat.
This shift has come about in a response to the growth of independent authors. Previously writers the output of such writers was termed ‘vanity publishing’ and scorned accordingly. There was even a belief that if you published your own work in your early struggling career then you were highly unlikely to be picked up by a literary agent or publisher later on.
Curiously this attitude never took root in the music industry where many fledgling artists, Elvis Presley amongst them, recorded their own work first. Indeed, the ‘demo tape’ became an essential method of attracting record company attention and was considered a legitimate means of doing so. No one ever referred to it as ‘vanity recording’.
Of course writing a book is a little different to writing a song. Books need to be proof-read and edited before they get anywhere near being published and that is a process that can take almost as long as writing the thing in the first place. For an independent author this represents a major task but in comparison to getting a literary agent to take on your work it attains a degree practicality.
With the arrival of the e-reader in the shape of Kindle and Kobo the market for electronic books has exploded. In fact the market has grown so quickly that a void appeared that traditional book publishers could not fill and it is this that has led to the appearance of the independent authors. Many were quick to exploit the new technology and to offer readers who were experimenting with this new form original work at a discounted price. A significant proportion of the readers liked what they found.
As with anything the quality of e-books varies enormously. There are some very good writers out there who failed to win attention from agents and publishers and yet who have found an audience in the e-book world. There are also some writers who turn out sub-standard work. To separate the wheat from the chaff marketplaces like Amazon offer purchasers a chance to both rate a product and write a review about it also. This has proven to be a very helpful tool that allows shoppers to get an idea about the product that they are thinking buying, however:
Like so many human inventions the review is open to abuse. There are, sadly, some people who have a habit of posting negative comments. I do not understand this approach but then I acquired the skills of constructive criticism at college. When I review a product on Amazon or a hotel of Trip Advisor I always do so honestly. I simply cannot see the point in taking the time to write a review, particularly about a book, that is intended to be hurtful only. Even if the book is that bad, a ‘stinker’ as Stephen Fry calls them, then follow the precept that if you cannot say anything good then say nothing at all. A product that has been out for some time and garnered no reviews is not likely to be on anyone’s shopping list after all.
It follows, however, that there is another side to this argument and it is one that I wish to make in respect of the independent author particularly; if you have something good to say then say it! New authors need reviews and ratings. It is beneficial in two ways. First, a series of good reviews brings attention to the author and this is what they both need and want. Having invested an awful lot of time and effort in their work the independent author would like someone to read it and express an opinion. They are not selfish in this respect, songwriters, actors, painters, in fact any instigator of a creative enterprise wants to know if the public likes what they do. It seems to be a natural human requirement.
In respect of independent authors the reader possesses tremendous power. They can talk almost directly to the author and tell them exactly what they thought of their work. For me as one such independent author it is a leap of faith to actually put my work out there into the public arena but I will never forget my response to reading the first detailed review of my book; it made everything worthwhile. I don’t have that many reviews to my name as yet, only 22, but they all mean something to me. They do to anyone who has spent time crafting a project, in whatever format, and putting it out there for people to consider.
I wonder if many readers appreciate the power that they have at their disposal through their digital connection with the e-book world? By taking the time to put together some comments, it does not have to be a critical essay after all – unless of course you are so motivated – the buyer can actually help an author that they like to reach a much wider audience. This is a power that the reader possesses. They can influence the career of someone else. They can become instrumental in spreading the word about a book that they have read and opening up the world it contains to other readers.
The majority of independent authors sell their books at discounted prices to begin with and although they dream of commercial success, I know I do, the reality is that they make very little money at it. My royalties do not amount to much even after selling over 1600 books but I love what I do. I create my won worlds in fiction and share them with other people who, for the most part, seem to like what I have done. I would like to reach more people, to have more readers, and everyone who buys a copy of my work can help in that respect. Hopefully, after reading this post you might be one such person who will do me the honour of rating my books and writing a brief honest review so as to encourage others to take the plunge,