Exposing The Grand Illusion: Part 1 – eBooks



Part 1 – eBooks

I recently posted, in my capacity as Chief Editor, IFWG Publishing, an article that generally represents a concept called The Grand Illusion.

It is a dynamic in the publishing world where literally hundreds of thousands of self-publishers have a distorted view of the state of the game, and in the process, stymie their own growth (or fail to realize they don’t have what it takes), and seriously inundate a reader public unprepared for poor products, diluting the good writers’ chance to make a decent living.

I call it The Grand Illusion because the intersection of ease of publishing, technologies that enable publishing, commercial opportunity, and human nature conspire to suck unwitting writers into this abyss.

After writing this and having some healthy discussion afterward, I realized that there is more to say, more on the detail of what I outlined in that article. Consequently, I will, over irregular time frames, provide you with more thoughts. I am not a publishing analyst, just an evolving author, editor of some experience, and a small traditional publisher. It is, ultimately, just my view.

However, I intend to try to help authors who read this to consider more thoughtfully where they really sit in the publishing scheme of things, as opposed to where they currently think they are.

eBooks are a platform

eBooks are not at the core of The Grand Illusion. They are simply a platform that enables publishers to reach the public. The ease in which distributors allow eBooks to be published makes self-publishing easier, but it isn’t at the heart of why people self-publish.

Before eBooks, self-publishers were quite happy to take advantage of Print On Demand systems, and prior to that, a much lesser number of self-publishers made use of Vanity Presses. I suppose if eBooks have done anything, they have contributed to increasing the number of self-publishers out there.


There are two reasons why I am picking on eBooks as my first topic. Firstly, many self-publishers and so-called experts in the field incorrectly tie eBooks and self-publishing together, mixing them up incorrectly.

Secondly, there is a lot of misunderstanding about eBook publishing that contributes to the Grand Illusion, including believing it is a tool that is only used, or mainly used, by the self-publishing fraternity, and therefore exposes some of the Grand Illusion’s dynamics relating to group behavior.

Let’s talk about dynamics first. I am specifically referring to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ syndrome (some sociologists call it the ‘in-group’ behavior). I remember a long time ago being very impressed with a couple of essays written by George Orwell. Specifically, Notes On Nationalism (1945), and to a lesser extent, The Sporting Spirit (1945, from A Collection of Essays).

I distilled from both the idea that ‘nationalism’ is the nearest term to a mode of thinking and behavior that can encompass almost any group, from nationalism as we understand it, to class structures, politics, and even football hooliganism—them and us.


I learned so many years ago from reading these essays that people can easily associate themselves with a group, a category, and what can follow is an erosion of rationality. For some, it can be very base – violence, anger; for others, it can be subtle, such as ignoring the principles of detached assessment, ignoring facts, or an unwillingness to research – just believe what others say.

So it is the case with many facets of the publishing industry, including eBooks. People who espouse eBooks, who fall in love with ebook technologies, suddenly see themselves as an innovative, ‘special’ group of people. Then, before you can bat an eyelid, we have billions of rhetoric words about the subject. And a lot of it is irrational.

I mention this dimension, this ‘nationalistic’ tendency, to illustrate one of the dynamics that helped build, and sustain, The Grand Illusion.

Let’s examine four common myths and bust them.

eBooks are now outselling print books

Busted on two grounds.
Firstly, there is a great deal of PR and journalistic frenzy on ‘statistics’ on eBook sales, willingly fed by the Amazons, B&Ns, and Sonys of the world. An interesting insight into this can be found in Jon Page’s article, Show Me The Data! Where are the ebook stats?

We get a lot of newspapers, and blog headlines, such as “Amazon eBooks outsell print,” etc., but when statistics, figures, and source data are presented…well, generally they aren’t. What we usually get are single percentage figures, and the rest are words. “For every 114 eBooks sold, 100 print is sold” or the like – in other words, someone fed someone a single percentage figure and provided no raw data, no complete statistical analysis.

Worldwide Sales

If we dig deep enough, however, particularly focused on sales in dollar terms throughout the world, by the majority of publishers, we get a different perspective. The Publisher’s Association’s Statistics Yearbook, as reported in the Guardian, talks about a massive growth in eBook sales, where consumers spent in 2011 £92M, while print lost 7% to the previous year, totaling sales to £1.579B.

Notice the M versus the B. The trends are the same in 2012, according to the report. According to a recent article by The Association of American Publishers, a similar trend is happening in the US’ overseas market, and unsurprisingly, at this stage, print is holding up.

Be Skeptical

What do we make of all of this? Well, to start with, we should be slightly skeptical about frenzied reports. Secondly, we can be sure that eBook sales are rising at an amazing rate – according to The Guardian, citing The Publisher’s Association, over 300 percent per year since 2010, and print is declining, except in parts of the world where eBooks have yet to make inroads.

Interestingly, the 300+ growth in ebook sales is considered to be roughly equivalent to the print sales drop of 7% in strict dollar terms. I believe that eBooks will outstrip print eventually, somewhere over the next decade, but we can’t be sure of the exact timing.

The most important point to make about this myth: Publishers are deeply interested in ebook sales versus print, but they are not afraid of it. They embrace it. As they lose print sales, they gain on ebook sales. [20120822: William Ockham made a good comment regarding my use of the term ’embrace’ – I agree.

I mean that publishers may be agitated over ebook distribution – mainly about price control – but they don’t have an issue with the platform. Traditional publishing, like other forms of publishing, is a story of adaptation. I repeat: they are not afraid of eBooks, but the distributors].

Traditional Publishing

Take a look at the top 25, 50, 100 ebook sales in any site (sales, mind you, not giveaways), and you will find the overwhelming majority are books published by traditional publishers.

For instance, looking at the New York Times Bestsellers eBook Fiction list for 12 August 2012, we have the top 35 listed. 23 are large publishing houses, and another 9 are small, and it appears that 3 are self-published (I should add that this is a real achievement by the self-publishers).

While I am here, another observation is that there were a very high number of romance books in the list, which contrasts somewhat with the print list – suggesting that eBooks are permeating society along certain genre lines, not wholesale stage. The point is made – traditional, and self-publishers have embraced eBooks.

The only groups afraid of ebook sales growth are companies that make a living solely from print. This is the reason why self-publishers need to separate eBooks from self-publishing in discussions and refrain from stating that traditional publishers don’t get it – which is complete hogwash.

eBooks make it easy to publish

eBooks are essentially electronic flat files; at their core is x/Html, the universal web publishing scripting language. They get modified for some file formats, most notably Kindle, which is based on an earlier format (Mobi) used for handheld devices. Other popular vendors, such as NOOK Books and Kobo, align with the EPUB format, an international standard, and again, a derivative of XHTML.

There is software available online, both free and commercial, that can convert files from one format to another, including classic word processing formats, such as Word, straight to the desired format needed for ebook publishing. The technological advance that is most useful for self-publishers, more than traditional publishers, are online systems that enable the self-publishers to directly upload word-processed documents, which are converted into an epublishable form.

ePublishable form

With a little research, self-publishers can learn the tricks of the trade, and to varying degrees, make the desired end product look good for readers. Aesthetics is very important because readers do not want to be distracted with poorly formatted eBooks, and they also want to be impressed with your professionalism.

Somewhat shallow, but a simple fact. In fact, there is no difference, in principle, between producing eBooks and print books when it comes to publishing quality products. When professionally formatted, print books use tools like InDesign, which makes an astonishing difference to the quality of the internal block.

Likewise, with eBooks, knowledge of HTML and using tools to manipulate files produces a significant difference in the quality of the product – and the fully automated systems cover only some of these elements. I repeat, there are self-publishers out there who know all this stuff, which aids them to no end, but most don’t have the skills or knowledge. And it shows in far too many books.

In terms of the ‘physical’ product, the technical end, self-publishers can quickly and easily produce a product, but is it necessarily worthy of publishing?


The critical component of publishing is the content. Has a book been edited properly, proofread, and has the end product been quality controlled? Is the book good at all? All these elements, and more, make up the process of publishing a book, whether it has an ‘e’ tacked at the beginning of the word or not.

While it is easy to upload a Word document, click on a button, and produce an ebook, publishing is not easy. It would be better to use the industry-understood techniques of polishing the presentation, and the usual (and essential) publishing techniques of editing, proofing, QAing, etc., which must be added to the equation.

Whether it be eBooks or print, it takes time, and it isn’t, by definition, easy. That is, assuming that you consider the process of publishing to include quality and professionalism.

eBooks are better than print

It isn’t even a comparison worth making, and therefore by definition, it is a busted myth. I included this because of my earlier discussion on ‘nationalism’ – the ‘us and them’ syndrome. Potentially valuable discussion is undermined with eBook jingoism. There is no doubt that eBooks have superior qualities, notably portability, instant purchasing, and price per unit. And yet the technology hasn’t quite got there for illustrated books unless programming is involved (I am thinking iPad), and, put quite simply, those considerable number of people who still would rather read a print book. There is also a dark cloud hanging over ebook publishing with respect to piracy.

Again, from a traditional publisher’s perspective, there is no debate, at least not in terms of business policy. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

High eBook sales numbers make a successful author

Both busted and true.
This statement is true if the eBook sales are truly sales (that is, earned income), and when we talk about high, we are talking in terms of multiple thousand (many peak bodies believe success is marked by 5000 genuine sold units, regardless of platform). When you get to that order of magnitude, we can reasonably assert that many people enjoy the read. There is a degree of momentum in interest beyond just marketing and gimmickry. Exceptions exist, but I think this is a reasonable working model for what makes a successful author from an eBook perspective.


What makes this statement, at the same time, a myth is when authors grasp at statistics willy-nilly. First of all, giveaways don’t count. Don’t fool yourselves. There are plenty of consumers who will download freebies and never read them.

While marketing opportunities are hard to come by for self-publishers, sometimes fortune can smile on individuals – a good review, a commendation by a high profile personage/celebrity, a cover design, and a title that resonates with many people. All this is good, but the writer needs to back up this serendipity with a quality product.

Inevitably, if the work isn’t good, it will fade away and rarely achieve the 5000 unit benchmark. There are indicators to prove this point – for example, if a celebrity or reviewer has strong bases in a particular country, say the US. Sales are good in the US, but not, say, the UK and Australia.

The conclusion can strongly be given that the opportunity was successful for the reasons outlined above, but nothing else, such as intrinsic quality. To demonstrate the Grand Illusion, I have heard of a writer that actually was in this situation and blamed the lack of sales in the ‘other country’ on the lack of education/appreciation of that population!


Regardless of ebook and print sales, in my mind, a successful author is one who has published multiple books at 5000+ unit sales, have attracted critical respect from various sectors of the writing industry, and can earn the majority of her or his income from the pen (metaphorically speaking).

In other words, it takes time and polishing of the craft – two factors that do not have a place in The Grand Illusion (noting that there are self-publishers who are mindful of this).

  1. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    Another very good article Gerry but there is one aspect of this that you fail to address repeatedly. When an author goes the traditional publishing route the publisher presumes to be the authority and knows better than the writer and assumes creative control of the writers intellectual property. Some of us do not wish to leave the final version of our work as it appears in print to others. WE wish to retain all aspects of the creative process and determine the final product not some marketing expert trying to edit our work so it fits nicely into some genre pigeon-hole so it’s easier to sell. While the writer wishes to tell the tale as he/she see it the publisher is all about changing it to be what is most sellable and the ultimate product my very well be completely different from the original work. I for one do not wish the give such rights to people who are not so much interested in retaining the integrity of a work as they are interested in turning a profit and if that entails gutting a book to do it not a problem. Self-publishing lets the writer retain complete creative control of their work for good or ill.

    1. Avatar of Nancy Duci Denofio
      Nancy Duci Denofio says

      OMG – I certainly placed the question to the wrong person – but to tell you the truth, I am having a great time reading what all of you have to say. Some mistakes are worth it. Sincerely, Nancy

  2. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says


    I am not sure where you are coming from. I am not, in this article, espousing tradpub over selfpub, or vice versa. I am simply focused on the delusions espoused by many commentators on ebook technologies, and propping ‘the Grand Illusion’ – admittedly, mostly by self-publishers. Again, it doesn’t say ALL self-publishers believe these myths, nor that ALL self-publishers don’t know what they are doing. In fact, I believe that a handful of self-publishers are doing well, thank you, professionally speaking.

    I will be posting another article (already written) on what I see are the good features of self-publishing, which includes the area of creative control (well, using the word ‘creative’ is a bit silly, as you are also espousing business, marketing, and technical control as well).

    Just to throw in my view, which is unrelated to this article, but to your comment, I actually 100% agree with you – except I place one caveat. It assumes that you know what you are doing, it assumes that you produce something worthy of what readers want to read, instead of buying unwittingly and throwing it into the trash can, electronic or otherwise. I have written another article on that topic, that will be published here as well – but I have already published it in my blog – I think this is the heart of what I am trying to say. http://gerryhuntman.livejournal.com

  3. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    Your caveat is noted but the quality of the product is not reliant on whether a writer has a publisher or not. Since I became an avid reader around 1958 I have read hundreds of traditionally published books that were trash. So don’t presume that traditional publishing automatically implies a quality product, it does not. To the contrary, an example being how anyone with name recognition can get a ghosted book published and sell 100k copies in a few days. That is a prime example of publishers whoring names to make a buck. The mindless idiots on reality shows selling garbage books to the mindless idiots who watch such shows is a typical garbage niche genre that is currently being exploited by traditional publishers none of which has any redeeming literary value whatsoever.

    1. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
      Gerry Huntman says

      Rick, you used the same argument before.

      There are two types of garbage – 1. stuff you don’t like, and 2. stuff that simply doesn’t work. If I can adequately use grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and write something that draws a large, appreciative audience, then it isn’t garbage. If you aren’t one of those ‘appreciative audience’ members, then you may consider it garbage. I am not talking about enduring literature and Pulitzer Prize winners – that’s an echelon higher again. I hate romance fiction, I hate erotic literature, and I have tastes that I think are quite demanding on the writer, but I will not denigrate those who like the stuff I don’t.

      I suppose the point I’m making is that, like you, I have read rubbish since my youth, which isn’t far from the years you have read. Since the beginning of publishing when scribes were used to produce the material, there was rubbish, and even capitalization on what was trendy, etc. What’s new? But it isn’t what I’m talking about. I am telling you, and plenty of others can as well, that there is a shitload of stuff being published through Amazon etc that aren’t even readable. Spelling errors, grammar nightmares, punctuation all over the place, and all the other fundamentals of good writing. While there were, before self-publishing, a smattering of such rubbish, in most cases it was weeded out by publishers.

      I’m sorry, while I follow the principle of respect in debate, and I truly do consider the opinions of personages such as yourself, but I stand unmoved by your assertion that self publishing has not significantly impacted on the amount of crap flooding the market.

  4. Avatar of William Ockham
    William Ockham says

    You very nicely demolish your strawmen arguments, but do you have anything substantive to contribute to the discussion? I have never heard anyone make the argument that ebooks are outselling print in total volume or total sales. Can you give any links to articles making this claim?

    To say that publishers embrace ebooks (without any qualifications) is deeply misleading at best. Five of the biggest publishers were so worried about the impact of ebooks on their hardcover sales that they risked an antitrust lawsuit in an effort to control the retail price of ebook bestsellers by linking their prices to the price of hardbacks.

    The problem with your view of the myth that ebooks make it easy to publish is that the people who make the claim simply have a different definition of “publish”. This isn’t a myth as much as it is a differing point of view.

    Are ebooks “better” than print? Sometimes, for some people, absolutely. Without context, this isn’t even worth discussing. You would be better served trying to understand when ebooks are better rather than being dismissive and insulting.

    As for what makes a successful author, well, that depends entirely on the author and not on your arbitrary criteria. Many authors aren’t interested in critical acclaim. Some may not even be interested primarily in sales. I would say that an author who is achieving their goals is a successful author. They do not need my validation or yours.

    In your intro, you claim that the reader public is being inundated with poor products and that is diluting the good writers’ chance to make a decent living. That is your grand illusion. You have zero evidence that that is true. Sure, there is a flood of crap, but readers have better tools to find what they want and a broader selection of the books they want read.

    1. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
      Gerry Huntman says

      I like it when people read my articles – it means that it impacts in some way, and perhaps it will encourage scrutiny – I like your scrutiny William, but you are filtered in your approach as much as you claim I am – I will leave it to you and others to commentate on that slant.

      You must be insular in your networking to miss the claims that ebooks are outselling print – but on the other hand it could be because you are being selective to articles that are based on more rigorous research. I am not restricting myself to the more scholarly, but in fact to the general dialogue, including articles, written by the many self publishers (and some others), who make up the fabric of what I call the Grand Illusion. If requested, I will send you an article or two, but because I don’t want to embarrass such personages, I would rather do it by email/message etc. If you do ask, and I do send them to you, will you kindly post a comment here that I did, to satisfy your challenge? However, with just 1 minute searching, I found one such article published in this very site, and only a week or so ago: http://angiesdiary.com/publishing/indie-or-traditional/

      Your comments about the five publishers is way more complex than my discussion about embracing ebooks or not, and you know it. I am talking about NOW. Whether they like it or not is irrelevant. All publishers embrace any technology that will sell them units. That’s my point and I am fascinated to find out why you disagree with that point. The rocky road that led there is irrelevant. I am a small publisher and I embrace ebooks, my publisher friends running into the dozens of companies, including medium sized companies, embrace the technology, and my point about the best selling ebooks appear to be ignored by you.

      Please provide evidence of me being insulting. Take your filters off.

      My article is working on the general – I agree that one can easily widen the definition of ‘successful’, but I would wager that most have similar views – making money full time from writing, and getting read by a large audience. I make no apologies focusing on that group. Having said this, I can pick a poor author easily – reading the first few pages, and that is after I set aside my taste in style and content.

      I used the term ‘Myth’ because it was neat to categorize my views into a single concept – and it hearkens to the ‘Myth Busters’. In reality, two of the categories I used are not quite myths – they are, instead, my views on the inaccurate ‘absolutisms’ that people use – which are false. You are absolutely right that different people have different views on what is ‘published’ etc, which is in fact my point – that people incorrectly use absolute statements. My arguments aim at a false set of views, and ‘myth’ was convenient from an article structural point of view. I will stick with it.

      I vehemently disagree with your last point, and I am sure so do many other informed commentators. The tools are not there. They are no way near as mature and time-treated as other publishing industries. I have made an assertion and I have no problems with you disagreeing with it – but because I cannot find exact metrics on something so difficult to measure, does not invalidate it – all you are doing is using a well-honed, but transparent, form of rhetoric, going back to the time of Cicero.

      1. Avatar of William Ockham
        William Ockham says


        I appreciate your response. I would like you to consider that your previous experience in publishing might be blinding you to fundamental changes in your industry. It is easy to focus on web articles where people get sloppy with their thinking or writing when that fits our preconceived notions.

        For example, you say in your response that “all publishers embrace any technology that sells them units”. It would be easy to dispute that if I took it literally, but that is a pointless conversation. I would rather assume that you mean ebooks help publishers sell units and there publishers should obviously embrace ebook texhnology. I completely disagree with you about that.

        The biggest publishers are doing everything they can, including breaking the law, to slow the rise of ebooks. That is a perfectly rational strategy, except for the breaking the law part. Ebooks fundamentally change the economics of publishing and that is a serious long-term threat to the biggest publishers. The threat to big publishing is that ebooks undermine their ability to extract higher prices for hardback bestsellers.

        My problem with your point about best-selling ebooks is that I find it irrelevant. DBW just came out with a better, but not perfect, ebook bestseller list and it is even more dominated by traditional publishing, at least on the surface. But 4 of the top 10 bestsellers are “50 Shades of Grey”, listed as a Random House ebook. What did RH do besides slap their name on that ebook? Spoiler alert: Nothing!

        The reason I think that you are being insulting is that you are addressing, in your words, “literally hundreds of thousands” of people and imputing to them a set of beliefs that very few of them share and then judging them based on completely inappropriate standards. And before you say neither of us can prove our claims, I believe that if you say that a large group of people hold a set of false ideas, the burden of proof is on you. I am not a self-published writer, so I can only go by external information.

        The biggest point of contention is whether the tsunami of swill harms professional writers (and let’s use part of your definition which is 5000 units of real sales). I understand why publishing professionals believe that this is a huge problem. You made a comment about wading through a bunch of manuscripts and that is your experience with bad writing. But that is NOT the experience that readers have. Readers go to Amazon (which is really the only place most people will ever have a chance to encounter a lot of bad self-published works). On Amazon, readers almost never see all crap. Amazon’s recommendation system ensures that book buyers usually see the stuff that appeals them.

        Here is my evidence that you are wrong. Count up all the complaints you can find on the web from people who have bought crap self-published ebooks. Compare that to the known sales of “50 Shades of Grey”, a book that wouldn’t have existed without the option of self-publishing. Or better yet, look at all the sales that traditional authors and publishers have made because that trend. Those are real benefits to real people. I could go on and on, but I have the feeling that you will dismiss these arguments as special cases.

        You mentioned my filters. I do have filters. I try to ignore harmless misconceptions. The “myths” that make up what you call a grand illusion are fairly harmless to people who do hold them. If romance writer in the U.S. believes that ebooks outsell print, she is correct in every sense that matters because in that genre it is probably true (it is so close that it is hard to say right now, but will surely be true next year). If a children’s picture book author believes it, that is not harmless.

        You appear to have a very harmful misconception, i.e. that the advent of ebooks hasn’t changed your industry, fundamentally and irrevocably. The balance of power in the industry is shifting away from publishers, agents, and distributors towards writers and online retailers. As an editor and publisher, you need to ask yourself if all the polishing that you do adds econmic value to the books you publish. I do not know the answer to that question and neither do you. I suspect (and it is just a suspicion) that most readers would be happy with less polishing than most traditional books get. If that is true, you will need to change the way you do business. I haven’t found anyone in the traditional publishing industry who wants to grapple with that issue. Maybe they are out there and just keeping their heads done.

        “50 Shades of Grey” can be viewed as a real world experiment to test this idea. Is it a fluke or evidence that writers should just get their stories past MS Word’s spell checker and push them up Amazon? Should publishers steamline their processes to publish more ebook-only titles with less polishing or does that dilute their brand? These are the questions that publishers should be asking instead of worrying about a few loudmouths on the internet.

  5. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    Gerry, so what you’re saying is that there are two types of trash books. The one type is the book that has been professionally edited and proofed and is still junk and the type that is poorly edited and has many typos such as those self-published. But there must also be the third type, diamond in the ruff, an excellent story, fairly well written that just needs some polish to sparkle. These are the gems of self-published ebooks that publishers like yourself should be mining. These are the best sellers of tomorrow that needs to be found, in the multitude of ebooks that are available, by the traditional publishers who are looking for the next success story in writing. It is a gold mine that publishers can pan without any contact with the writers until they find something they want to work with. It actually, for the first time, offers publishers a way to find material without wading through mountains of manuscripts and sending out rejection slips. You can now preview hundreds of thousands of books for free anonymously. What more do publishers want from writers? This is the best thing to happen to publishers since the typewriter. So why are they complaining? Are they so arrogant and narrow-minded they can’t see the opportunity before them? I think not, I think they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand treating self-publishing as unprofessional and somehow not quite acceptable, like a bastard child, as science fiction was for decades, yet at the same time reading many self-published ebooks looking for the next bit hit they can make a killing on. It is this duplicitousness that I find distasteful with traditional publishers.

  6. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    You missed my point completely. Completely, and I worry it was intentionally done.

    I was trying to point out that it is easy to view a continuum of ‘rubbish’ as being, literally ‘rubbish’, but in fact only part of it is – the rest is opinion of style/content. But having said that, there is true crap. You can’t polish a turd. That is a generalization I do agree with – but be careful about what you call a ‘turd’, because if ten thousand people read it and enjoyed it – well, on what grounds can truly say it is crap?

    I categorically don’t include ‘diamonds in the rough’ in the crap category, and in fact, I have personally professionally edited over two million words of novels and significantly improved those works – and no small percentage were publish-poor indeed prior to the polish. These works on the main would be ignored by the larger publishing houses for reasons detailed below. It appears that my effort, and many like me, are just figments of my imagination, according to your point of view.

    I tip my hat to your enthusiasm about the good stuff that hasn’t been discovered. I agree, they are definitely out there. And ALL publishers want to find them, because they will make money along with the writers. In my next article I add self publishing to the opportunities that good writers have, to be discovered.

    However. And this is a big however. The sheer inundation of crap does a very good hiding job on the good stuff, and few pop up – I am an editor and I work up to 18 hour days editing, working with writers I am associated with, and have to make a living. How do I find the time to wade through the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts? Do I simply take at face value a person who posts on Facebook that they have written a great novel (boy, there are a lot who say that!). The mechanisms are simply not in place to make this process work easily. I believe that such mechanisms will emerge, and it will help self-publishers to no end, because it will (on the whole) better separate the wheat from the chaff.

    I am a traditional publisher. I love publishing new writers. I get a kick, a thrill from it. I am not alone. I can help publish around 12 to 15 novels a year, and polish them to brilliance, where most self-publishers can’t. This is my contribution, and there is no duplicity involved. From my own convictions, and my own experience, I cannot agree with your absolute statements. They simply don’t scan.

  7. Avatar of Derek Haines
    Derek Haines says

    I’ve been following this debate closely Gerry and I have to say that it sounds to me like an argument about whether horse drawn carriages are much more refined and dignified when compared to the motor car.

    Massive changes have already happened in the publishing industry, and the industry will continue to change and evolve. So it is pointless looking back and comparing a bygone era to today’s reality. No amount of complaining or arguing will change the fact that no one uses a horse drawn buggy to go out on Saturday night anymore.

    It is not the time to look back. It’s the time to look forward, adapt, change, experiment and try new and innovative ideas. Publishing today is about content, and lots of it. Not about the correct use of the subjunctive. Focusing on the past will not bring any success in the future. Only by accepting that things have changed, and then working from a new understanding will.

    1. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
      Gerry Huntman says

      Hi Derek

      Thanks for replying, I know you to be one of the good self-publishing authors.

      Regarding your comments, it is a bit curious. While I have looked at some historical factors, most of my comments have been directed to now and the future. For example, I am saying that there is a flood of crap in the market, and that is a new phenomenon in my reasoning, not an old one. I am stating (in fact stated in more than one article) that there will be further changes in the process, driven by readers, much like Rotten Tomatoes, that will stabilize the flooding effect. That sounds to me like looking to the future, and optimistically for the good writers out there.

      I suppose, then, your major point of looking to the ‘brave new world’, is one I agree with.

      The only warning I respectfully give, is not to be evangelical about your industry sector. It is so easy to be excited by change and discover it changes again, in a different way. It is so easy to accept anything said or reported at face value because it philosophically aligns with one’s own beliefs. The critical question, I think, based on your discussion, is whether readers will settle for lesser standards of English/formatting with regard to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and a well-honed list of writing style standards. Will this change markedly? I’m not so sure of that – change it probably will, just like the English language and all its idioms are fluid, but not markedly. This contention is close to the core of my views why there is so much crap out there.

      An example of this are the discussions related to this article. The majority of rhetoric is totally unrelated to the topic of the article! Why is this so? Because people are more interested in banging their own drums. I don’t mind, because people will gather around to find out what all the noise is about. They can read my article (and the comments) and formulate their own opinions.

      Thanks again, Derek

  8. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    For some reason I am getting the impression that you see yourself as an authority, Gerry and value your own biased views more than those of others. What exactly do you think makes you an expert and an authority? Do you have a Masters in English Literature? I have often wondered what credentials it takes for someone to be an editor. Nepotism? Going with the family publishing business would surely seem to be one of the credentials that many editors have. Wealth? Having the money to start a publishing business seems to be considered a valid reason to call oneself an editor. Cronyism? Getting a job as an editor because of business connections? All the above mentioned are current reasons that people think they are qualified editors, but in my opinion they are not. Yet they play god with the literary careers of thousands of fledgeling writers and jerk them around for years. Much if not all editor positions in traditional publishing are not earned because of literary or journalistic skills. They are filled by amateurs who are either family, friends or owners, self-appointed or granted the title with no credentials to back up the position. So why not tell us what your credentials are that not only qualify you as an editor but also the authority to pontificate in this venue.

    1. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
      Gerry Huntman says


      I am not an authority and I stated that clearly in my article (when will you get around to reading it). I defend my beliefs and I try to make it rational. Your emotional response just now is a contrast to that, and is also signified by my article focusing on ebooks while you immediately launched a defense of self-publishing, which wasn’t what the article was about at all.

      Your answers and statements are full of bitterness – and your statements are absolute in nature because of this, which is always fraught with danger to clarity. You believe attack is the best form of defense.

      If stating a hypothesis and defending it is pontification, then pontification it is. No credentials are needed, and believing I have a modicum, I nevertheless choose not to display it, as it isn’t necessary. Note that your statements, as well as rhetorical William Ockham’s (I don’t know his real name), are pontifications, if measured against this criteria. So welcome to the club.

      I don’t like debate, but I am happy to defend my views in this forum – up to a point. Not because I want to defend them for defense sake, but because it attracts more readers. I want them to think about the issues that I believe are real. Your views, and Williams, and others, are incidental. You are helping me get the debate out. I may very well be wrong on some or all matters, but I have enough self-esteem and belief in myself that I will continue to voice my opinions in order to have something useful to say.

  9. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says


    Your comments are getting longer and longer, – which I find endearing and appreciate your attention. I don’t find pleasure in long debates, but such is life.

    I wont answer all your points – you make some good ones, I disagree wholeheartedly with others, and I note your practiced debating techniques. You don’t call yourself William Ockham for nothing. Well done, sir.

    I will address only two points, to make this shorter – I am very busy, noting in part my point to Rick immediately above, as to my motivation to be involved in discussion at all.

    Amazon’s system does not bring the best to the forefront of readers. Period. That, in my view, invalidates your premise. Most self publishers, by going to the thousands of forums on self-publishing, are taught the techniques to bring their titles to forefront of attention (and since so many are doing it, it further muddies the water). Get reviews by friends, families, and fake IDs. Visit your own book several times a day and get that counter going. Be smart about tagging, and sell a shitload for free for a while. Keep prices low. etc etc. In the end, you have the high sales creaming the jar, and the rest is just a whirlpool. A reader, if they choose to delve among the self-publishing titles, really doesn’t know what she or he is getting.

    Insulting. I disagree completely.Apart from the forewarned statements about not targeting individuals, any sensible person can and should be able to accept general statements about groups of people, without feeling insulted. I do not feel insulted if someone said to me that many traditional publishers are behind the times with regard to certain publishing practices. I might even have a think about where I think I fit in that spectrum, whether I match that label or not.

    I like the metaphor of the music industry. I know a few musos and they have their dreams, but they also openly talk about their journey and how much crap is out there. They do not insult their fellow musicians, they are mature enough, and work in an environment where the dynamics are collectively reasonably well understood, to simply understand the truths. What I also like about the metaphor is that there are mechanisms out there to health check an individual’s progress – which is not as clear as the written word publishing industry.

    Sorry William, no more time. You can continue discussion and I will try to reply, but no promises. Prefer to write, in my spare time, other parts to this article series where you can comment.

  10. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    Once again, and I have asked this in many forums and blogs, absolutely no answer as to what qualifications an editor has or should have and no reply as to what makes Gerry an editor other than the fact he has the cash to start a publishing business. This in a nutshell is why I don’t trust traditional publishing. They are a monopoly of uncredentialed, self-appointed experts who have controlled the writing world for far too long. I’ll be damned if I am going to let them tell me whether or not my books will get published. Sorry Gerry, if you can’t just tell us what qualifies you as an editor that in itself answers the question. Nothing in your impressive resume on linkedin show anything that would indicate a history in English Literature. All your degrees are business related, not the creative arts. So sadly you I fear are one of those editors who are self-appointed with no actual real world experience with creative writing or the arts, just the cash to start a publishing business. So why on earth would some fledgling writer let you decide whether or not their book is worthy of publication, ask for rewrites or make major changes in their work when you are not qualified in any way to do so?

    1. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
      Gerry Huntman says

      Once again, you attack to defend.

      Rick, your attacks are feable.

      I have three degrees – BA in Science (Computing, Statistics); Master InfoTech; and a Bachelor of ARTS (BioAnthropology, English Literature, History and Classics). I also was a bit of an eclectic student and actually swapped from two other degrees before settling on the three – two of which actually had more English Lit, Linguistics and philosophy. Oops.

      I have been creatively writing since I was 11 – that makes it 40 years. I wanted to give writers a chance to break into the hard to penetrate publishing field, so I formed a company with that in mind, profit second. Our business plan is to BREAK EVEN at 4 years, because we know how hard it is to get a catalog etc. I have an aptitude for editing and I worked my way up. I have edited over 2 MILLION published words, and that’s just novels. I have high praise from nearly every one of the authors who I COLLABORATE with. I’ve done the hard yards. I have two editors who work for me -both are QUALIFIED editors (they have writing/English literature backgrounds and have actually studied and got certification in editing).

      Most publishing houses recognize that one of their most valuable assets are their editors – good editors. Any viable publishing house will employ quality editorial staff. Are there bad editors out there? Yep, and mostly in two-bit publishing companies that are in the category that you colorfully described. Do they represent the majority? Unlikely, unless there are more small shops out there than I thought (and I include self-publishers who create a facade of a publishing house to try to win over more sales).

      How do you become an editor? It’s a bit like how do you become a professional writer. Some people do degrees in creative writing, with an emphasis on editing; others do degrees in creative writing or English Lit and follow up with an editing certificate. Still others join a publishing house with some evidence of aptitude and work their way up the tree, starting off as proofreaders, or such like. There are other ways, but at the end, like writing professionally, you have to do the hard yards and get exposed to the industry from the inside. Also, like professional writers, you have to have the right aptitude and attitude. Some editors, not all, also join peak body groups – most Western countries have National Editing associations, which enables, to a degree, some control and validation of editors in the industry. I have chosen not to, at this stage, because it hasn’t much value for me. As our company grows, I will join one such group – I already qualify.

      I have never asked for major rewrites in the 2 million words worth of works that I have edited, simply because I don’t accept work unless it is of a minimum standard. If a work isn’t of standard, I provide commentary in my rejection, stating what I believe are the work’s strengths, and weaknesses, without prejudice. Changes that I SUGGEST to the author, which goes through an iteration process to satisfy everyone concerned, are in the SPAG space, inconsistencies in plot, naming etc, and stylistic weaknesses/lack of clarity in narrative/dialogue. I have never had any complaints, only praise from the authors concerned. When the product is finished, the authors believe they have a superior work, and I am satisfied that we have achieved the minimum standard that the publishing house needs, to grow.

      I am happy to email you a copy of my Arts degree, if you are still cynical.

      Here is a full list of my edited work, totaling beyond 2 million words: http://gerryhuntman.livejournal.com

      I am happy to send to you copies of my editors’ qualifications

      I am happy to obtain testimonials from my authors that support my statements above.

      I didn’t believe I needed to strut my qualifications just because you asked, Rick, and I still don’t believe it is relevant.

      I’m not sure you can sink any lower, Rick.

  11. Avatar of Rick Carufel
    Rick Carufel says

    It is always the sign of a lost argument when one of the opponents has to resort to insults and name calling. Pathetic.

  12. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    No response regarding my ‘qualifications’? You chose to make some pretty significant assertions, which were insulting. The pot calling the kettle black?

    Rick, I’m happy to be involved in some debate regarding the value of traditional publishing – when I actually talk about it. However, I don’t question your credentials to form and articulate opinions, as I don’t expect anyone doing it to me. Not only were you insulting to me, but you were horrendously wrong.

    Now, where was the argument lost? You stated I was not qualified, had no Arts background, and I required reworking of my author-partners. Which one was lost?

  13. Avatar of Angelica Pastorelli
    Angelica Pastorelli says

    Gentlemen, gentlemen,

    You probably know me well enough to be aware of the following:

    I never (well, hardly ever) partake in discussions and comments. It would simply be too time consuming and most probably not conductive to a natural course of useful argumentation and comments.

    However, like many of our avid readers, I do read your comments.

    As much as I like the discussion on the initial notion of this article and its implications for all parties involved, I can’t help but noticing that in this particular exchange of arguments there is evidence of an increasing hostility.

    Could you please keep the debate civilized, gracious, and above all proficient?

    Thank you all so much,

  14. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    cheers, Angie

  15. Avatar of Robert Politz
    Robert Politz says

    Actually, I thought it was a rather well written article. Do I agree with every point? No. But I do agree with much of it. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

    My opinion; let’s see, what are my credentials? I’d have to say… None! But then, of course, that puts me on the credential scale of the majority of “readers” who spend their money for information and entertainment. And, after all is said and done, they, the buying public, are the ones who ultimately determine the financial success of any work.

    I suppose there are always “Fifty Shades of Opinions” about any product but each person is entitled to their own and that, I believe, is what makes life interesting.

  16. Avatar of Gerry Huntman
    Gerry Huntman says

    Thanks RHPolitz – happy you found value in the article, that is all I wanted.

    Agree with your statement re credentials. I have stated that this venue isn’t one where it is important, and I still don’t think so. I am an editor and small publisher, not an analyst, so unless we all are analysts…well…what’s the point? This is just a venue to air opinions and hypotheses. If I was given the chance to write for the Publisher’s Weekly, or Forbes, etc, I suspect I would have to lay credentials on the table and it probably wouldn’t muster for them…

    For my future articles I will be commenting a lot less, and leave it to others to voice their nuances, objections, agreements, etc, and hopefully civilly by all concerned.

  17. Avatar of Nancy Duci Denofio
    Nancy Duci Denofio says

    I normally stay out of things – and still will – after I make a couple of remarks.

    First, technology has changed, we know how hard it was to even have someone read one of our manuscripts, and second, some people have one book in their head, it has been floating around forever, perhaps for some Aunt about her life in the woods, or the Uncle who could swim across the gulf of mexico but was eaten by a shark – okay, easy enough. But these are writers who want their story written, sell copies to their friends, etc.

    Then we have the serious writers who have gotten no where but on the rejection wall – so yeah – now what they believe to be good will finally have a chance to be read by the world and I have read two ebooks from two individuals who are getting ready to be interviewed by me who made the top five published ebooks, and these people never thought they could write. The same goes for those I have interviewed, their stories have been stories until now, and many of them have both the ebook and print copy.

    Why not love books in any form. I know when I travel I love the kindle I use instead of carrying my books they are neatly stored and not heavy. I also know when I am home and I want to get that pen or highlighter out to mark up a book, to write all over the sides and front, I need those printed books. I need the love of holding a book.

    So to all the men in this conversation I have to say I love books. I take them with me lightly, and hold them while I lie on my pillow, heavier on my chest.

    To each of you – bless the writer. Sincerely, Nancy

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