The eBook Anthill

It feels like you’re an ant, standing on the top of an enormous anthill, screaming at the top of your lungs, “Look at me! Look at me!” A tsunami of self-published eBooks has changed the literary landscape forever. 

In one sense the arrival of the self-published eBook has been beneficial for society; many writers who could not afford to self-publish just a few years ago, can now have their voices heard. And, their voices are heard on a global scale as eBooks are distributed through online bookstores. My latest eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat, was available through online retailers in Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan within a week of its release. It has also been added to the digital collections of libraries in the United States, one in each of the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Nebraska and Texas.     

The greatest problem is the issue of quality; a book that’s released by a publishing house will be seen by an editor, and checked for grammar and spelling before it enters the market. If you edit your own manuscript, a basic program that checks for spelling will note if you’ve made a mistake by typing “therre.” It may not consider the misuse of “their” or “there” a problem, since they’re both spelled correctly. Whether a writer can afford to purchase a more advanced program to check for errors, will depend on his or her budget. 

Another consideration is the quality of the writing. Although all editors, to a certain extent, are influenced by their personal tastes, they strive to acquire manuscripts that are well written and have compelling prose. If a self-published author has relied on the responses of family and friends who don’t want to hurt their feelings, they may have a misguided assumption that their writing is much better than it actually is. It is true that many self-published authors hire freelance editors, but that isn’t affordable for all writers. Other options include sharing sharing you writing with a critique group, or a writer-in-residence at a library or university.   

One of the greatest challenges faced by writers who author self-published eBooks is trying to create a cover that stands out. Potential customers may never see the full size image; only a thumbnail, alongside dozens of other thumbnails on the same page. Once again, cost is an issue; not every independent author can afford to hire a graphic designer. Joining a writing community is essential for independent authors, because members of the group may be able to help you with the cover art, and provide beta readers to review your manuscript before it’s published.  They can also offer you advice regarding the best self-publishing platforms to use, and pitfalls to avoid. Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

A significant change for self-published authors in the last fifteen years has been the rise of social media, and the ability to reach thousands of people almost instantly. Unfortunately, new authors soon learn that when you post an announcement about your eBook, a “like” doesn’t mean they’re going to buy a copy. It’s really just a “good job” pat on the back. Social media is a good place to start, but it won’t replace other marketing efforts.

The self-published eBook has resulted in the democratization of publishing, because now just about anyone can be an author. That said, the playing field will never by truly level; self-published writers who can afford to hire freelance editors and graphic artists to help them create eBooks, will have better products to offer. Like traditionally published writer, however, self-published authors have to accept that regardless how much heart and soul they’ve poured into an eBook, regardless of how much money they’ve spent on editing and cover art, there is no guarantee the eBook will become popular. Fortunately, sales figures don’t keep writers at their keyboards, the love of writing does. 

As more authors enter the marketplace with self-published eBooks, the anthill is becoming overcrowded. I guess I’ll just have to jump higher, and yell louder. “Look at me! Look at me!”

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper