So award season is upon us again. Already the debate on campaigning and posting eligibility lists and all the brouhaha that accompanies the awards has begun. (Even though I’ve used the Hugo logo as an illustration, what follows is referring to all the awards in general.)
I have no interest in getting into all of that today.
What I’m wondering is whether any indie books will make the ballot. The line between indie and small press is somewhat blurred. A number of authors have formed their own publishing companies. Some are only publishing their own work, in some cases backlist only and in other instances both backlist titles along with new work. A few are publishing work by other writers as well.
The publishing trade journals and other sources are claiming that ebook sales have leveled off, maybe even dropped. I’m a little skeptical of these claims. Neilson Bookscan doesn’t report sales of many books sold outside of traditional channels. I suspect what we might be seeing is a leveling off of ebook sales from traditional publishers.
Until we can measure the sales of all ebooks, and I don’t see how that could be possible, we’re stuck with educated guesswork and large error bars on our data sets.
But I’d like to do a little thought experiment. Let’s suppose for the sake of discussion that ebook sales as a whole aren’t leveling off. Rather what we’re seeing is a shift in reading habits, a shift from traditionally published books to independently published books. (This is the case with me, but my reading habits aren’t always typical.)
One of the consequences of such a shift is there will be some indie titles which gain a large readership in the year they’re published By that I mean enough people will read these books and stories and like them that we will begin seeing these titles on award ballots. These titles will most likely be from authors who have established fan bases, especially if they are authors who first developed a following through the major imprints and have since chosen indie or hybrid career paths. Of course, we can’t rule out a surprise hit by a new author.
We’re already seeing indie published works that are indistinguishable, and in some cases superior to, traditionally published books. Not all of them or even a large percentage of them. But the authors who are true professionals who have gone indie are hiring editors, copy editors, and cover artists, and a good number of the people they’re hiring have come out of traditional publishing to go freelance. Many of these authors are excellent story-tellers with years of experience honing their craft.
Readers really don’t care about publishers. They care about authors. They follow authors. And some indie authors are beginning to develop large fan bases. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before some real contenders for the Hugo and other awards based on popular vote emerge from outside the traditional venues. As I said, this is a guess. An educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. YMMV, of course. I think we’ll see some indie authors showing up on final ballots before too long.
I’m looking forward to that day. The field is bigger than what’s published by the big houses. The field is bigger than any one award. There is a lot of great fiction out there. I try to highlight just a small sliver of it here. It will be nice to see some of these authors and their works get some recognition.