Dumb And Dumber. The Myth Of Stupid Readers.

Well, you found this blog and you’re reading this post. How on Earth did you do that?

There are literally millions and millions of blogs out there, and the number of web pages just doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet somehow you found the MWi site and are reading this now.

Chances are you’re a return visitor, which means you’re a real masochist and have decided to forgive my occasional typos, lax editing and lack of formatting skills to come back for more.

If this is your first time (and a warm welcome if so) then most likely you came here by way of a link or recommendation from someone you trusted, or just out of curiosity having seen a reference to MWi on twitter of Facebook, or any of a thousand alternatives.

The one certainty is that no-one forced you here, no-one tricked you here, and no-one is making you stay.


Simple fact is, people aren’t stupid. Okay, we all know an exception, but by and large we do not need anyone to lead us through the internet maze and find good sites that suit our particular needs. We manage.

When we go into a supermarket isn’t it just incredible how we don’t need someone to guide us down the aisles telling us which products are good quality and which aren’t? We’re quite capable of making up our own minds.

We even manage this remarkable task of making an educated choice when we go into a major book-store.

All those tens of thousands of books, mostly spine out by authors we have never heard of, all clamouring for our attention. Yet somehow we manage to emerge brain cells intact, with a handful of books that we have decided, after careful consideration, are what we would like to read.

Help me! I'm too stupid to find a good book I'd like amongst all these.

Sure, the author’s big name may be a factor. We all love the comfort of an author we know and love. But before we part with our money we’ll also look at the cover art; the title; the blurb; maybe the font used and the shade and texture of the paper pages. Most likely we’ll stand there and read a few paragraphs, or maybe find a seat and read a few chapters.

What we certainly don’t do is go into a bookshop and grab ten books at random from a shelf and hope for the best.

Yet when it comes to buying e-books it seems common sense goes out of the window. Or so the gatekeepers would have us believe.


We are told constantly how the gatekeepers’ sole reason for existence is to protect us from being drowned in the drivel self-publishers are swamping us with.

Fact is, of course, the sole reason for the gatekeeper’s existence is to make money. Nothing wrong with that, by the way.  We all have to make a living, and they are just doing their job.

But in pursuit of their shareholders’ needs the gatekeepers have ensured that what readers get to read is what they believe will make money for them. And for the past century or two they have done that by having an effective monopoly on the production and distribution of books.

That monopoly is now ending, and no-one is screaming against it louder than the gatekeepers with a vested interest in the Old Model.

And yes, they have a point. There are writers out there who are self-publishing their aunt’s memoirs, their children’s homework and their love-letters to their pets. There are writers out there self-publishing their first novel having not even run a spell-check. There are writers self-publishing their novels that have no idea about sentence structure, let alone how to create a cover or format to e-book standard.

And yes, if you know where to look and are so-inclined you can probably find an example, pay good money to download it, and then shout to everybody about how bad self-published books are.

Equally you could find a self-published blog or other website and say the same thing. But you wouldn’t. Why waste your time and energy? And you certainly wouldn’t part with hard-earned cash to do so.

You know, I know and everyone else knows that lousy blogs and websites exist. So do lousy e-books. So do lousy paper books. Big deal! Who cares?

Joe Konrath this week wrote a great piece entitled, in his inimitable way, The Tsunami Of Crap.

Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths.

Or something like that.

This is bullshit, of course. A myth. A fabrication. One rooted in envy and fear.

Envy and fear. As often as not I disagree with Joe, but on this one he has it almost spot on.

There is real envy from those locked into the Old Model, through existing contracts, or just as likely from simply being afraid to take control. Institutionalised writers who have always had mommy there to hold their hand, and now just can’t imagine having to make decisions for themselves.

There’s also real fear from those who have always hidden behind the writers. The gatekeepers.

Publishers, agents and editors to name but a few, who suddenly see their job-for-life existence is coming to an end. Suddenly, instead of sitting behind their desks awaiting the writing minions to come begging for their approval, the gatekeepers are having to go out and seek the approval of writers. Their world is being stood on its head.

Note the present tense. There’s still life in the Old Model yet, and so long as paper remains the predominant means of distribution then no question they still have a role to play. But in the English-speaking world, at least, that role is fast diminishing.

As Konrath says, envy and fear are driving these attacks on the e-publishing Revolution.

But he would say that, of course. He’s nailed his colours to the mast and while he still straddles the paper and e-market there’s no question which way he’s going. Surely we need another respected commentator to give this argument some validity?

Enter Kris Rusch.

In a great post entitled Slush Pile Truths Kris drives another few nails in the coffin of the gatekeepers’ tiresome We Know Best mantra.

Kris also deals with another of the gatekeepers’ myths – that low start-out sales for many e-books show they have no future. It’s something many new indie writers fail to grasp too, so this from Kris’s post:

I’ve seen blog after blog from writers who put their books up on Kindle, then watch the numbers, and bemoan those two or three sales in one month.  Yeah, yeah, those writers complain, the next month I had six sales, and the month after that twelve, but eighteen sales in three months won’t make me rich.

And yet…the book is on an upward trend.  Which means that the three original readers probably told a friend or two who read the book, and those friends told more friends, and so on and so on.  Yeah, you won’t get rich in 2011 with those numbers, but with some patience, and a willingness to write and publish more books (instead of spending all your time promoting), you might make a small living on that book in 2013.  And by 2015, you might have enough to kiss your day job good-bye.

Which is better than most traditionally published writers can do four years after their first publication.

David Gaughran also deals with gatekeepers’ myths in Battling For A Broken System, and thanks to David for linking to a great post by Michael Stackpole here.


Official APP figures show most paper published books sell less than a thousand copies. But still the gatekeepers churn them out. They sit in book stores for a few months and then get returned, and are pulped or remaindered. The authors are never heard of again, even though the few readers that did find them may have loved them.

They failed to make enough money quickly enough for the gatekeepers and so they were discarded.

E-books are forever.

Our own Sugar & Spice sold almost nothing in the first three months. Had it been a paper book with that track record it would no longer be available. The gatekeepers’ monopoly would have meant (not that they ever wanted it in the first place) it failed the Can-It-Make-A-Quick-Buck-For-Us test.

Game over, Sugar & Spice. Game over, Saffina Desforges. Failed writer.

Yet in the next three months Sugar & Spice sudddenly grew wings and sold 60,000 copies. Almost nine months on and it’s still selling thousands every month.

To all you writers out there disappointed with low start-up sales, take heart and keep on writing. The great thing with e-publishing is you don’t need to waste years seeking the gatekeepers’ approval. You don’t need to wait years from getting their approval to actually seeing the book published. And you don’t have a three month window to prove yourself or see your career finished forever.

Just make sure you have a good book.

If your book is good enough readers will find it. Just like you manage to find good music, good web sites, good blogs and good books on the net. It may take time, but readers will find it. And they’ll tell their friends. Who will tell their friends…

On the other hand, if your book’s not good enough it will just become another statistic in the “tsunami of crap.”

The choice is yours.

There are still gatekeepers, make no mistake. But the new gatekeepers are the readers. And they only have one vested interest. Finding good books to read.

Pass their test and your future as a writer is assured.

    • CharleyR
    • July 7th, 2011

    Wow, words cannot say how heartening it is to read that – though I’m still hopeful I’ll avoid the slush pile when and if I ever get around to self-pubbing.

    Just out of interest, what do you mean by “formatting an ebook”. I’ve heard a lot about it, but it’s not made much sense to me. Presumably it’s all to do with page spacing and stuff, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me!


      You must be linked up to my computer somehow and watch me type this up. I’ve only just taken my finger of the publish button and already you’ve read the post and commented! And it;s not the first time!

      Whatever you’re on, bottle it and sell it. I’ll have a full crate please!

      Formatting is (apparently) pretty straight-forward if you speak computerese, and were born inthe last twenty-five years, but for normal people it’s best to pay someone a one-off fee to get it right first time.

      Basically it’s translating the manuscript from Word to whatever format the e-book distributor requires so it can be read on their system.

      Safest bet for writers is to concentrate on getting the script perfect and let someone else worry about the non-writing stuff like cover design, formatting, etc. Unless they’re a genius like you. 🙂

  1. Mark,

    Nice post and timely, for me, as I just uploaded my first book into the matrix. It’s not the first book I’ve written. In fact, it’s my 5th and the 6th is done and getting some early reads before I begin editing.

    It’s been less than a week–9 copies have sold–and not one of them to a family member!

    I’m actually encouraged, which is a far cry from my mood when I was flogging away at the gatekeepers, being teased by requests for more and then getting the bad news, “Sorry, it just doesn’t grab me.”

    My favorite was, “Hey, this is good. There’s nothing wrong with this book. You’re a good writer, but I don’t have any faith in my ability to sell a police procedural in this market right now.”

    Keep up the good work.

    Fred Limberg
    author of Ferris’ Bluff, a thriller

    • Fred, good luck with Ferris’s Bluff.

      I have to say it’s great to get positive validation from the gatekeepers with rejection comments like that.

      Many agents, commissioning editors, etc, are good people, struggling to work within the system. No doubt many books that are currently rejected would be published in a different economic climate.

      But there are only so many yards of shelf-space per genre in a bricks and mortar store, and no publisher is running a charity.

      The cyber-store has infinite shelf-space, and the more choice the reader has the better for all.

      BTW nine in the first week is nine more than we sold in our first week!

  2. So as I read this I couldn’t help thinking…

    “When the American’s won their revolution against Britain, they played ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. Sounds like it might be time to play that again.”

    This is exciting stuff to me as I might actually be able to realize my dream of being published one day. *grin*

    :} Cathryn Leigh

    • It’s a dream come true for millions of writers, Cathryn, but don’t rush in before you’re absolutely sure you’re ready.

      If a book isn’t ready then it will never acquire the word-of-mouth momentum needed to compete with the millions of good books, both indie and legacy, that are also in the e-market.

      • Oh trust me Mark. I’m not in any rush. This is just me gearing up for a retirement hobby *grin* Okay not quite. But as you know I’m on Protagonize, trying to hone my skill. I give myself about five years before I really do more than just dangle my toes in the water.

        :} Cathryn Leigh

    • Miriam
    • July 7th, 2011

    But paper books are pretty 😦

    • They sure are – well some, anyway.

      People thought the same way about album covers and singles sleeves back when music was on vinyl. The CD was the end of the world for proper music.

      Then came digital downloads. Even worse! No covers, AND every wannabe pop star sticking their rubbish on the net and losing good music on a tsunami of crap.

      What happened? Even more great music than ever, with STILL all the classics available. Has the music world beome a poorer place for not having so many CD covers to look at?

      Maybe, just a teensy weensy bit, but listening to music isn’t about the delivery system. Queen sound just as good as a download as they did on CD or on vinyl. Tchaichovsky sounds even better!

      Reading is the same. A book is just a means of getting words from the writer to the reader. What really counts are the words inside.

      But yeah, I shall miss book covers too.

  3. Great post, Mark. I was wandering round a fleamarket today and picked up a random book by a guy I’d never heard of – Tenderloin by John Butler. I selected it from a stall of at least 500 books – despite the fact I’d never heard of it, within 3 minutes I’d zoomed in on it and knew it was the one for me – I’ve almost finished it already. It’s brilliant. That’s the kind of experience readers have everyday – we’re not stupid, as you say.

    “There are writers out there self-publishing their first novel having not even run a spell-check. There are writers self-publishing their novels that have no idea about sentence structure, let alone how to create a cover or format to e-book standard.”

    I have to say, I have a sneaking feeling the first “great” book to emerge from the e-slush will be just such a one. I am increasingky convinced that the single most artistically damaging part of the old model, but the one we’ve all bought into retaining as we’ve translated to the New Model, is editing. Which is problematic, because to succeed commercially at the moment in the e-market editing *is* essential, but tghe really great books that will emerge as the years go on that would not have been found otherwise will, i# am sure, be utterly unedited and probably teeming with errors – the kind an editor would weed out along with originality and voice

    • Tenderloin at a fleamarket already? It’s barely been out a month!

      Available on Kindle UK at a rdiculous price, and on amazon.com only through European sellers in paper format. Another example of the gatekeepers deciding who gets to read what.

      Editing? Now there’s a biggie for the future. In fact I’ll be running several posts later in the month on the thorny subject of editing.

      You’re absolutely right that editorial decisions are a major factor holding back the artistic side of literature. That’s why we have so many unoriginal, copy-cat novels that follow any perceived trend.

      Of course most editors are locked into the Old Model. Their expertise and experience has been built around what will sell, not what is fresh and original.

      Sadly many seem quite happy with that. They seem to relish the control they have over a writer’s career. They typify the We Know Best attitude of the gatekeepers. I wonder… Those who can’t, edit? 🙂

      Over the next few years, as the New Model emerges, we will hopefully see a new breed of editors who will bring their unquestionable skills to bear without having to make “mandatory suggestions” the writer must adhere to to have any chance of publication.

      There is plenty of room for editors in the New Model. Most new writers would be crazy not to have an editor on board. But if editors want to play a part in the New Renaissance they must be loyal first and foremost to the writer’s readers, not the publisher’s shareholders.

  4. Great post, Mark. You could have been writing word for word about my experience with self-publishing. I went for a year and a half with virtually no sales. I was disheartened, but as I write YA it’s a huge market and getting your book in front of eyeballs out of the thousands of others, is like finding a needle in a haystack. All that has changed now, and it did so overnight. So to everyone else reading this, hang in there.

    • Thanks Alison.

      For those wondering, Alison will be on the green room here at MWi in the near future to give us the low-down on how she managed to beat the odds and prove the gatekeepers wrong.

  5. Can I get an “Amen”!

    I just finished reading Dave’s post and I loved that in the comments someone pointed out that Budweiser and Coors are going in the tank due to the rise of microbrews (beer indies, if you will) over the past few years. Does anyone decry the rise of such beverages and scream that we MUST have Buweiser and Coors to tell us what good beer is? Nope. Microbrewers are lauded for their attention to detail, their passion for the craft and their insistence on high quality product and personal customer service.

    Draw your own metaphor from that.

    • Beautifully said, Shea.

      It seems that some people like their fodder factory-produced in pretty boxes (or indeed bottles!) and anything remotely original has them scared.

      “Microbrewers are lauded for their attention to detail, their passion for the craft and their insistence on high quality product and personal customer service.”

      Just like the good indie writers.

      And how do we distinguish the good indie writers from the bad? The same way the discerning drinker distinguishes the good micro-brew from their Uncle’s distillery behind the bath. Common sense and good taste.

      • ” Common sense and good taste.”

        Note to Gatekeepers: Um, yeah. We got those. 😉

    • gerrymccullough
    • July 7th, 2011

    Mark, when I read this post I couldn’t help thinking you’d been reading my mind. Last night I posted my latest blog, about Barbara Pym’s experience of having her seventh book rejected by her publishers after they had previously published her first six, although she had a large and growing number of fans. The assumption of these people that they knew best destroyed an excellent writer and robbed us of the books she might otherwise have written.
    Thank goodness we have the option of e-publishing nowadays!

  6. Fantastic post.

    It’s about time we came off the ropes. The rise in self-publishing has hugely benefited readers and writers. And the fact is, no matter how much retailers, distributors, and publishers might complain, readers and writers are the only two essential components in this business.

    The others may facilitate greater sales, or increased distribution, or more exposure, but they are not essential. For too long, writers have thrown themselves at the feet of agents and editors, praying to be plucked from the unwashed masses to be allowed the opportunity simply to sell their book.

    Those days are over.


    • “It’s about time we came off the ropes.”


      E-publishing is fast approaching a tipping point (Xmas 2011 – New Year 2012 will surely be the icing on the cake) and the mood of confidence among the indie movement is growing daily on both sides of the Atlantic.

      Writers and readers are ultimately all that count.

      As I said in response to Dan, above, if agents and editors want to play a part in the New Renaissance they must be loyal first and foremost to the writer’s readers, not the publisher’s shareholders.

      Whatever role the gatekeepers are in now, they will need soon to make a choice – go down with the lumbering Titanic, or swim across to the good ship New Renaissance while there’s still time

  7. A fine example by the sound of it, Gerry. For some reason your site won’t let me access today, but will check that out as soon as it permits.

    Kris Rusch in her previous blog talks about many current writers facing the same problem – proven track record, but not quite good enough for the gatekeepers, who have decided readers only want zombies and celebrity memoirs this year. Presumably so they can recycle the same text with different covers.

    The really sad thing is that many of the gatekeepers – agents and editors especially – agree that the Old Model is not working and that fresh and original new writers, along with many writers already in circulation, are being let down by the system.

    If a few more of these would stand up for writers, instead of forelock-tugging to their current paymasters, we might see the New Renaissance emerge sooner, and with less bloodshed.

  8. Good post, Mark! Thanks for the link to the wonderful post on Ms. Rusch’s blog too.

    I’m maybe an odd indie in that I don’t worry about the gatekeepers and what they say at all.

    Right now, most of the bookstores don’t make it particularly obvious which ebooks are traditionally published and which are indie offerings anyway, so I feel like we’re on even ground. A good blurb, good reviews, and professional-looking cover art should be enough to get readers to download sample chapters. After that, it just depends whether the writing sells the book or not. 🙂

    • A pleasure to have you here, Lindsay.

      For those unfamiliar Linsday runs some great posts for indie authors, sharing experiences and ideas. Well worth a visit.

      I guess you are an “odd” indie for not worrying about the gatekeepers’ opinions. It takes a lot of confidence to deliberately go it alone, and many writers still feel the need for some form of validation by the “experts”.

      But your blog sows time and again that indie publishing can and does work.

      And as the new post just gone live today shows, when you do it well enough the gatekeepers who previously didn’t want to know you are suddenly your best friends.

  1. November 15th, 2012

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