I'm a pretty passionate advocate of reading in general and ebooks in particular. I've had a really hard time understanding why the publishing world has been so averse to embracing ebooks. They're easy to distribute, take up no physical space - and use about as much digital space as the average Word document. Since I got my Kindle about three years ago, I've bought more books than I have ever owned in my entire life up til now. That's a fairly typical jump in usage for most ereader owners. Why wouldn't the publishing industry want to encourage that?
Romantic Times showed me how painfully naive I've been. The atmosphere was a strange amalgamation of upholding traditional publishing while almost grudgingly admitting that there might be some merit to this digital publishing thing. I'd be in a panel where someone would talk about selling to book stores and shelving (the concept of which got a huge lolwut from me) and then in the next panel there'd be reference to how great it was to have no shelving to worry about. The former was said regretfully - oh, sorry, your book is too niche, we can't put it on a shelf. The latter was said sheepishly - oh, sorry, I sold a book that would never have gotten shelved in a real store. (Like Amazon's not a real store?)
However, the place where the most infuriating bullshit takes place is in book reviews.
You wrote a great book. The writing is solid, the characters are great, and the cliffhanger ending will have fans on the edge of their seats. You published it through a smaller press or even through Amazon. You want to get it reviewed but no one is interested. Everyone only accept submissions from the big six publishers and their imprints. You're likely to be mocked on social media if you ask multiple places because book blogging is pretty insular. ("Can you believe that chick emailed me?" "I know! She emailed me, too! LOL!") You might find a few smaller bloggers who are interested, but they might not have a wide readership or maybe don't really specialize in reviews. Your best bet is to try to get encourage people to review the book on Goodreads or Amazon, but it's a losing battle. When that book comes out, almost no one who isn't related to you knows about it because it got no publicity. Lame.
I've always gotten the impression that this is how it was, but when I sat in on a panel with the biggest book bloggers, they spelled it out explicitly. One lady gave a delicate shudder when asked about small press or self pubs. I was hugely tired and hungover but that really made me sit up. None of the most influential romance/paranormal romance book bloggers will even consider looking at a book not published by a traditional publisher. Print book, ebook, whatever - the answer is no. What the fuck?
I attended the ebook author signing event at Romantic Times and it was packed to the gills with both writers and fans. Many of the authors there were with small press and indie publishers and people were flocking to them. I was blown away by just how much diversity there was. This is what's getting willfully ignored? And yet it was flourishing like the dandelions you just can't kill off in your grass no matter what you do. I'd be willing to bet only a minuscule percentage of those books had been reviewed by the big sites. Yet people obviously wanted them very much. So, why are they being almost aggressively shut out?
Let's back up for a minute and talk about shelving. What is shelving? It's the process of deciding what goes on bookstore shelves, where they put it, and how long it stays. Did you write a science fiction romance? Well, when a publisher is considering buying your book, they have to decide whether a bookstore will put it on the shelves. And if they do, will they put it in science fiction, which will stay on the shelf for 90 days, or will they shelve it as romance, which will last only 30 days?
Shelving means making hard decisions and categorizing mercilessly. When you have to categorize things very firmly, it also means that you can't really have a lot of variety. Things must conform to popular tropes or people won't want them and they have a very limited amount of time to find an audience. Books must be as easily digestible as possible to be easily salable.
Now, imagine that you don't have the limitations of shelving. You can write any damn thing you want. It's okay to experiment and break the rules and write something that no bookstore would ever put on a shelf anywhere. It doesn't have to be easily categorized or formulaic enough to sell a million copies and if you want to do something new - legitimately, scarily new - you totally can.
Okay, back to reviewing. When a reviewer who only does the big six publishers opens a romance, they know precisely what they're getting. Every time. Oh, there might be a few variations but it's pretty static. This makes reviewing pretty easy because one woman who's been hurt before taming a rough and tumble cowboy is much like another, regardless of setting. I'm not dogging romance here, I'm just saying that books that have to be shelved have to be pretty standard fare.
When the shelves go away, so do a lot of limitations - and so does a standard reviewing practice. How do you review the book where a man who's also a dragon gets pregnant for the good of his race? You would have to really think about it. When you're used to everything being quantifiable, how do you get used to talking about something you've never seen before?
Right now, most book bloggers don't bother because they don't have to. But the day is swiftly approaching where if they won't review the new and unusual, someone else will, regardless of who publishes it. That will be a big leap forward for diversity and I can't wait to see it.