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Self e-Publishing Comes of Age

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According to latest figures from Amazon, eBook sales have now overtaken print sales. Circumstantial evidence also shows that with these new devices we're actually reading more. With several thousand books in your back pocket that's only to be expected.

For some people, eBooks are the devil incarnate and nothing but printed-paper will do. We probably had the same debate about the demise of quill pens and typewriters (I still miss the tangled ribbons and wonky carriage levers).

This is understandable. Books represent the sum of all human knowledge. But I've yet to find a person who's read an e-book and said it would have been a better experience in paperback or hardback. I'm not in the least bit surprised. Try it once and you're hooked by the ease and convenience. You also discover that the story or subject matter is what's most important, which is just as it should be.

The late Douglas Adams put this best: "Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food."

The popularity of e-reading has also meant that self-epublishing has finally lost it's stigma. This week's New York Times eBook bestseller features four self-published authors with seven novels in total between them.

Amazon has levelled the playing field. In the eBook world it makes no difference whether you're published or not.

In the last four weeks my own self-published novel, The Blood Banker, has been downloaded 20,000 times, reaching number five in the Thrillers chart alongside David Balddacci, Stieg Larrsson and the rest. It was a surreal experience leading to wasted hours starring in disbelief at the screen. I hesitated before going it alone. Now I'm wondering what I was worried about.

During that time I have not once been asked if The Blood Banker has been sold to a publisher (it hasn't). Put simply, nobody seems to care. Or rather, eBook buyers don't care. They're led by price, title and cover, description, reviews and rankings.

The often repeated argument that self-publishing removes the 'gatekeepers' leading to a deluge of awful books, is misplaced. There is some ropey writing out there, of course, but the wisdom of the crowd actually works; half a dozen bad reviews and your book will sink fast. The do-it yourself e-author is taking a huge risk

This should all be good news for the book trade, not the end of days that most seem to predict. Kindle Direct Publishing has effectively become the new slush pile. What's happening is that authors are being made to work harder before asking for the big investment that printing and marketing their work demands. Manuscripts can be crowd-tested before they land on literary agents' and editors' desks. What could be better than an author with a ready-made readership?

So will this lead to the death of books? I doubt it. Remember the fear that VCR's in every home would mean the end of cinema? The tipping point will come, however, when it no longer makes economic sense to run the printing presses; it's the same debate that's taking place in newspapers. Inevitably this will make it tougher for so called 'mid-list' authors who might have once landed a deal, but the best will still break through.

For ambitious writers there's no longer any excuse to wait around for a publisher to come calling. Self-publish on Kindle and if the book is as good as you believe, the phone might ring. Every author craves that nod of approval, even the self-published success stories.

And if the phone doesn't ring, you've lost nothing. Taking the Amazon route doesn't mean giving up on the big dream of seeing your book in print in bookshops worldwide, on great smelling real paper pages.