A appropriate subtitle for this post might also be "What the hell are they thinking?"
Let's face it: Publishing is hard. And not just for the author. The amount of money it takes to properly publish (editing, cover design, typesetting, marketing, distribution) a book and bring it to market is astronomical. When a publisher decides to take on a project they are assuming a healthy amount of RISK. A lot of books fail, as in they don't ever make enough money to cover that initial investment. And even for the books that do well, minus the celebrity books and other crazy bestsellers, the profit margins aren't all that exceptional.
What this means for writers is that it's harder then it's ever been to convince a publisher that you're with the risk. Now, most books written by unpublished authors don't deserve to be in print. If you've ever spent more than thirty seconds browsing Smashwords then you know what I mean.
But, what about those manuscripts that are good or even great but require a little bit of polishing? A lot of them end up languishing under beds, in closets or (in this day and age) on computer harddrives.
These days, in addition to writing books, authors are expected to have platforms and followings in addition to writing a kick-ass book. The market is glutted and manuscripts are no longer a commodity. Agents and editors must be choosy.
It's a truly demoralizing thing for a writer to spend years honing their craft and writing a book that's the culmination of a lifetime's worth of effort, only to have the iron doors of publishing slammed in their faces.
I wrote a book that I think is pretty good. I got feedback, edited, got more feedback, edited it some more. I sent it off to agents, got a lot of requests for partials/fulls only to ultimately be rejected. Do I blame the gatekeepers? No. They have a tough job, trying to be fortunetellers prognosticating on the market. They may let the power go to their heads a teensy little bit but ultimately they make money finding books that will sell.
And that's what it's all about. Money. Publishing is a business. Fulfilling dreams is a nice side benefit but ultimately immaterial. When a publisher takes on a book they have to have a good amount of confidence that it will be worth the large initial investment.
Most books aren't. But does that mean these books have no audience and can't make any money, even a little?
Enter Indie! By publishing ebooks on platforms like the Kindle or Nook and POD technology available through companies like Lulu and Createspace, books can be brought to market for a very small (virtually no) initial investment.
Granted, without the resources of traditional publishing quality suffers. Self-published books aren't edited or designed to the same standards as traditionally published ones. Many are riddled with typos and grammatical errors or are just plain badly written.
But (and this is a big but) with such a small initial investment, especially for ebooks, the price points also come down considerably.
Take Wayward. I published it to the Kindle and Nook, for the low price of $0.99. You can't even get a cup of coffee for a dollar. Even with that low price point, I'm still profiting. Yes, 40 cents is still a profit ;).
And yes, there's a chance that my book isn't good enough to be worth the large investment from a publisher and the resulting price point (8-12 bucks for trade paperback) but it's definitely worth a dollar, and probably more.
With Indie publishing I can get my name out there. And more importantly get people reading my work. Even if nothing more ever comes of it at least I'm moving forward.