When it’s not a scam

I’m going to take a slight exception to something that Dean Wesley Smith said last year in his excellent post “The Scams”. Go read it first before coming back here, really.

Back? Okay. This is the bit where I have a problem with what he says (and yes, he and I have already talked about this, so it’s all good):

But sadly, very few writers will be able to jump past the built-up myth structure, so as more and more product is needed, and systems change, there will be, of course, people to help out the lazy writers. People who want to take a cut of the sales for doing little or nothing.

Mike Stackpole (among others) advocates the same thing. Writers need to do stuff themselves. And they’re not wrong.

Yes, that’s right. The guy who has a side business converting eBooks and is moving into digital publishing other people’s work (starting with this anthology) says that they’re right.

Any author can learn to do all this stuff themselves. And yes, there are already scammers out there ready to prey on you. (See this post about less-useful publishers and this one about avoiding scams.)

But you know what? There’s going to be a non-zero number of authors who don’t, for whatever reason. I’m not in a position to judge how valid their reasons are (or aren’t). But I don’t feel comfortable making their only options “sink or swim”. That was the way the old linux forums (and all of usenet) used to be – and damn if that just turned people off of good software.

So yes, you can convert your own works to digital formats. (I am, in fact, writing a manual to help you do that without relying on any of the other automatic converters.) You can do all this stuff yourself. I encourage that.

But I think this is where a free-market solution makes sense. Hiring an eBook converter certainly doesn’t make sense for me… but hiring a freelance editor or graphic design consultant might. Sure, I could learn to do all those things (better) – or I could write more.

We must provide and legitimize intermediate solutions between “sink” and “swim”. I agree with Dean here as well:

But, with all this new freedom and new ideas and new delivery systems to readers comes problems for many writers. The changes (as in the past) will cause thousands of writers to just vanish from the business. So I’m going to try to detail out some trouble areas and the reasons behind these problems in hopes that I am blunt enough to help one or two writers stay out of the quicksand of lost dreams.

He’s absolutely right. And services like mine – and other legitimate intermediaries – will help flatten the learning curve so we lose as few of our colleagues as possible as the world changes around us.