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The reinvention of First Chapters

Last time that I mentioned First Chapters, they were just a discovery site: long samples of selected indie novels followed up with sales links and handy sharing buttons.

As of this week, First Chapters is also a shop. It’s quite a little shop at the moment, but that’s because it’s very new. It’s actively recruiting, and growing all the time.

So I’m on display in yet another shop-front. Do I need another one? Well Smashwords has already got me on display on sites I’d never even heard of, but my theory is that all discoverability is good discoverability, so yes, I’ve always got space for one more outlet. Besides, this outlet has an advantage that may have slipped past your eye in the first paragraph: this outlet has gatekeepers.

Now you might think that as an indie I’d disapprove of the whole idea of gatekeepers, but that isn’t one of the reasons that I decided to self-publish. If anything, I feel sorry for the gatekeepers, partly because they can’t publish everything they like, but can only afford to take on and promote the absolute cream, the dead certs, and partly because there must be many cases where they can’t publish what they like at all. I’m not saying that ‘commercial’ isn’t necessarily ‘good’, but I’m quite sure that ‘good’ isn’t always ‘commercial’. That’s where ebooks really come into their own, of course – no physical inventory, and a correspondingly reduced cost to the risk of taking on a new author – but there’s still a lot of overhead to get that book on the shelf, even if it’s a digital shelf.

Way down the other end of the scale, though I love Smashwords without embarrassment (and not only because, as an indie author, they’ve given me a reliable format converter, total control over my product, and distribution beyond my wildest dreams, but because, as a reader, I love their whole ethos) I have to admit that the absence of content-gatekeeping means that browsing the site means encountering a certain amount of promisingly packaged, beautifully formatted tripe.

Three cheers then for First Chapters, and for any other site that’s able to embrace the middle road of gatekeeping. A shop with infinite warehouse space, a shop whose authors take the upfront risk of editing and design costs, a shop like that can have gatekeepers who, at last, are allowed to green-light every book they like.

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