creepy portrait zombie book

Zombie Books

Some say ebooks are immortal. That’s one of the wonderful things about them. Self-pubbed authors don’t have to worry that their publisher will decide to take their books out of print, to be remaindered and (gulp) pulped. Books going “OP” is just a quaint remnant of the bad old trad-pub-or-nothing era. Now, ebooks and POD print books exist as files on servers, not paper volumes produced by a complicated process involving heavy machinery. Books now can remain in “print” and available to readers forever.

That’s great, but what about the books no one wants, no one reads, no one even looks at? There they sit, unvisited clumps of electronic blips, not dead but not alive either. Unlike print books, they can’t even be used as decor or carved up into paper sculptures. In some cases, even their authors have abandoned them, giving up on whatever hopes they had as self-published authors. Those books are immortal, but effectively dead.

Books need brains, the brains of readers to take in their words, to engage with their narratives, to visualize the stories they embody. To think about their meanings, and to talk about them with others.

It’s sad to think that a portion of the enormous output of self-published authors in the last decade may languish undiscovered and unwanted. Millions of new books are born every year. How many of them will end up as zombies? More to the point, must it be this way? Do some books just deserve obscurity? How can we as authors ensure that our book babies live on in the minds of readers, rather than shambling into virtual graveyards?

cemetery, gravestones

Images courtesy of Pixabay; “digital brain” image by A. Driscoll using Canva, with elements from Pixabay and Canva.


  1. Having a mind full of religion, science and history all jumbled up together tends to keep me from concerns on this aspect.
    To steal a quote from Edwin Stanton on Lincoln’s death (and risking ire for daring to use it) ‘He now belongs to the ages’ is a terms which can be applicable to any book which is published and of which there is a permanent record.
    You never know when it will be discovered or part of it taken as an example by some future historian. Nor can we calculate when a work slumbering will be picked up by a later generation after languishing in obscurity (Robert Tressell died disappointed that his work ‘The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists’ was never a success in his lifetime. Some of Kafka’s work remained obscure for years).
    For me, the important things are to write and then put it out there.
    The rest if for The World.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. In my sanguine moments, I think of us who have been inspired to write because we know we can publish our stuff as a potential new creative movement. We come from diverse backgrounds and write in a multitude of ways. Surely something worthwhile will emerge from this creative chaos, eventually. (Of course it would be nice to achieve a bit of pre-humous success too!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I see that constrainted immortality as a source of hope: as you say, a great many books have gone out of print and of that group some have suffered the indignity of their last copy being lost, destroyed, or existing in the limbo of a library of record; whereas, as long as an ebook is listed on Amazon or some other retailers site, there is a tiny possibility someone will find it, take a chance on it, and love it enough to tell others.

    So, my thought on how we might prevent a book languishing is the same as my thought on good practice at the moment of release: have a cover that catches the eye (in the right way) and a description that will intrigue the right sort of reader.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! I’ve heard of writers who withdraw their books if they don’t succeed. That seems like a pointless move; it’s as though they’re punishing the poor book, or themselves. Otherwise, we do the best job we can and take the long view.


  3. Great post. This is something I’ve thought about a lot in the last few years as I’ve started reading more and more indie books. There are a lot of incredible works out there from indie authors (the Herbert West series being a prime example, BTW). But sadly, few people are reading them.

    I read a terrific thriller last month–one that was, IMO, far better than any Dan Brown book–and it didn’t have a single review on Amazon at the time! If I accomplish nothing else with my blog, I am glad that I’ve at least been able to tell people about some of these hidden treasures.

    The good news is, e-publishing is relatively young. KDP only started in 2007. So I think we’re still in the early stages of building the indie ebook community, and I think that it has the potential to grow into something very big–perhaps even to a critical mass where people regularly read Indies, rather than just flocking to a few big name authors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The difficulty is finding the books worth the time in the millions that are published every year. There’s a sense that agents and publishers can somehow be trusted as gatekeepers so that traditionally published books are viewed as … more reliable. But we’ve all read such books that were crap and we’ve also read indie books that thrilled us.

      Indie authors are so numerous these days, putting so much out there, it’s difficult to figure out a way to gain an audience. This is one of the 72 reasons I struggle with writing these days. What’s the end goal and how do I get there? For the most part, I don’t write just to write. I want to achieve something — I’m still figuring out what that something is, and as I struggle with that, I struggle even more with the actual writing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Getting some sort of validation is important, probably more so than just a few bucks earned from selling our ebooks. I’ve resigned myself to not keeping up with trad pubbed books anymore, and consciously deciding to read indies. So far I don’t regret it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I haven’t read a traditionally published book in quite a while, and that’s largely because I’ve managed to find more and more Indie authors to fill my voracious appetite for books. Word of mouth, recommendations, sheet pot luck…once I find an author I enjoy, I usually end up reading everything they’ve ever published. The good stuff is out there, we just have to dig for it. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, I’ve also been thinking the whole indie or self-publishing scene is a new phenomenon, and it will take a while to see what our contribution will be. In the meantime, we can help each other by reading each others’ books and blogging about them, as you do.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Virtually all books, I suspect, turn into ‘zombie books’ these days – whether because of pulping in the trad system, or languishing as electronic entities in obscurity. The problem, I think, is that until Amazon self-publishing arrived, the mechanism for publishing usually involved writing something of sufficient quality, and having sufficient luck, that the MS could get through the many gates between an author and the published world. Most would-be authors were never seen or heard of. In many cases, it was because the quality wasn’t good enough – but, as I say, luck also played a part. Good books were not picked up, whether because it was still a buyer’s market from the publisher perspective, or because that title didn’t meet their lists, or whatever.

    That changed with Amazon, but to my mind all this has done is change the nature of the barrier. Before Amazon, getting published was hard and a lot of books never saw the light of day. Now, anybody can publish a book themselves, and so everybody does. The result is what Chuck Wendig rather colourfully called a ‘shit volcano’ – in which the good self-pubbed stuff has been lost in the morass of content that in past years would have languished in the publisher’s slush pile, and with reason. The barrier has changed from one of ‘getting through the publishing hurdle’ to ‘discovery once published’. And the net outcome, in which most authors’ work is never read by an audience, still holds true.

    A side effect has been that even the professionally published books now also tend to disappear in the ‘noise’. All I can think is that authors should keep on pushing for quality, keep on trying – and maybe one day their work will break through. As in the old days of trad publishing, the main arbiter is probably luck, again: getting listed on a major Reddit thread, or gaining a profile in media outside the online world, I suspect.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Matthew. Yes, self-publishing has bypassed the agent/publisher gateways and made the slush pile available to readers. Indie authors who have the time, talent, and enthusiasm to figure out an effective marketing plan may derive some success. The rest will, as you say, have to hope that quality, luck, and persistence will “pay” off in the end, hopefully before the author is dead.


  5. Ugh, the picture you paint of a twilight zone of orphaned books sent a shiver down my spine. I’m no Shakespeare but I’d hate to think that my books will become ‘zombies’ once I’m gone. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Coming at book publishing from a fine art point of view – as I do – I keep thinking “what if sales isn’t the only, or even the most important, point. What if the expression of a thing is the point? Perhaps it is enough to string words and images in a row – to try to make a coherent book – so as to think more clearly about something. True, we hope for readers and lots of them yet what if the whole thing is more like how I think of cooks; the cooks who write recipes down, not so they will be published, or widely cooked, but merely so the cook can themselves make the dish again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now that publishing is within reach of most people, it’s worthwhile to publish works we hope to share with even a few others. Once we’ve perfected them, that is. The issue of selling and marketing is a separate matter. It helps to define our intentions and expectations as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree! It is wonderful to be able to share even with a few others! I find that even the act of constructing a book helps to clarify my concepts – and once it is a finished concept then I can clarify my intention and expectations. Selling and marketing is, as you say, a separate activity completely – and fortunately is one that you can participate in to your comfort level! All the best to you!!

        Liked by 1 person

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