A little while ago an author posted her opinion about self publishing. It was not a very positive opinion by any means. In fact, she stated that Self Publishing was an insult to the written word. My first reaction was to get angry. She was taking a jab at an entire section of the publishing industry, not just the Indie Authors that I personally have grown to love.
Instead of hurling insults at her, I figured I’d just put my own thoughts down on the matter.
The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.
Another spot in her article, she mentions that the traditional publishing world has agents, editors, publishers and reviewers that act as “gatekeepers”. She then quotes another author’s opinion:
Author Brad Thor agrees: “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.”
Let’s look at this for a moment. Only about 1% of authors will ever have a career like Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks.
Does that mean the other 99% should just accept that and give up? Should we just say “Ah, well, good try though” and pack up our lap tops and settle for what New York says we should read?
Furthermore, as a writer, should I just keep writing and putting my work to the side until someone in the big publishing world decides they like my work? Because here’s a few examples of how wrong those “gatekeepers” have been in the past:
“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignores the advice. There are believed to be over 250 million copies of his books in print.
“It is so badly written.” The author tries Doubleday instead and his little book makes an impression. The Da Vinci Code sells 80 million.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has now sold 45 million.
After 20 rejection letters, WM Paul Young self-publishes his novel The Shack. 15 million sales and a cultural phenomenon.
I suppose you could just say rejection is part of the game, and you just keep trying until the rejection stops. But what if Nicholas Sparks, after 24 no’s took what the houses said to heart, and put The Notebook in a drawer. We’d never have read it! Thankfully he didn’t listen to those “gatekeepers”. Or Jack London. 600 rejections!!!
My point is those “gatekeepers” don’t rule the world- not anymore. Self publishing gives everyone a way to get their work out to the masses. And yes, some of it sucks pretty hard. But, you know what? So does some of the traditionally published work. And, more to the point, does one badly written book drive down the value of the other books on the same shelf? NO! It has no effect on anything other than THAT book and THAT author. So to say that indie books effects anything outside of that author is flat out wrong.
Besides all that, the only gatekeepers that matter are the readers. They decide what’s good and what isn’t. They know a good story and a good writer when they see one. And you know what? Readers don’t give out contracts.
I gave self publishing a try- it wasn’t for me. I might give it another go in a few years when I’m feeling more adventurous. Because that’s what self publishing is- and adventure. No one’s giving you an advance. There’s no marketing department to lean on for a cover or publicity. No one’s funding the project.
I’m published through small niche presses. Does that make my work more valuable than a self-pubbed work? HELL NO. One example I’ll give is Jennifer Bene. I would give my left pinkie to be able to craft a story as well as she does, and she self publishes most of her work. Lee Savino is another. She self publishes and spins an awesome tale, creates lovable characters, and has you engaged in her story from the very first word.
I went to college for creative writing, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. I’ve turned in a writing assignment that was formatted so badly (thanks to stupid software issues) the teacher wanted to fail the project, but didn’t because “I have never had a mid-term story this well written since I’ve been teaching this class”. Does any of that make my writing better than any self-pubbed writer. Hell to the no!
I still go to writing classes, and join up for writing webinars, attend conferences, and all that jazz. Traditional publishing and self publishing has absolutely nothing to do with how dedicated someone is to their writing. Nor does it automatically mean the writing/story is any good. And really the only judge, the only critic that I will listen to is 1. Myself (which I try not to, because I’m a real bitch sometimes) and 2. The readers.
So this author thinks self publishing is an insult to the written word? Meh. I think memoirs are terribly boring and would rather cut off my toes than write one much less read one. So what?
Would I love to get a contract with one of the big five in New York? Sure, I would. I won’t pretend they don’t matter- they still do. But will I put my dreams and love of writing on hold until someone over there sees potential in me? Nope. I won’t do it. Life is too short, and I have too many stories to write.
And isn’t that what writing’s about? The story? The characters, the trials and challenges
they face? Creating worlds, and loves, and tragedy?
Plucking someone from their usual Saturday afternoon and whisking them away to a new place where they are in love with the hero, they solve the mystery, or they get this awesome sense of release after reading the words The End. That is the point of writing.
And if this author can’t see that- well, then she can keep her big publishing contract. I don’t need some publishing house to tell me what a good story is, or who a good writer is- or even to pat me on the back and say I’m doing a good job. I don’t write for them. I write for myself and my readers.
Insult to the written word? Bah!