by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
On one of my loops there has been for some time a very spirited discussion about self-publishing – some correspondents are very outspoken that it should just ‘go away and let real publishing take over again.’ Some admit to being confused or uninformed. Some – including me – are quite vocal that self pubbing is not only here to stay, but that it should be. Because I feel so strongly about this, I have taken my response to this somewhat contentious thread and put it here.
For all those who think that ‘self publishing should just go away and let real publishing take over again’ I ask... Why? Self publishing IS real publishing, with the added benefits of freedom and due rewards for the writer. It gets the story from the writer's mind into the reader's hand, and that's the rock-bottom basis of publishing. For centuries writers have been treated as at best the red-headed-stepchildren of the publishing industry, at worst nothing more than a necessary evil. While there are the mega-bestsellers who receive fantastic amounts, the majority of writers are paid least and last, which is egregiously illogical as without them the publishing industry would not exist. Trad publishers are notorious for keeping authors in the dark about sales figures and give them little or no input into covers, marketing (when any marketing is done at all) and basically tell writers "Give us the books we will accept, allow us to shape them, take what we give you without any questions and go away."
Self publishing has changed all that. The author is now in charge and is finally getting paid in proportion to their contribution. It's more work for them, but the rewards are worth it. Is there dreck in self-publishing? Of course. Freedom is always messy, but that's no reason to condemn a new process when there are so many benefits. Self-publishing is the essence of freedom - let the market, ie the reader, decide what they want.
If self pubbing were not good for the writer, why would so many trad pubbed writers be switching? They want commensurate rewards for their work. They want control. They want to know what is happening and be able to try new things. In return, every real writer I know puts more care into their self pubbed books than most traditional publishers. Check a trad pubbed book (especially one of the Big 5) against a professional writer's self pubbed one. I’ll bet you there are more mistakes - typo, formatting, etc. - in the trad pubbed. The professional self pubbing writers I know hire editors, formatters and artists, many of whom have quit the big houses and gone into freelancing. They too want to make more money. And what is wrong with that?
Should everyone self publish? Obviously not. But - ! Every writer should have the freedom to choose whether they want to self publish or not.
Self pubbing is also good for the reader. Self pubbing gives readers the freedom to choose what kind of books they want. Niche publishing flourishes with self pubbing. Specialized stories or cross-genre books, each pulling too small an audience to interest the big boys are now available. Readers can now choose the specific type of stories they want to read and not be forced to choose from just what is profitable for the trad publishers or acceptable to their gatekeepers. The reader is now in control, just as is the writer.
It's too late to put things back the way they were, even if the trad houses were suddenly to wise up and do everything right. The genie is out of the bottle. If Amazon - the 600 lb gorilla of self-publishing - were to decide to stop putting out books for self pubbed authors or to change their payment schedules some other profit-minded entrepreneur would step in.
And what about the dreck, the garbage books? There have always been garbage books, even under the big trad pubbing umbrella. Yes, there are more now, but that will pass. Millions of people have always thought they could write a book better than the one they're reading, and a very few of them were right. Many try and most never even finish their manuscript. Of those who do many go right on to publication, ready or not. In the old days pre-self pubbing, these tyros were mainly caught by the gatekeepers. They either quit writing or learned to write well - and to conform to the Procrustean bed of the trad pubbers. Now they can string together as many words as they like, call it a book, put it out and then be shocked when it doesn't bring them instant success and fortune. Then they either quit writing or buckle down and learn to write.
Is the system perfect? No, of course not. No system ever is, but with the option of self pubbing, the new gatekeepers are the writers and the readers themselves. And that's the way it should be.