People say that I shouldn’t get into these debates online about self-publishing because those who are so vehemently opposed to self-publishing are never going to change their mind. But I like a good debate and I really do believe that for the stigma around self-publishing to fade it’s important to chip away at the criticism in debates like this one. The writer’s basic premise is that self-publishing is deserving of its stigma because:
- There is no quality control of self-published books so book customers are led to buy inferior work.
- Self-publishers are naturally bad writers who just couldn’t hack it in the traditional system.
- The vast majority of self-published books are bad, so statistically you are more likely to read a bad book if it’s self-published than traditionally-published books.
The second and third are easy to refute and I’m frankly sick of refuting them. The traditional system rewards crappy writing frequently and does not reward innovation. Small presses are more open to new writers, but small presses have less money – and not necessarily a better distribution apparatus than self-publishing. Re: #3 – truly bad self-published books are going to be ignored by reviewers and readers alike. And as time goes on there’s an increasing number of self-published books that are gaining attention because of their quality – not just a “small fraction” of self-published books. Etc.
Honestly, I don’t know what “appalling” self-published books these people are seeing. As editor of this site I see A LOT of self-published books. They may not all be great, but a rare few of them are offensive to the English language. It’s true, people are self-publishing books that shouldn’t necessarily be put in between covers – but so what? In all mediums there’s bad work, but (repeating myself again) it’s only in self-publishing where writers are blamed for the bad work of other writers. It makes no sense at all.
I’m more interested in point #1 – because he has some interesting ideas, such as a self-published books should come with a stamp that it has been properly edited by a professional, so buyers can have some assurance that the book’s not a mess before shelling out $15. An interesting idea. Many self-published writers already do this in the acknowledgments, but it’s like he’s asking for a site that only lists these books. One of the reasons I was such a vociferous advocate of Indie Reader is because this site could speak specifically to this type of reader, someone with so many preconceptions – which is to say a lot of potential readers.
Where the posters go afield is saying that they never trust Amazon reviews because they’re all plants – basically stating that all the ways self-publishers can gain some credibility – online reviews – count for nothing. There are many serious and legitimate reviewers reviewing self-published books, so there are plenty of ways that a self-published book can be vetted beyond having a publisher’s imprint. A poster even goes to say that it is “deceitful” to put a publisher’s imprint on a self-published book – because it makes it seem as if it’s gone through an editorial process. It’s at this point that I should have stopped caring about people’s bias. That outlook is conservative to the point of echoing those who criticize blogging as being an illegitimate form of writing. The new media is here, get used to it.
I will freely admit that self-publishing is like a teenager – it’s not fully aged to where it’s going to be. At some point we will have a system where self-publishers can:
- Be distributed more freely through widespread use of in-store print on demand machines and the widespread use of ereaders.
- Be a part of an expanded vetting system as well – through online reviewers, social networks, and self-publishing being taken more seriously by traditional print reviewers.
- Be part of a traditional publishing system that is also utilizing print on demand, peer review sites and other methods of reaching readers that are not yet fully mainstream.
But that’s not here yet: still, it will be. Publishing is becoming more narrow in their criteria for publishing books right at a time when there are more people writing books than ever before. That’s not a system that can work for a growing list of writers. To say that all those writers – a great many who may be very good – are not worth the attention because it doesn’t have the stamp of a publisher (that may be putting out inferior work) is giving way too much power where it doesn’t belong: to the publishers and not the artists. Self-publishing is about giving writers back their voice – yes, some people are releasing books before their voice is fully formed, but count on it: more writers are going to be asking themselves, “Why am I waiting a year just to get another rejection, when people honestly like my book?” These writers need a platform.
Update: Read Zoe Winters’ Why Self-Published Music Sux – she handles this way better than I did.