Self-Publishing Has Arrived: Now What?

FireShot Screen Capture #538 - 'Self-Publishing Is Not The Minor Leagues « terribleminds_ chuck wendig' - terribleminds_com_ramble_2014_01_27_self-publishing-is-not-the-minor-leaguesChuck Wendig has a great post up now: Self-Publishing is Not the Minor Leagues

It’s time to take a long look at the culture surrounding self-publishing. We’ve moved past the time where we need to champion the cause, okay? We’ve seen enough success in that space and have plenty of positive examples it’s time to stop acting as cheerleaders.

And it’s time to start acting as critics.

The attitude that pervades self-publishing is that it’s a good place to test your craft, to hone your work. We are reminded constantly that the cream floats to the top, that all the crappy self-publishing efforts have no effect on anything or anybody ever despite evidence to the contrary. The culture forgives and sometimes congratulates even the most meager of efforts because of how courageous someone is to take the plunge to publish their own work. The culture says, “Just click publish!” The culture criticizes the faults of traditional-publishing, but excuses (or celebrates) its own. And yet, sometime in the same breath, self-publishing gets painted as a path to traditional publishing, not as a path separate and scenic all its own.

The culture is full of contradictions.

One of the greater problems facing self-publishing is that it’s becoming the thing that it hates. Initially, the self-publishing community said, “All traditional publishers care about is profits and marketing.” Cut to: the main thing that’s proven self-publishing is that people are making a lot of money.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. He continues:

Traditional publishing is just corporate control! Down with the Big Six! Er, Big Five! Big Four? Whatever!” But then: “Let’s hug and squeeze Amazon, a giant monolithic corporate entity kaiju who has changed the rules on us so many times our heads are whipping around wildly upon our necks! Amazon is the Big One! Yay lack of competition! Huzzah, all our eggs in a single basket! Woooooo corporations!” Wait, do we like corporate control or not?

The fact is a lot of self-publishers don’t mind corporations at all – as long as they’re profiting. Now they’re profiting, before they weren’t. But it’s still relying on a corporate system. Really, that’s OK  – there’s nothing wrong with corporations if they offer a good service. It’s fine to make money: but don’t say that you’re completely independent and down with corporations when you’re profiting off the biggest corporation of them all.

So where does self-publishing go from here? The answer: there’s no single answer. But it would be at least good to see the community not touting profits over self-expression, because that was the whole problem with traditional publishing in the first place. You’ve beaten traditional publishing at their own game: now do it one better and create a different game.

For some reason, people have taken issue with this. The general criticism is: who is he to say that self-published books need to be professionally written and produced? People should have the freedom to suck as much as they want! What?

Yeah, people have the freedom to publish anything – including Chuck Wendig saying that people should do a better job of it. Freedom of speech means that everyone can say what they want – including criticizing whatever insipid ideas might come down the pipeline. Self-publishing follows the same formula as the First Amendment. To go Godwin: Nazis have the right to say whatever they want, other people have the right to condemn it. Everyone’s happy (sort of).

Has self-publishing become so enamored with itself that you’re not even allowed to criticize anyone anymore? Does no gatekeepers mean you can’t even have an opinion about another’s work? I understand saying: to each his or her own. It’s not really my problem if someone else publishes a bad book – it doesn’t really implicate mine. In fact, it has nothing to do with mine. But I can still hope for better quality books, music, movies no matter how they’re produced. That’s how culture works. An opinion is not a gatekeeper.

In a follow-up post, Wendig makes the point that once you charge money, you do have some responsibility to make a decent product.

Because the moment you go somewhere — Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, wherever — and you start charging money, that changes the equation. By a strict reading, that’s no longer Hobbytown, Jake. You’ve entered pro grade territory. You’re asking readers to take a chance on your work for one buck, three bucks, five bucks, etc. You’re not hosting a party. You’re running a lemonade stand.

So stop pissing in the lemonade and asking people to give you cash to drink it.

Fair enough. Writers should put out decent work. When did this idea become controversial?