On Pimp my Novel, there was a very terrible post called Self-Publishing: Great Idea… or Worst Idea Ever? I have reached a point where I no longer feel the need to defend self-publishing any longer. And recently I’ve had some pretty long dialogues on the subject – I figure that’s my last word on the subject. The detractors are just so wrong, it’s not even worth arguing. Eric, who says he works in “the sales department of a major trade book publisher,” wrote age-old criticisms such as,
99%+ of the time, however, these books are either written by the functionally illiterate, are tangled messes of inane plot and one-dimensional characters, do not appeal to the vast majority of readers, are way too long or way too short, or some combination of all of these. In short, most self-published novels are crap.
He’s so wrong that it’s not all that necessary to defend against this kind of misinformation. His point of view is just tired and old-fashioned. Thankfully, there were people there who were more willing to take him on. This comment is from Leigh Cunningham, author of the soon-to-be-released Glass Table, an “eco fantasy thriller with a gentle message about protecting our freshwater lakes and rivers.”
Here’s her comment in full:
As a lawyer who does not get to do much lawyering these days, I cannot resist this opportunity to present the defense.
Eric, a publishing house pays your wages – you have a vested interest in this issue and therefore lack the objectivity required to present an unbiased argument. This possibly explains why, when presenting the reasons authors choose to self-publish, you make a joke of it, make it sound vile, implausible, or condemnable. This strategy – to ridicule a threat, competitor or opponent – has been tried and tested in the past, and history will show that most often this strategy will come back and bite one long and hard on the proverbial.
Arising from your need to undermine self-publishing, you neglected to include in the reasons authors choose this path, a critical reason, in my view, and that is, time to market. The traditional model takes approx two years for a book to hit the bookshelves, and this partly explains why a lot of books published the traditional way, fail to sell – they were hot when sold, but cold by the time they hit the marketplace.
There are other valid reasons for choosing to self-publish, as Erica says in her post – it can build a platform, and is very rewarding. Not all writers will be successful at marketing themselves, but this is true no matter which course is taken since authors can no longer expect a traditional publishing house to fund their marketing campaigns, and marketing, in my view, is more of a defining factor for success than the way one is published.
In your response to Levi, you say, “You need someone to filter out the crap …” Impliedly, the crap filtering is done by traditional publishing houses. Are you dreaming? Spend some time in bookstore bargain bins – there you will find plenty of crap produced by traditional publishing houses. Read book reviews of traditionally-published books – it’s not all roses. Given the rigor of the process however, it surprises me that there is any crap produced by traditional publishing houses. Perhaps this is because the wisdom and expertise of editors is often over-ridden by the sales team.
No doubting there is an enormous amount of self-published crap out there – a primary reason being that many self-published authors do not have the resources to devote to the necessity of editing and appraisals. It is horrendously expensive. So if a failure to invest in professional editing is the reason many self-published books are crap, what is the excuse for all those traditionally published crap publications? I mean, they made it over numerous hurdles, but still, the output is crap.
[Enough of the ‘crap’ and my apologies for it]
I recently viewed a clip by two authors published by two of the preeminent publishing houses. They stated that if you need/want to earn money from the sale of your books then self-publish because you will be disappointed by earnings from a traditionally-published book (excepting a minority of celebrities/big name authors). This contradicts the point you make in your summary. The point is further contradicted by Nathan Bransford’s blog this week, which appeals to everyone to buy books to help those authors who did make it to the summit (traditionally published) but discover it’s quiet, lonely, and chilly when one gets there – it’s not a moment necessarily filled with euphoria, success, or wealth, as we tend to assume. Some authors make money, many do not; some self-published authors make money, many do not. Either way, there are no guarantees.
You say in your summary, “If you’ve tried and tried and done absolutely everything humanly possible and still can’t sell your novel, it’s probably not very good.” This is not reality. Numerous editors and agents over the years have commented that they have often encountered brilliant writing and wonderful stories that they simply cannot place/sell because they are deemed un-commercial for a market at that point in time. I know writers who have made it through the multitude of stages within the publishing process only to be bumped by sales people at the finish line – their work is hardly “not very good”. I know writers who have had editors desperate to take on their work, but again, it does not get through the sales barrier. It should never be assumed that because someone has failed in a bid to gain a traditional publisher that their work is “not very good.”
The pros and cons for each side are no longer clear-cut. The dichotomy that was good (traditional) and the bad (self-published) has blurred, and even more so in the past year or so. The exponential growth of self-publishing has not been enabled by disheartened writers, but by technology, which will continue to improve and drive this growth further. This is good for consumers – more choice.
What disturbs me most about this repetitive and futile debate is that we live in market-driven economies – there is no need for those in traditional publishing to fear self-publishing to the extent that they (and agents) feel compelled to ridicule it at every opportunity. There is room in the marketplace for everyone. Success or otherwise will be determined by the market, irrespective of the vehicle used. Blowing out someone else’s candle will not make our own glow more brightly.
About the Author: Henry Baum
I’m the author of The American Book of the Dead. The novel won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." I'm also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Visit henrybaum.com for more information. I’m the editor of Self-Publishing Review.