Author Laurie Gough wrote an article titled Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word in which she argued that self-publishing devalues to the art of writing, is disrespectful, and less desirable than sharing “a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump.” To rub salt in the wound, the word “published” is put in quotation marks whenever used to refer to a self-published author.
I wondered at first whether the article was satirical, but Gough seemed serious as she insisted that traditional publishing isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system that we have because it’s the only system that includes gatekeepers.
As a self-published author, I think her view is short-sighted.
Readers make the author. Whether published by the Big Five or their own imprint, an author is nothing without her readers. In other words, readers are the ultimate gatekeepers … and always have been. When I’m looking for my next book fix on Amazon — or at Barnes & Noble or Gulliver’s Book (local bookstore), I look at a book’s title, cover and synopsis first. If those pique my interest, I read the reviews before I click “buy”. Frankly, I don’t care if the book was released by HarperCollins or CreateSpace. It’s the reviews posted by readers that I care about.
Gough asserted that the traditional publishing model is the best system we have, so we shouldn’t mess with it. Just because some find the Big Five publishing near-monopoly works best for them doesn’t mean it should be the only system available. To have just a handful of major players dictating who gets a piece of the publishing pie is a recipe for disaster. It would mean a world of shrinking advances for authors, missed gems for readers, and a lack of sustainability for publishers.
With self-publishing, authors can create their own imprints and function as a small press, competing with traditional publishers. I love to cite the example of Meredith Wild, an author who self-published her series, built a brand around her imprint, and scored a multimillion dollar advance for five books. Over at Breakwater Harbor Books, a group of indie authors have banned together to create their own imprint. We’re writing books instead of endlessly submitting to agents and publishers.
Gough’s main concern with self-publishing seems to be the quality of the books produced by indie authors. Which is, of course, why editors exist. Authors can and do invest in thier books and realize that they need professional help to improve on their produce to make it more enjoyable for their readers and more marketable. Why put them down for that?
I know editors and designers who work at traditional houses who take on freelance work. I can’t afford most of them, but I don’t think their quality of work goes down when they edit for an indie author. Many writers have published with traditional presses and also chosen to self-publish. Successful self-published books sometimes get picked up by publishing houses. The overlapping of the two methods keeps the industry thriving through economic turbulence. Whether we prefer traditional publishing or self-publishing, this is good news for book lovers everywhere.
Gough softened her post with a few half-hearted words of acquiescence.
“I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally.”
What I found interesting is that her arguments are the same one the Big Three auto manufacturers made against upstart car companies or that network television made against cable. Lack of competition had made these old moribund companies complacent and stale. The arrival of newcomers in the field improved the product for everyone.
Yes, good writing takes time to learn. You aren’t going to get any better at it by writing pitch letters to the Big Five and the handful of agents they listen to. You get better at writing by actually writing. Indie publishing allows us to do that and then pitch our work to the only agent that truly matters … the readers.