We live in a digital age that has democratized authors' access to readers - and that has caused a lot of debate in the arena of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. With print-on-demand and e-books, the floodgates have opened up. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is writing a book.
Not too long ago I resigned myself to no longer engage in such debates. I'm glad I didn't say that out loud, because here goes:
Publishing is in a state of flux. The lines are blurring. We have writers like Amanda Hocking transitioning from self-published stardom to the world of traditional publishing in order to reach even more readers. We also have writers like Seth Godin going the other direction. Now we have the announcement that JK Rowling's e-books will be available, not on Amazon or B&N, but via her own designated web site and sold in 'partnership' with her publisher.
Then there are self-published authors like John Locke selling over a million units and yet others like Nancy Gardner and Victorine Lieske breaking onto the New York Times Bestseller lists.
There used to be a prevalent belief that if you self-published you'd obliterate your chances of ever becoming traditionally published (see Amanda Hocking, above) and never make any money at it (see Amanda Hocking, above). "Yeah, but . . ." you say, "she's an exception." You're right. The truth is that aside from the standouts in self-publishing, there is a growing sector of indie mid-list authors. And yes, my name is there somewhere. You also have the tens of thousands who never sell over a hundred books because 1) the writing/formatting/cover are awful, 2) they don't know how to promote, or 3) they just give up too soon once they realize the work that's involved. No debate there.
I've seen the perpetual arguments on writers' web sites and discussion lists for or against one side too many times to count; so much so, that I just have to roll my eyes. Those who are the most vehemently against self-publishing flooding online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble basically state that the midden heap will be so high and fetid that we'll never be able to find a good book again. All I can say is that is a very black and white view of the world. Blogger/author David Gaughran dismantles that myth and others in this post.
There are also those who say they've picked up a self-published book or two (or more) that was absolute crap. Yes, they're out there, plenty of them. But you don't have to sift through ALL of them like some squinty-eyed underling combing through the slush pile at a big literary agency. Amazon, in particular, has a system of recommendations that will weed out for you what others have already weeded out. So don't worry that the moment you get on Amazon to load up your Kindle that you're going to be buried by failed 6th grade English essays masquerading as literary brilliance. Trust me, no matter how picky you are, you'll find something worthwhile to read.
Let me summarize: Self-published works are not inherently bad. Some are, I agree. Some are okay. Some are very good. And some are are FABULOUS! Quality is a gradient. And value is subjective.
When I go to a local theater production, I don't pre-judge the actors just because they aren't graduates of Juliard or Hollywood actors with multi-million dollar contracts. And you know what? I've been bored to tears, mildly entertained, and blown away at different times.
Publishing will undergo some growing pains in the next few years as it catches up with technology. Authors - both those already on top and those working their way up from the bottom - are in large part affecting that change. But ultimately, it's readers steering the ship and picking out books. And for the most part, they don't care if it's Random House that publishes a book or Joe Smith's Garage Press. They care about the quality of the story inside and whether it provides entertainment, moves them to tears or laughter, or makes them think.
Maybe, just maybe, we should judge each book not by the publisher's logo on the spine (or lack thereof), but by the content within?