In October 2012, the Huffington Post ran an article entitled, Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry? This opinion piece raised some interesting and troubling questions about writers who choose self-publishing as their entree into the business end of writing. It’s a vast area that offers both opportunities and spiderholes for writers and readers.
I’ve covered this topic in several previous posts, including here and here. The opinions rage on, and publishing problems often overwhelm the entire writing process. Let’s look at some excerpts from the HuffPost article that attempt to address the issue. In the end, it didn’t work for me.
Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed.
The opening sentence is a hard swallow for self-published writers, but it makes a point. It’s a relatively simple process to self-publish, although it can be a frustrating and expensive one. Traditional publishing offers many layers of filters, several stopovers where a proposed piece of work can be reviewed and assessed. Although traditional publishers have made some horrendous blunders over the years, their review process does serve to limit the material that finally reaches the reading public. In the world of self-publishing, there are no stopovers. Writers can go right from rough draft to final print, if they choose. Obviously, this has flooded the literary market with all kinds of material, good and not so good. The blow-back from this way of doing business is the point of the HuffPost article. Still, who is the arbiter of the view that self-published writers have devalued the written word? Isn’t that a decision best left to readers?
Why are indie authors selling their work so cheap? In short, mismanaged expectations. Many self-published authors hear about the outliers who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’ll do anything to try and reach that pinnacle. The plain fact is that most of them never will.
This seems to be the heart of the HuffPost argument. Self-publishing has become a chaotic marketplace of price wars without sufficient regard to product quality for the reader. It’s hard to argue with this point of view. Spend a few moments at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You’ll get the point. On the other hand, traditional publishing suffered from the same problem throughout its history. The only difference can be found in the volume of material produced. Technology has created a vast marketplace that was once the domain of publishers. Most writers never made a good deal of money on their published works in any era. Only the numbers have changed.
Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does. What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?
If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to band together, put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks.
The article points out that our marketplace is flooded with questionable work and intense pricing competition without regard to quality. It advocates that “indie authors” band together to solve this compound problem. But, how realistic is that? Not likely. In fact, it’s not even feasible to expect self-published writers the world over to magically join together to properly value their work and self-police the quality of their offerings. It’s a naive suggestion.
The more practical and effective answer to the problem is to do nothing. Seasoned writers understand that quality offerings will usually float to the top of the raging torrent of second-rate work. Readers make these decisions. They understand what they like, what they want, and how to make it happen for themselves. Good authors are the beneficiaries. Seasoned writers know how to present their work in the best light, using the most effective means. They understand that readers do not appreciate the “hard sell,” nor are they fooled by glitz and freebies. The last thing writers or readers need is some vast policing system that determines what material is released and by whom. That kind of thinking is right out of George Orwell, and it’s outdated.
Let the chaos roll on, I say. Trust the readers to make good decisions, to follow their favorite authors, to make it all work. I agree that the marketplace is a nightmare these days. But, I also have faith that good writers will rise to the top and that astute readers will create order from chaos. Marketing gimmicks, giveaways, and police state mentality will do nothing to end the misery. It will only bring more.
As a lifelong writer familiar with both traditional and modern publishing modes, I’m happy as hell to see a wide-open market where promising writers can try their luck and follow their dreams. I don’t like police-state filtering, even if it does make the end marketplace more seemly. A filter is a filter by any definition. Put the power where it belongs, in the hands of the readers. Let them vote with their money, based on the widest possible selection opportunities. If we want to make it as writers, we’ll work as hard as we can to produce a final product that is as good as it can be. The vast majority of us would do this anyway, regardless of the market.
While I’m still on the grandstand, let me make a point that the HuffPost article completely ignored. Ask any group of experienced writers why they write. How many will put “making money” in first place? Will any?
Here’s a related article that may be of interest.