Self-Publishing: Take Two

Last week I opined at length about self- and e-publishing (summary: I don’t care for either), and now I’m coming back for a second look.

I haven’t changed my mind about self- and e-publishing because I still believe it is a flawed system for its lack of quality control; without editors in the mix, too many books get through to the public that are badly written — meaning that the writer in question is in dire need of some brush-up English classes and/or the stories he/she is telling is awful (or, at least, poorly told).

One could argue that there has to be something to e-books in particular in light of the strong sales reported by, primarily, Amazon.com, but it’s important to note that books that are also available from traditional publishers as print editions make up the bulk of those sales; brisk sales by indie author phenoms such as Amanda Hocking and Kerry Wilkinson remain the exception, not the rule.

The reason they’re the exceptions? Because they’re writing material that is traditional-publisher-worthy, and they create that level of quality because they behave like, for lack of a better term, “real” authors. They’re not simply people with A-list dreams and D-list talent; they are at heart true writers, people who have developed their skill and honed their craft and care about things like storytelling, technical competence, etc. Their chosen method of getting their work seen does not diminish that.

It is because these folks are the rarities that self- and e-publishing has a bad rap among those in the industry, and those in related industries, i.e., book critics. There are too many hacks and not enough top- (or even middle-) shelf talent to make indie authors as a group respectable, and at this point in time, there’s no evidence (that I can find, at any rate) that the writers who publish exclusively through vanity or e-presses are, as a group, showing a strong interest in improving their shared image — a feat that can only be accomplished by improving their skills as writers. Or somehow weeding out the wannabes who should be kept far, far away from a keyboard.

But as long as vanity presses and e-publishers maintain their hands-off philosophy, indeed even actively solicit would-be authors regardless of their qualifications, that’s not going to happen.

The publishing industry is in a transition state right now thanks to the advent of e-publishing and the rise of vanity press operations, and to claim that they’re nothing more than a fad is an expression of ignorance or denial. It’s the same sort of foolishness, if not arrogance that led to the downfall of Kodak and Polaroid, which instead of embracing the emerging technology of digital photography clung to the Old Ways, and paid the literal price for their folly. We’re still seeing that same sort of willing blind eye among recording artists who refuse to jump on-board the download train (AC/DC, looking in your direction).

Self-published authors will undeniably play a role in this developing new marketplace, but I suspect they are going to remain the bastard children of the publishing world for a long time to come, all because the ease with which authors can self-publish, and the absence of a guiding hand to step in when necessary, allows anyone to try their hand as a novelist.

All this is not to say that people shouldn’t pursue their dreams (I am the last one to piss on someone’s career goals), but writers who choose to self-publish have to look at the big picture realistically: self-publishing will remain the black sheep of the family until and unless someone steps in to filter out the crap that dominates that segment of the industry — or those precious few writers who create worthwhile art become much more aggressive about becoming the face of the indie publishing movement.

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