It’s Not About Sides–Until You Make It So

The world of publishing is in turmoil.  In the upheaval, two different and fairly antagonistic factions have come about: the New York publishing houses (referred to as “traditional publishing”) and the independent/self-published authors.

Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.  Both also have their fierce proponents.

But it’s not about sides.  Nor should it be.

I’m an “indie” author only because I have a book that I published myself.   Yet I haven’t joined the Association of Independent Authors or planted my flag in the indie soil.  I’ve refused to come down on one side or the other for one simple reason: my writing is a business.

I’m trying to build a career.  To do that, I’ll do whatever I think is best for both my career in general and each specific work in particular.  I published Norton’s Ghost myself because it was an overly long first novel with a strange premise by an author with zero publishing credits to his name.  Odds of it being picked up?  Slim at best.  The nature of the story also suggested a more DIY approach, but I digress.

Is the independent route the best for my next work (which, shameless plug, will likely be MOROCCO)?  Who knows.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Maybe I’ll shop the next one around.  Who knows?

But it’s not about sides.  Independent authors need to remember this because they’re railing against a huge industry, one that has far more money, power, reach and experience.  It’s also comprised–at least on some level–of people who like and love books.  People just like you and me.  Maybe even people who will buy, read, edit or design your next book.  Burning your bridges over ideology or because you had one too many manuscript rejections does no one any favors.  It reinforces too many stereotypes.

Also, when we see headlines like “Author X moves away from Traditional publishing and goes indie!,” everyone points to them as proof of concept, as an example that they so desperately want, to show that this works.  This puppeteering is also a mistake.  It hurts the independent movement and it’s based on false grounds.   It’s often the traditional industry they eschew that got them their start in the first place.  Of course you’re going to do well when you already have an audience.

I also ask myself: “Who cares?”  Good for them.

You should go the indie route because you feel the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  I don’t care if you’re a beginner with a *.mobi file or someone with a back catalog 20 pages long.  Just spare me the flag-planting and name-calling.

To the publishing industry, I ask:  What in the hell are you doing?  Self-published authors have long labored under a yoke of demonization by the traditional industry: the idea was that if someone self-published, it was slop that they paid someone to print because no one wanted to buy it.  The same thing happened when Print On Demand technology became widely available: the industry turned its nose up at those authors.  Self-published books are still often rejected by reviewers and booksellers.

Yet look who’s coming late to the party and desperately trying to find a date?  It used to be the traditional publishers were on one side and the scuzzy “vanity” and “author services” companies were on the other.  Sandwiched between them were the authors.  The goal was the former, but the temptation of the latter was undeniable. Now, though, the traditional industry continues to turn its nose up at independent authors while using more and more of their techniques and technologies and adapting many pages from the books* of author service companies.  Some examples**:

  • Harlequin implemented their POD sister company for their slush pile hopefuls
  • There was that (sci-fi?) press that recently announced they were going to a POD model instead of offset print***
  • Now Publisher’s Weekly wants to charge independent authors $150 for inclusion in a list  separate from the rest of their publication

And so on.

What’s it going to be, industry?  Either you admit that self- or independent-publishing is a viable option, no less equal than the traditional (a you do your thing and we’ll do ours situation), or else you continue to hold yourself above it.  But don’t you dare try to do both at the same time as some of these companies are doing.  Don’t you dare tell me my independent work isn’t good enough and then offer me a spot in a separate publication if I’ll write you a check.

Remember: it’s not about sides.  It’s about making books and getting them to the people who want to read them.

  • *: pun only slightly intended
  • **: I can’t link or double-check names because I’m on lunch at work
  • ***: POD is a good business model as it cuts cost and waste; first example of traditional industry embracing a piece from the realm of the self-pubbed “wanna-be”.  Yet many people said out loud, “well now getting a book out through them is worthless.”

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