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Self-publishing: a revolution for writers, not readers

25 February 2013

From The Guardian:

When people talk about self-publishing, it’s common to hear words such as “revolution” and “democratising”. Normally, I’d be wary about throwing around such momentous terms, but here I think they’re almost warranted. Book industry insiders forget that publishing can seem like a closed shop to those without connections or confidence. Now, a Welsh schoolgirl can sign up to Wattpad and suddenly have millions of fans around the world, closely followed by a three-book deal with Random House.

But as any self-published author will tell you, usually at great length, success stories, like Beth Reekles’s The Kissing Booth, are rare. To get noticed, you either need to be very lucky or spend every waking hour manically self‑promoting.

. . . .

I find it very unlikely that someone looking for their next read would think: I want something by a self-published author. It would be like logging on to iTunes to buy some music and selecting, instead of rock/pop, a category called “songs recorded in people’s bedrooms”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Apple, Self-Publishing Warnings

53 Comments to “Self-publishing: a revolution for writers, not readers”

  1. “…success stories, like Beth Reekles’s The Kissing Booth, are rare.”

    I’ve never heard of this author or book. It seems to me like we continue to gain examples of “rare” success stories.

    “I find it very unlikely that someone looking for their next read would think: I want something by a self-published author.”

    No, they’re too busy thinking: “I just want to find a good book.”

    • And they’re sure as hell not saying, “I can’t wait to read the next Harper Collins book.”

      • Exactly! And this:

        “I find it very unlikely that someone looking for their next read would think: I want something by a self-published author. It would be like logging on to iTunes to buy some music and selecting, instead of rock/pop, a category called ‘songs recorded in people’s bedrooms’.”

        Because, ya know, if you produce your own book, it’s going to be about the same quality as someone who uses a cheap mic instead of recording at a professional studio.

        Self-pub isn’t professional! Remember that! Don’t start thinking that you can be as good as the big players!

        • Led Zeppelin was well-known for recording in stairwells, lavatories, or anywhere else that the acoustics were interesting.

          I haven’t heard of them using their bedrooms, but it would not be surprising.

          Certainly many musicians have pro-level audio equipment in their homes nowadays. The author is even more behind the times musically than she is with respect to book publishing.

          • Certainly many musicians have pro-level audio equipment in their homes nowadays.

            A friend used to record music for multi-million dollar movies in his garage (probably still does, I haven’t heard from him in years). Not big Hollywood productions, but not two guys and a camcorder movies either.

          • I live two blocks away from the restaurant that features the men’s room in which The Doors recorded “L.A. Woman.” Supposedly. FWIW.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head. Most folks just want a good story, and the method of publishing is usually incidental to this, especially today.

    • Actually I am thinking “I want to find a good book by a self-published author”.

    • This article is funny because it’s so behind the times. People actually do go looking for music made in people’s bedrooms, because it hasn’t been pushed through the popularity filters of the music industry first. That’s what indie music is all about. And one need only spend a few minutes in the Goodreads forums to see that there are a lot of readers out there who are obsessive about finding decent books from self-publishing authors. It’s not mainstream, but it’s a significant market. Baddeley doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.

      • An analogy to amateur pornography suggests itself in several different forms, but I hesitate to make it other than to point out that an analogy is appropriate – and that “amateur” porn is incredibly popular and incredibly profitable (just not for the people who make it, unfortunately.)

  2. What’s “rare” mean when it happens all the time????

  3. First, can I state that I resent sites that make you sign up to comment? I don’t want to give my e-mail, etc. to voice an opinion. I know they are trying to keep out spam, but they are keeping me out too!

    Second, I could not disagree more with the main point of this article.

    Readers absolutely and enormously benefit from the self-publishing industry.

    All of those books that have been denied to them based on the subjective opinion of a few people in power will now reach readers.

    All of those books deemed too controversial or critical can now reach readers.

    All people of different class and color who could not break through New York’s incestuous recommendation system can now reach readers.

    And all of those books that ended up poorly written because they were rushed to deadline or cut-up to be more ‘marketable’ (based on someone’s subjective opinon of marketable, not market testing) will now be better written and enjoyed by readers.

    The loss of the Gatekeeper should be celebrated. Fireworks should be sent blazing into the sky. Freedom, like we’ve never known, the freedom of the writer, is the freedom of the Voice and the Word.

    Such Freedom has never before been known in the existence of mankind, and it will change the world.

    • “First, can I state that I resent sites that make you sign up to comment? I don’t want to give my e-mail, etc. to voice an opinion.”

      You had to here. :-)

      • Aw Josh, touche! Ya got me. ;)

        • You didn’t have to set up an account, though; you just had to give an email. I don’t know about anyone else, but that feels a lot different to me.

          • Yep. Very different. I’m totally cool with putting my email in the comment field. NOT happy about having yet another “account” hanging out there with email attached that I will likely forget all about. (I went ahead and signed up to the Guardian earlier today, because I really wanted to comment. NOT happy about it!)

          • I was only poking fun because Mira’s complaint was “I don’t want to give my e-mail, etc. to voice an opinion”, which PG requires to comment here.

            I agree sign up here is a lot less off-putting than many other sites.

            • Josh & Company – That’s an anti-spam measure. The alternative would be lots of spam comments that would appear here and remain until I went through and manually deleted them.

              If you saw the volume of spam that I do everyday, you would want to take some sort of reasonable steps to cut it back.

    • And Mira, there aren’t enough fireworks in the world to do justice to the celebration of kissing Gatekeepers goodbye. We all have our stories of Gatekeepers and I won’t bore you with mine. If I screw up now as royally as my agent did for The Piper’s Sons many years ago,when I was still in the habit of trusting Gatekeepers, at least it will be MY screwup. And to me, that’s another kind of freedom.

      • Some people are psychologically unable to be free and responsible for themselves. They find it’s worth the cost of indentured servitude to turn over the freedom just to have someone else take care of them.

        • @ Barbara

          Well, I do think if people are used to being oppressed, they can be afraid of freedom. This is probably because the oppressors screwed with their heads, teaching them that they deserved to be controlled and treated as less than.

          So people may be afraid that they can’t handle being in the driver’s seat. After all, Publishers are wise, kind, and all-powerful while writers are little and helpless, with limited understanding, and should be grateful that Publishers will care for them.

          Takes an adjustment.

          • Also, people habituate to the status quo, whatever that is. If you’re accustomed to suffering the caprice of the powerful, you get used to the experience of passivity and blaming. If it goes on for long enough, the familiar discomfort, even pain, may feel “safer” than the risks of making your own mistakes. Healing from abuse has many facets.

            • It’s doubly hard if the abuse pays. As a wise man observed, people can become addicted to the way that they earn their money. George Orwell hits it off perfectly in the beginning of Animal Farm, when many of the animals wonder how they will ever survive without Farmer Jones to feed them.

      • Bruce, absolutely. There is something awful about someone else screwing up our work, especially when we feel as though we have no choice but to let them have the power. Much different than when we are in the driver’s seat and make a mistake! Worlds apart.

        Sorry you had such a bad experience!

  4. “But let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart.”

    And traditional publishing does? The only thing Ms. Baddeley forgot to add in her article is that Amazon is a kitten-sacrificing, Satan-worshipping Godzilla.

    My job as a fiction writer, the same job for any fiction writer no matter how he/she is published, is to delight and entertain my readers. If I wasn’t doing that, I would not be getting e-mails and FB posts asking when is the next book coming out.

    Speaking of which, I really should be writing right now. :lol:

  5. Phew…was worried there for a bit.

    It’s been a good while since we’ve had a snooty, elitist anti-indie “drive-by” piece in the Guardian.

    I was starting to think they were losing their touch.

  6. Whee! I found a new word: furkling (as in) “involving a lot of furkling around in shops”. I’m pretty sure I know what it means, so I haven’t checked to see if it has a proper definition somewhere.
    So that article wasn’t entirely useless; it prompted a comment which introduced me to a new and useful word.
    Thank you, PG. :)
    By the way, I didn’t notice any real anti-Amazon bias, only the complaint that they didn’t have a special (segregated) section for “indie authors” like so many other ebook stores.

  7. “But let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart.”

    So, I think this implies that traditional publishing does have the interest of the reader at its heart. They picked up 50 Shades of Gray, out of goodness and a desire to help everyone know their inner goddess. Snooki, oh, dear Lord, out of the goodness of their blessed hearts they gave us her words.

    Max Tucker, lets not forget Max. Simon and Schuster , god bless their hearts for giving us “Assholes Finish First.” Yes, that is the real title of that real traditionally published book, that is really about the interest of the reader.

    I have the coffee table edition, signed!

  8. “To get noticed, you either need to be very lucky or spend every waking hour manically self‑promoting.”

    As opposed to what one has to do to get noticed by the publishing industry? How can someone be in the industry and not know how ridiculous this sounds?

    At least I spend my time trying to get noticed by *readers* instead of by agents and publishers.

  9. Every single comment, thus far, on this particular piece is right on. Love ‘em. It’s way more fun reading the comments – the article is void of any humor, reeking of contempt for indie authors and readers.

  10. I recently looked at the profiles of a number of Amazon’s top reviewers, seeking readers interested in reviewing my book.

    This is from the profile of Janet Boyar, a Hall of Fame reviewer:

    “Currently, I’m only accepting writing craft books, mysteries, YA and kid lit for review.

    To publicists and authors: If you’d like me to review a book, deck, CD or DVD, please email me via the link found on my site. I RARELY read/review books from iUniverse, AuthorHouse, lulu, Outskirts Press or other vanity presses. (This includes “presses” that are actually the author with a made up publishing house). I only have so much time and self-published works are rarely vetted by an editor or knowledgeable writing professional which results in wasted time for everyone. Thanks for your understanding.”

    Is she part of your imaginary conspiracy of snobby elitists afraid of the supposed threat to traditional publishing from self-published authors, too?

    • No, missing out is just her choice.

      She’s currently ranked at #286 for Amazon reviewers. Here’s what #47 has to say about my self-published novel:

      ORPHEUS

      So what’s your point?

      PS Pay no mind to the fact that she got my name wrong in the beginning. She was obviously still in mid-rage because of how awful the book was.

      • GO ZOMBIES! (Seriously, Dan, Orpheus is in my TBR pile. My reward if I ever get my current wip done.)

        • Hey, thanks!

          That wasn’t actually meant to be a “Look at me!” post. I was just making the point that it doesn’t matter what the one cherry-picked reviewer said; there are others who think self-published books can be just as legitimate.

      • Ha! Good for you, Dan! As someone else says: “If the story’s well told and the book professionally produced, how can you tell whether it comes from the indie ranks or trad pub?

    • There is no conspiracy. This is a WAR, and like all wars, it is about MONEY.

      Bloggers, reviewers, newspapers, stand with traditional publishing on one side of the lines.

      Indie Authors, self-published authors, small presses, bloggers, reviews and some newspapers, stand with Amazon, and other non-traditional publishing options.

      Agents, well, they are spies, sometimes working as indie authors, small presses, and even selling rights to traditional publishers.

      This war is not about editing, or culture, or anything high minded at all. It is about money, power and control. The usual battle lines are in Fiction, specifically Thrillers, Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Science Fiction.

      The poorly edited, horrible cover, self-published books draw money away from more expensive traditionally published books, which causes executives to get in a bad mood about numbers. In order to stop the bleeding, their only solution is to pay a boat load of money to the author in the form of an outragous advance. Someone switches sides. The battle goes on.

      But, it is not just a WAR. It is entertainment all on its very own. I think that is half the reason why these articles even get attention.

  11. Well said, gang. Well said!

  12. Wait a sec… is it possible to revolutionize the writing side of publishing and NOT revolutionize the output, i.e. what the reader has in their hands?

    And to disagree, I’ll say that self-pub has given readers:
    -A big push to digital content, which wouldn’t have been as strong without indie digital titles.
    -A large selection of much cheaper and even free titles.
    -More variety, now that the old filters are off.
    -Unthrottled production, so that fantastic books can be published as fast as writers can produce them.

  13. IMO we oughta cobble up a guest article for the Guardian that tells it from our collective view. I expect they wouldn’t actually print it, but we have much better things to say.

    Or not. Most of us are busy putting content into the hands of readers who don’t give a rip about whose imprimatur the piece bears.

  14. Glad to see Joe Konrath’s name on your list. He is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable self published authors. His pithy and informative biog is a must read for any author seeking to hone their marketing skills.

  15. “But let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart.”

    What an odd conclusion to the thesis statement of her rather unpersuasive essay. I assume she was tasked with writing this for her high school debate class?

    Who’s pretending anything? Writers write. Readers read. How is having more books available not in a reader’s best interest? We’re not publishing pharmaceuticals. One bad paragraph in a self-published novel isn’t going to kill anyone. And the samples are free.

    “But as any self-published author will tell you, usually at great length, success stories… are rare.”

    There you go. She trotted out the tired ‘1% of 1% actually succeed’ argument. That’s something an issue-addled guidance counselor on a tv sit-com would say before s/he turned around to pop an Oxycontin confiscated from one of the cool kids and ticked another dashed dream off her to-do list.

    I have a feeling that “usually at great length” is the erudite way of rolling one’s eyes so I don’t think she listened to “any” of the self-published authors she may or may not have interviewed for this essay.

    Good writers who continue to write and write and write will succeed in the world of self-publishing. 1% of 1% might buy a helicopter, a Ferrari, and a Bentley. The rest of us will just continue to pay our rent or mortgage, buy some groceries, and maybe put the kids through college, thank you very much.

  16. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    “Writers write. Readers read.”

    Smartest thing I’ve heard all day!

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