I love books. Physical books. Books that sit in my lap and warm it like a sleeping pup. Three and a half years ago, I had an e-reader unwillingly thrust upon me. I ignored it at first; shunned it. Then one day I was packing for a long trip and it came on me in a flash that if I used the damned thing I wouldn’t have to limit myself to five pounds of books in my luggage.
Since then I read more ebooks than physical books. I buy a lot more books, too.
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The beneficiaries of the existing order – major publishers and their most successful authors have become the most visible opponents of the turmoil that these “Indie” authors have introduced.
Which is too bad, because careful examination suggests that this period of chaos will eventually yield significant rewards for both authors and consumers. It even points a way forward for traditional publishers who have faced years of declining profits.
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[Author Brad] Thor is unequivocal in his support for the existing system:
The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.
Thor is being polite. When successful mainstream authors let their guard down, stronger words flow.
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Why do mainstream authors dislike Indie publishing to the point where some even disagree with the coined term “Indie”? It comes down to worldview. Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold. But this is demonstrably untrue. The most famous counter example is that of John Kennedy Toole.
Many people know that Toole had his great American novel, “A Confederacy of Dunces” rejected by publishers and that he committed suicide at 31.
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Rejecting Toole’s work was a marketing decision that [Robert] Gottleib made for Simon & Schuster.
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But the conceit that Indie authors are merely a bunch of lazy hacks unwilling to face rejection ignores the fact that even the biggest proponents of the old publishing system admit that there are many talented published authors nobody has ever heard of.
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Just like A-list actors, writers like Grafton and Thor are superstars – the exception rather than the rule. But exceptions exist on both sides of the publishing divide these days. One of the newer Indie stars is Hugh Howey, the science fiction author whose brilliant, dystopian novella Wool has sold more than 200,000 copies in the U.S. alone, sold overseas rights in fifteen countries and was recently optioned by Ridley Scott for a movie. (His newest book, I, Zombie launches today.)
When I asked Howey about the view that indie authors would do better to try to publish conventionally he compared the current system to a lottery:
When people think of traditionally published successes, they think of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. This is what they compare to the self-publishing route. But those are lottery winners, the extreme outliers. In order to level the playing field and have a true comparison, you need to look at everything that gets submitted to the traditional machine – that means all the work that never makes it out of the slush pile – and compare that to all the self-published e-books on Amazon and elsewhere. Counting the top 1% from the traditional route and everything from the self-published route creates a weighted argument and is disingenuous. And calling cases like mine the exception and forgetting that this is also true of every book in the center aisle of the bookstore is also facile.
Robert Bidinotto, a former journalist whose eerily effective indie vigilante novel Hunter shot onto bestseller lists last year agrees:
The idea that you have to be rejected by a New York editor to improve as a writer is absurd.
Howey concurs and in his response to Grafton adds:
Tell me this: why is self-publishing antithetical to “honing one’s craft?” Who ever received writing advice in a rejection letter as sound as the worst 1-star review out there? There’s far more to learn from engaging the market with your product than there is in form letters that tell you not-a-single-frickin’-thing. What’s wrong with testing the waters? Instead of wasting one’s time writing query letters, why not work on that next manuscript instead?
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There is something very odd about this war of words between successful authors on different sides of a tectonic shift in the publishing world: it doesn’t exist in many similar industries facing the same sort of technological upheaval. You don’t hear Christina Aguilera or Adam Levine knocking indie bands.
Link to the rest at Forbes and thanks to Robert for the tip.