Paul Bowes suggests that the reason literary writers can’t or don’t want to self-publish is a genre thing.
Guardian Books, and the literary world generally, have a tendency to conflate ‘writing’ with literary fiction: or at least, with literary fiction and the kind of serious non-fiction that is aimed at the same readership. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate the contempt with which these people regard self-publication. To other people, working in other genres, it looks like a reasonable option: but to someone who expects to be reviewed in the LRB or the TLS and the daily ‘heavies’, self-publication is an up-front admission that nobody who matters thought your stuff was good enough to publish.
In a follow-up, someone going by the handle “400pages” writes that traditional publishers are still seen as the “gatekeepers” of literary fiction to a greater extent than in other genres.
Unfortunately (as so many commentators have pointed out), this gatekeeping system is extremely elitist and cliquey, totally opaque to outsiders, and is biased towards a certain particular model of “writing” and “writers.” Self-publishing is to reject that system entirely – it is to throw a big “**** you” to the whole literary establishment and walk off on your own. That shuts a lot of doors, and means a lot of influential opinion-forming people will not bother to read your book. Perhaps you’ll get a good number of readers and even earn some money that way, but call yourself a “writer” in the hearing of the guardians of literary fiction and most of them will quietly sneer. As I mentioned in another comment, things are rather different in the music business, with glorious traditions like indie shoestring labels and unsigned bands with early cult followings making it rather the done thing to despise major record companies, encouraging experimentation with new models (it may also help that listening to a song is rather less of a time investment than reading a new novel). If self-publishing were to become sexy, with the rebellious down-at-heal classiness of good indie music, that would be the greatest revenge it could have on the traditional literary publishers. Is it going to? I don’t know. Frankly, I rather hope so: it would be fun to see.
I must confess to enjoying a bit of schadenfreude here. After years and years of looking down their snooty noses at genre fiction, literary fiction writers are now looking at something akin to an apocalypse. Traditional publishers just aren’t able to pay them as much money anymore, and they place too much of a value on traditional gatekeepers to let themselves dip a toe into the self-publishing water.
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Meanwhile, genre fiction writers, who don’t take themselves nearly so seriously, are able to get off the dying horse of traditional publishing and take their work directly to the readers.
Link to the rest at TeleRead