I usually try to avoid three things: controversial subjects, shameless marketing, and bar fights. And most of the time I’m lucky.
But today I feel like making a stand. Yeah, it’s late and the USB ports on my laptop stopped working, but I want to tell you my honest opinion about self-publishers and all the people who have been criticizing them.
A number of agents, editors, and traditionally published authors consider self-publishing as some sort of mistake. Self-publishers are just lazy. Why? Because they didn’t go through the route. They didn’t query agents, they didn’t get rejected over and over again. Stuff like that. Also, they’re bad to the world of publishing, because some of them did try to get published via the traditional way, but were rejected. Oh, and did I mention this stupid, stupid habit they have, of selling e-books well below what the big Six deem as a fair price?
First of all, all these people earn money from publishing houses. They get salaries, commissions, and advance checks. So their opinions are biased. But there’s one more aspect that I find quite interesting. That most of these people think they really know something about books. Or should I say, what makes a book worthy of being published.
The matter of fact is that no one knows anything about these sort of things. The literary world is just a misty unknown. Publishers don’t know why a book doesn’t sell, they don’t know why a book sells, and most certainly they don’t know what’s going to sell.
So that’s just the financial factor of this book business. Because, whether we like it or not, publishing is a business. And publishing houses want to make money. The same principle applies to self-publishers.
But what about the so-called literary factor? Surely publishing house are there to sift through the pile of junk and choose the best of the best. Yeah, right. Besides the fact that a huge number of great writers got rejected more than once by publishing houses, I’m pretty sure that in such a subjective world as the art world no one can make such a decision.
And no one should have this power.
I honestly believe that. Except the audience. The readers. They should be the ones who choose whether a book is good or not. Other than that, prestige, experience, college degrees, whatever, they just count for less than nothing.
If there’s one thing self-publishing has really changed, it is simply this: it has given POWER to the reader. If the reader decides that trashy vampire fiction at a cost of .99$ is worthy of hitting the New York Times Bestseller List, then so be it. If he decides that paying $12.99 for a e-book is too much, then we, as writers, should respect that.
Any writer should respect his readers. By writing the best book he’s capable of. Without my readers I would be just a 21 year old Romanian who butchers the English language during the night. With you, I have a voice. I can deliver a message.
Also, this world is changing. Oh, it’s really, really changing. We live in an online world — and publishing houses don’t know how to market a book in such a world. People love to buy stuff from real people. That’s why my mother will buy a perfume because some actress she likes endorses it. The same principles applies to books. In this online world, people are going to buy a book because:
1. they’ve somehow interacted with the author via social media.
2. a friend recommended that book.
3. they’ve read a review about it.
The first one didn’t use to be there. It was all about word of mouth, reviews, and some other promo stuff, like book signings, etc. But in a mostly online environment such as this one, writers had to evolve.
That’s why self-publishing is growing at such a fast pace. Because we, as writers, are allowed to control the outcome. We can choose what to publish, when to publish, how to present it to the readers, how to market it. And then the reader does his job and decides whether your book is good or bad. There’s no middle man anymore.
Writers are allowed to make mistakes. We can fail, and there’s no one else to blame other than ourselves. Don’t you love that?
You can write a steampunk novella about cowboys and aliens and a god made of soap and his half-brother, Billy. And there’s no one to stop you from publishing it. Or, as some people say, you’re free to do art for art’s sake, without worrying about some guys in New York agreeing with you.
There’s one more thing critics have to say about self-publishing. That there are so many stay at home moms who decided to go indie that the market is saturated. If you self-publish, you’ll never stand out.
And if you go traditional, odds are you’ll never see a dime more than what you’ve got from your advance. Most books, traditional or indie, will never sell more than 2,000 copies. Most books never get enough attention. And it’s easier to blame a marketing department than to blame yourself.
That’s why self-publishing isn’t for everyone.
I have to admit, there are a lot of bad books out there. But not just indie books. Traditionally published books as well. But the reader is the one who’s doing all the hard work. Not the publishing houses. The reader, along with book bloggers and reading communities.
There are certain things that money can’t buy. Success is one of them.
In the end, no one knows what might sell. Publishers, agents, writers. It’s all just wishful thinking, actually.
I’ve experienced this myself. For some reason, my short story, Remember, has been constantly outselling my other short story, A Sad, Sad Symphony. When I wrote them, I would have put my money on the latter. Why? Because I believe that it’s a better story.
This is one more thing most writers don’t get. Success is not determined solely by the quality of a book. In fact, by judging some of the bestselling books of the past decade, we might even say that success isn’t determined by the quality of a book at all.
We can attribute success, to some extent at least, to marketing, covers, blurbs, reviews, etc, but in the end, when the time comes for a book’s sales to explode, nothing can stop it. I think Fifty Shades of Grey is a good example.
To be honest, I think publishing houses are headed for a slow death. And it’s not self-publishing who’s the threat. It’s the fact that the world is going full digital. Bookstores are slowly becoming an excuse for nostalgia. E-books are outselling paperbacks, more and more writers are going direct, choosing to ask readers whether their books are worth the trouble or not.
Self-publishers aren’t lazy. Self-publishers know that readers are the ones who have turned Gutenberg’s press from a nice gadget into one of the world’s most important inventions. And, of course, they act accordingly.
P.S. Remember is #2,520 Free in Kindle Store and #44 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Short Stories. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you can do so by going here. It would make me very happy to see my short story in the top #20 in the Short Stories category.