The Enemy of Self-Publishing

The self-publishers I know personally are really great people. They're kind, open, and smart about why they went with self-publishing. Most of all, they don't think someone like me is an idiot for aiming at traditional publishing. I have no proof, but I like to believe this attitude is the majority.

But, like everything else on the internet, there is a loud, vocal minority of meanie heads.

It feels like most of the self-pubbing rhetoric out there is antagonistic. Like self-pubbing is a side-bunned Princess Leia staring down traditional's Governor Tarkin. A smiling V taking out sleazy Norsefire officials. It treats traditional publishing as the enemy and paints self-publishers as underdog rebels.

Part of this comes from people who see themselves as snubbed or wronged by the big houses. Part of it is a kind of angry backlash to the stigma self-publishing has always had. "Pay attention to us! We're a thing!"

But what the angry rhetoric does is create a new kind of stigma.

The more I hear prominent self-pubbers shout things like, "Traditional publishers are slave owners," and "Writers are suckers. Fire your agents. They do NOTHING!" the more I don't want to be associated with that crowd.

Self-publishing isn't my goal, but it's a totally valid road, and I have nothing but support for those who take it. But if you start bad-mouthing people, then we're done talking. (And if you tell me I can make more money self-pubbing, I'll say, "O rly? Lets do teh mathz.")

I would love to see a world where self-publishing is every bit as respectable* as the traditional kind. But as long as the louder self-pubbers maintain this Us vs. Them mentality, I fear the stigma will continue.

Am I totally off-base here? What do you think?

* Respectable in the writing/publishing world, that is. I doubt Joe Public has ever cared where his novels came from.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love it when you do teh mathz. :)

You're spot on with acknowledging the hateful rhetoric. I don't like it either, which is why I associate with people who don't dip into that.

But this industry is filled with Us vs. Them-ers. Really, it's kind of surprising, considering (as you say) the people I hang with are so not that. But then I stumble across someone putting down people who claim they're on the "bestseller" lists of Amazon (there's a bunch, from Top 100 to smaller categories like Norse-myth-retelling). Now, being a self-pubber, I know exactly what it takes to get on ANY of those lists, namely: sell books (and not just one or two, in the case of my mysterious appearance on the French and German bestseller lists). Not only that, you have to sell more than your competition. In any world I know, that's called accomplishment. But in the book world, it's an excuse to look down on someone who hasn't achieved "enough."

Thus is spawned another round of the hate-cycle.

Sarah McCabe said...

Try the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. While they certainly do not shy away from talking about the downsides of traditional publishing, they don't believe that it should be entirely shunned. They think writers should do both. Some people think Dean is very abrasive and reactionary but I find that most of the time his posts are very rational and are backed by lots of experience in the industry. I tend to respect their opinions more because they both have so much knowledge and experience that most others don't have.

I'm surprised you didn't refer to Joe Konrath on the bad side of self publishing. He comes across and much more of a meanie head to me than Mike Stackpole. You may not like the wording Stackpole used (a lot of people are making too much of it, I think) but he was making a rational assessment of the state of traditional publishing and how it treats authors. Joe Konrath will come right out and say you're stupid if you traditionally publish. I don't like him.

At the same time, it seems like people get very, very angry and defensive if anyone ever says anything bad about traditional publishing. Those people really NEED the reality check that the more outspoken self publishers are trying to give them. Traditional publishing is not all sunshine and roses but a lot of writers think it is. If you listen to the experiences of authors from the trenches you learn a lot and you learn that much of the time traditional publishing treats authors like dirt.

Many of the pro self publishing people are just trying to use exaggerated rhetoric in an attempt to wake up all the authors who are in love with the big publishers and their vain dreams so that they don't get taken advantage of.

In my experience, the trad publishing devotees are much more angry and abusive than the pro self publishing people. But we may be reading different websites.

Also, you CAN make more money from self publishing. That doesn't mean you WILL. But in many, many cases you at least have a better chance. You just have to think of it differently. In trad publishing, most of the time the only money you will ever see is your advance up front. In self publishing, you have to think long term. You're not going to be making good money up front unless you get lucky. (That happens.) But you can continue collecting money from your books until you die and then your kids can keep collecting after that. Long term, you are usually more likely to make more money self publishing if you're being smart about it. Unless the publisher offers you an obscene advance, which is extremely unlikely in today's publishing climate.

The Writer said...

I hate the idea of that! I'm a traditional girl all the way. I have my reasons, and they're not gonna change. But I respect self-pubbers. What I don't respect, though, is anyone who's mean to anyone for any reason. We're all in this for one reason: to write...and to touch others in some way with our writing. Doesn't matter what path you take, it's still the same goal.

Lindsay Kitson said...

I kinda feel the same way. I try to think of self publishing as a valid option, and I know it is, but it's definitely not for me, unless the market changes dramatically. While there's more people self publishing, there's still next to no quality control associated with self-pubbed books, which is why I've never purchased one. And I can't bring myself to sell something I wouldn't buy.

I can imagine there are some diamonds out there, but I don't have time to sift through an endless heap of books to find them, and I wouldn't want my customers to have to either. As it is now, the success of a self pubbed book has more to do with the marketing efforts of the author than the quality of the book, and I don't have the skills or energy to put that level of marketing effort in. I'll do the standard blogging and social networking, but I could never manage what's necessary to make a self pubbed book successful. I guess I want my book to come out in an environment where the quality of the writing is what will make or break it.

And I don't think traditional publishing is even capable of doing anything to hold back or sabotage self publishers, so I don't know why there are the self publishers who get so huffy about it. The only thing traditional publishers can do to self pubbers is reject them, so I think you're right, a lot of that huff is the resentment of rejection.

Which just leads to strengthening of the impression that self pubbers are the writers who weren't good enough to get into traditional publishing, which isn't fair to those for whom that's not the case.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think the bitter self-publishers are the same flavour of writers who, a decade ago, were furiously bashing traditional publishers without having self-publishing as a banner to stand under.

I don't think it's a new phenomenon, is what I'm saying. I do, however, think you're correct that these people are giving self-publishers a very bad name.

Angela Brown said...

So I look at this as both a reader and a writer. As a reader: Just give me the book. I care not one iota if it is self-published or pubished by Simon and Schuester. I want a good story. I need a good story. And I've had the pleasure of reading terrible stories published traditionally and terrible stories published by indie authors. So I toss that whole "gatekeeper" title into my "review for future reference" stack.

Now, as a writer, I can see the importance of the gatekeeper. Good agents help their clients. They also get stories into the hands of publishing houses that do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. I fully support indie authors who have chosen to do so because it is what they want to do. They believe in their story. They believe in themselves. They aren't trying to knock those who choose traditional publishing. Heck, I say to each his or her own. Whether it's traditional or self-publishing, choose the best route that works and get the story out to the reader.

Two cheers for getting published following the path that works for you.!

Adam Heine said...

@Sarah: Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you about Joe Konrath. I didn't want to list all the meanie heads, but I did link to the posts (or posts about the posts) that triggered this one. For Michael Stackpole, it's not so much the label that bothered me (I agree folks might be making a bit too much of it), but the rhetoric of the whole article -- the idea that publishers are cheating authors which, while it might be true in some cases, is not true in general.

From what I've seen, the probability of making money is about the same with either traditional or self-publishing. Some books are better suited to one method or the other, but for the most part it comes down to the author's platform. Konrath, for example, will always make money regardless of which path he chooses, but he talks as though self-publishing is what got him all those sales, and not his huge platform.

That, I think, is part of what bothers me about the rhetoric. It treats the method of production as more important than the method of selling, which in any other business would be considered ridiculous.

Adam Heine said...

@JJ: I think you're right about it not being a new phenomenon. But they've got some money behind them now, which makes them louder. I probably should've gone on ignoring them :-)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I guess I don't run in circles where people get angry much. I've been impressed by the bloggers I've seen who have chosen the self-pubbing route. They know their reasons for doing so and they know the risks (and the work) involved. One question, though: Why is self-pubbing now being referred to as indie publishing? To me, that could so easily be confused with what's available at indie bookstores -- as if "indie" bookstores only sell self-published books. I know "indie" stands for independent, and maybe that's what self-published books are in essence. Still, I find the merging of terms confusing.

I'm also confused by this idea that the traditional publishers are out to screw us writers over. Huh? I'm much more disturbed by vanity presses that pretend to be critical publishers who cheat writers by promising, "We'll publish your book if you buy 1000 copies." THAT is screwing over, people.

I'm a big fan of the traditional route. I like the fact that I'll work with a professional agent and editor who will help me make my book better. You can't match that in the self-pubbing route, though I'm not against people going for it if that's what they think is best.

Sorry, this turned into a much longer comment than I meant it to!