Recently in a fit of irony HuffPost put out an article demeaning author’s that self publish. I am going to lay out some things before giving my response. The first is that I could not finish the piece, it was rude, ill informed, and like most of what comes from that site… complete crap. Second, I am not going to get into the fact that a lot of trash is published traditionally. There is a lot of crap in both worlds consumers get to choose what they pay for/read. Instead my response is going to focus on what I feel are the two major components that most people don’t realize about the modern publishing world and why self publishing is really the only option for many authors.
1: Publishers and Agents
First it is worth noting that most people self publish because publishers do not communicate with authors anymore. There are some exceptions to this rule, but it’s pretty standard you MUST get an agent if you want to get published. Second, going either further most publishers only communicate with well established agencies. Long gone are the times of an agent representing only a handful of authors and that being a successful way to get published. Agencies are huge, they are picky, and they are often not even considering new clients.
So how do you get an agent? You must finish your project do insane amounts of research, and essentially sell your project to the agents. You must be able to prove that it’s marketable and often times that YOU are also marketable. You then ship this off to as many agencies as you can and cross your fingers. The odds of an actual bidding war starting for you are fairly slim so you won’t be able to be picky about your contract. Not only that but many agencies actually want to see that you’ve already had some success in the writing world, bringing it back to you must self publish.
Once signed it really depends on your agent. I don’t want to knock agents they do a now necessary job, but many of them don’t put a lot of effort into their new clients. They will sell your book, but won’t fight for it. So you get your book published and it goes on the shelf, that is still an amazing thing. However YOU are still going to be almost completely in charge of selling that book. The difference is now someone else has had editing power, is taking a huge chunk of your profits, and has the right to tell you how they want you to market it. So you are still basically doing everything you would as a self published writer just with less freedom. And again this is even if you are so lucky to have an agent and/or publisher take you seriously. Then you will be required to produce more work on their schedule, and once again hand over profits and editing power while still doing most of the work to sell it.
So what do you do? You self publish. You sell some books, you build up a fanbase, THEN you go to agents. Agents will see that you can produce work that sells will give you better contracts and fight for you and your work harder.
2: The way we read
I think another major problem that people don’t realize with the boom in self publishing is how very, very differently we read in this day and age. What most people don’t know is that many of their favorite “books” were not books for a very long time. Most authors began their careers publishing serials. It was a great way to get your name out there and supplement your income while writing only one or two “traditional” novels. It also (big surprise) helped authors to get their name out there to be taken more seriously by publishers. From series like Tarzan, to horror books like The Invisible Man, to long epics like Dune, the idea of publishing first as a serial played an important role in the way author’s wrote and people read. It was especially important for sci-fi and horror authors as for many years publishers did not take these genres seriously. It is not all together impossible to take this route, but in this day and age it’s just very different.
Newspapers don’t run serials anymore like they did at one point, so it’s all down to literary magazines. These magazines are great and I don’t mean to knock them (in fact read them more to help them gain popularity again) they just aren’t as major in our world as they once were. Most have very small distribution, and even some of those require an agent before publishing. Many, because of the nature of the beast, only want very short serials (like 3 parts) and are very specific about what they are looking for. And once again you are giving up some editing power (though typically less) and will still be required to do most of the heavy lifting on getting people to even buy the magazine with your work.
This is still an option, once again I don’t want to bash those that are out there. I highly encourage both writers and readers to look more into them. What I simply mean is that at one point in time publishing your work as a serial was a very sound practice because it was a major way in which people read, and it’s not anymore.
So you are looping back to self publishing. Self publishing serials comes with it’s own challenges, including but not limited to the number one advice being, “just start your own blog and put it up there”. Both Amazon and Smashwords no longer take them, and when Amazon did it was was iffy at best. So one of the major ways in which new authors used to establish themselves is not even really available anymore unless again you want to go with self publishing.
So Bottomline: Can you argue that there is too much self publishing happening? Of course that goes for all creative content jobs out there. But again consumers have the power to pick what they are reading and paying for. Many authors don’t have the power to go another route. Don’t hate self published authors, support them, or you are risking missing out on many great works just because the system is different now. Also don’t assume that because it’s “published” that it’s good, it might just be that the author could talk people into buying it.