Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Indie publishing stifles talent, y'all

An article written by Jason Pinter for the Huffington Post hits all the usual objections to indie publishing.

"I wonder, with the incredible ease in which authors can now publish their rejected manuscripts online, whether fewer authors are going to take the time to hone their craft, get good at what they do, and achieve their full potential. Will new technology stifle budding talent?"

Why would it,exactly? Why do we assume that writers will keep writing poorly? Are people going to buy thousands of copies of crap? If not, the writers will presumably either 1. learn to write better and sell more copies; 2. give up; or 3. keep writing crap in obscurity. Which isn't that different from what happens to ANY writer, really. What if we acknowledged self-pubbed writers might learn and grow in their craft just like other writers do?

He then goes on to say that rejection often makes writers dig in and turn out a better second book. But again, why does publishing the first crappy book on Amazon short-circuit that learning process, exactly? The first book sucks, no one buys it, and they write that "terrific second book" anyway. Now I'll grant you, this may make readers approach the second book with caution. But if it's good enough, people will eventually buy it. And the smart author will then pull that first book and rewrite it till it sparkles.

"But there is a reason Konrath is making waves--he has a platform and he has talent. He also suffered hundreds of rejections until he found a traditional publisher."

Yes, and several of those books that were rejected are now paying his mortgage every month. I don't get why it's a desirable thing for an author to have perfectly marketable books rejected by New York, but maybe that's just me. If they reject crap, that's good. But they certainly do reject perfectly good books simply because the genre isn't hot right now, or because they just bought two other books in that vein, or...

"I feel that the example of Konrath will inspire other, less successful and even less talented authors to publish their works online. They might see the Kindle as a bypass, a way to showcase their works that the Evil, Stupid Publishing Overlords in New York were too blind to realize are, in fact, literary masterpieces."

Could happen. Also, some of the actual literary masterpieces overlooked by the ESPO-NY might get published. And again, what if people publish more crap than ever? Does any reasonable person think crap is going to be take over the market somehow? That readers will lose all powers of discernment and taste? That crap will become the new literary paradigm?

Let's get serious. If you publish crap, all that's going to happen is that your crap will sit there stinking up an obscure corner of Amazon, and readers will avoid the stench. That's all. Not the best move for your career, and I wouldn't advise it, but it doesn't mean the ultimate ruination of the book industry, either.

"There are still myriad ways a traditional publisher can help a new author that would be lost by simply throwing a book up on Amazon. You lose the benefit of a real editor. You lose any money spent on advertising, promotion, co-op to get the book in front of readers. And unless you already have a platform--something most newbies do not--your books have no way of getting noticed."

You can hire an editor-- perhaps you've heard? And indie books have no way of getting noticed? Tell that to Boyd Morrison. Zoe Winters. Karen McQuestion. And so forth and so on.

"It's safe to say that without his exposure due to the series published by Hyperion (which helped spur the popularity of his blog, etc...) Konrath would not be selling as many ebooks as he is right now."

Did I say "Karen McQuestion" already? 30,000 books sold on Amazon, no previous books published with Hyperion... or any other publisher.

He assumes all indie authors are looking to make it in New York: "Sure, if you sell enough ebooks there is a chance you'll get noticed, make some money, get a traditional deal."

Maybe. Or I might just make enough money not to care. I'm not saying I'd never take a New York deal, personally. I'd like to keep all my options open. But plenty of indie authors seem pretty happy "throwing books up on Amazon."

This I agree with: "...just because you 'can' self-publish does not mean that you 'should' self-publish." But I don't really know anyone who's advising authors to toss all their badly written garbage up on Amazon. Certainly Konrath isn't saying that. In fact he's been saying the exact opposite-- that your work needs to be somehow vetted first.

I do understand the basic point Pinter is driving at. I have seen some horrifically bad books self-pubbed on Amazon. They're out there, for sure. So what? People aren't going to waste their money on books with no redeeming qualities. The books won't sell much, and the writers will learn the same lesson they would have learned from New York: "Thank you for this submission, but your manuscript does not meet our needs at this time." Or in blunter terms, "Go learn to write better."

At that point, they can either take up the challenge and hone their craft, keep pounding their head against the wall and turning out crap no one reads, or quit. Which is pretty much what they would have done if they'd been rejected by New York.


  1. Excellent post, Ellen. The only thing that increased self-publishing truly threatens, imo, is traditional publishers' bottom line.

  2. Thanks for the shout out!

    Yeah, I get tired of that "everybody wants NY thing."

    I think some trad pubbed authors and trad hopefuls are VERY threatened somehow of the concept that someone could be happy with something different than what they want.

    They think you're "giving up" or "quitting on your dreams" or some other such nonsense. I have dreams and goals like everybody else.

    I'm incredibly grateful for every single reader I've gained who loves my work, but I am FAR from where I want to be/intend to go. But this crap takes TIME.

    I mean I've just been doing this for a year and a half and just released my second release.

    Trad pubbed authors are fond of talking about how a publishing career is built over several books, not one. Yeah, well same here. Der.

    It's bizarre to me that indie authors who don't sell wildly on their first or second book are somehow "proof that you can't succeed as an indie author."

    Um... huh?

    So then if trad published authors aren't famous by their second book, they should hang it up too? Same logic, different target.

  3. The idea that all self published writers throw up a book without any thought of the consequences bugs me. There is a huge community that is growing all the time. There is no going it alone any more because there is so much advice and support around. People are learning from the mistakes of others and holding back on their manuscripts until they can make them the best they can be.

    There is so much going on now that makes up for whatever is lost if you don't go down the traditional route. Readers are saying which books they think are good and bad. The great books are being promoted by people who have enjoyed them, the poorer ones are usually giving critiques on how to improve.

    Indie writers are giving people what they want despite the fact that it may not be marketable in the eyes of the big publishing houses. A lot of indies are striving to do everything professionally. Those who are afraid that indie publishing might succeed in the long run are the ones who are still holding onto the past. Things have changed and indies seem to be the ones adapting first.

  4. Thank you for commenting, Claire. I am sure there are people just tossing up crap without any understanding of what it means to edit, or any comprehension of basic writing skills. I've seen some of it in samples, unfortunately. However, I think you make a very valid point. If people are sincerely interested in writing nowadays, they will often join an internet community that supports them, and learn. Sometimes they get bad information, but if they keep working to improve, they'll find a lot of help along the way.

    The idea that indie publishing somehow freezes authors like flies in amber, so that they can never grow and improve, seems very wrong to me. People who are genuinely interested in learning to write will learn to write. And there is plenty of information out there to help them along now.