Can We All Get Along Part 2: Go Indies!

A couple of weeks ago, I took a shot at explaining why publishers do what they do. It’s here. This week I’m hopping to the other side of the fence to explain why I’m an author publishing independently

Many comments I’ve heard from traditional industry professionals boil down to this question: why don’t self-publishing authors get it? Why can’t they see that the market is drowning in crap covers, crap writing, crap-crap-crap? Why can’t they see that they’re ruining the Book World with a flood of words that aren’t properly finished/ready/worthy of being seen by the public?

This position owes much to a pervasive misconception that only specific, existing Gatekeepers of Quality can properly shepherd a story from page to print. If a story isn’t deemed worthy and packaged for sale by someone else, then it isn’t Professional Writing. By definition. A startling number of writers of all levels of experience still hold up the traditional publishing system as the One True Way to mark the difference between a Real Writer and an aspiring one. (aka wannabe or amateur or loser)

If you’ve followed my blog, you already know my low opinion of all One True Way ™ issues. Many folks believe fluoridation is a Commie plot. I don’t value their insights on health care. I also don’t value the Publishing True Believers’ opinions on independent publishing. Here’s why (in my informed but imperfect opinion:)

  • The “traditional model of publication & distribution is both modern and significantly distorted from its origins. Fact: until well into the 20th century, almost all book publishing was what the industry would now call vanity publishing or independent publishing. (No, I’m not going to provide citations. This is a blog. Go to the library. Use a search engine. Do some research.)  The industry grew out of an on-demand services provided to authors who could afford to write but who didn’t have their own printing presses or book stores. In this light, trad pubs could easily be seen as a cancer, a good idea metastasized into a monster sucking the life from a creative community it once nurtured.
  • Current publishing mythology pictures a writer scratching away at her desk in solitude until genius bleeds onto the page, followed by eager acceptance from an agent and/or a publisher as-is, with publishers providing only an edit and a final proofing before the story hits the public eye. Uh…no.  In reality, editors once built relationships with writers. Agents took over a large part of that role when the industry grew larger, and now even agents don’t do it. Editorial rejections were often developmental critiques, back in the day. As in, “I like the idea, but you use ten times more adjectives than necessary, you have an unhealthy affection for using erotica-style shorthand character descriptions instead of names, and for the love of little green apples, why did your characters spit, enthuse and sulk multiple times in one dialogue exchange? Also, things X, Y and Z in the plot make no sense. Polish it up, send it back, and I’ll take another look.”Put another way, a large part of the editorial job was to reject without prejudice. (Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee is basically a rejected first submission.) The industry pubs are now are much too concerned about producing Big Numbers to focus on the old-fashioned idea of combing through rough gems, spotting talent and supporting it. Building a collection of low-margin productive writers is no longer the main job for any editor outside the Romance Machine. And that’s a huge loss to the Book World.
  • There’s a reason it’s called a submission process. Humiliation is rooted deep into the American publishing culture. Forget the absurd turnaround times. Forget the obscenity called, “no simultaneous submissions.” (WTF? What other industry would ever consider that a reasonable concept? You can’t show that rug/car/painting/refrigerator to anyone else until I decide if I want it. Huh?) Even if you ignore those abominations, the rot runs much deeper that that. The holier-than-thou attitude is not making traditional publishers any friends. My thoughts on the philosophy behind labeling people who object to snidely offensive editorial abuse as “too sensitive” and “thin-skinned” is a blog post waiting to happen.

 

I would give my eye teeth to have a publishing contract so I could leave all the tedious production & distribution crap to someone else BUT I won’t sell my soul for one, and I’m not willing to wade through the submission system. That’s my choice. If a rep showed up on my doorstep and said, “Hey, guurrrl, I read your book, and it’s so mahvelous that I want to publish all your stuff forevermore, here’s a contract…”

Well, I’d probably shut the door in her face for calling me gurrrl before she got to the good part, but still. You get the idea.

In the “know thyself” category, I would rather learn graphic design and blurb writing than master the art of crafting an enticing query letter. I would rather pay individual cover artists and have control over the final product than be stuck with what a studio artist creates for the publisher.

It’s all about preference. Not good & evil, not better or worse. Sure, I’m tired of people casting aspersions on my work simply because I’m publishing it myself. I’m just as tired of watching mud get slung at publishers for doing things that go unappreciated by too many independent authors.

I’m proud of my books. They stand on their own merits, and I don’t need to pretend they’re better simply because I made them without the aid of a publishing team. (They’re not.) They exist. They’re good. That’s enough.

(No, really. They’re fantastic. Go buy copies for everyone you know.)

We can do better. Respect is a good thing.