Caitlin Dewey who runs the Washington Post’s Intersect Blog online wrote the following on October 2, 2014, “In the past 90 days, some 84 people have self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon, almost half of them in the past month alone…” She goes on to say that many of these books have highly-rated reviews on Amazon and yet, “…many of the books — almost all of them, in fact — contain information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong…”
This is the best evidence I have yet seen on why the self-publishing world is so often deserves the criticism it regularly receives from the traditional literary media and publishers. There are no gate-keepers. At the most benign end of the outcome spectrum all you have is drivel; at the most malignant, it can cause wide-spread misinformation if not panic, as could potentially happen in the case of Ebola.
I’ve written before about my happy and not-so-happy encounters with self-published books. A novel might simply be poorly written, derivative twaddle that otherwise does not harm other than wasting your time and clogging up the channels of entertainment. Non-fiction, on the other hand, without benefit of editing, can disseminate all manner of harmful or simply wrong information. So, why do I self-publish?
There are probably two reasons: first, I am sometimes impatient. Perhaps I am often impatient. The traditional publishing process takes a long time. Sometimes a really long time. Second, and I am being more honest here than I have seen of other self-published novelists, my writing may not be up to the standards that the publishers I have approached in the past are looking for. I have a track record as a well-published non-fiction writer, but I am a relative newcomer to fiction. So, does that mean I shouldn’t publish my own novels?
Of course not. I can and I probably will continue to do so. Indeed, I’m also likely to publish a non-fiction piece or two in the future. That being said, I have no call – nor do any other self-published writers – to either feel hard-done-by when the indie publishing industry is criticized, or to pester traditional reviewers.
If you are a self-publisher or contemplating this route, and you haven’t read Ron Charles’s recent piece No, I don’t want to read your self-published book, you should. Charles, by the way, is the editor of The Washington Post’s Book World. In it he refers to another piece you should read: An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed penned by Roger Sutton the editor of a book review magazine. Charles asked Sutton what inspired his open letter rant. Evidently its genesis was in an email exchange with a self-published author who was feeling affronted by Sutton’s refusal to review self-published books. When Sutton suggested to Charles that “…people are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them…” I thought, I could not agree more. And we need to stop deluding ourselves.
[It is heartening to note, however, that Sutton’s derision of the self-published book has evolved over the past few years. In his view, self-published children’s books today are still terrible; but he admits that “self-publishing for adults these days is demonstrating considerably greater skill and sense of audience than it used to, especially when it comes to niche topics and genre fiction.” Yay!]
The bottom line is that we should continue to write and even publish if we want to, keeping in mind that not all of our work contains as many bon mots as we think. But we do need to stop feeling so maligned by the traditional reviewers and publishers: they are not the problem. The plethora of unedited, poorly written self-published books is.
Of course there are many self-published authors who are probably as good as or even better than many taken on by traditional publishers. Sadly, it is more often the case that this is not true. As a community of indie authors, what we really need to do is everything in our power to ensure the quality of our work. Here are my suggestions:
- Write any kind of drivel that you want; publish only your best.
- Work diligently to improve you writing at every opportunity.
- Support other high-quality indie writers.
- Be honest when giving feedback or reviewing the self-published work of others.
- Stop feeling that the world of the indie writer is somehow in a war with traditional publishing.
What would you add to the list?