Is self-publishing destroying literature? Hardly, but the debate about self-publishing (which I’m using as a blanket term to describe indie publishing, independent publishers, author / publishers, vanity publishing and subsidy publishing and any other name used to refer to someone who is publishing via non-traditional routes) has been blowing up online forms since the late 1990s, and real-life writers’ group discussions long before that. Although the reading public is beginning to accept self-published books (more so in some genres than others), there are still many industry professionals who liken self-publishing to the downfall of humanity.
Rather than fight the traditional industry head-on — which seemed to be the initial plan, independent publishers are instead building new roads to readers. Amazon, a company that seems determined to take over the industry from publishing to selling, is playing a significant role in changing the landscape. Not only does Amazon’s Kindle e-reader dominate the market, but its digital publishing arm has made e-book publishing free, and relatively simple. Amazon has also made huge inroads in the print book market and has welcomed self-publishers with open arms through it’s print publishing company CreateSpace (which developed from their acquisition of Digitz/BookSurge/GreatUnpublished).
Not everyone is happy with these changing world of publishing, though. Only a year ago a poster named Mark Stephenson wrote, “As far as I am concerned, the self-publishing “revolution” means that instead of the slush pile being confined to a professional editor’s shelf it can now be delivered directly to your e-reader by Amazon,” in the comments’ section of this Good E Reader post titled Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature.
Just eight months ago “DrewScarymore” responded to the same article with, ” I have a rule, I will never review a self published book.” Plenty of people use their keyboards to defend self-publishing, as well.
There’s no arguing that this new age of publishing options offers a platform to people whose books might otherwise go unpublished. Some of these books deserved to stay in a quiet drawer somewhere. Others, not so much. Rejection letters are penned as quickly for marketing and financial reasons than for the quality of prose. If a manuscript targets a niche market, or seems to be too unique to tie down to one genre, it’s probably not going to be picked up by a large publishing house. That doesn’t mean How to Paint Doorknobs Without a Brush can’t go on to make $10,000; Which would probably make an indie publisher quite happy, but do little to impress Random House.
The new wave of success stories — which includes independent authors / publishers like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking — seems to have raised the perceived legitimacy of self-publishing considerable. In fact, many traditionally-published authors have started self-publishing their own back lists and new books, including one of my own clients, Pam Crooks, who I previously interviewed for this blog. Well-known author Martha Beck, who I’ve designed CD covers for, regularly produces and publishes her own material. And you can read Harry Bingham’s (not my client, but I wish) reasons for self-publishing here.
As optimistic as all this sounds, very few independent authors will ever see such success. Out of the millions of self-published e-books available on Amazon, only 40 authors have actually obtained noteworthy sales, according to this blog. However, in the comments’ section of that article, “Brian” says, “I am part of a discussion group of fifty indies and hybrids. The mean income is $150,000-$250,000 per year. Very few of us have reached one-million copies — though some have.” I guess it depends on what people consider success. For some people merely being able to claim they’re published authors is more than enough. Others hope to make a living and quit their day jobs, and that seems attainable, although from easy.
It really does seem to have become a divided industry, with independent publishers simply forging ahead and building their own markets alongside the traditional publishing model. There’s every chance that indie publishers will take the lead in the digital publishing world — which was largely ignored by traditional publishers, who not only came late to the game, but didn’t really offer much of a price reduction compared to their print books. The POD (print-on-demand) method many indies choose for taking their books to print though is still more expensive for consumers. I wonder what the next decade holds?