One day, I’m sure this is going to happen: I’ll be standing around chit-chatting at some fashionable soiree talking about writing, and a nervous-looking gentleman next to me will admit, with a slightly embarrassed cough, that his books are ‘traditionally’ published.
In response, I shall look down my nose at him with measured sympathy and say: “Don’t worry, old chap. Not everyone’s cut out for the hard graft of publishing their books themselves. It takes a wide range of skills that not every author can be expected to possess. Why, some of the most famous authors used to be traditionally published.” Then, I shall pause, wave my wine glass airily around his lowered head, and with condescension ask: “I suppose twelve per cent royalties are better than nothing… Aren’t they?”
Of course I’d never be that cruel. Probably. In any case, although that day is still some way off, it won’t stop me noting those stories which crop up from time to time to indicate how far the acceptance of self-publishing is progressing. In the UK’s Telegraph, author Mark Bastable writes a similar kind of thing in a column called “How I overcame snobbery to self-publish an e-book”.
He starts off recalling Steve Jobs’ notorious ‘people don’t read anymore’ quote when Amazon launched the Kindle in 2008, then moves on to admitting his snobbery by believing that “the e-book revolution would be a chaotic orgy of vanity publishing.” Not quite, despite the mainstreams’ efforts to make the general reading public believe it is, while simultaneously doing their level best to cheat as many unsuspecting Independent Authors as possible into paying the mainstreams’ little vanity-publishing offshoots as much as possible.
But now, Bastable is a little shocked to find that “e-reader devices have since become acceptable, even hip, like screwtop wine,” before trotting out the familiar mid-lister’s complaint that their mainstreams don’t deliver the marketing they promise. From there, it’s a short step to realising all of those things which self-publishing obliges the author to do him/herself, like editing, proof-reading, cover design, and even – gulp! – getting a website.
To be fair, Bastable does come up with a nice analogy: “Someone remarked that publishing a book was like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo,” which he runs with in a way that will have most authors nodding and smiling. In addition, his concluding advice to anyone thinking of self-publishing an e-book is very sound and nicely put.
Elsewhere, I’ve noticed another comparison which seems to gaining currency and playing an important role in the acceptance of Independent Authors: that if musicians can produce their own music; if playwrights can mount their own productions; and if artists can hang their own art shows, why can’t authors publish their own books?
This comparison turned up again recently in this story, about the Writers’ Union of Canada and its decision to vote on whether to allow self-published authors to join its ranks. The vote, to take place at the end of this month, seems to be provoking a healthy discussion, in which traditionally published authors are smarting because they feel they ‘earned’ their publication with a traditional publisher, while others worry what will happen if the WUC doesn’t expand its membership. The issue is best summed up in this quote from author Armin Wiebe: “I have no objection to self-published authors joining the WUC as such… My problem with most of the self-published books I have read or tried to read is a serious lack of editing, both substantive and copy editing. Those are services that a good publisher will invest money in, so if you self-publish you should invest in it too.”
This is a fair point of which many Indies are already well aware. But organisations like the WUC now find themselves forced to answer some difficult questions: are they a special club to which only ‘proven’ authors can belong? If they allow self-published authors entry, will the conditions rest on sales, or their own verification of writing quality? How justifiable is the fear of letting in the great unwashed masses, and how great the potential benefits?
It will be interesting to see how the WUC and other author organisations handle this. In the meantime, Independent Authors can take some comfort that the long road to acceptance is slowly being travelled.