Most of these slurs came out of a time when the majority of so-called self-published books were put out by vanity presses that preyed on the desire of the unwary to have a book with their name on it. Often these books were written to share with friends and family, never intended for a wider readership.
Then word got out that “anyone can publish a book”. It’s true. Anyone can. And so many who believed themselves to be writers did just that – to the detriment of those who actually can write. Readers were angry – rightly so – because they paid good money for books that were substandard in many aspects. They were poorly written, had unappealing covers and were badly edited, if they were edited at all.
Throughout the infancy and childhood stages of self-publishing, traditional publishing houses, respected newspapers and other media that reviewed books were only too happy to point fingers at the poor quality of self-published work. In the beginning they were (mostly) justified.
A lot has changed since those early days. Writers have learned that they must have their work professionally edited, that their books must be well-written and they must have appealing covers if they are to find readers and fans. Yes, people still can, and do, publish substandard work, but those who write well are beginning to get noticed. The cream is slowly reaching the top and many self-published authors are garnering the respect they deserve.
Prejudice and a poor reputation are difficult to overcome. It is made even more so when big business, in this case those publishers and media that have a financial stake in keeping that negative reputation alive, do their best to denigrate self-published authors and self-publishing in general.
But the tide is turning. Sometimes it’s difficult to see those changes, they are so gradual. Of course, the trad publishers still do their best to deny those changes, all the while adding the very business practices they once vilified to their own stables. At the same time they are drastically reducing their services to the authors they publish. Many authors are now required to get their own editors. The result is that we are seeing the same issues in trad published work that publishers and media complained about in self-published books. Nor do the big publishers promote any but top ranking authors, the ones they make their money from. Authors are expected to do their own promotion and, if they do not succeed, they are dropped from their publisher’s roster. Royalties are shrinking. Advances are becoming extinct for all but top and high mid-list authors.
The result is that some authors, previously trad published, are jumping ship, leaving their publishers to become self-published. They cite greater control, higher incomes and even ethics. The prestige of being trad published is no longer the Holy Grail.
On the other side, self-published authors are recognizing the need for solid editing and good covers. They are learning how to promote and market their books. There are now several options that enable the writer to produce an attractive book, either paper or e-book, that rivals anything a trad publisher puts out. There are sites, such as ours here at Indies Unlimited, that assist authors to find the information they need to produce a fine product, much of it at no cost.
The Old Boys Club is beginning to take notice. What I observe demonstrates that attitudes are shifting. The lines are blurring between trad and self-published books. Readers and media alike are taking a new look at self-publishing.
There are the small things, like self-pubbed authors being interviewed in local newspapers, on radio and TV. Reviews are popping up in many smaller newspapers and magazines. The Camp Verde Bugle has an “Indies Bestseller List” alongside the trad list. It is not alone. The Tahlequah Daily Press featured an article entitled Self-publishing more lucrative for authors. On Dec. 8, 2012, The New York Times reviewed a self-published book, as reported in The Passive Voice. Earlier this year The Guardian, bastion of the Old Boys Network started their own self-published book of the month competition.
Late in 2013 the Writers Union of Canada announced that it would soon be accepting membership applications from self-published authors (pending a peer review). “We have concluded there is a population of highly professional self-published authors who would be well-served by membership in TWUC.” Until then they had stood adamantly against self-publishing, citing all the same reasons I mention at the beginning of this article. As a Canadian author, I decided to follow up on this announcement. Nothing happened for many months. Then, in late October they acted. The application for membership by self-published authors is available. I intend to apply. The “peer review” requirement is still there, and my inquiries have failed to produce an explanation of what, exactly, that entails. I’m eager to find out.
Book fairs are now setting aside space for self-pubbed authors and books. Occasionally one of these authors is even invited to speak or be on a panel with trad published authors. One day soon we will participate side by side as equals, instead of in a corner by ourselves. In 2013 300,000 people attended the Frankfurt Book fair where self-publishing was a major topic of discussion.
We celebrate these victories. We applaud and support those authors who have striven to ensure that the quality of their work matches or surpasses that put out by trad publishers. We laud those who found the courage to leave their publishers for the control and freedom that self-publishing offers.
The tide is shifting. Imperceptibly you say? I disagree. I can see it.