The Self-Publishing Dilemma

This week on Twitter’s #litchat was a discussion about “indie” authors, a euphemism now used instead of self-published authors, including those who start their own publishing company to sell their own books and those who use vanity publishing.

Indie publishing is touted as the new publishing model. Self-published authors claim that they are able to retain their own voice, that they are not constrained into a mold, that they are able to have control over all aspect of publishing the book, from writing it to marketing it. That’s all very well and good, but how about filtering?

In her article, When anyone can be a published author, Laura Brown asks the question. In all of the talk of the new publishing model, she argues that one element is being forgotten: the reader. How, amid potentially millions of self-published books, is one to find something good to read?

Because someone has written a book, it doesn’t mean that it’s good. Publishers do act as a kind of filtering system. True, the slush pile may hide a gem, but there are many more manuscripts that are awful. And all those awful ones can now find a place out there. There is a lot of terrible prose written every day. Laura Brown says:

It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters — not to mention ton after metric ton of clich├ęs — for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that’s almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue. You walk in the door pledging your soul to literature, and you walk out with a crazed glint in your eyes, thinking that the Hitler Youth guy who said, “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver” might have had a point after all.

She argues that, in a self-published world, the ones who will now have the “dirty job” to wade through the slush pile are the readers.

Bowker, a company that tracks industry statistics, calculated that, in 2009 alone, new titles published outside of “traditional publishing and classification definitions” numbered 764,448.

Yeah, in one year alone. Over half a million self-published books.

Laura Brown argues that readers will end up with “slush fatigue” and that, in the long term, it will harm all authors. Faced with bad book after bad book, readers will retreat and narrow down their choices instead of widening them.

A few days of reading bad manuscript after bad manuscript has a tendency to make you never want to pick up another manuscript again, but when finding new talent is your job and your vocation, you keep at it until you’re successful enough to hire someone else to do it for you. If, on the other hand, you’re a civilian, and reading is something you turn to, seeking fun or transcendence, during your precious hours of free time, how long will you persist when book after book has exactly the opposite effect, crushing your spirit instead of refreshing it? How long before you decide to just give up?

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