Note: this is the first article I wrote for the Huffington Post to receive widespread attention. It’s a tiny bit dated—my perspective on Amazon has evolved somewhat, and the Hachette dispute is over—but I’m re-posting it so it has a home on my new site. I do believe the widespread attention I originally received is due to the estimable Anne Rice.
To: Everyone writing about Amazon vs. Hachette
From: An indie and self-published author
Subject: Please stop
If you are an author who happens to be published by one of the “big 5” houses, I offer you my congratulations. You are truly fortunate, and hopefully also a good writer, although one does not guarantee the other. I would be happy to hear your perspective on Amazon and Hachette, which I’m sure is interesting.
However: if the subject of self-publishing comes up in the course of this expression of opinion, you probably need to shut up. It is very likely you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Likewise, if you’re an opinion columnist, book reviewer or someone who for one reason or another thinks you are writing a slant-free news article (I’m looking at you, Laura Miller), you also probably need to stop.
Here is the problem. You all seem to think self-published authors are bad writers, because bad writers are self-published. The thing is, bad writers are everywhere. I agree, it’s easy to find examples of self-published authors who are very, very bad, but if you think the traditional publishing industry isn’t also full of hacks and terrible writers, you’re either delusional, or you’ve never spent more than ten minutes in a bookstore.
Good authors do not always get the big publishing contracts. Good novels do not always find a way to major market success. Most importantly, being published by one of the big 5 says more about the marketability of a novel than the quality of it. The system has cracks, and they are large cracks.
Here’s a story. In 2004, I completed my novel Immortal, spent a year getting an agent and then spent another year waiting as that agent sent the manuscript to all of the major publishers. It wasn’t picked up, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is: after it was rejected, I had no other options. I was advised to write a new novel and try and get that published instead. Under no circumstances was I to either self-publish or even indie publish Immortal because if I did it would have to be a runaway success or no major publisher would even talk to me again.
It wasn’t enough that the big 5 (I think there were 6 then) decided not to publish it. If I wanted to play the game I had to make sure nobody published it.
I ultimately decided not to play the game, and Immortal has been indie published since 2012, and while this is also not my point, if you’re thinking it should not have been published because I myself might be a poor writer, I urge you to visit the review page and decide for yourself.
Back in 2006, self-publishing was in truth only barely a viable option. That isn’t the case any more, and this is something else you’re going to have to understand, because the writers you seem to be complaining about—this vast legion of unedited, probably unwashed, no doubt delusional—are making a sound economic choice.
I currently have four novels out with a small market publisher, and the fifth is due out in October. Unless something dramatic happens, my next novel will be self-published. I say this because in the past six months I’ve written and published four short stories through Amazon’s KDP, and I make more per unit sold from those four shorts than I do from the four novels even though they’re being sold for less. Sales have not been a problem. I fail to see the downside to doing this.
But, you might say, it’s not edited! Yes, you are correct. I am my own editor. Some people can do this, and some can’t. The ones who can’t hire—or should hire—an editor, for the same reason I hire someone else to do my covers: cover design is not part of my skill set. And if you don’t think it’s possible to be a good writer without an editor, you are A: wrong, and B: trying my patience. There certainly are people who think they don’t need an editor and are incorrect, but some of us can actually get along fine without one.
In conclusion, let me reiterate: there are plenty of quality authors who aren’t contracted with one of the big 5; self-publishing is a real economic option, and a much better one than the old “don’t publish it at all, ever” option; you folks on the big market side of the publishing world have plenty of crappy writers too.
So the next time you sit down to write something about Amazon vs. Hachette, or the state of publishing or whatever you’ve got going on that might in some way cover self-publishing, please stop. The assumptions you’ve been making aren’t reality-based, and your condescension and/or profound naïvete is just making it worse.
Thank you for your time.
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