Publishing & Technology
The Persistent Cultural Need for Publishers
Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about how the ongoing expansion of independent (or self-) publishing is driving the need for publishers, now more than ever.
Last year I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by Smashword’s founder Mark Coker at Portland State University. I say “good fortune” not because I found the argument he presented to be anything short of a self-serving apologist’s attack on traditional publishing and the culture of gate-keeping that discouraged Mr. Coker (by his own acknowledgement) and many millions of other aspiring authors in their attempts to gain the industry’s seal of approval. I say “good fortune” because his presentation infuriated me to such a point that I was forced to stay with many of the uneasy thoughts I’d attempted to hold at bay for some time regarding the rebranding of self-publishing as “independent publishing” by those who would profit from the aspirations of the aforementioned millions. The general gist of his talk, I’m paraphrasing Mr. Coker here, is that it has been the publishers who have been holding writers back for all these years, trampling the aspirations of millions of deserving authors in the name of abstractions such as a manuscript’s marketability and the potential for a return on the investment it would take to bring any manuscript to publication.
Don’t misunderstand me. The democratization of publishing has some inherent good in it. As it levels the playing field for authors from groups that have been egregiously underrepresented in traditional publishing, it is a good thing. As it provides writers whose work doesn’t fit established, “salable” molds (the novella author, the poet, and, increasingly, the writer of short fiction) with a potential additional way to bring their work to market, it is a very good thing. That said, the expansion of self-publishing has removed many of the filters between audience and writer and I would argue that this has negative effects on the quality of writing in general, the practice of reading throughout our society, and the foundation of our culture as a whole. Setting aside the obvious benefits of professional editing and design, as they can be purchased by the independent author (though they rarely seem to be), it strikes me that there are a couple of glaring cultural issues with the rise in self-publishing:
First, if digital bookselling and distribution continues to take up more and more overall market share in the industry, while simultaneously providing the nigh-singular commercial avenue for independent authors to distribute their work, the prospect that any author will be read seems less and less likely as all but the best-selling titles get pushed farther and farther into the digital background.
Second, without some of the gatekeeping functions of the traditional publishing apparatus in place the general overall quality of our cultural production of text seems to be in jeopardy. If we level the playing field completely and then load it with everyone who wants to participate, regardless of their skill or potential, how are we to identify the writers that deserve our attention?
As we get further and further away from the traditional publishing, distribution, bookselling model we will need imprints and publishers that we can trust to deliver books worth purchasing, worth reading.
Lots of great points in the comments here–and an interesting question posed in the blog post. If the goal is to garner a response, then well done, Brian. You certainly managed that. Not sure I agree with you on your basic point, but there’s nothing wrong with posing the question and starting a conversation.
I’ve found Chip and the folks at MacLit to be very encouraging of indie publishing. Chip encouraged me to self-publish, and I’m so glad he did. Indie or traditional, we all want to bring great books to the marketplace. We want to write the stories and ideas that stir our hearts. We want to contribute to the great conversation. I feel very fortunate to be represented by an agent who supports my decision to try indie publishing–and to live in this amazing world where it’s possible.
Are you sure you’re not mixing up ‘editor’ with ‘publisher’? They are two very different things. The publisher is really the marketer and distributor. The editor is needed, and we who are traditionally published know that the publishers often hire freelance editors to polish the manuscripts. Freelancers who also polish indie works.
As for indie authors distorting the truth? Not the ones I’ve listened to. To be honest, I’ve found traditionally published authors to be more reticent, perhaps because they don’t feel as free, or are forced to have confidentiality clauses in their contracts.
I for one am glad for indie books. I bristle that a few bean counters are allowed to decide what I should read and like. I would say that the democratizing of publishing has a lot of good. And you want to know how you can tell the good authors on that level playing field? You read a sample.
Thanks to everyone that took the time to read my post and engage with it by leaving comments. I am flattered that you took the time to weigh in on something that I did not necessarily understand would ruffle so many feathers. I am new to agenting and wasn’t completely aware of the mine field I was skipping into.
I’m not one to engage much in debate on the internet, but I would like to clarify my position and my perspective on this issue. I’ll keep my response brief.
First of all, I am not here to bash on independent authors or independent publishing in general. I have helped several author friends self-publish. I earned a good chunk of my living expenses during grad school as a freelance editor of independent romance, christian romance, and mysteries. I am currently teaching seminars on book marketing for independent authors. And, I have self-published two collections of my own short work to date and am considering publishing a full-length collection in the near future. I am considering this not because I can’t find a publisher (I’ve had a couple of indies express interest), but because I can’t see the benefit of traditionally publishing a collection when the majority of the responsibility for marketing the book will most likely fall to me anyway. So believe me when I say that I completely understand the motivation and the benefits of independent publishing and I am well aware that there are a growing number of successful authors who are opting out of traditional publishing. I would definitely advocate for it when it makes sense. Perhaps I should have led the post with that statement.
Regardless of my admiration for the democratization of publishing and my awe at being gifted the opportunity to participate in what one commenter called the “golden age of publishing,” I am also concerned about what we may be losing in this radical paradigm shift. Unfortunately, there is very little qualitative research and almost no reliable peer-reviewed research on cultural agency in book publishing (I know this because I wrote my thesis on the subject). So I am left with my perspective on the issue and my concerns. You may not share my concerns or feel like they are no longer valid and that’s fine.
Again thank you all for taking the time and putting the energy into commenting on my post. I feel like we all (those who care about writing, reading, etc.) are in this together.
I chuckled when I read that “my thesis” part. My response is, “Sure it works in reality, but what about in theory?”
What *are* we losing in the paradigm shift? Well, first define “we.” Readers are losing…well, a few slickly packaged books that are marketed to death and a lot of midlist authors who disappear because they don’t sell quite enough for their publishers. But publishers still do produce slickly packaged books, and they still get prime slots at B&N, so no real loss to the readers. If there were, readers would stop buying indie books.
What do writers lose? Lousy advances? Writers whose careers tank because their publisher doesn’t give them any marketing support? Contracts with unconscionable rights-grabs and non-compete clauses? No loss there.
So if readers aren’t losing out, and writers aren’t losing out, then who is the “we” who might be losing? The publishing enterprises and the people who earn money because of them. Really, no one else. So its incumbent on the publishers to reinvent themselves at this point to make themselves more appealing to writers and more valuable to readers. It’s not the readers’ problem and it’s certainly not the writers’.
But in the meantime, reviewers will still be reviewing books and friends will still be recommending books to friends.
I would question the causality of events here. Brian, it seems that you think that the things we are losing are CAUSED by the radical paradigm shift.
But I don’t see that. I think it might be the other way around. I think that we already lost things years ago, and as a RESULT, the paradigm shift happened.
But let’s define terms, because we may not be talking about the same things.
Here’s what we lost, and I believe this happened years ago, long before the indie option was viable:
1) Real marketing by publishers. The trend for at least the last 15 years has been for publishers to shift most of the responsibility for marketing to authors. There has been a very large shift here since 1998, which was the year I sold my first book to a trad-publisher.
2) The size of advances. I don’t have a lot of data on this, but I’m told that advances have shrunk considerably since the recession of 2008. I’ve heard this from numerous agents and fellow authors, and I think it’s real.
3) Faith in the system. It used to be that most authors believed that their royalty split was reasonably fair. This was probably true for most paper contracts by most publishers. However, when e-books came in, the royalty split was set almost uniformly by major publishers at 25% of net. Every single agent I’ve ever asked believes this is far too low. Most published authors also believe that 25% is grossly unfair. This belief is supported by the notorious Harper-Collins viewgraph that shows the massive shift in profits (in HC’s favor) for e-books as compared to hardcovers. And let’s not even discuss the infamous Harlequin deal that saw their authors collecting a measly 3%.
So those are the things we have lost in the last couple of decades, and let’s be clear–these happened BEFORE the paradigm shift.
Here’s what I mean by the paradigm shift, and I assume that this is what Brian means also, but he can correct me if he means something else:
1) In 2010, just after the iPad released, buzz began developing among authors about the option to use KDP to release e-books and earn some serious money. This had begun earlier, but soon after Apple entered the e-book market, Amazon raised royalty rates to 70% of the retail price in the $2.99 to $9.99 price window. And suddenly, authors could earn boatloads of money. Within a couple of years, there were reports of several authors earning 7 figures–Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, Bob Mayer, Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath. Agents and publishing pros kept calling these people “outliers” until I showed mathematically on my blog that they are not outliers, they are simply the peak performers in a Pareto distribution. They are EXPECTED.
2) With the advent of KDP Select, many authors found that they could become instant bestsellers using the 5-days free option. Because a free book counted the same as a paid book in those early days, suddenly the bestseller lists were glutted with no-name indie authors who were RAKING IT IN.
3) Eventually, Amazon changed the way they did rankings so that free books didn’t count so much. But with the rise of Apple and B&N and Kobo as alternatives for indie authors, it became possible to make e-books permanently free on Amazon by pricing them free on the other retailers and then asking Amazon to price-match. This has led to numerous authors earning a good living by making the first book in a series free. We are still in this phase.
The above is the paradigm shift that matters to authors. We can make money–some of us are earning much more money than we ever earned in trad-pub. We can choose our own cover designers. We can hire our own editors. We can run our writing careers as BUSINESSES in which we have control over our destiny.
This paradigm shift FOLLOWED the things that we lost which I listed above. It can’t possibly be true that the things we lost were a RESULT of the paradigm shift.
Now, Brian may be thinking of other things we may have lost, and he can make a case if he likes that the cause is the rise of the indies. But I see the causality the other way around.
My view is that traditional publishing has in some sense created the current situation that has driven many of its former authors to go indie. And yes, it’s fair to say they’ve DRIVEN authors away. I’ve seen it happen. I still see it happening now, this year.
I can’t see the future, so I don’t know if traditional publishing will continue to alienate authors. (25% royalties. Onerous no-compete clauses. Lifetime rights grabs. Little stuff like that.) I think trad-pub has something to offer authors (notably, paper distribution), but they need to treat authors as real business partners instead of as resources to exploit. And for their part, authors need to step up and act like they want to be in business, rather than expecting publishers to “handle all the complicated stuff”.
You have identified what the issue is to you–though not necessarily to most readers: How to find the “deserving” writers.
So, that’s where the solution needs to be–discoverability.
course, deserving is in the eye of the reader-beholder. No matter what
person or group is looking for which deserving literary offerings, the
problem is not the democratization or the ease of publishing or even the
legendary “tsunami of crap.” The problem is that we need new, better,
more user-friendly and efficient ways to find what we seek. The tech
geniuses need to get on that one.
But the answer is not back to
the narrow gates and the all-powerful gatekeepers (who will always have
biases, whether against political views, subgenres, religion/creed to
some extent and will always be driven by bottom line). The answer is
making the discovery process work for readers in the reality of the
21st century publishing world.
The landscape will evolve to make
it possible to find what we want. And those of refined literary tastes
will, if they truly wish, discover and buzz about what they consider
beautiful and true and fresh. And those who want the next secret baby
romance will find it. And those who want the next zippy space opera will
find it. and those who want Zombie Decameron will find it. And those
who want Jane Eyre Devotionals will find them. And those of us who are
niche readers underserved by the ivory towers sneering at our preferred
story types will find them. Because someone will put it out there and
we’ll sniff them out, even if we must hunt in blogging and Goodreading
And those best able to help folks discover will make money and friends and get sent gift boxes of cookies. (Via Amazon, likely.)
Hooray for choice.
yes, as a person who loves short formats and poetry, I have already
enjoyed some Kindle Singles and novellas. And I hope poets, more of the
ones I enjoy, get on that bandwagon. Because I often bypass poetry books
due to so many not being in eformat (I have actually mentioned this
several times on Facebook poet pages: WHY NO KINDLE VERSION???) If they
publish the poems themselves, lower price and ebook formats will be
inevitable. Good for those of us who like verse. It can be a short 12
poem book, and yet viable in eformat, if not in print. Again, hooray.
Meanwhile, let the one who wishes to write and publish do so. Gorgeous
freedom of speech and creative impulse. Let the work to find gems be on
the side of the discoverer.
Keeping down and silencing the person who
wishes to share their literary visions with the world–even if they are
pure crap–is not the solution. Kinda contrary to American ideals. Plus,
really, what I think is pure crap might make someone else’s day. It’s
not for me to say what you should read, so why is it up to someone else
to say what I should have access to read?
just solve THE PROBLEM: seeking and finding and helping each other
find, too. (Which is so much more benevolent and American than keeping
out and narrowing the vision and silencing the voices.)
I love Christian publishers and agents, but I also love Christian indie authors–however we can get the word out! However, I too am disappointed in trying to break into publishing. Been at it for 8 years, won contests, been told my writing is good, but just can’t get in. So I’m going indie. An indie is not going away.
Garreth Cuddly asks in his article, Publishings Digital Disruption Hasn’t Even Started, “is the industry blind to the coming tempest?” and his answer is “I certainly believe so.” The truth is, I think so, too. Instead of looking at how things are going, Christian traditional publishers (and many agents) are putting their heads in the sand. And I wish they weren’t, because I really believe we need all types of Christian publishing these days. The days are dark. But instead of playing the blame game, traditional publishers need to open their eyes and see how they can help the thousands of authors (published and not-published so far, but soon will be) jump on this train that is barreling down on the tracks.
If you want to read more of Garreth Cuddly’s article, here’s the address:
I saw that earlier today. Good article.
Poorly researched agent blog posts like this one only prove to me that maybe traditional publishing really has no idea what’s going on in the industry. There are more freelance editors and cover designers in business today than ever before, which hardly support your theory that indie authors rarely use them.
Also, as Randy sez, there’s more readers than ever before BECAUSE of the ebook and indie market. (Also, gotta love the readers as gatekeepers, Randy!) So I suggest proponents of trad pub stop blaming indie publishing for everything and find a way to compete. But that’s okay if they don’t. It just means more readers for indies.
It’s posts like these that seriously make me want to go indie. So thanks for that!
You know, I take issue with your comment that this is a “poorly researched agent blog post,” Barbara. I find that a shallow criticism, like saying, “you could have edited this manuscript more.” If you want to say you disagree, say you disagree — but don’t claim it’s poorly researched simply because the writer comes to a different conclusion than you did. While I don’t believe I know you, I’ll wager Brian has considerably more experience and research in this field than you do. Trust me, LOTS of us who work with both traditional publishing and indie publishing know what’s going on in the industry.
I apologize Chip and Brian, my comment was not meant to disparage Brian’s experience in any way. All I meant was that it didn’t seem like he took the time to specifically research what’s really going on in indie publishing now, especially when he refers to indie authors rarely hiring editors and cover designers. In my experience on indie pub loops, that’s not the case and MANY indie authors recommend their editors and cover designers.
I take issue with your comment that mine is “a shallow criticism”, and the fact remains that Brian’s line about how indie authors rarely hire editors is saying “you could have edited this manuscript more.” Maybe that’s not what he meant by that anymore that I meant to disparage anyone. I’d appreciate the same courtesy, and I can agree to disagree on this point.
Fair enough, Barbara. I appreciate you being gracious about this.
I had to check the date on this. I almost
thought I’d stumbled on some old post from 2011. Nope. Just someone still
struggling to catch up. It’s okay, Bryan,
we’ll still be here when you figure it out.
However, your clients may not.
Just for curiosity’s sake, without looking, how many people here know the name of the publisher that published the last book they read?
My experience is that the majority of avid readers don’t know and don’t care. They care about story, not who packaged the story.
I used to know, because I held the book in my hand and the icon was clear. Nowadays, not so much.
I’m reading a paperback of the first of the Kane Chronicles, and I couldn’t have told you who published it at the time I posted the comment.
Are you kidding me? You fear self-publishing will destroy the very foundations of our culture? What? Am I hearing this correctly?
From the very beginnings of history every time technology changed, the gatekeepers put their hands over their heads and cried, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.”
I can just hear the “religious leaders” back when the printing press was invented and suddenly everyone could read the Bible. I can hear them sputtering, “But…but, these people… they don’t have any training. How can they possibly read the Bible for themselves? They need us. They need the gatekeepers. The very fabric of culture itself will be destroyed.”
Skip ahead thousands of years (there are probably examples in between, I just won’t cite them all) and the advent of the cheap pulp novel. Suddenly popular fiction was cheap and available to all – and even in serial magazine form. How cool was that! Again, the gatekeepers pronounced doom and gloom for all of culture if we actually read stuff like Raymond Chandler (instead of the Bible).
And now the gatekeepers are at it again, pronouncing demise of apocalyptic proportions for the very foundations of culture because there are a lot of crappy novels up on Amazon. So what. I i don’t have to read those crappy novels, and neither do you.
I am an Indie author. I wasn’t always an Indie writer. Back in the day I wrote 18 Christian mysteries all published by various gate-kept CBA publishers. Because I’m an author I’m also a reader. And do you know who the gatekeepers are now? The readers. Every eBook site with books for sale offers a few free sample chapters, Every one. Some Smashwords books even have up to 50% free. I get to go in and decide whether I want to read that book or not. It’s me, the reader.
Every reader alive knows what he or she likes to read, and they can pretty much decide after a chapter or two whether the book is to their liking.
Yes, we’re in a ‘new’ place now. How will this all shake down in five years? Who knows. But words are still there, and they are not cheapened by a few bad books. They are not cheapened by a million bad books. Words are still beautiful and exquisite and and there are many, many wonderful, well-written, award winning books by Indie authors who know the value of a good edit and a professional cover. Now, however, it’s up to us – the reader – to find them.
And how do we possibly do that? We have this wonderful tool. it’s called the World Wide Web. We can read the reviews. We can visit book bloggers, Goodreads and the many, many review sites which are everywhere. It’s not that hard.
There it is. I am my own gatekeeper. And when I want help, I look to folks who review whose taste syncs up some with my own. I read blurbs and excerpts (just as I did in bookstores when choosing what to give attention to). I browse genres/subgenres (just as I did in bookstores.)
Once, there were publishers who had a clear vision and I knew I could pretty much buy a genre imprint and trust it. How often does this happen anymore, aside from small presses and maybe Baen or a Harlequin targeted category line?
I haven’t been in a physical bookstore in 2.5 years. I used to go weekly or more often. I now go almost DAILY to the online bookstore. I subscribe to review blogs and to BookBub and other places that offer deals.
Browsing has just shifted online for me, but the way I find books, in its essence, is still pretty much the same as it always was. But I save money. I don’t have to spend 100 bucks a week because the price of ebooks is so much less than print (plus I can read with subscription services now). And all those free classics! I don’t have to pay Peguin/RH for classics. I go to Gutenberg or CCEL or Amazon or get from an online library….and get them for zero bucks.
For readers, it’s a fabulous new world.
It’s hard to believe we’re still discussing this in 2015.
1) “…the prospect that any author will be read seems less and less likely as all but the best-selling titles get pushed farther and farther into the digital background.”
Randy sez: This is an old problem, the so-called “discoverability” problem, and it’s been getting worse since early in the 20th century. There are more books out there, sure. But there are also more readers. It’s on the author and the publisher to find a way to make a book stand out from the crowd. That’s as true today as it was in 1920. Let’s be clear that this has nothing to do with the rise of indie authoring. The numbers are bigger now, but that’s what happens in a growth industry–numbers grow. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
2) “… If we level the playing field completely and then load it with everyone who wants to participate, regardless of their skill or potential, how are we to identify the writers that deserve our attention?”
Randy sez: Oh mercy me. Seriously, people are still asking this question in 2015? By 2012, it was already clear that the so-called “tsunami of crap” was completely manageable by the bookseller algorithms, which figure out what’s moving and what’s not. The readers are now the gatekeepers. Publishers did this job for many years. Then they passed the job on to agents. Now it’s on the readers and my opinion is that they’re doing a better job than the publishers or the agents could.
Leveling the playing field has the nice advantage of getting more money into the hands of authors, so they can afford to spend more time writing books. This has been the experience of numerous indie authors, including myself.
This is the golden age of publishing. It’s the best time ever to be a writer.
Thank you, Randy!
This is the 2nd post I’ve read this week from an agent complaining about the rise of indie publishing. And again, I’m left shaking my head. I agree with all Randy’s points. And I’ll add that the mistreatment of authors is a big reason that many authors choose to go the indie route. Not because we couldn’t get traditional contracts if we tried, but because we don’t want traditional contracts.
As the guy whose name is on this, I thought I should say that I happen to agree with you, Randy — this is the golden age of publishing. The best time ever for writers. And Lynnette, I’d just add that I don’t think Brian is “complaining about the rise of indie publishing.” As an agency, I can tell you that we’re not complaining about the rise of indies — in fact, we encourage many of the authors we represent to indie publish (including Cynthia Hickey, whose comment is just above yours!). :o)
Chip, yes I know you encourage authors to self-publish – one reason I was surprised to find this post on your blog.
It was this segment of the blog post that made me call it “complaining.” —>
“That said, the expansion of self-publishing has removed many of the filters between audience and writer and I would argue that this has negative effects on the quality of writing in general, the practice of reading throughout our society, and the foundation of our culture as a whole. Setting aside the obvious benefits of professional editing and design, as they can be purchased by the independent author (though they rarely seem to be), it strikes me that there are a couple of glaring cultural issues with the rise in self-publishing:
First, … seems less and less likely as all but the best-selling titles get pushed farther and farther into the digital background.
Second, without some of the gatekeeping … overall quality of our cultural production of text seems to be in jeopardy. …how are we to identify the writers that deserve our attention?
As we get further and further away from the traditional publishing, distribution, bookselling model we will need imprints and publishers that we can trust to deliver books worth purchasing, worth reading.”
You know Mr. Tibbetts. I’ve never met him. But, whether he meant it to or not, this post definitely came across as a lament about the demise of literature in our society BECAUSE of indie publishing. Thus my labeling it a complaint.
I think it is good to dialogue about these things. Mr. Tibbetts is certainly entitled to his opinion, I just strongly disagree with it. 🙂
I agree with Randy. The readers are now the gatekeepers. And if the reviews left on Amazon etc against the poorly edited and crafted books are anything to go by, they are doing a great job. Indie authors who have jumped the gun and prematurely published their work when it wasn’t ready are now facing the consequences of that in their reputation.
On the other hand, those who have taken the time and expense to publish a quality story with a quality book cover are finding an ongoing readership, and so they should. The cream will always rise to the top.
There is room for both indie and traditional, just as there is room for digital and print.It’s just a matter of balance. And that may take a while to work out. Many readers are voicing how they still prefer to read a physical print copy over a digital one, and libraries need print copies. However digital still remains the most convenient option for deliverability and portability.
Another bonus for indie, especially when published on Amazon, is REACH. The reader isn’t at the mercy of the local bookstore only carrying what they can afford to carry, or international distribution restrictions. The author now has the say in how far their story can go around the world.
Having previously worked in the Christian bookstore industry (outside of the US, might I add), I was always frustrated with how little of what was on offer actually made it to bookshelves. And there was no way the author would be aware of how limited their distribution was.
I was also frustrated for the reader, who had NO IDEA what was available to be purchased, which is why I started The Christian Fiction Site in the early 2000’s, which has now become Soul Inspirationz. Readers are THRILLED to learn more about their favourite authors, be introduced to new authors, and find out what is being released each month. While this is currently focussed on traditionally published CBA fiction, I am looking to expand this so that quality indie Christian fiction can also be showcased. Because it deserves to be.
Very thankful for the many reviewers who are open to reading indie books and finding/bringing to readers’ attention worthy authors. Good writers deserve recognition, no matter which publishing route they choose. Glad to hear Soul Inspirationz is opening doors to indies, Ellie!
To quote Sidney Poitier from “The Heat of the Night,” “They call me Mr. Tibbs.” Bravo, for expressing so eloquently what many of us believe. I think if the naysayers here will take a breath and reread your article, the hackles may relax. Eliminating traditional publishers puts me in mind of a blender chock full of every food imaginable and creating a gray soupy mess of indigestible muck. Who needs chefs, after all? Seriously, I believe indie (or self) publishing has its place, as you stated for hard to place types and niche markets. But we need the brands that publishing houses provide, though broad perhaps, to at least narrow the focus of where to find our favorite flavor. I’ll admit to not having read many self-published books, but the few I have were not well written, in my opinion. Many sets of eyes make for a better book. Just my thoughts. Oh, and welcome aboard.
Well said. Yes. I don’t know this Mr. Coker but my experience has been the ones screaming the loudest are the worst writers.
A good post. It’s always good to hear both sides of an issue.
I agree with you that there are a lot of self-published/indie published books that are not worth the time it takes to download them. But any time people everywhere have access to a system, any system, there will be high quality goods or services in that system, low quality goods or services, and everything in between. That is just a fact of life.
I’m not sure how true the analogy is but I think of fast food restaurants and high end restaurants in the same way I think of independent publishing and traditional publishing.
The number of inexpensive food items available at fast food chains does not cheapen the value or quality of the menu items available at a high dollar restaurant. They don’t even really compete directly with each other, since two markets are being served and those markets are (usually) quite well defined. Not much crossover.
I admit that readers of books do not fall into such well-defined markets, but I suggest there are two markets. But the same principle applies.
In the interest of transparency, I will say that I have three books self-published through Smashwords and Amazon. They are narrow niche market books–how to instruction books on drawing with colored pencils and painting with oils.
Would I have preferred to publish traditionally? Yes.
Was there much chance of it? No. The market is too small for technical books of this type. So for me and my readers, self-publishing was the best avenue.
Thanks again for the post. I enjoyed reading it.
I am just wondering if you could share how many Christian indie books you’ve read in the past year?
Also, I find it discouraging that an agency that represents plenty of hybrid authors would present indie publishing in such a negative light. Indies are placing/winning awards in contests like the Audies (for audiobooks), The Lime Awards (Christian Manifesto), Christys, Daphnes, Historical Novel Society, and I am sure the Carols. I feel posts like this only sow division among Christian authors, many of whom have agonized over the decision to go indie…and most of whom will never regret it.
Relax, Heather. We’re an agency that represents LOTS of hybrid authors, and as you know I’ve encouraged authors to indie publish. I think Brian had some valid points he wanted to make about the value of traditional publishing. I’m surprised at the level of emotional response to his words, since he states quite clearly that the democratization of publishing has had benefits. But he’s not trying to create division; he’s making a case for the benefit of having strong publishers. By the way, Brian isn’t on the “Christian indie” side of things, so that’s not going to be his field.
I’ve read so many stinkers published by traditional publishers that I cannot believe the whole “gatekeeper” thing any longer, and I’ve read amazing indie books that were rejected by multiple publishsers solely because the niche market they address didn’t interest the mainstream publishers. A book that will sell “only” a thousand copies to a select group doesn’t interest most publishers, whereas it’s still going to sell a thousand copies to its intended audience.
Publishers really are interested in the blockbusters because bestseller titles prop up the losses from the other 80% of their books. And quality? Didn’t EL James sell 20% of books purchased in America last year? I also don’t agree that somehow everyone reads more when there’s less variety available. How will having more books available at cheaper prices discourage reading? Perhaps you can explain.
Most indie authors I know spend a lot of time and money on editing, cover art, formatting and so on. I’m not sure which books you’ve seen, but in my experience, the traditionally published books aren’t that much higher in quality. And as for how the public will identify the writers that deserve our attention: same as we always have, via word of mouth.
So very true on all counts. I’ve read some trad pubbed books in the last handful of years that I honestly wondered, “How did this get past the gatekeepers?” And I’ve read some indies that have become absolute favorites.
Indie publishing does one tremendous thing – it allows readers to be the gatekeepers, instead of allowing a few companies to determine what readers SHOULD like. There will always be readers who will look only at books that have passed the “official” gatekeepers (trad pubs), but there are also readers who have discovered the joy of bypassing those gatekeepers and finding books that delight them that a trad pub house wouldn’t touch for one reason or another.
One thing the author of this blog post does (at least based on what’s written above) is assume that indies aren’t trad pubbed because their work isn’t good enough to pass the gatekeepers, but that’s an unrealistic assumption. The reality is that many indies were rejected by the gatekeepers for reasons that had zero to do with the quality of their work – publishers already had full rosters for the year, the publisher they or their agent queried already had a book with a similar storyline, plot, or main character on the roster for a specific period of time, the story is in a genre or subgenre outside what a publisher BELIEVES will sell (and they’re not willing to take a chance on it), and a host of other reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing.
Good point, Jane, about the assumption that less books means more readers will buy the existing books. In the past, when I was still just a reader (i.e. not writing), I passed on a LOT of Christian fiction novels because I didn’t care for the author, the genre, the story/characters, or a combination of the three. I’m no less picky as a reader now, but now I have more options, being able to choose between ALL the authors out there (both trad pubbed and indie), and I buy more books than I used to as a result. When the books were more limited, I bought less because I only bought what appealed to me. I suspect the same holds true for many readers.
Well stated. I agree with you completely. I have found that pushers of “independent” publishing sometimes distort the truth and minimize the drawbacks. We need to tell the whole story. Self-publishing has ups and downs.
Regarding editing, the need holds true for hybrid authors as well. I recently read the opening of a book that was self-published by a seasoned, traditionally published author. I found several errors in the first three paragraphs.
Every author needs a qualified editor. We can’t trust ourselves to find the errors. We are too close to our work.
Bryan, yes, self-publishing has both sides of the story. There are real hacks out there who barely know English. But there are also master storytellers who have gone indie.
” I have found that pushers of ‘independent’ publishing sometimes distort the truth and minimize the drawbacks.” This is what stuns me, over and over and over. No one believes the writers who are doing well. That can’t be true, no way, no how. And people who say this are, like you, certain that they’re right and that the indie writer saying it is a liar. Why? Why are you so sure that everything I say about indie publishing is a lie? I’m in it; you’re not.
Sally, I did not say that everything you say about indie publishing is a lie, not even close.
I said that pushers of independent publishing “sometimes” distort. That is a far cry from what you are accusing me of. Please don’t make false accusations. By doing so you are indeed engaging in distortion.
Also, I am involved in indie publishing, so I know what that world is like.
Thanks for clarifying, Bryan. Good to know. I guess I just haven’t seen the distortion myself.
Hold on a minute–just how many traditionally published books aren’t read by very many people? Just because someone is traditionally published does not mean that their sales will be any better than those of a self-published author. As far as quality goes, I’ve read traditionally published books that were poorly written. What self-publishing does is to give more authors the opportunity to be heard in a time when traditional publishers are cutting back on their lists. No matter which route an author goes, he or she needs to do their homework and research to thoroughly check any company out. Another distinct advantage to reputable self-publishing companies is the author retains all rights.
Thank you, Patricia! I’m just going to say it–I’m really getting sick and tired of posts like this, where someone closely tied to traditional publishing bemoans how awful indie publishing is for America and readers. How they’re all hacks, etc., etc., etc.
I have no problem with traditional publishing. I’ve worked for two of them, one a big Christian one that’s still around. I have a lot of respect for them; they were–and still are–a great house.
But good grief! How many lines have closed in recent years? How many slots are there for new contracts? A whole lot less than there were even a year ago. Lots of good writers who’ve written double digits of books for their publishers are not being offered contracts–or aren’t offered good contracts. So those people are just supposed to quit their career? Give up and move on? Find something else to do? Really? Suddenly, since the number of slots has shrunk, those writers are no good? Not worthy of being read?
I’ve read poorly edited trad books too, books that have made me determine never to buy that author again. I’ve read debut novels by people who were published maybe a bit too early. Bad fiction happens in the trad world.
Does more of it happen in indie publishing? Yes! Of course! It’s been viewed as a gold rush–and was for a time. But that’s settling out. What’s also settling out right now are all the trad pub authors going indie. Making a true living like they never have before. I’m thinking of authors like Tamara Leigh, MaryLu Tyndall, Dan Walsh, Shelley Adina, Debby Mayne, Brandilyn Collins, Randy Ingermanson, Joanne Bischof, Janice Hanna Thompson, and I know I’m forgetting some. Better yet, they’re all writing what THEY want to write–what moves them.
What bugs me is the idea that all the bad writers are burying the good writers–that no one will ever be able to find good fiction again. Ohmygoodness, this is so not true! I was a debut author last September. An indie debut author with a teeny-tiny platform. How are my sales? Great. Better than I’d dreamed. People found me, loved the book, and raved about it to their friends. Book bloggers found the book and loved it and told their readers.
Good books will rise to the top. They will. What happens when people buy and read a stinker? They post a review! They’re upset and want to warn others! Same thing happens with good books. Readers are not stupid. They can and will find the good books–and more and more of the good books are indie books now.
What frustrates me the most about this post is that a trad-pub agent is an expert on the indie field. How is that possible? That’s like me saying I’m an expert on the trad pub world because I read some of their books and worked at one years ago. And it bothers me because over and over I see agents warning writers away from going indie–how they’ll never be taken seriously, how it’s the kiss of death, how no one will buy their book or read them, how it will end their career. And it’s NOT. TRUE.
As a writer, it is so discouraging when you know your writing is publishable–when agents ask to see your other books because this one isn’t Amish romance. When you win multiple writing contests. Not one, not two–multiple. When published writers read your stuff and love it and refer you to their agent–who then says no because, again, it’s not Amish romance.
I hate seeing writers who are at a publishable level be beaten down over and over and over. It’s so incredibly discouraging. And then to hear agents keep saying that indie publishing is a joke and the kiss of death and don’t even go there if you want to write fiction, it makes me angry. (Can you tell? 🙂 )
There is NOTHING WRONG with traditional publishing. Nothing. There is NOTHING WRONG with indie publishing. Nothing. So can we seriously knock off posts like this and just be friends? Get along? Recommend good books to each other, regardless of where they came from? Can we quit bashing people because of how they published? Those are real people, you know.
And can we please stick to our areas of expertise? Someone said that those who cry loudest are the worst writers. No, perhaps it’s because indie writers are sick and tired of seeing our writer friends beat over the heads with how there is still no other publishing option. Yes, there is. Yes. There. Is. Agents just rarely work in that world. There’s been so much misinformation spread by agents who’ve maybe had a client or ten go indie. There are a whole ton of us who are doing well, who plan to keep going indie–and you don’t know about us because we are not looking for an agent. Please realize that you’re talking like an expert about something you really don’t understand. That’s what gets us indie writers up in arms.
I said this exact thing–different words, of course–in a different blog comment today. I’m worried about cheapening words to the point that they no longer have value.