It’s been fascinating to watch the growth of the number of self-published authors and with it the number of service providers springing up to support them (think every thing from Amazon’s CreateSpace and Lulu to Bublish, BookPulse, and the legions of freelance copyeditors).
A recent post by Eugenia Williamson in the Boston Phoenix.com called “The Dead-End of DIY Publishing“ caused a bit of a dust-up over the future of self-publishing and whether it was really a viable option for authors who wanted to get their work to readers and make some sort of meaningful income. The discussion got picked up by Porter Anderson at “Writing On Ether,” bringing more light to the conversation (thanks to Porter) and more heat (thanks to most of the folks offering comments).
I’ve noticed in these and other debates about the value of self-publishing that it’s more than a bit emotionally charged and the premises of the discussion are not very well defined. I’d like to suggest a few that I hope most reasonable people can agree on:
While maybe we can all basically agree about the above, what no one wants to talk about is the “Q” word: quality. Self-published authors and the folks who supply them with services for a fee may disagree, but the traditional gatekeepers—agents, acquiring editors, publishers—are in the business of discerning quality and monetizing it. I’m not saying they’re always right–far from it, in fact. But all the rejection letters of worthy books don’t alter the fact that these traditional gatekeepers were and are better guarantors of quality than the authors themselves.
Regardless of who ascertains the quality of the content, the fundamental question facing authors, publishers, and agents is how to connect people with quality content in an era of profound content abundance. Lots of people will argue that “the cream always rises to the top.” I’d counter that publishers and authors – to extent the metaphor – are now swimming around in a vat of milk that is growing so quickly it is starting to make their books look more like tiny specks floating on the surface.
For any of us who care about quality books—that they continue to be written, read, and paid for—the issue isn’t who published a given title or how but how prospective readers can trust that it is of quality worth paying for and reading. Whatever you think about the filter of traditional publishing, it helped assure prospective readers that the book was worth its cover price. What we need is a very different way of demonstrating quality.