You want to see progress? Take note that the regular attackers of self-publishing as a career choice have altered their aim and are now just going after those who dare to voice their support of self-publishing. Amazon is their number one target, of course, as the top supporter of the self-publishing path. And anyone who defends Amazon—or who argues that self-publishing is just as viable as (if not superior to) traditional publishing—is also a target.
What you don’t see anymore is anyone daring to argue against the substance of pro self-publishing points. Remember the old attacks and stigmas? They used to be:
1) No one sells books by self-publishing. (Often stated as: The average self-published author only sells X books in their lifetime.)
This is rarely trotted out now that dozens of authors have sold millions of titles, hundreds have sold hundreds of thousands of titles, and thousands of authors have sold many thousands of titles. Do all self-published authors have wild success? Of course not. But only 1% of those who submit to agents get published at all. This is finally sinking in, and enough self-published authors have had enough success to put an end to this canard.
2) No one makes money self-publishing.
Difficult to distinguish from attack #1, and going away for the exact same reasons. The truth is that 99% of those who are determined to go the traditional route make zero dollars. And of the 1% who get through the gates, the vast majority of those never make a full-time living with their writing. Where we may have had 300-400 fiction writers earning a living just seven years ago, the number today is likely ten or twenty times that amount, all because of the disintermediation of publishing.
3) It will end your writing career if you self-publish.
Actually, it’s just as likely to start your writing career. A friend of mine just sold his self-published book to a Big 5 publisher for several hundred thousand dollars. It may have been true at one time that publishers only looked at material if it had never been published anywhere else before, but that was laid to rest a long time ago. The stigma is gone within publishing houses. 50 Shades of Grey selling a bazillion copies changed all that. Everyone is looking for the next hit, whether from YouTube stars, Twitter feeds, blogs, or Redditors.
4) Self-published books are inferior in quality.
Hard to keep touting this in light of 1, 2, and 3. Not only are self-published works selling well and earning their authors more on ebook sales than the entirety of the Big 5 combined, but the works are being snatched up and released by major publishers with very little editing.
To compare the entirety of self-published works with only the top 1% of curated manuscripts sent in to agents is a fallacious comparison. In both groups, we have all the works being submitted by hopeful authors along two possible paths. Which group has the higher quality? An even comparison by looking at the bestseller lists on Amazon (ie: letting the reader vote) shows a dead heat.
5) Traditional publishers offer much more to the author.
This one is hard to say with a straight face anymore. Publishers take 82.5% and offer less editing, fewer promotion dollars, fewer book tours, less shelf space, and they take your rights for your lifetime plus another 70 years. Or you can pay freelancers, own your work forever, and keep 70% of the list price.
6) Self-publishing means less distribution.
This one went the way of the dodo when publishers like Simon & Schuster displayed an inability to distribute their works through B&N due to contract disputes. Or the recent dereliction of duty displayed by Hachette, which is destroying the careers of its authors by being unable to come to terms with Amazon.
Borders is gone and B&N is closing hundreds of stores. Independent bookstores are taking up some of that slack with real growth, but 50% of print book sales have moved online to Amazon, and self-published authors have just as much access to that print market as anyone else. And with fiction ebooks set to overtake print, the balance shifts even further. Would you rather have six months spine out in dwindling bookstores, or your entire lifetime to sell your ebooks at a price low enough to actually entice readers?
Price control is part and parcel of distribution. Who in their right mind would give up that power (and the 70% payout) to take their chances on whether or not the publisher they sign with is willing to do business with the #1 bookseller in the land? Plus: have their debut ebook priced at $14.99?
All of the above and more were standard attacks just a year ago. Self-published authors were 3rd rate cattle. Our works were a spewing volcano of shit. Publishing execs blogged about their desire to see two retail channels so we could be placed in a ghetto. Article after article on Salon painted a dim view of self-publishing as a viable option for writers.
But what people like Joe Konrath have been saying for ages is that the economic advantages of self-publishing were too great and that the truth of this would eventually make itself obvious. Now that it has become obvious, the attacks have shifted to the ad hominem variety. People denigrate Jeff Bezos’s character instead of pointing out the options Amazon opens up to the hopeful artist. Salon.com writes a hit piece accusing me of destroying book culture (and does so with misattributed quotes) instead of pointing out anything wrong with what I’ve said about the positives of self-publishing.
I see all of this as progress. Enormous progress. The substance of our points are now unassailable. All that’s left is for those who want to keep the gatekeepers in place to tear us down and attack us personally. Ghandi said:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win.”
Just three years ago, I couldn’t get anyone to write about what was happening with self-published authors, and it was an enormous story even then. A hidden world, ignored.
Next came the cattle put-downs and the spewing shit attacks. The mockery.
We are now clearly at the attack phase.
Which makes me think it’s time to back off a bit on the arguments for self-publishing. Most open-minded authors must now understand that they have options, and what those options are. The only thing about Ghandi’s quote that doesn’t apply to the stigmatization of self-publishing is the idea of “winning.” There’s no need to come out on top here. The whole point is to have equal access and equal respect, and self-publishing platforms have granted the former while readers have granted us the latter.
It’s over. We can coexist now. People can publish however they want, with opportunities for moving back and forth from one path to the other. And publishers are going to have to continue to sweeten their offerings to lure authors over to their side, while self-published authors will have to continue to up their game to sway readers to their works. The former will probably lower prices while the latter raises them. We’ll meet somewhere in the middle. Will a group hug be too much to ask for? I hope not.