Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Read, you must.

You won’t find a more lucid and dead-right rant on the current backlash against self-publishing. You simply won’t.

http://www.theseattlevine.com/featured/9349/bookrant-the-publishing-industry-forgot-the-only-thing-worth-remembering/

9 replies to “Read, you must.”

That was genuinely disturbing. What Libbie had to say was dead on, writers and readers are the two non-negotiable, must-have, elements. What is disturbing are the lengths to which the middle-men are going to hold onto their income. They are fabricating and perpetuating a pair of blinders to fit squarely–if uncomfortably–on their own heads.

Somehow the only defense they have come up with to stave off the advance of the self publisher is to throw mud and attack. They even attempted an dubious end-run to outflank the leading seller of independant ebooks.

Is there no reasonable voice among them who will stand up and throw their blinders off? Sure there are those who have come half-way to secure limited rights to an undeniable success, and I imagine there will be more. How hard is it to offer sweet deals to the outliers? Your marketing research is already done for you–you know the book is a smash hit already.

There are so many ways they could take positive advantage of the situation it’s not even funny, but it would require them to bend further. They would have to change, and that takes money. They would have to impliment competitive royalty and pay structures. Oops! That means change again to remove/rework a stoneage infrastructure (I wonder who has their balls in a vice on this one?)

And the booksellers. Who is scratching whose back here? Do the big six threaten to withhold their bestsellers if you should have a self published book on your shelf? (that’s not a rhetorical question)

And those damn editors. I love those I know, they are some of my favorite people. Snarky and fun, they really know their stuff.

Thanks for sharing. Simply not surprised that the publishers and booksellers and their crony writers are acting this way.

Thanks, Hugh! Glad you liked it.

For the record, I really respect John Green as a writer. His work is top-notch. And if I were lucky enough to have the career he has, I might feel the same way he feels. But I would probably not have expressed my feelings using those particular words.

The dude is a killer writer!

I’m a huge fan of his writing. I’m a fan of his videos and him as a person. And I even agree that if you are attempting to write high art and literary classics, you need to employ a team of editors. But you can hire them yourself if you want.

Where I really diverge is the attitude that all writing is meant to be high art (which I sense is his attitude). There’s nothing wrong with an author writing genre fiction all by their lonesome if that work then entertains others. Nothing at all. And it isn’t impossible. It isn’t an insidious lie. I don’t even know people who are arguing this point. Every self-published author I know employs editors and beta readers.

Some writing is just meant to entertain. It isn’t there to add to culture and all that other stuff. :)

I agree with you that he may have been thinking that all books needed to be Big Important Books. We literary authors do have a pernicious tendency to think that way, sometimes.

I don’t think it’s impossible to write a great literary book with only the most minimal input from others. I think beta readers or critique partners can be sufficient, for the right writer. I don’t think that literary fiction is defined or necessarily enhanced by a team of high-power professionals “developing” it from the ground up. I think there’s a perception that this is one of the things that separates literary fiction from “genre” fiction, but I don’t think that’s commensurate with reality.

I think the only place where literary fiction still demands a high-power professional team (with name recognition, not just a bunch of freelancers hired by an indie author) is in the awards arena.

But even that is changing. This year, the Folio Prize was the first major literary award to welcome indie authors — and not the fakey-fake welcome the Pulitzer has for the self-published, but a genuine welcome. They reserved 25% of their slots specifically for self-published authors. The rest of the awards won’t be too far behind, because the indie sector of literary fiction is quietly and slowly emerging. It’s way behind the genre sector, but we’ll catch up.

Don’t worry; I write genre fiction, too, so I’m not as pretentious and awful as you might think. ;)

“Every self-published author I know employs editors and beta readers.”

The “I know” is a key qualifier in that sentence. There are far too many self-pubbers out there who think that as soon as their masterpiece passes a spell-check and grammar-check pass from their writing software, it’s ready to wrap up, publish, and start selling. A couple of months ago, I read two self-pub books (from different authors) that had quite obviously never been read by a second person before being published. Character names were spelled differently, plot points that were obvious to the reader were curiously opaque to the otherwise Holmesian main character – in short, both books desperately needed solid edit passes. I was grateful that the first book was free and the second was heavily discounted.

Yes, there are certainly some authors who go about self-publishing the right way. They learn their craft, know enough to use editors and beta readers, get a decent cover, and – in effect – take on all the tasks that a traditional publisher normally handles. I tip my hat to those guys; they’re Doing It Right. However, they’re the exceptions, not the rule. Far too many authors fall prey to the pitfalls that should be obvious, such as:

– Amazon is a huge ebook market, but not the only one. Make an EPUB version that you can sell through B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, Sony, et al.

– As mentioned above, have a competent editor critique your book – and LISTEN to them!

– Validate your ebook. There’s free software out there that will tell you if your EPUB is properly constructed, or if it has errors.

– Get on Goodreads. If you do nothing else there, make sure you put your books up there as part of your publishing process.

– Read your reviews. It may be nasty medicine, but it’s got to be done. Watch for the people who put thought into their reviews; these can be good beta readers.

In sum, think of the readers. Self-publishing is frequently thought of as either a get-rich-quick scheme or a Darwinian struggle where only the best survive. What’s missing in that analysis is any consideration for the readers who are asked to find and buy the books.

Traditional publishing houses are able to build up a reputation, good or bad, and that becomes a factor in a purchase decision. I may not like everything Traditional Publisher X puts on the shelf, but I do know that it’s gone through several people with the power to say “this is crap” and reject it before it got that far. With self-publishing, that goes away and gets replaced with a huge question mark. *That* is where the dilution of the industry – traditional and independent alike – comes from.

Yes, tradpub houses can and do abuse their “gatekeeper” role. That doesn’t mean that gatekeepers are worthless, nor does it mean that circumventing them is always a good thing. For every pile of crap out there that’s been self-published by an author who thinks they don’t need an editor, there are readers who will find it, buy it, and tell themselves that *this* is exactly why they should stick to buying from “real” publishers from now on. And yet, that author doesn’t see any of that. All he sees is the sale, which sends him exactly the wrong message: that he’s done something right and should keep doing it.

“In sum, think of the readers. Self-publishing is frequently thought of as either a get-rich-quick scheme or a Darwinian struggle where only the best survive. What’s missing in that analysis is any consideration for the readers who are asked to find and buy the books.”

Yes, yes, yes!! I wasn’t kidding when I said there are only two crucial players in the game: writers and readers. But they are EQUALLY crucial, and reaching and pleasing readers is of paramount importance. If you are not putting your best foot forward, you are insulting the reader. It’s not a good idea to insult the guy who’s got all the power.

Great comments, Rev. Bob! Thanks for reading the article.

I have four self-published books, with my fifth due out this week. If it weren’t for self-publishing I’d have given up on writing a long time ago as despite a growing fan base and dozens upon dozens of heartfelt reviews, I am yet to write anything that excites an agent or a publisher. Personally, I think that’s their problem not mine. But one thing I have seen vividly is, you cannot grow as a writer without publishing. Sure, fingers on the keyboard is an individual effort, and as you note, indies need an editor and to listen to beta-readers, but the real uplift in writing quality comes from readers, from the feedback and direction they provide, both positive and negative.

Self-publishing is an opportunity to grow. The only criticism I have of self-publishing is writers have sold themselves short. My ebooks are cheaper than a cup of coffee, but require a helluva lot more effort to put together. There’s no real return, for me at least with my sales. It takes months before I break even on editing costs, covers, etc. And I don’t even want to think about how long it takes to break even on my time, ROFL. But I write for the love of writing. Without self-publishing, that wouldn’t be possible.

As the Seattle Vine notes, these guys feel threatened. But there is some middle ground. There’s a lot of crap in self-publishing, but there are some diamonds too, publishers should be looking to build a middle-level market. But that will take re-educating readers to value books more than a burger from McDonalds.

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