A lot of thoughts being bandied about in various places on the topic of self-publishing. I’ve been involved in a bunch of discussions about it on blogs, on Twitter, via Facebook and in person over the past week, so I figured a blog post was probably worth doing.
It’s not really a surprise that self-publishing is starting to achieve an audible zeitgeistean rumble. The proliferation of platforms like the Kindle and the iPad, and the distribution tools that are now in the hands of everybody via the Internet, have made it pretty much inevitable. It’s just now getting to the point where it’s on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream, so people are noticing.
On Twitter, I’ve re-tweeted (gods, I HATE that verb) a lot of links to posts about self-publishing by J.A. Konrath. Yesterday, he posted a fairly good summary entry: “You Should Self-Publish.” It’s worth reading, if you haven’t already.
Every time I post something about Konrath, I get the inevitable wet-blanket nay-saying from friends, colleagues and followers — “yes, but… [insert usual arguments here. Usually something about how Konrath is an outlier, etc.]” There are three things that I find really fucking infuriating about this.
1. The most constant and consistent naysaying comes from people I know who… well, let’s put this as charitably as possible… are somewhat invested in the traditional publishing business. They’re traditionally published, or work for a Big 6 firm, or are struggling to “make it.” I get it. I do — and yet every time, the same voices with the same arguments. I heard you the first time, and I understand your need to validate a 19th-century business model. You don’t need to continually restate.
2. There is, at the core of these negative statements, a well-meaning, but frankly somewhat insulting, assumption that I’m just linking to this one guy’s opinion because I’m excited, and therefore need to be tempered or told how things “really are.” Here’s the thing — I’m linking to Konrath because he’s out there posting numbers (including screencaps of Amazon sales reports, in earlier posts this year) in a clear, easily-accessible form…. and because it confirms the data that I’ve gotten over the past year of speaking to *dozens* of other sources. This isn’t some whim of mine. I’m not the sort of person who risks my family’s livelihood on whims.
3. Related to that point, there’s also the tiny little fact that I’ve seen this before — I’ve spent the past decade watching it happen in microcosm in the tabletop games industry. (Hell, some folks actually give me a little bit of credit for helping to *make it happen*, so there’s a chance that I might know a thing or two about electronic publishing and distribution.) Funny thing about observable data — you can recognize its patterns when you see it happening on a larger scale.
So, yeah — I know that I’m coming off as a bit brittle here, but I have to admit that it gets under my skin that some comments don’t appear to give me any credit for maybe knowing what the hell I’m talking about. Not all comments are like that, and please don’t get me wrong — I really enjoy talking about the topic with people who have opinions on all sides of the issue. Just the above three points get me all grumpy.
But, back to the topic at hand….
Applying what I’ve seen in the games industry, here’s what you can expect: Yes, most of the stuff that will get released will be crap. However, creators who have the ability to produce professional material (hiring an editor, designing sharp-looking covers, and of course, good content in the first place), and who also are savvy in marketing their work, will rise well above the crap and compete rather handily with the output from the large traditional houses. Most importantly, they’ll be able to do so with every aspect of their livelihood shaped by their own decisions, and under their own control.
Even with the potential for higher reward and the status and validation of going through a traditional outfit, I wouldn’t want to hand over that control, given the uncertainty surrounding nearly every aspect of the publishing business right now. Not when I can reach an audience and make a perfectly reasonable living doing it without them.