– How it Happened and Why it’s Good for All of us, even Publishers
By Chris Lunda Author of The Voodoo Prophecies trilogy
So, you have written your first novel or perhaps you are nearing its completion and toying with the idea of self publishing. But what about the nullifying labels created by the literary elite? You have heard the tales. They sit perched high atop their pedestals like Baum’s winged monkeys waiting to pounce on mutinous dreamers such as you. It is said they have supernatural powers allowing them to send a Dickensian ghost to your bed chamber and discourage your misguided fantasies.
Do you risk being branded a literary leper; an intellectual interloper even? Will you join the ever growing ranks of dialogue writing defeatist, daring to pollute the hallowed ground of classic literature? How will you possibly endure the unbearable shame and disfiguring brimstone of condemnation raining down from on high?
Fortunately for most of us those days have come to an end. Self published is no longer synonymous with vanity press and the Big 6 publishing houses, which bloated into a sort of surreal planetary alliance of literary gatekeepers, are scrambling to adapt their models to the ever-changing marketplace.
It is truly a liberating and exhilarating time. The industry is changing right before our eyes and changing for the better. Traditional publishing while deserving of its place and its due respect was never a magical conduit for talent recognition. In many ways it was a bottleneck, a fallible checkpoint, a drawbridge raised and lowered by the moods of the appointed wardens of creativity’s Bastille.
It is an indisputable fact that there have always been good books as there have always been bad books. Every manuscript that survives the publishing process is not a great one or even a good one in some instances. Marginal renderings are out there sitting on bookshelves today just as they always have. Ask any bookstore owner. They will tell you that questionable writing is certainly not a new occurrence, although guardians of tradition will suggest the arrival of the self published novel is solely to blame for the sudden appearance of inferior work.
We who love books do not carry remorse for what has been on the shelf, but we do mourn the loss of all of the good work that never made it onto or past an editor’s desk and thankfully that is changing.
The rapid growth of self publishing is due to many things. Technology is certainly a factor, a factor often times and ironically first dreamed of by an author, but technological advances are inevitable and today they should be anticipated. Other business circumstances certainly contributed and then there are the subtle, more intimate causes that contributed to the publishing paradigm shift we are experiencing today.
Most writers generally write for one reason and one reason alone. They have a message they would like to share, a unique perspective, an individual voice they wish to be heard. Much fuss and flurry is assigned to the quality of an author’s voice, as should be. Industry professionals sanctify it even consecrate it to some degree, claiming that voice alone is what sets a writer apart. Yet from the onset of the traditional publishing process there is an effort to stifle it.
Subjected to the values of a particular publishing house or the style and content preferences of editors, a writer can soon finds his message reshaped and clouded. The traditional journey that begins for some with agent queries and ultimately results in a book on the market may take up to two years. It can be a confusing and even provoking process for a writer.
Paraded through a seemingly ceaseless review chain of human opinion, a manuscript and its author are challenged and reexamined. Each time an opinion is offered it is done so by a person convinced that their perception of what readers want is not only correct but undeniable. Later when the creative process has turned to exhaustion, consensus is reached and everyone mysteriously concedes their opinion which two months earlier was gospel.
Now and fortunately for all of us, this creatively dysfunctional and voice crippling process is steadily being replaced by the desires and approval of the driving forces of the literary world, the writers and readers. The real winners in this publishing upheaval are all of us who love to read. The reader now decides more than ever who has a story worthy of their time and imagination. Creative control and the time it takes to get a book to market undoubtedly played major roles in the rapid advances of self publishing.
Embroiled in changing business models and almost totally consumed with their battle against Amazon, the large publishing houses temporarily lost touch with two very important dynamics of the business, namely the talent and the independent booksellers, and sought refuge in the large chain stores with their A List authors while they tried to figure out the techno and self publishing revolution. This distraction promoted accelerated growth of self publishing and created a bonding between indie writers and sellers, and localism was born.
Then the mergers came. Unheard of things happened, heathen undertakings some would say. Bookselling chain interests were purchased by publishers and book distributors soon joined these corporate families. These bizarre events resulted in a further fostering and growth of the independent author by bolstering the success of print on demand companies and strengthening the resolve of the independent bookseller.
Independent bestseller lists were now common. Local authors provided material to both their local bookstores and libraries in ever increasing numbers. Indie authors and booksellers worked together as never before. Authors were discovered and became bestsellers due mainly to initial alliances with their local independent store.
Good has emerged from those treacherous times and as we look toward the future the outlook is bright. Publishers forced to reexamine their antiquated model are refocusing their attentions and realizing that there is more talent out there than they have the people power to identify. Lucrative deals are being signed regularly between publishing firms and authors they discovered by reading a self published book. Publishers are gracefully returning to the buttered side of their bread, the independent bookseller.
Examples are all around us. In sharp contrast to past winners, the chief executive and entire board of the American Bookselling Association was named Publisher Weekly’s Person of the Year. Other industry heavyweights are considering purchasing a self publishing service like Penguin Books did over the summer.
After watching the giant chains wage war on one another, the brick and mortar sales are hanging tough and growing annually. Actually down as a percentage of sales, eBooks have not taken over the world, and the world has not stopped rotating on its axis.
Respected stalwart publications such as Writer’s Digest host self published author awards for goodness sake. Rejoice independent authors; they may yet promote us to middlebrow!
Though tumultuous and difficult times, the past few years experiences have the business of books pointed in the right direction once again.
In my next entry we will cover why you should self publish and provide you with the mechanics and tools necessary to get started including building your platform, print on demand options, eBook creation and distribution choices.