You don’t like us and we don’t care.
I woke up this morning to find a mini uproar on one of the facebook groups that I frequent, because yet another traditionally published author had taken a massive swipe at the self published. There was a blog post that rattled on about how he regretted self publishing one of his own books because now he’d been stained with the communal shit of the self publishing world. There was also a series of well considered, thoughtful comments on Twitter, such as ” Self-published authors, go fuck yourselves! You all suck ass!” and ” All you self-published Kindle/Smashwords writers! You suck! Cut it out! You’re wrecking a good thing!”
Hmm, such a wordsmith. Your eloquent prose is making me want to rush out and buy your traditionally published zombie novel /dog training manual.
Unfortunately, this walking, talking arse-biscuit is not alone in this view. I’ve heard very similar comments from writers that I like and respect. Even traditionally published writers that I’ve met and get on with have made comments like this. There was a panel at Fantasycon 2011 that basically degenerated into a very well known publisher and a very well known agent slagging off anyone who would dare to self publish their work because it is, without exception, crap that would not be touched by any self respecting publisher. That panel, and the shit attitudes of the people on it was the turning point where I decided to self publish my own book.
So, what exactly is the problem that these people have with us? I mean, even the worst self published book in the world is still a book that someone has poured hours of their time into creating. That is an achievement in itself. It’s something that most people will never do, and like it or not, it is the one thing that all of us writers, from Stephen King down to the guy who sold 10 copies of his self published book on Amazon last year, have in common.
Well, there are a few things that the traditional publishing crowd have against us. The first and main thing is the quality of the product. And they have a point in many cases.
I find it astonishing that someone will spend years writing a novel, tweak it a bit and then upload it straight to Amazon with a cover they knocked up in 10 minutes on Photoshop. I mean, why put all that time and effort into something, only to screw it up by doing a rush job at the end? I realise that it’s expensive to hire an editor, but the fact is that it’s something self published authors should be planning for from the second they write the first word in their book. Cut down on the booze and fags, or buy a few less DVD’s or video games and save up for it. By self publishing, you are going into business for yourselves and if you don’t do a proper job then the business is going to fall flat on its arse. All told, it cost me about £1000 to get High Moor published. 4 months after its release, and I’m not very far at all from making that money back, and the reason for it is that is mostly that I had it properly edited and refused to rush its release until it was ready. It’s not fucking rocket science.
Saying that, self publishing is not the only source of crappy books. Traditionally published books can be just as bad. The number of terrible movie or video game tie-in novels that I’ve had to read lately is astonishing. I imagine that these are only as bad as they are because they were written in a very short time, then published with minimal editing to coincide with the release of the movie/game they are based on, to maximise revenue. Basically the same thing that self published authors are criticised for.
So, is that the only problem that advocates of traditional publishing have with self publishing?
Nope. Not by a long shot.
If you take a look at the Amazon US site’s Kindle Horror books, then within the top 100, there are very few traditionally published novels. I’ve not counted, but it certainly looks like the trad published books account for less than 40% of the top 100.
Why is that?
Mostly, it’s down to pricing and the ability to react to the market more quickly.
The big publishers sell their ebooks at a premium – in some instances their ebooks go for as much as the hardbacks. If asked, they will say that the cost of producing the book is no different to physical copies, and it needs to be priced accordingly so that their authors get paid a decent wage for their work.
Which is all very well on the surface of things, but when you look at it in the cold light of day, you realise that it’s a load of old bollocks. With ebooks there are no printing costs, distribution or warehousing costs. The editing, proof reading, typesetting and cover design cost money, but these are one off expenses. Once that ebook file is built, there are no more costs going forward. And if the royalties paid to their authors on ebooks were more generous, then they’d still get a decent wage if the price was dropped.
On the other hand, the self published author does not have these massive overheads to contend with. If done properly, there are fixed costs, but it means that the books can be priced at a competitive rate and I still make more per copy sold than most trad published authors. If my sales rank nose-dives then I can do a 24 hour sale and get a big rank boost, which translates into more full priced sales going forward. Big publishers do not have this flexibility. Sure, there are people who give their book away for nothing, or have it set at a permanent $0.99 price point, which means that no matter how successful their book may be, they are making no money from it. Pricing is a tool, and some people will use that tool well, others won’t.
However, the success of many self published authors is a huge threat to the status quo. It’s eating into traditional publishers profits and so instead of adapting to the changing market, the default action seems to be to stick their heads in the sand and start a smear campaign it. With the possible exception of those who already had traditional deals and have gone down that route. That, apparently is acceptable.
Self published author’s need to start to take some pride in their work, do it properly and stop giving ammunition to the traditional publishing crowd. It makes more commercial sense, if nothing else. You are not going to be the next Stephen King by publishing your first draft straight up to KDP. If you at least get it properly edited, by a real editor (as opposed to your Auntie Joan, who got a grade C in her GCSE english) then you at least stand a chance of being successful.
By the same token, the traditional publishing world needs to take its head out of its arse and stop slinging shite. Self publishing isn’t going to go away, and while there will always be people who publish crap, there are a growing number of independent authors who produce high quality, well edited work that is just as good as anything else out there. I could recommend a few to get you started, such as Seed by Ania Ahlborn, or Verland: The Transformation by B.E.Scully. Hell, I’ll even throw down the gauntlet and offer any traditionally published author a free copy of my own book in the electronic format of your choice. Just drop me a mail or IM and I’ll get one right out to you, so you can make up your own mind.