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Self-Publishing: Us vs Us?

Here’s a lesson in how to sink an already flooded market: create a piece of software where publishing is as easy as clicking a button, and promote a culture where it is commonly accepted that writing a novel is as simple as putting down whatever comes into your head. Inflate your life jackets now, guys, because we’re there.

The two largest eBook marketplaces have now created platforms for direct access to their storefront while the printed media continues to drill into us that ‘everyone has a book in them’ and that it’s probably worth a lot of money. (Interesting side note: we don’t seem to hear the same trite fallacies applied other types of artistic creation. Does everyone have an album in them? Or a fresco?)

Of course, the ability to self-publish at minimum cost has been around for a while in the form of the KDP (does anyone else think of the iron curtain when they hear that?), but there’s arguably a large psychological difference between logging into a website and uploading a file, and pressing a single button on the interface of a local app to ‘publish’. The first retains some sense of process. The second is akin to clicking ‘share’ on a status update, and could be done with just as little reflection.

I’ve heard numerous discussions about whether or not self-publishing will ruin traditional publishing, but I think it’s actually more pertinent to ask whether self-publishing could ruin reading. When I ask how talented writers will be delineated from untalented writers in a world where the gatekeepers’ (ie: retailers’) only concern is that you have the proper file type, people shrug and most commonly say: ‘It’s obvious isn’t it? The cream always rises to the top.’  And they blink.

Well, no, this very much depends on your idea of cream. This attitude is indicative of no-one being able to provide a satisfactory answer.

I can, however, provide you with a satisfactory answer as to how publishers connect readers with a book they would probably enjoy, and it’s not based on a whimsical dairy analogy.

With more and more authors publishing more and more books, we simply will not find what we want to read anymore. Which brings me to the question: how many bad books will a person have to read before they stop reading all together?

Ok, not all self-published books are bad in the same way as not all self-made bikes are dangerous. But there is a profession who have dedicated their lives to the recognition and promotion of books, of good ideas and writing. Why assume every rejected novel is a bestseller publishers were too short-sighted to pay for? Contrary to popular opinion, self-published authors are not overnight millionaires, and publishers do not exist to screw artists out of money.

Maybe this self-publishing fiasco comes largely from a lack of trust in publishers’ judgment. Publishers need to think about not only what they can offer authors that a hunk of software can’t (arguably a lot), but also what they can offer readers that a search result can’t. I don’t mean with marketing campaigns, I mean with publishing choices that credit readers with curiosity and intelligence. Our authors’ trust is important; our readers’ faith just as much so.

Gatekeepers are only as bad as what they let through the gates. What does that say about self-publishing platforms vs publishers?

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Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.

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