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To the Self-Important Member of the Traditional Publishing Industry Who Wouldn’t Appreciate This

photo by dimitri_c a public forum today, I ran across a lengthy comment by a member of the traditional publishing industry.

I was enraged.

Since their comments made it clear they’re incapable of understanding this, and since I’d rather start a range war on my own soil, I thought I’d share my response here.

Mr. Traditional Publisher’s Advocate, you say that all successful authors, however one defines success, have a traditional publisher. I’m a successful author, and not only do I not have a traditional publisher, I wouldn’t have one. That is, unless you really mean successful by your definition rather than my own, but then, it’s not your place to decide what my success looks like, is it?

The authors who choose independent publishing aren’t trying to sell their books to others in the industry. Saying if an agent doesn’t like my book, the average reader won’t like it either makes no sense. The publishing industry wants to choose what readers like and don’t like, by deciding what can and can’t be published.

Maybe there are “thousands of publishers” but if you look at the almost infinite number of authors who have nothing but rejection letters to show for their efforts at getting permission from traditional publishing it’s obvious that “finding a publisher” is not an obvious step in the process of becoming an author. The publishing industry has no more right to choose who becomes an author than the RIAA has to choose who becomes a musician.

Music buyers and fans decide who succeeds and who fails, but the artists themselves make their own choice, almost as if they were adults in a free society. Why aren’t authors accorded the same rights? Do you find independently recorded music as offensive as you do independently published books?

I find particularly offensive the claim that self-publishers prey on people’s dreams of being authors.

You’ve set yourself up as the gatekeeper of others’ artistry. You have no right to decide who is and who isn’t an author. You only have the right to decide whose books you’ll read. Allowing people to choose to take the risk of independent publishing is not “preying” on them. Your unsympathetic attitude toward people whose passion doesn’t live up to your standards is unpleasant.

You make a snarky comment about spending thousands of dollars on books and then selling them from roadside rest areas. Have you ever been to a highway rest area in Ohio? They’re great. I think I’ll go set up a book kiosk. They have free WiFi, security guards, vending machines and bathrooms. They’re like an outdoors business office in America’s heartland. Thanks for the suggestion. (Maybe you’re thinking of rest areas in California, in which case, I agree entirely. They’re awful. Most other states have pretty nice rest areas, though.)

(Hmmm . . . you seem to be unaware of the ability to print small runs of books instead of buying them by the palette full . . . )

The next round of your argument will be about all the junk that gets independently published. Ignore the junk. We’re in the tiny little earliest stages of independent publishing. You can’t tell me that in the 1600s there wasn’t also an enormous amount of junk published. Anyone who could afford paper and ink could create a book. Too bad someone didn’t take control and ensure that frivolous nonsense like that Shakespeare guy’s silly and occasionally obscene plays were prevented from being published.

Traditional publishing has one primary driver: money. If money and quality ever had any connection, it’s an inverse relationship. Traditional publishers who rant about maintaining quality make it clear that the quality they’re interested in is lucre, not art.

Perhaps if you were able to state the case for traditional publishing without invective, insult, and broad sweeping generalisations your argument would carry more weight.

You say $10,000 is a realistic, perhaps low, estimate for independent publishing. Any authors who believe that $10,000 figure and want to defy the publishing gatekeepers, let’s do it for a fraction of that. Don’t let members of the traditional publishing industry decide whether or not you’re allowed to share your art. It’s not their call, it’s yours.

5 thoughts on “To the Self-Important Member of the Traditional Publishing Industry Who Wouldn’t Appreciate This

  1. There, there. Of course he’s wrong, but the publishing industry wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now if they hadn’t become so entrenched in their opinions.

    Sure, it *used* to be that vanity presses put out shoddy work. It’s probably still true, because they’re simply printing presses– they’re not small publishers, and newb authors didn’t know the difference, and in that sense they were preyed on. But really, that was the 90s. Where has this guy been?

    Nowadays, yes, traditional publishing is about gatekeepers, and also to a lesser extent it’s about status. There’s still a cachet to having your business book published by Simon and Schuster: it signals to the rest of your status conscious world that You Have Arrived. So in the sense that it’s a well-trod (but quickly disappearing) path to the recognition you crave, traditional publishing still serves it’s authors in some small way.

    But if you *really* care about your ideas, and want to incubate and nurture them, you’ll start a blog, be active in forums, spread your ideas far and wide, and keep a nice POD or e-book on your sidebar for fans to explore.

  2. Hey, stop trying to calm me down. Gimme a few minutes to revel in the buzz of righteous indignation.

    Well said, my dear, and meaningful. The authors I care about want to spread ideas, not make an easy living.

    The only publisher that carries any cachet with me personally is The Domino Project, but they’d have to come out of retirement to publish my next book, so I’ll soldier on in ignorant bliss.

  3. This particular topic does seem to bring out the worst in some. Take a deep breath. Now that you’ve ranted, it’s time to focus on what you can do to help those who feel the same way you do.

    Times are changing and people like the one you mentioned in this post will end up being left behind.

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