At last week’s excellent San Francisco Writing For Change Conference, I was honored to sit on several panels where the participants attempted to help authors navigate the often rocky trail to publication.
Many of the authors in attendance were firmly set on pursuing a contract with a traditional publisher, while others seemed to have an interest in the self-publishing option.
Writers conferences are increasingly including information on self-publishing, because it is becoming a more regular part of the whole discussion about how you get into print, how you establish a career, and how you can get the kinds of results people are seeking in exchange for all the hard and lonely work of creating really great books.
And many of the players in publishing are being forced to deal with a subject that, until recently, seemed about as appetizing to them as a whole tub of rotting fish (substitute your own image here).
In other words, what once made them turn up their noses in disgust is now a subject of interest, especially since many traditional publishers now think they can make a lot of money from authors who will pay for their own publishing.
The Persistence of the Old
However, even in this new world there are troubling traces of the past, the bad old days when no self-respecting author would walk into a room of publishing professionals and announce, “Yeah, I published it myself.”
Three of these traces were visible at the Conference in the form of mythology about indie book publishing.
- “Freelance editors (or by extension, other publishing professionals) can’t provide the objective feedback and work they do in publishing houses because they are being paid by the author.”
Putting aside for a moment the fact that many freelance publishing professionals were in the room, this attitude ignores the history of publishing while insulting a whole class of dedicated, experienced and committed editors, book shepherds, designers and all the other people who work on our books.
You know, years ago, when the stigma of self-publishing was very real, we went to considerable lengths to make our books every bit as good as the books coming from big publishers.
We were able to do this by hiring the same people to work on them. By various publishing ruses we were able to publish books that went on to have a lot of success for their authors.
I guess we did our job too well, because now it seems that the only books anyone remembers that were self-published were the ones that looked that way. They never noticed the other ones.
- “Publishing is a business. The only reason people are in the publishing business is to produce a profit, to make money.”
Traditional publishers and independent presses certainly are businesses, and we all know that the business of being in business is profit.
But having spoken to hundreds of authors over the years, I can assure you that the vast majority of self-publishers don’t have money as their primary motivation for publishing.
In fact, in my video training program participants go through a whole inventory process to articulate the goals of their publishing project.
There are many reasons to publish. The funny thing is that when authors get to decide what gets published, and not an editorial committee that has to answer to shareholders or bosses, the whole business changes.
Efforts to understand today’s indie publishing scene are doomed to fail if you don’t understand this basic fact.
- “People think they have a right to be published. There is no such right. You don’t have a right to be published if you’re not good enough to get an agent, a contract.”
This one enshrines all the hierarchical thinking of businesses that sprung to life a long time ago. It’s the essence of the gatekeeper mentality, the existence of people who just know better than you what you should be reading.
Maybe you’ve noticed, but this attitude is already in our rear-view mirrors. As an old revolutionary reminded us at the conference, to publish is to “make public.”
A huge part of self-publishing is self-expression. It may end up being commercial, or it may not. That’s not the point. The point is that now we are each in charge of what we will make public, without need for gatekeepers.
Readers are the new gatekeepers, and they will decide who rises to fame and fortune.
But authors are each their own gatekeepers, because we decide what will be published. And we’re not giving back the keys.
All Publishing All the Time
I admit it, I love books. I bet you do too. Virtually all the books that have changed my life in one way or another were published by traditional publishers.
And the people at this conference were intelligent, dedicated, highly accomplished people who love what they do and produce great books for the companies they work for.
Many of the best books being published today are published by traditional publishers. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s great.
But self-publishing has a seat at the table now. Lots of authors want to publish both ways, and why shouldn’t they?
Traditional publishing isn’t sacred, it’s just a business model. That model is changing, and authors who pick up the tools of publishing, who use epublishing to make the fruits of their efforts public, and the readers who can now get directly in touch with authors, together they are the ones who will help remake the old business model.
Then maybe the old myths will finally die.