Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
An open letter has been making the rounds the last couple days that pits the self-publishing community against one of the banners of big corporate publishing.
Here’s an excerpt from indie author Cambria Herbert’s “An open letter to Barnes and Noble” (Emphasis is hers):
This isn’t just an angry letter because I got another form rejection. I’ve had many. I’ve also had many successes and my career doesn’t hinge on store placement. This is about change, and about asking for a chance to be equal.
I’ve been in this business a while now, I don’t know everything, but I do know some things. I know you have the capability of helping to lift up the talented writers who do ALL their own marketing, publishing and branding.
It’s time, Barnes and Noble. It’s time you step into the new era of publishing. It’s time you acknowledge there are good books out there that don’t just come out of big six [sic] publishers.
It’s time you recognize us.
What this all comes down to is respect. The self-publishing community is a passionate one, believing its authors have just as much of a right to publish a book as do authors who have traditional publishers. Moreover, many of them believe their mode of publishing is the right one.
At the end of the day, they just want to be treated as authors, not self-published authors.
As evidenced by the need for Herbert’s letter, there is still a significant stigma surrounding self-publishing and indie authors. Hell, I’ve been accused of perpetuating it myself.
But I don’t think that stigma is reduced when proponents of self-publishing say authors need to be writing several books a year. As one commenter on our interview with Hugh Howey wrote, “That’s not writing; that’s typing.”
What’s more, there are two types of self-published authors: those who write a manuscript, get the book proofread and professionally edited, have a cover professionally designed, create a marketing plan, etc; and those who don’t.
At a traditional publisher, the editor does not simply edit the book. She is instead a project manager, serving as a hub that connects all the different departments involved in the book’s production and guiding the process along. In self-publishing, the author takes on this role.
But, it must be noted, there are many self-published authors who don’t. And this is fertile ground for the stigma to breed. As Herbert herself admits: “There are millions of books published every year. Not all of them are good. The easy use and accessibility of publishing online today makes lots of people think they can write a book.”
True, traditional publishers produce a hefty amount of lousy books each year, but, as stupid as this may sound, they are at least professionally lousy. What’s more, there aren’t any scammers trying to make a quick buck by infiltrating publishing houses and tricking people to read.
So from Barnes & Nobles’s side, it’s much easier to simply dismiss all self-published books. Shelf space is finite, and why invest time and energy into sifting through the ever-growing catalogue of indie work?
But the retailer should.
There are two things I would like to see.
First, I’d like to see Barnes & Noble create some sort of mechanism for finding indie books that are worth putting on its shelves. The books without question exist, and the retailer is doing its customers a disservice and losing potential money by not doing so.
This could be as simple as creating a position within the company in which the person’s role is to research self-published books.
Second, and this one is perhaps a bit more unrealistic, I’d like to see the self-publishing community take more extreme steps to discourage poor publishing. I know that this flies in the face of what self-publishing stands for, but I think it has to happen. When a sizable segment of the community is producing such low-level work, in many eyes it reflects poorly on the entire community.
Perhaps authors call for self-publishing platforms to institute some sort of mandatory checklist along with proof that the book has been worked on by parties other than the author.
The stigma will not be dissolved overnight. I’m sure no one thinks it will. But I do believe there are steps that can be taken by people on both sides of the argument.
Finally, I think that what gets lost in us vs. them issues like this is that everyone involved has a passion for books. It’s why they got involved in the first place. So for publishing’s sake, I think it best that both sides clean up their act.
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