Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing: The religious debate
June 18, 2013 | 5:09 am
Seriously, that’s what it’s become at this point. We’ve seen traditional publishers attack self-publishing with all the fervor of a Catholic denouncing Calvinism, and it’s not surprising to see self-publishing advocates respond in kind. In particular, my attention was drawn by this counter-rant by Libbie Hawker on The Seattle Vine.
Hawker’s rant, of course, has its own problems. She takes aim at writer John Green, who has the temerity to thank all the other people who helped him get his book in shape to be published in an acceptance speech for an award.
Does he really believe that a writer as talented as he is incapable of producing quality content without the input of a vast squad of outsiders? Does he truly lack so much confidence? If a writer as skilled as Green thinks he is literally, actually, totally incapable of producing quality work without the assistance of not just an editor, but everybody involved in the chain, right down to the dude who works in the book warehouse and the guy who codes the web site for Barnes & Noble, then surely so many more writers must feel the same way.
It’s a little unclear what Hawker’s stance is on editors, as that “not just an editor” seems to suggest she admits they, at least, are necessary. Lots of self-publishing writers use editors, even paying to have their work professionally edited. And goodness knows, one of the biggest complaints about any best-selling author such as Stephen King or David Weber is that they’ve gotten big enough that editors don’t have the temerity to stand up to them so they end up producing bloated works that could have used a more vicious trimming.
But with the rest of the chain, perhaps she has a point. Certainly there are success stories, such as the self-publishing writers who saved their home that I just posted about (and, apparently, Ms. Hawker herself). There are good works that are self-published as well as bad. And there are bad works that are traditionally published as well as good. But then you get to Hawker’s dogmatic claims, with statements like:
Green exhorts us all to strike down the insidious lie that books are the creation of a solitary writer laboring alone. He wants us to not only believe him, but to actively strike down that lie–to go out and convince others that there is no writer alive capable of creating quality work without the absolutely crucial guidance of several of other individuals. He wants us to defeat the idea that authors can and should self-publish, because it “threatens the overall quality and breadth of American literature.”
That was when I realized that a religious debate is exactly what it is. Both sides are convinced they have the One True Way, and anyone who feels otherwise is a poor deluded soul who is going to kill the publishing industry, and all the writers will be out with bread bowls begging in the streets.
Well, guess what? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. There will always be a place for the traditional publisher, who is willing to try to sort through the crap and produce a higher average of readable stuff. Yeah, some pro-published stuff is still crap, but it’s usually the crap that enough people are willing to pay money for that it’s worth publishing, and it’s at least been through the edit process so it’s polished crap. There will also always be a place for the self-publisher, who is willing to entrust his work to the vicissitudes of social networking and hope that good enough buzz gets enough people to pay for his work to earn him a living.
There are successful professionally-published authors who decide to go self-published. But there are also self-publishing stars such as Amanda Hocking who happily sign a trad-pub contract because they are tired of all the extra work. No matter how much one side denounces the other, that’s never going to change.
Really, can’t we all just get along?