My post on reading ‘goals’ for 2014 struck a nerve; several of the comments were about people whose choices last year were limited—by availability, by financial issues, by choices made via book club or other external factor and so on. People were delighting in the prospect of picking their own stuff!
One comment especially struck a nerve with me. ‘January’ had this to say:
“2013 was the year of the indie book for me. I vowed to give more new authors a chance and, at the same time, save money on my book habit. After 12 months of substandard writing, I can recall not one book that I would recommend to another reader. I found myself flying through so many awkwardly written books that I actually saved nothing because I ended up buying more books in my futile effort to find an indie author I could fall in love with. On January 1 I purchased a NYTimes best seller…and was reminded all over again why I love reading.”
This comment struck a nerve with me. I love self-publishing as a concept. I have championed its successes and rare hidden gems in the past. But…here is the thing: I sort of agree with January. Self-publishing, done right, really can be on par with mainstream publishing. But I think an awful lot of people aren’t doing it right…
Looking a little closer at my own ‘indie’ recommendations—the ten ‘best’ DRM-free books I recommended in my wrap-up on the Year of Reading DRM-Free—I found to my surprise that the vast majority of them weren’t actually ‘indie’ books at all. One was a public domain classic. Two were backlist republications of books which were initially published the old way. Two others were actual new ‘indie’ books but were written by authors who used to publish the ‘old’ way and know their stuff. And one—Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus—did start its life as a self-published indie but has now been run through the machinery of Big Pub too. Only two of the ten on my list were actual one-person shows.
So, what are the implications here? I’m not sure. I don’t think one can take one, or even several, books and use them to pigeonhole an entire industry. But with that said, there are some lessons here.
Firstly, I reject, 100%, the notion that all self-published books are all by definition inferior. I reject too the notion that all ‘mainstream’ published books are good. But what I do embrace is the motion that the concept of publishing as a ‘process’ is a useful one. I’m not saying you have to go through Big Pub to have that process. I think you can assemble your own cover artist, editor, proof-reader and so on, pay them a salary instead of having Big Pub do it, and get a quality book. That’s what Konrath and Crouch, the two who used to be Big Pub, do. And they seem quite happy with the results.