UK independent publisher Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, delivered a virulent assault on the current self-publishing environment at the Literary Consultancy conference Writing in a Digital Age in London, as reported in The Guardian. “The overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible—unutterable rubbish,” Franklin said. “They don’t enhance anything in the world.”
There are “now unmeasurable numbers” of books being self-published, according to Franklin, and “these books come out and are met with a deathly silence, so the principal experience of self-publishing is one of disappointment.”
This outburst is especially surprising as Profile Books is clearly no stranger to e-books or to using modern social media, offering pay-with-a-tweet promotions. The company takes an exemplary line on its digital publishing: “Profile are committed to releasing all of our new books as ebooks, published on the same day as the print book hits the shops,” according to a note on its website. “Our ebooks are produced with the same care, dedication and attention to detail that goes into our print books.”
Parasites on the Back of Real Books
Profile Books is also a founding member of the Independent Alliance of publishers, which includes other illustrious names such as Atlantic, Canongate, Faber & Faber, and Granta. In the past, Franklin (photo at right) has authored articles claiming that e-books are “Parasites on the back of real books,” but he seems to have come to terms with the digital revolution. Not, however, self-publishing
No matter that convergence between self-publishing and mainstream, whether through publisher-supported platforms like Author Solutions or successful self-published authors like Hugh Howey striking major deals, is the new mantra; Franklin has a serious down on the entire sector. “I was very shocked to learn you can buy Facebook friends and Likes on social media,” Franklin said. “That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing.”
With the last hearings of the Department of Justice e-book price fixing investigation still under way, it seems no good time for a publisher, however independent, to be labeling the self-publishing sector as “deeply corrupt,” but Franklin insists on the added value that publishers can contribute in the space between writer and reader: “I think there is a process of the professional making of books which does make a real difference to the reader and the writer.”
Explicitly Dumping on the Very Notion of Creative Independence
Franklin may be right that a massive amount of dross gets self-published. (Though it consequently gets ignored, so why should that bother him?) He may also be right that many self-published works are produced to abysmal standards, and that their authors could benefit from some serious editorial guidance—although that’s as disrespectful as a Mayfair gallery owner abusing the competence of hobbyist Sunday painters. But why would any capable author go to a publisher who explicitly dumps on the very notion of creative independence? And if Franklin speaks for the Independent Alliance, I’d have doubts about the entire organization.
Franklin was acerbic as ever, even in auto-reply mode, when I emailed him for comment. “I am out of the office having my heart removed,” he wrote. “On my return, I’ll be a Conservative cabinet minister.”
Not Minister for Culture, one hopes.