Yesterday Stephen offered three criticisms — let’s call them cautions — of self-publishing.
I’m grateful he asked me to rebut his article, but I’m also not sure how much rebuttal is actually needed. His cautions are well taken:
- That self-publishing not be done for selfish or prideful reasons
- That it shouldn’t be done totally alone, and
- Christian self-publishers ought to strive to out-quality the big guys.
Amen to that, says I.
All I will say is that Stephen seems to assume that self-publishing must be done by oneself. There are plenty of people in the Body of Christ who could offer their editing and design talents to Christian self-publishers and improve the whole field by doing so.
What I will offer are three reasons why Christians ought to support self-publishing, both as writers but also as readers. And since readers are not the primary addressees of this column, my suggestion to you is to support your brothers and sisters in the Body. Buy their books, electronic or otherwise. Read them. If they are good, spread the word. If not, be charitable but honest.
1. The Abuses of Industry
This first and most important reason goes like this: Before 1970, book publishers were fairly small affairs, interested in writers and in publishing work that would challenge. Work that was slightly different, or that would contribute to culture even if they wouldn’t sell a ton of copies. The industry was focused on finding new and interesting work, and it understood the importance of writers.
Then major corporations began buying up publishers and consolidating them. Today, all publishers (as with all media outlets) are owned by five multinational corporations.
This is not to rail against the evils of corporations. It is rather to note the historical changes in the book industry of the last forty years. Once upon a time (before 1970), publishers and agents existed to facilitate an exchange between readers and writers. The writer was the focus, the reader the goal.
Now more and more it seems that editors and agents are getting in the way of this process instead of helping it along. Forced to comply with a corporate bottom line, publishers are not picking up new and unique stories; instead, they tend to publish what they think are most likely to sell. They focus on books they think will be blockbusters; the rest get little promotion or attention. (Sometimes cover and copy designers haven’t even read the book when they work on it. Sometimes your editor is the only person at the publisher who will ever read more than a few pages.)
2. Indie Publishing is Thriving
Dean Wesley Smith ran the fifth largest publisher of science fiction and fantasy for several years and has been a published author for over 20 years, with over a hundred novels published. In his book Think Like a Publisher, he points out that “before 1950 or so, self-publishing was an accepted form of publishing. Only from 1950 to 2008 was it looked down upon.”
James Patterson is convinced the publishing sky is falling, but a look at the numbers shows quite the opposite. 2012 was called the “Year of the Bookstore,” and it was so named because independent bookstores (those local stores not owned by Barnes and Noble, etc.) have been growing and expanding, a number of new ones opening their doors last year alone.
Just this year the major catalog from which bookstores order their books changed their catalog organization so that self-published books are eligible for the same discounts as, and appear side-by-side with, industry publishers. Before this, self-published books were segregated in their own catalog. That is, the last major obstacle to getting indie books into bookstores has just been removed.
Unless your book covers and blurbs look particularly amaturish to raise red flags, bookstores can no longer tell the difference. They will simply order what looks interesting, and what is selling well, regardless of where it came from.
3. Self-Publishing Gets Around the Gatekeepers
Assuming a novel is good enough to be published (a good rule of thumb is that you are not ready to produce professional-level fiction before you have written a million words), assuming that you have a small amount of business sense and can get professional-looking covers done, self-publishing is a tremendous opportunity for the rebirth of fiction — Christian and otherwise.
It is a good chance to escape the fetters of story restrictions of all sorts, whether the pernicious “Christian” triad of Niceness, Niceness, and Niceness, or simply the opportunity to take a chance on a strange concept, a new plot structure, an odd story that wouldn’t fit within the narrow parameters of mainstream publishing.
The great thing about this new world of publishing is that everyone has a chance to test the market, and to know that eventually a book will sink or swim on its own qualities. And if those qualities are good (I dare not say perfect), readers will find it.