This week another major publisher, Harlequin, announced their entry into the self-publishing business. The blogs have lit up over it and there’s a lot of interesting reading out there. I think Victoria Strauss gave a great overview on the Writer Beware blog (here.)
I have to admit that the idea of all these major publishers opening self-pub arms is making me nervous. It makes me worry about the future of publishing, much more than other issues like e-books, the decline of reading, etc. And here’s why.
The lure and the prestige of getting a book published has always been based on… what? Exclusivity. It’s exciting to get a book deal because many want one, and few can get one.
Published books have always been respected because of the many gatekeepers they had to go through to get on that bookstore shelf. Numerous people had to agree that the book was worthy of publication. Large companies had to invest money and time. All of that added to the value of each book.
Writers had to endure rejection, and be persistent. They had to keep trying harder, improving their writing, to get to the point of being published. And they had to impress a lot of people.
With no more gatekeepers, no more exclusivity, no more requirement to actually write a good book, won’t published books lose value? If anybody can get a book published, doesn’t that diminish the perceived status of all authors?
And if we are entering this brave new world where anyone and everyone can get their book published, and the traditional industry is even going to assist and give these books the look of a regular published book, who’s looking out for the consumers?
Right now, when we walk into Barnes & Noble, at least we have the assurance that most of the books there have been through a rigorous approval process. Now it appears we will no longer have that assurance.
Many of you will say that the “approval process” is meaningless—just look at all those terrible books available! Who’s doing the “approving” anyway? Clearly they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re useless.
Well, I have news for you. If you think the published books are bad now, just wait until self-pubbing becomes the norm. Holy cow. Folks, you don’t see an agent’s daily slush pile. Sure, some of it is good. But let me tell you. At least half of it is seriously not good. As I look at all the books I say “no” to, and then realize these books could be for sale within a matter of months, I get depressed.
If you think the overall quality of literature has already declined substantially in the last, oh, forty years or so? I shudder to think how it will be ten years into a new world of self-publishing. “Literature” as we know it could be a thing of the past.
Major publishers have always been in the business of culling through the masses to find the cream of the crop. In my mind, they’ve set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of literary taste. They’ve taken on that responsibility. By entering self-publishing, they’re going 180 degrees away from that. And they’re doing it for the money, because otherwise they might just go out of business altogether. (I get that part.)
I just don’t see how any of this ends up serving readers. It serves writers, yes, but at what cost? Will the work of all writers be devalued? Worse—will writers lose the motivation to become master craftsmen? If so, books will deserve to be devalued because they’ll indeed be of lower quality than ever before.
Now, I’ve always thought self-pubbing can be a terrific idea for non-fiction authors with expertise in a certain area, who are able to promote and sell their books through their speaking, media appearances, website, etc. But to raise self-publishing to the level it seems to be going, and to have it focused on fiction… sorry, I’m not excited about it.
Am I just saying all this because I’m worried about my job? Nope. I’ve done plenty of other things besides agenting in my life, and I’ll be fine no matter what happens in publishing. It’s more because I’m a reader and I love books, good books, and I’m not sure a flood of self-published books into the marketplace is going to serve me as a reader.
So what do you think? Am I totally off base? Does anything I’ve said here ring true? What are your thoughts about self-publishing becoming a much bigger business than it already is?
How might it serve you as a reader—or not?
How might it serve you as a writer—or not?
*Comments have been closed.*
P.S. I reserve the right to change my mind on anything I’ve written here. My thoughts are nowhere near settled; rather, I’m sort of thinking out loud. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from what you have to say.
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