Thursday, June 20, 2013

6 Reasons Why Self-Published Authors Are NOT Destroying Literature

 I stumbled across yet another article claiming that self-publishing is destroying the book industry, this one with the unique and not at all alarmist title: "Self-published Authors Are Destroying Literature" by Michael Kozlowski. Normally, I gloss over these, but I've pretty much had it with this crap, so I decided to put together a rebuttal. It seems redundant to call this editorial reactionary and overblown, but I'm saying it anyway. I'll take some points from the article and break down why they're wrong.

1. Indie Authors Don't Drown Out Good Books - In the article, the author says:
Self-published authors with their insistent need to spam social media and pump out a copious amount of horrible ebooks are ruining the modern online bookstore. You can’t browse Kobo, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon without running into a maelstrom of poorly written and poorly edited books. All of these bookstores put indie authors’ books side by side with established authors, who are signed to a publishing company.
I'll address the social media issue in my next point. For now, let's focus on the idea that indie books "ruin" the online bookstores. I've seen this complaint several places, so let's lay it all out.

I'm not going to lie. Most self-published books are terrible. But so what? The fact that they exist, to me, is a triumph, because every one of them took time and effort to be produced. No one is forcing anyone to buy them - there are plenty of ways to tell a quality book from a crappy book, and crappy books don't get purchased and disappear. What Kozlowski sees as ruining literature, I see as leveling the playing field. The idea that self-published authors are drowning out quality books implies that all traditionally published books are quality books. So my self-published book is standing next to Paris Hilton's "book" or traditionally published fanfiction like "Fifty Shades of Grey?" Good. Actually, I wish that was true. The idea that all ebooks stand side-by-side is something expressed only by people who have never browsed Amazon or Kobo. They have ranking systems, ratings systems, and bestseller lists that push highly regarded books to the top and crappy books to the bottom. As they say, cream rises to the top.

Well, sort of. Talk to any low-level self-published author and they'll complain about how hard it is to get attention in the marketplace, because they start out with no visibility whatsoever. Indie authors have to fight and claw their way to the point where they get any attention, and the ones with bad formatting, typos, lame covers, and ridiculous stories get kicked right back down again.

I think a lot of this frustration comes from trad publishers looking at the best-seller list, and seeing self-published books alongside their books. This infuriates them, since of course, self-published books are crap. They don't belong on the "real" lists. Of course, the reality is that there's a reason why indie books end up best sellers - they're good. If you see an indie book on the bestseller list, that means it's probably pretty good. If you see an indie book with a crappy cover on the bestseller list, that probably means it's really good.

But maybe you still don't like indie books. That's fine. I don't read fantasy novels, and sometimes when I browse Amazon, I come across them. Do I start complaining about how fantasy novels are crowding out scifi novels? No, I ignore them. Same with indie books. If you don't want to read indie books, just ignore them.

It's a digital marketplace. Just because there's an indie book in the store doesn't mean there's no room for trad books. There's not a finite number of shelves like there are in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. There's room for everyone, which is why digital publishing is so great.

2. Self-Published Authors Aren't the Only Spammers - Kozlowski also complained about social media in the above comments, and also had this to say:
Good e-Reader has around 3,000 Twitter Followers and over 5,000 Facebook friends. Not a day goes by that I don’t see people asking for ebook sales. “BUY MY BOOK!” No marketing, no reason to buy it, JUST BUY IT! The vast majority of indie authors have no concept on how to legitimately market a book title and just encourage people to BUY! #ihateebooks
The noise ratio from self-publisher authors on social media is bad. But you know what? This goes for indie authors as well as traditionally published authors. It seems like every author on Twitter is sending out ads for their books every hour, on the hour. Their Facebook pages, blogs, and Google+ accounts are nothing but ads. I see just as many "buy my books" ads from low-level traditionally published authors as indie. That's because publishers are increasingly putting the burden of promotion and marketing on authors rather than doing it themselves. The big names get TV ads, magazine ads, book tours, and signings while the rest get told to sort it out themselves.

The real problem is that there isn't a viable advertising medium for authors, so they are desperate. The publishers don't promote them and they have to do it themselves. Except that indie authors get to keep more of the profits.

Traditional publishers have dropped the ball on online book promotion. By now, they should have been able to get together and create a cheap and effective online medium that attracts readers and connects them to writers to advertise books unobtrusively and effectively. Because they haven't, authors are forced in desperation to resort to any means necessary to try to attract readers. If publishers don't like it, they should get together and find an alternative, which will be good for everyone.

3. Andrew Franklin is Wrong - Kozlowski also quotes from Andrew Franklin, founder and managing director of Profile Books, who went off at a tangent at a London publishing conference. He said:
I was very shocked to learn you can buy Facebook friends and likes on social media. That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing.
I've seen this quote in other places, and it's utter nonsense. Yes, you can buy Facebook friends, and the book industry is well-aware of that, because numerous "real" authors have fake Facebook friends purchased by their publishers, so that's nothing to do with indie publishing. And no author has ever hit the bestseller list on the weight of his or her Facebook friends.

As for affirmation in the self-publishing industry, it comes from good reviews, good sales, all the things that provide affirmation in the traditional publishing industry. Bestselling author Hugh Howey didn't get where he is by buying Facebook friends. He wrote great books.

The fact that Franklin said these things tells me that he knows nothing about the indie book industry that he's so opposed to. Maybe if he spent less time whining about it and more time studying it, he would discover that indie books succeed because authors worked hard and produced a quality product. He might also discover some tips on how to run the book industry.

4. Low-Priced Self-Published Books Don't Devalue "Legitimate" Books - Kozlowski also ranted against the pricing of self-published authors:
One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors. You know the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read. The average indie title is $0.99 to $2.99, and the average publisher price is $7.99 – $12.99. Book buyers have been so conditioned to pay as little as possible that often they will not even consider a more expensive book.
And this is a bad thing...why? I'll be writing more about this later, but frankly, ebook prices should drop. There's no reason an ebook should be $12.99, considering it's entirely digital. The publishing industry has been gouging customers with high-priced ebooks. Look at the backlash over The Fifth Witness, which cost $14.99, more expensive than the hardcover print edition. If self-published authors are giving readers great books at a lower price, maybe traditional authors should be trying to match it, as opposed to trying to get rid of it.

5. Self-Published Authors Are Contributing To Literature - Here's the real issue: most of the editorial is built on the premise that self-published books are all crap, and traditionally published books are great. That's just flat out untrue. There are many highly successful and critically acclaimed indie books out there, just like there are many awful and critically vilified traditionally published books. The only real difference between trad and indie publishing is ultimately the label.

6. Self-Publishing Isn't Going Away - What Kozlowski and much of the traditional publishing industry don't seem to realize is that ranting and raving against indie publishing doesn't change the fact that the genie is out of its bottle. Self-publishing books are making up twenty percent of the content in genre ebooks. As the technology improves, there are going to be more indie authors entering the market. Self-published authors like Hugh Howey are signing contracts to publish their books with traditional publishers. Bestselling trad authors like David Mamet are turning to self-publishing, because it serves as an escape from the often complex and exploitative contracts offered by publishers. The two industries can and must co-exist.

What publishing is going through is what the music industry went through when digital music allowed bands to distribute their own albums, and the movie industry when YouTube and other video streaming allowed independent filmmakers to distribute short films. People ranted that Napster would destroy the music industry back then, just like publishers are ranting against Amazon today. But independent films didn't ruin the movie industry, and garage bands didn't ruin the music industry.

So Kozlowski, relax. Indie publishing is here to stay. Deal with it.

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