Self Publishing Destroys the Universe

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I’m going to level with you—that’s a click-bait title.

And sure, it’s a bit unfair that I’d write something deliberately inflammatory about the very industry in which I work, and from which I draw my income. Unfair, because it’s just so manipulative.

But it’s also just so effective, right?

If you don’t believe me, ask Laurie Gough.

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Asking Laurie Gough

On December 29, 2016—right on the cusp of a brand new year—Laurie published an article to the Huffington Post blog, titled Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word. Presumably with no sense of irony whatsoever.

The post was well received. If by ‘well received’ we mean that it attracted a veritable who’s-who of indie authors, all outraged at Laurie’s position and the justifications she used to support it.

Comments flew from fingertips for days afterward—some politely worded, some not so much. Most were not only respectful (even in their outrage) but pointedly demonstrated that Laura might be … oh what’s the phrase the kids use … ‘off her nut.’

“I feel like I’ve stepped back about ten years ago reading this article,” commented Jasmine Walt, an actual, verifiable New York Times bestselling author.

“I’ve been on the NY Times list enough times that I stopped counting,” replied Russel Blake. “Same for USA Today. I’ve sold a couple million books. I’ve been invited to co-author two novels with a literary legend — Clive Cussler. I have a top NY agent. I earn enough so I can buy just about anything I can imagine, and I can dream pretty big.”

I believe him when he says he can dream big.

“This is typical lefty lockstep ideological nonsense by someone who feels it smart to write for free (the Huff Post), while ignoring the mammoth possibilities and opportunities indie or self-publishing offers,” wrote Vincent Zandri, yet another New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.

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And lest you think the title alone has these authors foaming at their virtual mouths, here’s a sampling of Laura’s goods:

“To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.”

I have no idea why that em-dash is there.

And look, this is an opinion piece she’s written. It was written to express one traditionally published author’s views of a side industry she clearly knew absolutely nothing about. Everyone is entitled to her opinion, I’m sure she’d agree.

This is not, by a stretch, the first swipe at tearing down self publishing in public. Way back in 2013, Michael Kozlowski—Editor-in-Chief of Good e-Reader (huge fan of indies … yuge)—let the world know that Self-Published Authors are Destroying Literature.

“One thing indie authors have done is devalue the work of legitimate published authors,” Matthew wrote. “You know[,] the type that write for a living, who have an editor and are considered accomplished, or at least well-read.”

There, at least, he does have a valid point. There are, in fact, authors who write for a living.

And the ‘devaluing’ that Matthew is on about is a reference to indie authors pricing ebooks at $.99 or $1.99, which (at the time at least) forced traditional publishers to lower their price to compete. That does seem unfair—it means that the ~3% royalty that traditional publishers pay their authors is now a sliver of its former self. Svelte, even.

Luckily the Big Five filed a law suit that gave them the right to price their books any way they choose, and forbid Amazon or other retailers from artificially lowering that price even at their own out-of-pocket expense.

And order was restored. You may now pay $12.99 for a book in the same category and ranked in sales just under it’s lesser indie brethren, priced at an industry-degrading and frankly shameful $2.99.

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Do Not Do

In a similar vein, there was Lorraine Devon Wilke’s 2015 Huffington Post piece, Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year. Herein, our heroine explains:

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.”

And well you shouldn’t, because listening to the wisdom of others can only lead to shenanigans. Unless …

“Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.”

Right, right. Do not try this at home, kids, unless you’re writing subjectively good books. Then try it. Or do not. There is no try.

“[Writing] good books simply takes time, lots of it [sic].There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing [WRITER’S NOTE: Irony], even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?”

I could not agree more. There are, in fact, hacks out there. Writing … posts. And such.

Take JK Rowling, for instance.

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Take JK Rowling for Instance

In a 2014 Huffington Post article by Lynn Shepherd, titled If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It, Lynn took no prisoners of Azkaban in her biting analysis of the ‘Harry Potter’ author.

SIDEBAR: By the way—has anyone else noticed how often Huffington Post is the platform for these things? Between HuffPost and Good e-Reader, the budding industry of ‘slamming/shaming self publishing’ is well wrangled and tied.

I digress.

Lynn’s swipe at JK Rowling starts with a confession:

“When I told a friend the title of this piece she looked at me in horror and said, ‘You can’t say that, everyone will just put it down to sour grapes!’ And she does, of course, have a point. No struggling but relatively ambitious writer can possibly be anything other than envious. You’d be scarcely human otherwise. But this particular piece isn’t about that.”

Phew.

“I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about,” Lynn puns. “I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent.”

Um.

Ok, SIDEBAR 2: I know I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, and I really want to avoid attacking anyone’s personal character. The authors of these pieces have … well, intentions, good or bad. They have careers. They’ve done something with their lives that isn’t stabbing other humans. And I respect that.

But Lynn’s entire article is a shaming piece aimed at JK Rowling, and she’s never read the books.

I can’t stand Michael Bay movies, but I’ve at least watched a few. For a friend.

Back at ya, Lynn …

“I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether) …”

Hold up …

No. Never mind. There are few, if any, words. Except all those words that Lynn didn’t read in the Harry Potter series.

“… mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right? But The Casual Vacancy changed all that.”

So on the whole, this is a ‘review’ of The Casual Vacancy. Which, I’ll go out on a limb and assume, Lynn hasn’t read.

“That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere,” Lynn assumed. “And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?”

Ok, first, if she’d read Harry Potter she would never have missed that totally obvious opportunity to use ‘ordinary muggle’ in place of ‘ordinary author.’

Second—so what we’re saying here is that it’s unfair for JK Rowling to continue writing, because publishing is hard.

Ok, so here’s where I admit that the above piece is not quite like the others I’ve brought ‘round so far, in that it isn’t technically about self publishing.

It does have the nice, click-baity headline, though. And it does make loads of presumptions about the publishing industry. Presumptions that do not seem to be aligned with reality, facts, industry expertise, or even Grandma Author’s Folklore (which does not currently exist, but perhaps one day should. Eat your vegetables).

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Suddenly Laurie Gough

As far as I can tell from all four of the pieces mentioned here, the point of each was to bemoan a personal pet peeve of the author. And I can dig that—it’s kind of the point of this piece. I’m bemoaning all over the place, up in here.

Because honestly, the only reason to write a click-bait headline and follow it by some of the most outrageous, unsupported, unworthy verbiage you can come up with—well, it’s to get you to read it.

It’s to get your eyes on the page, because for every two eyes they get, an angel gets its Klout score raised. The publishing platform makes some ad revenue. The author gets a buzz of attention that might translate into some book sales. And suddenly you’ve heard of Laurie Gough.

That’s the point.

Admittedly, that’s part of the point of what I’m writing, too. But at least it wasn’t the whole point. Plus, you know—honesty. I’m pulling back the curtain, and I even put on pants for once.

The reality of publishing today is that the ‘rules’ these folks thought they knew are gone, if they ever existed. Self-publishing—long stigmatized, seen as a sign of weakness or failure, seen as an indicator that an author couldn’t cut it—has gone mainstream.

Hugh Howey. Amanda Hocking. EL James. Andy Weir. Russel Blake.

These are just a few of the exceptions that pointed out there are no rules.

Today—right now—everyone reading this is empowered with the ability to write and publish a book. A real book, regardless of what a shocking number of HuffPost writers would have you believe. You can sit down right this second, open the word processor of your choosing, and start building a work that can be on book shelves in a year, a month, a couple of weeks, if that’s your mojo.

The authors writing these click-bait pieces hate that.

Will your book be good? Maybe. Will it be considered literature? Possibly. Will it destroy the universe? We can only hope.

But you won’t know if you don’t ignore the trolls and cross the bridge anyway.

The world of publishing has changed. Now publishing can change the world.

Kevin Tumlinson is a speculative fiction and thriller author and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Find more about Kevin and his books, podcasts, and other work at kevintumlinson.com

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