The more they remain the same.
Years ago, when self-publishers (formerly known as vanity or subsidy authors) had to use a traditional printer or use a POD printing format, and long before e-publishing took off, you only self-published for three reasons: you had a book with a tiny market (like a family history); your book, while good, couldn’t make a breakeven for the publisher (and was almost always nonfiction to support your work or career) or you’d been turned down by so many publishers, you were going to prove them all wrong, publish it yourself and make a million bucks (usually fiction writers). Those of us who were either striving for royalty publication or had already achieved that, told these would be Shakespeares again and again and again that the problem with their work wasn’t that the publishers couldn’t see their vision and their genius, it was that they hadn’t yet learned enough of their craft to let that vision show, and to let the genius shine out into the world. Did they listen? No.
So, has the advent of e-publishing suddenly meant that craft is no longer important, or that we were wrong all along, and what these people were putting out really was terrific rather than the awful writing most of the rest of us said it was? It must be terrific because everybody’s saying that this is the year of the indie publisher. Well, maybe not so much. Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman don’t think so and they talk about it here.
They have most of the answer, but not all of it. See, hiring an editor, slowing down the output and getting a dynamite cover isn’t going to do it for a lot of these “indie” authors.
A colleague of mine used to work for a POD vanity press. It was his job to compare the galleys of the book to the original manuscript, to make sure that all the would-be authors’ words made it into the book. I also had a student who worked for another POD vanity press, doing client consultations. She too had to read every manuscript her “clients” brought to her. In the collective five or seven years they worked for these vanity publishers neither one of them saw a single publishable manuscript. Not once. Never. And they dealt with five to seven people/manuscripts a day. That’s a lot of bad writing. And all of it, now, is being loosed on an unsuspecting public, in the form of e-books.
The real problems here are the third reason the article mentions and one other reason. Yes, there’s a lack of gatekeepers with “indie publishers”. But there’s also a lack of expertise.
It took me seven years, from the time I decided to write seriously, for publication, to my first published article. It took another thirteen years until I had a book published. Part of the reason for that long period of delay was because I and my colleagues had to learn our craft and hone our skills before we wrote well enough to please the gatekeepers. Not easy. It took a long time and a lot of words.
With e-publishing, even more than with POD technology, a would-be writer’s work is loosed upon the world long before it should be. It’s not that most of these people are bad writers, either. The problem is that they are new writers. They have no more idea how to write a decent piece of fiction than I know how to walk a tightrope. These people don’t need an editor. They need someone to teach them how to write, and a gatekeeper, to tell them their work isn’t good enough yet.
Why can’t an editor do that? An editor’s job is to point out weaknesses and flaws. It’s not their job to teach a writer how to write. Beginning writers, and especially “indie authors” don’t have even the most basic of tools, and they don’t how to write fiction. They don’t understand what character development or story arc is. They don’t understand tension or conflict. It’s not just the terms, they don’t know how to do any of those things, they don’t know how to use the tools of their trade – words, sentences and paragraphs, to accomplish those things.
They need to write, realize what’s wrong with what they’ve written and write some more. They need to submit their work to a critique group, attend writer’s conferences and get feedback from other, published and professional writers, editors and agents in the blue pencil sessions. Then they need to go home and write some more. Like about a million to three million words. Then they’ll be ready to loose their creations on an unsuspecting public.
What happens if they don’t is that the entire industry suffers. Because there is so much bad writing floating around, people begin to be gratified when merely mediocre writing appears in front of them. Because so much of what they’ve been exposed to is below par, bad, beginner’s writing, when something mediocre appears, they’re going to treat it like it’s top drawer material. Without anybody realizing it, the standards drop. Lowest common denominator sets in again. And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of our culture and our art being driven by “lowest common denominator.” And honestly, if all you think a self-published book needs is an editor and a great cover, then you’re looking not at the content, but at the bottom line – and writing and reading have never been about the bottom line.
The authors of the article to which I linked, above, conclude their piece by saying “Just as every writer deserves the chance to write and publish, every reader deserves to receive an edited – and polished – book.” I’d go further. The problem is that now, every writer will be able to publish, whether they should or deserve to or not. Yes, every writer deserves the CHANCE to write and publish. That doesn’t mean that they SHOULD be published, and it certainly doesn’t mean they have a right to be published. Every reader deserves to read a book by a professional, or at the very least, by an amateur who has taken the time to thoroughly learn their craft. Learned it so well that they make it look easy. That’s what every reader deserves. And you know what? Those would-be writers deserve it too.