There is apparently a war going on in the writing world between ‘traditional publishers’ and ‘self publishers’. A lot of bad blood is being spilled, a lot of blogs are being written about how one way or the other is ‘the only right way’ and there seems to be intense polarisation between those who support ‘ye olde fashioned way of publishing such as how our forefathers have been doing it since ye time of Caxton’ and ‘the hip new thang which has become possible cos we has the internets and stuff now’.
I am not going to delve too deeply into the arguments for and against self publishing, I am not even going to talk about the apparent evils of traditional publishers or how it is possible to make millions of dollars by publishing your own book (if you happen to get lucky and have a good product to start with and do a lot of work…). Those arguments have been done to death and people are still flogging them, despite the fact no one seems set to change their positions. Instead, I am going to reflect upon my own opinions of self publishing based on my experiences as both a reader and a writer.
I’ve always been a bit of a self publishing sceptic. To my mind, a book is not properly published unless it has been judged by someone with some expertise to be worth publishing and then given a thorough editing and cleaning and polishing before being dressed up in its prettiest marketing clothes to walk about in the public eye for purchase. Editors at publishing houses act as a filter – picking out the wheat of good literature from the chaff that makes up the majority of their slush pile. If you get past an editor then you have passed some form of test or maybe a rite of passage which proves you worthy to call yourself a Writer rather than someone who merely writes. With this mindset in place, I’ve therefore been somewhat derogatory of self published works. They’ve not passed the test, they’ve not had to convince an editor or an agent that their work is worthy. All they’ve done is rattle off a few thousand words, done some formatting and either sent it to Lulu to be printed or uploaded it to Createspace. Logically, therefore, this prejudice implies that all self published works will be badly written and not worth buying.
And this is where my brain goes ‘hang on, you’re being prejudiced’. This is where that argument falls down because I am indeed being prejudiced by assuming that everything in one category has the same characteristics – a major failure in logic. I don’t like being prejudiced. I am not sure anyone does and I really hate my brain when it points out these nasty little truths to me. More to the point, my prejudice was based entirely on circumstantial evidence with not one whit of actual evidence to back up my claim. You see, because I had the strong belief that ALL self published books were badly written and badly edited I religiously avoided actually reading any. Obviously, this sort of hypocrisy cannot stand!
So, I was quite pleased to be able to do reviews for the ePublishing a Book site. Because the site is quite self publishing focused they want reviews of self published books for preference and so I have been forced into reading and commenting on some self published books. I faced this task with a high degree of trepidation, not knowing what I would find in the darkest depths of hell that I imagined existed in the self publishing world.
I posted a request for authors with self published novels to contact me and tell me where I could get hold of their books for review and I got a lot of replies. So many that, at the rate of 2 reviews a month which I am obliged to do, I am not going to be short of things to read and review for a long time. I’ve read a few of these books now and written the review for one of them (which is due to be posted tomorrow – watch this space for details) – and I have come to a conclusion about self published books:
Some of them are actually not at all bad and some of them are even rather good.
I suppose I should not have been surprised at this revelation. After all, there are a lot of good writers out there and not all of them make it through the publishing filter. This may be because one of the flaws in the filter is that it doesn’t necessarily take out only those books that are really badly written. Quite often it takes out books which are very well written and merely don’t fit with current marketing projections. However, I was surprised which is why I felt it necessary to write this blog post to atone for my previously snobbish nature about self publishing.
Ok, here is the caveat… one of the books I read and reviewed and really liked was actually a previously published author who had recovered the rights to the book and decided to push out a reprint by themselves. This, of course, is one area where self publishing is potentially useful with publishers rarely wanting to touch reprints but you could argue that this might have skewed my subjective assessment of the books I read. I accept that and as a scientist I take it into account and will continue to collect data and testing the hypotheses until one of them breaks. However, given that all of the books I read so far have been enjoyable and I’ve seen no really terrible ones, I am going to read the rest of the ones I have on my list with an open mind and hopefully enjoy them without the trepidation that comes from expecting them to be awful.