Full disclosure: Per yesterday’s comments, I wish to state that I am a self-published author and I have two college degrees, including a graduate writing fellowship through the National Writing Project. There will be typos, but they aren’t because I don’t know better.
Yesterday, GoodEReader posted a viewpoint on the damage that self-published authors allegedly do to the state of literature, presumably just by existing. They apparently clog the virtual bookshelves of every online retailer with their mindless paranormal crap and their poorly edited spew. They cheapen the price of ebooks with their low-cost titles (“books” would be too generous a word to use here, according to some sources), driving the genuine, educated, hard-working authors who have been vetted by the mainstream publishing industry into obscurity.
I’m going to have call you on that one.
Before the debate about right-to-publish goes one word further, I have a question. The year that John Steinbeck published his Nobel prize-winning book, The Grapes of Wrath, which happens to be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with much fanfare from Penguin, what other books did the publisher reject at that time? Which titles did Viking (Penguin) ultimately refuse to publish due to shifts in the market or waning interest from focus groups in books about Depression-era suffering and the plight of the Okies? What books got sent lovely rejection form letters because the market was already saturated with books by people who were foolish and presumptuous enough to think they had written the Great American Novel?
I’ll never know, will I? Those books weren’t published. And since the digital revolution hadn’t happened, the manuscripts themselves were tossed in a trash bin or used to start a fire in some starving author’s wood stove.
If self-publishing had existed in its current form, there would at least be a chance that I would get to read those books, books that have been lost forever. But someone sitting in a comfy office, probably behind an antique mahogany desk, got to make the decision that I don’t have the right to read those books. Those books weren’t worthy. Sadly, I never got to decide that for myself.
And yes, as the writer of yesterday’s article pointed out, it has become very difficult to decide which books to invest my time and my money on. But that simply means that authors have their work cut out for them in terms of making sure the work is spectacular and making themselves accessible to their reading audience.
Hugh Howey, Eden Baylee, Bella Andre, Rachel Thompson, Chuck Wendig, Cory Doctorow…I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Those authors are not only writing great stories and publishing them on their own terms, they are connecting with readers in ways that authors never did before. They are writing incredible content because they know their readers on a first-name basis and they know what their readers want. Try writing a letter to Dan Brown and see what kind of response you get. Try telling Nicholas Sparks you’d like to see more books featuring his side characters and see if he jumps out of bed to write a novella about some character who appears on page twelve then disappears forever.
And as for the platforms that are somehow to blame for the current state of puke making its way to the shelves, ask the authors and the readers if a gate keeper should decide what I get to read. Hollywood determines which films I get to watch and Walmart somehow decides which clothing will be popular next fall, whether I like it or not. The books are mine. I will ultimately decide what I read, and thanks to self-publishing, I will never run out of books. Some of them will be utter garbage that weren’t worth the file space on my iPad, and others will be so powerful that I keep them stored in my phone so I can read them even while standing in line in the grocery store. I will decide what I read, not a corporate structure based on market analysis and focus groups of young adults aged twelve to seventeen.
Thanks to self-published authors, I will no longer be told that this is the correct book for me. I will no longer be told that vampires are O.U.T.-out. I will not be told that a literary fiction title written by an author in Nigeria just “doesn’t resonate with US readers.” I will read the books I want to read, and I only have the self-publishing revolution to thank for it.