Monday, July 9, 2012

Selling Out

In the debate between the publishing and self-publishing worlds, there is an issue that usually comes up with the so-called sell-out indie author. Every time a do-it-yourself writer crosses over to a successful publishing deal, the staunchest critics of the indie movement are quick to point out how these people have come to their senses and realize that the only way of making it as an author is to go mainstream.

As always, we can make a case pro or against such a convention, but that would be missing the bigger picture. Some voices in the publishing establishment fail to see one of the most important points about the literary indie movement: the fact that a good number of authors go the DIY way to have their work even seen. Publishing is a small medium, constrained by fads, markets, profits and any number of elements that limit the scope of their output. Therefore, there are a lot of manuscripts that will never have a chance to see the light of day through the traditional way.

Then there is the issue of the quality of the work. I agree that the only way the stigma of indie = crappy novels can be erased is by the self-published authors themselves. The more we learn about how to put together a book, and the more money and effort to create a professional product, the quicker we will be able to enhance the reputation of DIY novels. Clearly, we can’t compare an indie writer to a centuries-old medium, populated by a group of professionals whose day job is to produce books. But we can learn from our mistakes and become better.


Self-publishing is no different than putting together a garage band back when there was a record industry. You start small, learn your chops and start the slow process of playing in your backyard, then friend’s parties, a local dive bar,  local clubs and so on. You get your sound to the people and hope to get a record deal. And that's precisely the point, you have to play to an audience. Most people dream about being a rock star, not a record executive. Just like most people dream about being a writer, not a publishing company. The main strength of indie writers is that in the end, the readers have the final word. This direct line between author and reader is the life-blood of the whole self-published movement. If enough people like a book, then whatever critics, publisher and the media have said is irrelevant. Like in all walks of life, money talks.

So, when a self-published author manages to get a publishing deal, they’re not selling out. They have just shown the failings of the publishing industry. An industry that perhaps should be grateful that there are people out there who don’t take “No” for an answer, and work hard to put together a book, promote it and build a readership, only for an agent or publisher to come by with a contract after all the hard work is done. Maybe the industry should change their tune and be supportive of indie authors, or at least stop their condescending speech about how we have become the bane of everything that is good about publishing. After all, they have sold out a few times themselves by giving profitable self-published authors a shot.

Keep on running!

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