In a recent post in publishingperspectives.com, Porter Anderson wades into the debate currently raging over traditionally published versus self published books. What made me read to the end of Anderson's post is his balanced approach. He hopes that "we will all agree at some point that self-publishing is “just another valuable” way to get a book out, when conditions and resources suggest it as the best course."
Anderson's post may not be as entertaining as Chuck Wendig's hilarious satire on "The publishing wars of 2014", in his blog terribleminds.com, but Anderson's accommodating attitude has to be the way forward. As writers we should support each other in our endeavours. We are not really in competition with each other, although it sometimes feels that way. It's not as if we are all chasing one reader, who is only ever going to buy one book. If someone reads my books and enjoys them, they may go on to buy one of yours.
When Stephen Zacharius speaks out on behalf of publishers, claiming that "Publishers are gatekeepers as are agents. We are filters as to what gets published," even he has to add "in most cases." As it happens, he's right in his general claim. Most self-published authors have been rejected by mainstream publishers, however much they like to shout about "choosing" the self-publishing route because it is financially more viable. Well, "in most cases" again, that isn't true. How can it be, when we read that 98% of self-published authors fail to even cover their costs. And I suspect that 98% doesn't take into account the time self-published authors spend on activities other than actual writing.
Of course there are exceptions. Self-publishing worked for EL James who made millions - after being picked up by a mainstream publisher. There are self-published authors who succeed in making decent amounts of money without support from publishers just as there are people who have survived being struck by lightning. One self-published author has achieved genuine bestseller status by working 80 hours a week together with her husband and two assistants.
Sadly every success story sparks a following of wannabes, seduced by the dream of replicating that success. Call me cynical if you like, but where there are hosts of wannabes, the legions of parasites are never slow to leap in, ready to exploit other people's dreams. I remember the first self-published author I met telling me how proud she was to be published. She had spent nearly as much as I had received as an advance for my first book. The sums didn't reach five figures for either of us. The difference did. Someone was making money out of her creative endeavour, and it wasn't her.
But this isn't really about money. People have argued back and forth about the figures, only proving the truth of the adage that you can prove anything with statistics. The facts are shrouded in obfuscation and mirrors - lots of mirrors - and no one really knows.
Porterson concludes that "we do seem to hear self-published authors extol their approach more frequently than we hear traditionally published authors do the same for theirs. Mind you, we don’t know what that means. But it does seem to be the case."
So I want to wave the flag for publishers. I'm often asked, "What's your publisher like?" My response is unequivocal. I love my publisher. He pays me to make up stories. He publishes my books. That means he does everything for me, apart from writing the books. That's my job. Because I'm am author. Not an editor, or a proof reader, not a jacket designer or a distributor, not a typesetter or a bookseller. An author. I don't have to worry about uploads, downloads, or truck loads. I worry about character development and plot structure. And the luxury of earning a decent living doing just that is priceless.