This week I’m continuing my series on Kindle publishing with a look at the credibility issues associated with self-publishing. Yesterday I talked about the perspectives of publishers (who hate it, with dollar signs in their eyes) and readers (who really don’t care where a book comes from, as long as it looks and reads professional).
The ultimate significance of that analysis is that neither party really matters. The legacy publishers’ opinion hardly matters to a self-published author, except inasmuch as it could hurt a possible future legacy publishing career. But Amanda Hocking’s story directly refutes that — the darling of the Kindle publishing revolution was not only able to find a legacy publisher, she commanded an intense battle in an auction that ended with a multi-million-dollar deal.
And, of course, the readers’ general indifference frees a writer from any real concern about backlash from potential buyers. The only opinion left with any significance, then, is the writer’s own. And, tragically, that has proved one of the largest obstacles to Kindle publishing.
Over the course of the last year, this topic has become the central focus of J. A. Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. That blog is targeted directly at writers. He certainly has some dedicated fans of his work in his readership, and he tries from time to time (with little apparent hope) to offer advice to members of the legacy publishing industry, but it’s clear in his choice of topics, in his approach, and in his appeals that he is speaking almost entirely to writers.
And he’s encouraging them, again and again, without hesitation, to dedicate themselves to Kindle publishing. This is a man with enviable success in the field, and extensive experience that has been shared on the record. For years he’s been experimenting and perfecting his own Kindle publishing model, and for most of that time he’s handled the question, “Should you self-publish,” with a carefully-worded, “It depends.”
In December 2010 he officially changed his answer to a resounding, “Yes.” He posted an article titled, “You Should Self-Publish” in which he reviewed all the factors involved in that decision.
In that article, he started with a primarily financial analysis but then moved on to a rhetorical question-and-answer section that dealt directly with some of the largest questions of credibility. Below, we’ll consider two of the more significant issues he addressed.
Publishers as Quality Control
Konrath started with a question that could be posed by a hypothetical reader (which is to say, a potential buyer), but it’s important to remember he’s writing to other writers. This isn’t necessarily a question of genuine concern to readers (as we discussed in yesterday’s post), but it’s one writers worry about readers worrying about.
Q: But I need the traditional publishing gatekeepers in order to know my book is good enough. Aren’t you concerned a whole bunch of wannabes will flood the Kindle with self-pubbed crapola?
A: Decades ago, pulp writers learned to write while on the job. Early books by many of the greatest mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, and romance writers, weren’t very good. But getting paid allow those writers to improve, and become the masters we now revere.
If you write crap, it probably won’t sell very well. But you can learn from it and get better. You can rewrite and revise your early work to improve it. With self-publishing, readers become the gatekeepers, and if you work hard, keep an open mind, and learn from your mistakes, you’ll improve as a writer.
Konrath’s response leans on the publishing of yore, but even in the strictly limited access of the legacy publishing industry, we’ve seen the same thing. It is extremely common (expected, even) for a writer’s craft to improve over the years. It’s also commonplace for a writer’s early works (perhaps works rejected with an alarming frequency) to see easy publication once that author has achieved success with a later title.
Readers as Gatekeepers
The writer’s problem with credibility in self-publishing, then, isn’t one of overall credibility but of immediate credibility. But Konrath would argue that it’s not the publication of the book that creates legitimacy, it’s the quality of the work. A book that’s good enough to sell in large quantities is, on its own, “good enough.”
In his characteristically frank language, Konrath calls out the legitimizing effect of publication, reviews, awards, and shelf space.
Years ago, self-pubbing was called “vanity publishing” because it existed to appeal to the writer’s ego.
Joining organizations, winning awards, getting into newspapers, and seeing your books in bookstores and libraries all seems like it caters directly to a writer’s vanity.
As a writer, I could give a shit what the New York Times thinks of my latest, or if MWA gives me an Edgar award, or if I’m on a shelf in the Podunk Public Library. Those are all ego strokes.
I care about money, and reaching readers, and none of these things are necessary to make money or reach readers.
So how does a writer go about making money and reaching readers in this new digital marketplace? The answer is self-promotion, and it depends upon the emerging digital supernetwork. We’ll talk about that next week.