Digital publishing is mainstream. “Traditional” publishing is dead.
This is one of those articles I’ve tried hard to ignore–The Overselling of Self-Publishing–but it’s so exemplary of everything that rubs me the wrong way in how gatekeepers speak to creators that I’m moved to write about it.
The gist of the article is that self-publishing has been oversold to authors (probably so) and this is backed up with plenty of hand-wringing about the “impatience” of authors (ugh). Notably, I discovered this article when it was shared on Twitter by a literary agent I follow. I recently did a deep-dive on my own pursuit of a literary agent and my work ethic so I won’t reiterate my feelings on those issues. But even ten years ago, I was questioning why the indie rock and punk worlds celebrate DIY releases yet the book publishing world has forever scoffed at “vanity publishing.”
Here we are in the same place we were then. The gatekeepers are still standing athwart history yelling “slow down” while publishing continues to be disrupted. (Strange especially, since the author of the piece linked above and the author he most cites seem to work very heavily in new publishing models.)
I don’t hate the piece. I just dislike the tone it takes when it props up “traditional” publishing with ad hominems against impatient authors. Here are three professionals in the piece saying it:
Corbett: “I intend to save this and provide it to my editing clients, since so many of them feel too impatient to go the traditional publishing route…”
Friedman: “We have a serious epidemic of impatience.”
And the piece’s author, Anderson: “She’s right. Impatience. And it can cause you to circumvent a route that might have been a good one for you.”
My bad feelings about this huge section characterizing “impatience” as the chief motivator of self-publishing are captured perfectly by the first comment on the article from James Frieson:
Interesting article, but I don’t think impatience is why many people self-publish (it certainly wasn’t in my case), just as hating your boss isn’t the main reason why people become entrepeneurs.
Many people like to control their own careers and self-publishing allows them to do just that. And just like any industry, you get some who are diligent and work hard and others who do sub-standard work.
Anytime someone cites anything “traditional,” brace yourself because you’re about to hear a criticism of the power of disruption and your individual empowerment. This is another case of marketers telling artists how to make art instead of them figuring out how to sell it. “Stop being impatient. We know how to do this.” This attitude is antithetical to creating anything. You have to publish in order to close a project and start the next one. Ask Warhol.
It is true that the marketplace is crowded with the self-published. It is true that most self-published authors don’t consider their strategy for self-publishing. But as long as you are a thoughtful, creative maker, you will find self-publishing rewarding. Perhaps not financially so, but personally. Making art is just good for your soul. Ask Vonnegut. Whether or not you sell, it’s important for an artist to make art in public. That’s what separates the hobbyist or craftsman from the artist. Take off your blue jeans.
What holds us back almost as much as the silence of an indifferent world are the scolds who tell us how we “ought to work” rather than accepting how we work and doing their best to make us successful.
Agents, publishing houses, and marketers need to accept that “traditional” is dead. Digital, self-publishing is mainstream–whether it is music, business, or books. The more those gatekeepers to “traditional” publishing push back against self-publishing, the further behind they fall.