After noticing most of the books I’ve read this year have been self-published I naturally asked myself the next logical question: why read them?
To support my fellow self-published writers?
Because they’re cheap?
Sort of, but I can afford more expensive books.
Because I want to brag that I have tons of books on my Kindle?
No, I don’t care about bragging or collecting.
I read them because they excite me.
Like everyone else I’ve been reading traditionally published books my entire life. When the Kindle came around and I could publish myself I jumped on it. Despite all that I wasn’t convinced that I would personally read anyone else’s self-published garbage.
Sound hypocritial? You bet, but I’m being honest. Even then I believed the hype, the bullshit about all self-published books being illegitimate and unreadable, even my own.
Later I received a $50 gift card to Amazon for Christmas and decided to go to town. I downloaded fourteen books and started reading. As I did it became clear to me that these books had indeed been edited by someone. They were nearly error-free, as good as the traditionally published books I’d been reading for years.
It also became clear that these authors knew how to tell a story. They hooked me in the beginning, they kept the prose tight, the plot clear. The characters and the dialogue were believable. The stories were compelling. I kept turning those electronic pages, wanting more.
One of the underlying characteristics I noticed as I finished reading book after book was originality. Some of these authors had voices unlike any I’d ever read. They told these stories in ways I’d never experienced before. And the stories they told were as distinctive as their voices.
Based on outward appearances traditional big publishers are keen to turn a profit; the bigger, the better. I’m totally okay with that, but let’s be honest and say it. Don’t claim that big publishing is the last bastion of “quality” books, protecting us from self-published garbage while they churn out more Snooki novels. Snooki’s turds are printed to make money, not to raise the collective consciousness or the room’s intelligence level. A claim of the latter is disingenuous and insults me as a reader.
Since many traditionally-published books are published for profit over art (it is a business, after all) it’s very easy to descend into homogeny. A book sells very well and lo and behold in six months there are a dozen more exactly like it. Publishers buy up the same types of manuscripts and hand them over to heavy-handed editors to make them read like all the others.
Books lose the spark of originality when unique manuscripts are turned down because they won’t sell a million copies. When publishers chase only profits we as readers often wind up with watered-down look-alikes, lining the shelves and taking up space that could have gone to something unique.
Self-publishing allows writers the freedom to push the envelope, to break rules and to push the status quo aside. If a traditionally-published book sells 5,000 copies, it’s likely considered a failure. But if a self-published book sells 5,000 copies it’s likely a smashing success for that author.
And guess who else wins? Those 5,000 readers who bought that book and enjoyed it, a book that only a few years ago would never have been considered because someone decided it wasn’t a cash cow or it wasn’t just like some other known quantity.
That said, there’s a lot of self-published garbage out there. I’ve sampled some books so poorly-written that I wanted to scratch out my eyes. When anyone can publish, anyone will publish. How do you wade through that crap to find the gems? Easy. You’ll find them the way you always have; recommendations and reviews. Word of mouth. The same way you find good movies and good music. The good stuff bubbles naturally to the top.
And what’s worse? Sifting through some poorly-written self-published books to find the gems or boring homogeny? Why would anyone want their choices limited?
Traditional publishing is going to stick around. They’ll continue to put out the same books, some good and some bad, but it’ll be profit-driven rather than art-driven. That’s all perfectly okay. For readers who want more of the same all’s well with the world.
Or maybe it’s like Devo said: freedom of choice is what you got…freedom from choice is what you want.
But for those who want something different, something unique, something that doesn’t follow the rules of the established, self-publishing provides unprecedented access to literally thousands of books that only a few years ago would never have seen the light of day.
With self-publishing now a viable alternative, readers have the option to choose: self-published, traditionally published, or some combination of both. Let the naysayers and elitists bemoan the downfall of literature all they want because in the end it’s the readers who win.
And that’s who all of us are writing for.