I usually do not like to weigh in on this subject because I see value in both. However, today I will make an exception. Back in 1990 – yes, non-boomers, this indie trend began way back in the dark ages when Netscape was the only HTML game in town and the internet was just coming into its own with regard to public access – myself and a couple of other gamer/computer geek types saw internet publishing as the next big thing. E-pub was tried, but failed, because there was no platform to make hard sales – i.e. – no kindle, nook, iPad or other reading devices – the MS had to go to a desktop which is tedious.
The obvious reason for easily spotting this trend that merely required tweaking is that it gave access to digital formatting that had formerly only been held by traditional houses. By the early 2000s, even the big houses used offset printing for only large runs of books, while Lightning Source – gasp – the much maligned “POD” print house was being utilized by a number of the large houses. I doubt anyone today would disagree that since then, pretty much anyone can format a MS for e-book distribution and print runs with a conservative investment of time and brain function.
Once the reality of self publishing influencing the book sales market set in – and yes, it exploded with Amanda Hocking – then the predictable boom in titles happened. As with the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, some were good, some were bad, and some just ugly – witness, “Baboon Fart Story” or something, where this guy wrote 100 pages of the word fart or the like with a nasty photo on the cover. Hilarious and heinous all at once. Good grief and no joke, and it lasted 12 hours on Amazon.com. Although I give many snaps to the wunderkind who came up with that brilliant intellectual spark to test his/her theory that most companies like Amazon don’t even monitor what goes into the e-book ethersphere ( yes, I just made that word up so don’t bother looking it up). He was right, by the way.
Likewise and predictably, many traditionally published authors, editors, executives, and others making a living off the traditional model became shrill. They had to give up their rights for years – even if their titles did not sell or hit mid-market sales levels – they had to live on top ramen, etc. How dare the reading public ever give an upstart indie rogue element the time of day? Ah, ego again, so much ego invested in this debate. Yet the answer is pure and so simple: publishing ANYTHING is a business; and in business what is the goal? Ah, yes, to make money.
Not prestige, not fame, not fortune. None of these matter – nor will they happen – if a book does not SELL since that means nobody is making money. I don’t need to beg the obvious, but if nobody makes money because the book is not selling, you won’t gain the three ego-based motivators.
Besides, if an author is concerned only about egocentric issues like fame and prestige, you might want to try another business. That is just a goofy idea to begin with. Money is, was, and always will be the bottom line of ANY type of publishing endeavor, right? Tell me that you write for art and not money and I will laugh. The author, agent, publisher(s), and their respective staff who made the book happen all get paid. More importantly, they do it because they want to get paid one way or the other. This rule applies whether they are on a tradish house payroll or are independent contractors working with indie authors. Am I wrong? Did I miss something? I don’t think so – obviously I like rhetorical questions.
A blog by two respected authors that I follow – Pro Writers Toolbox – has been hashing out the issue of what the benefits and pitfalls of each form of publishing offer. I think the reality is that those starting out in this profession need to follow a hybrid business model that makes best use of both. The reason is simple: in 2014, they are both equally viable ways of making a living IF the author is “good” as indicated by the very objective criteria of whether the products (aka books) SELL.
I will probably get blasted by all of tweendom for this, but I do not really care – witness the phenomenal and inexplicable success of the Twilight series. I could go on for days about the flaws in this work, but the people who bought the book gave it phenomenal success – ironically, the same cannot be said for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit started out as a children’s book. Super irony: The Silmarillion is one of his best, yet least known, works and my personal favorite. Another little known factoid: he wrote all of these books to showcase his creation of languages – that drives the stories. It’s so cool but I digress yet again.
Yes, so Twilight was a phenom – the author hit the trifecta: book deal, movie rights, and royalties from both and on it goes. The publisher made a LOT of money. Likewise, Amanda Hocking, who has since signed on with a traditional house. Hocking’s success clearly lends credence to the theory of a hybrid model being the most effective use of a new author’s talent. Then there is the indie tradish phenom, “Go the F**K to Sleep” (my fave title ever, by the way) has yet to be sold off to a big publisher. It allowed a more truthful approach to the children’s book where parents, and what they go through, was finally outed in a hilarious manner. Predictably, the large houses poo-pooed it because of the non-p.c. language. Reality bites sometimes, but it was wonderful, effective and it sold like crazy. That house sent out PDFs to stimulate future sales. It worked.
I will always support the idea that both tradish and indie publishing are equally valid forms of written expression in 2014 and beyond. Self publishing is what it is, but I would argue that many tradish books suck. They are simply bad. Awful. Plech. Yet they sell. Oh wow, de gustibus non est disputandum – old dad at work there – there is no accounting for/disputing taste.
I also have a friend who makes a comfortable living at six figures a year selling her darker fiction. People snap it up. Once again this goes back to the main argument: if it sells, whether indie or tradish, then the author has a measure of success and should be proud of their accomplishment. Nobody should take that away from them by denigrating the format, forum, or method of putting book to market. The indie success stories are just as valid as the tradish ones, and it is high time to stop this crazy debate. The numbers tell the story. Both indie and tradish are alive, well, and making tons of money for the right people.