I came across a troubling comment on a blog the other day. The writer said she’d never read a self-published book — and never would — because such work lacked quality. Leaving aside the obvious fact that it’s impossible to judge any book without reading it, the clear assumption is that traditionally published books are always of superior quality.
This is simply wrong.
A book of poor quality may make it into publication for any number of reasons:
- The manuscript arrived on an editor’s desk as a serious hole opened up in the publishing schedule.
- A new genre sprang up overnight, and manuscripts written in it are being rushed into print.
- The author is stellar at promotion, though his or her writing is subpar.
- The author won a contest with three great chapters, but the rest of the book failed to follow through.
- The agent pitched the book at a three-hour, three-martini lunch.
- The agent represented a fabulous new author the editor wanted, but the work of the author’s friend came with the deal.
- Fans of a best-selling author will read anything she writes.
- The best-selling author turned in a manuscript too late for rewrites.
- The editor fears a famous author will leave the publishing house if her manuscript receives heavy editing.
- The editor had a romantic weekend so everything looks rosy.
A book may be turned down for reasons other than quality, as well:
- Its genre seems to be losing steam and publishers are wary of it.
- The publisher’s list is full, so they aren’t buying at present.
- The book is so unusual it will be difficult to promote.
- It isn’t “sexy,” enough, meaning it lacks broad commercial appeal.
- It’s such a mix of genres that booksellers won’t know where to shelve it.
- The sales department labeled it a hard sell.
- The author lacks promotional skills.
- The story will take too much time to edit.
- The manuscript is too long or too short.
- The editor was having a bad day.
If you conclude that much luck and a truckload of conformity is involved in getting a book traditionally published, you’re exactly right. For those tired of waiting for fortune to smile, or whose muse doesn’t conform, there is self-publishing or, more accurately, independent publishing.
Today, the vast, hugely diversified community of online readers means a market may be available for books of practically any genre or combination thereof, any style and any length. Niche publication–writing for a small but dedicated audience that gets what you’re doing–is entirely possible; a book doesn’t have to appeal to millions to be viable. Promotion no longer means traveling, giving speeches, or sitting in malls for book signings where few people show up; it can be done online while dressed in jeans or pajamas.
Beyond this, many of the books being released as independent works these days were traditionally published in the past. Droves of best-selling, award-winning authors are acquiring the reverted rights to their backlist books and putting them online. They prefer 35 – 70% royalty rates to leaving these stories with former publishers where they garnered the standard 10-15% in hardcover or 6-10% in mass market paperback. Yes, and also where creative accounting practices sometimes cheated them of even these miniscule rates. After seeing the returns amassed by these books, large numbers of these authors are putting their original fiction online as well.
In short, the reader who refused to sample any of the 5 million independently published books available today is not only seriously misguided, but is depriving herself of countless hours of reading pleasure.