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Letters from Proxima Thule

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A Note Regarding Yesterday's Post
c is for cat
None of it was meant to say that self-publishing cannot work--there are many kinds of self-publishing, and when passionandsoul  self-publishes his books on rope bondage, or alexandraerin  puts her stories online for donations, or haikujaguar  sells her books and art through her own site, these are obviously positive things. They are also unique, high quality, and not representative of any way of the experience most people will have in self-publishing. And it needs to be pointed out that my own success in that field is directly related to my traditional publishing career, not despite it or separate from it.

I like the cottage industries of etsy and Livejournal, I like the work of independent artists--but not simply because they are independent. And I don't want the entire world to become etsy. Most of my friends can barely get seen over there as it is, let alone make a living. 

Obviously I am as invested in the online donation model and crowdfunding as I am in traditional publishing. Which is why I would rather not be drowned in a wave of unedited horrorshows because a huge number of artistic paths and options got removed through the death of publishing. It's about choice. I should be able to choose as an artist to sell my own work however I like, or have it sold for me if that's what I want. Reducing choice is rarely good, and that's what Amazon is really doing: trying to reduce readers ability to choose anyone but them. And writers, too--let's not forget their attack on POD presses a few years back in all this.

What I said was that the self-publishing world contains vastly more badness than goodness, and navigating the reader toward your own work is brutally hard when most authors do not have concurrent training in marketing, professional graphic design and book packaging. This is not a controversial statement. All it means is that the good self-published projects out there are in desperate need of funding and attention because it's true even now that they are much harder to find than a book in a bookstore or on an online bookseller. (Check crowdfunding )

As for the idea that New York level editing is available free or cheap from your nearest writer-group buddy, I can only say I hope that one day those who think that get to work with a top-level editor, and find out what an amazing, transformative experience that can be, how it can help them grow as a writer in ways they couldn't imagine on their own, sort of by definition. Then ask that editor how much they get paid.

Self-publishing has so many defenders, crusaders, and zealots. It is not in any danger. It will always be an option. But options are what is in jeopardy right now.

To manglequote a favorite movie: Amazon is Amazon's friend!

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To me, the weird thing is that reasonable people like you and Jay Lake are reacting to all this death of publishing nonsense as if it were an actual possibility... (well, I realize you're airing your views to explain things that perhaps should be obvious to people who don't get it. But still.)

I have no doubt that self publishing will grow as it becomes easier to produce and distribute ebooks on your own. However I do not expect publishers to say, oh well, I guess we'd better shut down... I expect them to continue to produce books, and do everything in their power to remain in business, including evolving in various ways to remain technologically current. I expect the majority of books read to continue to be books that exist in a physical format, in book stores and libraries. Most importantly, I expect that readers will pay money for the books they really want to read, which are written by the writers they know, and the writers they know are published writers. If all those writers start self publishing, that'd be one thing, but I don't expect that. Some people will be interested in a free or very cheap ebook by an unknown, to check it out, but they will still want their Stephen King book, or their Robert Jordan book, or their Palimpsest, and the retailer that continues to offer those books will be the one who gets their money.

I don't know. The only way I see publishing dying is if authors decide to abandon traditional publishing and self-publish en mass. And if that happens, then it will be ok, because the authors wouldn't do that unless it was better for them that way. As you said, if a company offered to do what publishers do, authors would line up to participate. As long as that's the case, publishing's not going anywhere.

At least that's how it seems to me.

PS I support you guys, I hope my sometimes reflexively combative tone doesn't obscure that. It's definitely unfortunate that some authors are taking a financial hit due to this foolishness. But I don't think the industry is about to crumble or anything.

I don't think so either, which is why I posted this.

To me, the paragraph in the original post about how if publishing did die somebody would set up a publishing house and authors would flock to it illustrates why it's not going anywhere. It fills a need. I believe self-publishing is going to go to some amazing places because trad publishing doesn't and can't (and shouldn't realistically be expected to) fill every need.

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