I recently read an article called “Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word?” written by Laurie Gough and was confronted with the question:
Why do people choose to self-publish rather than traditionally publish through publishing houses?
Of course, this is a very open ended question and everyone who chooses to self-publish will have their own reasons, but with the continual increase in people choosing to self-publish, there must be some sort of overarching appeal, right?
In her article for the Huffington Post, Laurie Gough, an award winning author and journalist, takes a tough stance against self-publishing in favor of traditional publishing going as far to say, “I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish”. Her biggest problem with the self-publishing industry is that “it requires zero gatekeepers”. That is, when you self-publish, your book doesn’t need to be approved or validated by any sort of agent, editor, or publisher – it can go directly to the shelf (or rather, web page) – which can create credibility issues, especially with non-fiction works.
In an interview with Cynthia Good, former president of Penguin Publishing, she also expressed the idea that “the quality [of self-published books] is inconsistent and there are so many of them, so it’s very difficult to weigh through those numbers to find the books that might be worthy of winning a prize or even being talked about in a newspaper or reviewing magazine.
The inconsistent quality of content and the sheer mass of self-published books has proven to be a disadvantage for many authors that just seem to get lost in the masses – which is initially what happened in 2015 when Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo self-published a 631 page work of fiction about a war between Russia and the U.S. This book went up for sale on Amazon, unnoticed, for $0.99 until it was discovered and attracted a host of Canadian news outlets. Days after news stories aired the book vanished from Amazon (who refused to comment on any action taken but likely removed the book to calm the controversy).
While I see how this can be argued as a man having freedom of speech, it is people like this that take away any connotation of professionalism associated with the title “self-published author” . This story does show us that virtually anyone can publish anything and be considered a published author. So with all different types of people able to self-publish, the title “self-published author” lacks credibility – even a serial killer can be one from jail!
So why self-publish?
According to Morris Publishing‘s website, the benefits of self-publishing are time, profit, ownership, niche, locality, and control. Of these six benefits the two that stand out the most to me are time and ownership / control.
In the article “Virtuality and différance in the age of the hyperreal”, Hania A. M. Nashef examines reality in relation to hyperreality (via screens and the internet). But what I am most interested in is Nashef’s acknowledgement that at times there is more urgency in the realm of hyperreality – for example, when you get a text notification most people feel inclined to look at it right away despite what they are currently doing in reality.
Since self-publishing is virtually completely dependent on the internet and the self-publishing platforms within (such as CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, or Smashwords), I would assume that more urgency is also placed on the online self-publication process as opposed to traditional publishing in Canada where you need to seek out a real agent and send manuscripts to real publishers.
More specifically, it is not uncommon for a book to take over a year after it’s been written to go through the entire traditional publication process – it takes quite a while and undoubtedly feels even longer for the author eagerly anticipating their final published book.
But if an author chooses to self-publish, they have full control over the publication process and thus can publish their book as quickly as they’d like – they don’t even have to hire an editor if they don’t feel like it! You can basically write a book (or short story or anything), set a price, give it a cover, and click “publish” – poof, it’s up for sale on amazon.
This immediacy associated with self-publishing would appeal to the masses of people who are becoming increasingly accustomed to the instant nature of hyperreality – getting liked right after posting a picture on social media, instant messaging, and the world wide web at our fingertips with high speed internet.
The quick publication process and instant gratification of being able to call yourself a “published author” tie perfectly into this high-speed technological era we are currently living in.
Ownership / Control
North America is a widely individualistic culture – that is, value and emphasis is placed on people as individuals with their own opinions and unique traits rather than viewing people widely in groups.
This individualistic culture is perfectly illustrated through social media and even through blogs as people talk about themselves and create their own ‘unique’ identities and personas.
So when it comes to self-publishing people who are accustomed to an individualistic culture would be more attracted to the premise of having complete control over their book – they can choose how or if the book is edited, design the book cover, set the price, and market the book as they see fit. The author is not required to rely on anyone else (aside from the self-publishing platform / website) to help publish their work.
This immediacy and individualism reinforced by modern technology creates a perfect environment for the self-publishing industry to flourish.
So what do you think is driving the self-publishing industry despite it’s lack of ‘professionalism’?
Be sure to keep an eye out for my next post which will take a look at the relationship between social media and authorship. Are you more likely to get a publishing contract if you have lots of twitter followers?
Stay tuned to find out! 😉
If this post looks familiar to you, that may be because this is a repost from a blog I made for a class a few months ago – I’ll be transferring everything over to this account over the next few weeks!