This article, by David Vinjamuri, originally appeared on Forbes.com.
I love books. Physical books. Books that sit in my lap and warm it like a sleeping pup. Three and a half years ago, I had an e-reader unwillingly thrust upon me. I ignored it at first; shunned it. Then one day I was packing for a long trip and it came on me in a flash that if I used the damned thing I wouldn’t have to limit myself to five pounds of books in my luggage.
Since then I read more ebooks than physical books. I buy a lot more books, too. Last year I noticed that books were getting cheaper, but the writing was getting worse. It started to get harder and harder to shop the Kindle store because I was either upset by the price of a book or the quality of its writing. Accidentally, I had stumbled upon the new face of self-publishing.
My experience reflects a profound and wrenching transformation of publishing that is shaking the industry to its roots. The beneficiaries of the existing order – major publishers and their most successful authors have become the most visible opponents of the turmoil that these “Indie” authors have introduced.
Which is too bad, because careful examination suggests that this period of chaos will eventually yield significant rewards for both authors and consumers. It even points a way forward for traditional publishers who have faced years of declining profits.
Is Indie Publishing Good or Bad for Authors?
I interviewed mega-bestselling techno-thriller author Brad Thor (whose new book Black List has already given me paranoid nightmares). Thor is unequivocal in his support for the existing system:
The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.
Thor is being polite. When successful mainstream authors let their guard down, stronger words flow. Just listen to the 32-time bestselling author Sue Grafton (as interviewed by Leslea Tash for LouisvilleKY.com):
To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall
Why do mainstream authors dislike Indie publishing to the point where some even disagree with the coined term “Indie”? It comes down to worldview. Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold. But this is demonstrably untrue. The most famous counter example is that of John Kennedy Toole.