This post, by Henry Baum, originally appeared on The Self-Publishing Review on 9/13/12.
It’s odd that the recent firestorm about paid reviews and unscrupulous self-publishers has actually rekindled my love of self-publishing. Ever since Amanda Hocking, the vibe around self-publishing has been money, money, money. On the one hand, I was grateful for this because it put self-publishing on the map: money talks. On the other hand: this is the worst determination of value and pretty much what’s wrong with the world, and publishing in general. The reason that I fled traditional publishing (after having a series of agents and traditional contracts) was because of the overemphasis on marketing and past sales. Publishing was all about a numbers game.
My support for self-publishing has been about self-expression – every writer should have a chance to express themselves in print or ebook, no matter how flawed those books may sometimes be. The slippery slope of the traditional publishing industry suggests that many, many interesting and/or adventurous books are not getting published. That’s a loss to the culture at large. This is self-publishing’s value – intellectual freedom, not the freedom to be independently wealthy. Of course, it’d be great to have the latter, but the former is more important.
And so it’s somewhat vindicating to see the greed impulse in self-publishing sort of fall apart. It’s also eye-opening about all the successes that have happened. Frankly, it’s always been kind of mysterious why one book totally takes off and another one does not. This has been chalked up to the ephemeral “word of mouth,” but in some cases that word of mouth was fake. On many books with 100+ reviews, you’ll inevitably see, “This book is terrible. All those 5-star reviews must be family…” I always chalked it up to bitter reviewers, but it turns out some of them were right. I’d look at a book with a terrible cover, terrible synopsis and think, This is what people want to read? It was pretty depressing. It turns out readers really didn’t want to read those books.
I’ve had my differences with JA Konrath for a long time. In the past, he crapped all over self-publishers because they didn’t have the approval of a publishing “professional.” Then he became a self-publishing convert, because evidently $ speaks louder than a publisher’s approval. It irked me that he would continually trump up his income. This can be useful to see how self-publishing is progressing and “legacy” publishing is archaic, but his impulse was to highlight all the money-makers to prove his point, rather than people who are writing good books, but might not be selling a lot. Those people don’t fit into JA Konrath’s narrative, even though they’re the writers who might need the attention more.