Indie/Trad Publishing

Lake Side Publishing House, by Lovejoy & Foster
Lake Side Publishing House, by Lovejoy & Foster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, Salon published an article in which Rob W. Hart opined on the situation between traditional and independent publishing. No neophyte in this debate, Hart self-published his novella, The Last Safe Place. He also serves as Associate Publisher for Mysterious Press, a digital publisher for classic and out-of-print crime and mystery novels. Given these credentials, and the supposed subject of his article, you would think Hart sits on the same sunny side of the self-publishing street with the likes of J. A. Konrath and Barry Eisler. And you’d be wrong.

For Hart specifies the reasons he self-published his work: a novella is too short to sell in a traditional deal, and, being on the one side of the eBook counter, he wanted the experience offered by the other side. Mostly, though, curiosity appears to have motivated Hart; he did not expect to get rich, find The New York Times Sunday Book Review breaking down his door, or have the world hail him as the Prophet of a New Digital Publishing Age. Instead, many, particularly those in the independent-publishing world (let’s dispense with the connotations of “self-publishing” right about here, okay?), hailed him as a pariah.

Hart can maybe blame himself for some of this keening. Calling anything a cult in the title of the article in which you examine said thing can cause that kind of a reaction. But, those readers going along with this gut reaction blind themselves with their own myopic view, and attempts to vilify him in the Comments section of the article pretty much just prove his point. And, anyway, shouldn’t authors worry about more pressing matters, like making sure the dog gets its flea medicine, or some other important activity, like writing?

Konrath himself is pretty clear about his position; if there’s to be any Prophet of The New Digital Publishing Age, he wants that title (if the proclamation doesn’t already hang from his wall). Weekly, he proclaims the efficacy of indie publishing, quoting his own considerable sales figures, inviting guest posts by indie authors or converts, all of whom have glowing things to say about either leaving the Big Bad Wolves behind in the dark forest of traditional publishing, or about how they found themselves listed among their heroes in the bestseller lists of traditional reporting media. Among his other proselytizing, Konrath makes clear that having success in independent publishing takes a lot of work and self-promotion, all of which he claims his traditional publishing deals left him responsible for in the first place, at least nominally. So, if he does the work, he should get all the dough. A hard position to argue.

Except that publishing houses do offer authors services, besides just selling the paper on which they print them. They either hire artists to create engaging cover art (or contract it out), hire a marketing department to pimp the books (or contract that out, too), and provide editors, sometimes very good, very talented editors, to help authors hone and polish their works into the diamond that each hopes lies at the bottom of the lump of coal with which they started.

However, plenty of people line up on the virtual corners of Main Street Internet and offer their services in precisely these areas. One can easily get into a chicken-and-the-egg argument concerning whether the indie publishing push took off before or after, with or without, the cottage industries of independent publishing support. However, that argument ignores the important point: a lot of people have found a way around the gate-keeper system. Sure, a lot of indie published work should have stayed half-digested in some corner of an author’s mind. But, do we need publishers to decide that for us anymore?

Look to Amanda Hocking, look to E. L. James (okay, maybe not). Most importantly, look to Hugh Howey. Starting as an independent, he parlayed the success of his work in the Kindle Direct Publishing system into print deals with Simon & Schuster, with one caveat, however — he kept his digital rights.

Mostly, that with which authors should concern themselves is control. But, this control entails more than just dreaming up fictions and arranging words on the page. Don’t think for a minute that the best of the best got there because they let everyone else do the work (outside of the real work of writing, of course; one must have a compelling story to tell and tell it well). We must have no doubt that the best understand that publishing is a business, which entails other kinds of responsibility, as well.

But, for now, the gates begin to open, and, ooh, baby, it’s a wide world. Hugh Howey and this concept of a hybrid author (aren’t labels such a joke, by the way? — but thanks to Chuck Wendig anyway) seem to be the real future of publishing, at least if any author worth his or her salt pays any attention to the other considerations, the other responsibilities. The last thing you want is to be the most celebrated novelist of your, or indeed of any time, and have a Sotheby’s auction of your paraphernalia come up relatively empty-handed.

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