No, this is not another Fifty Shades of Grey post. Nor is it about the BDSM lifestyle—there will be no talk of red rooms or inner goddesses or whips and chains. Unless, of course, we’re speaking of the whips and chains we’re all mutually using on each other in the publishing industry. Because, let’s face it, this unnecessary publishing war smacks of a weird S&M relationship.
Actually, it seems like everyone (read: authors) tends to view the publishing industry, new and old, as a fierce (and sometimes involuntary) power exchange relationship.
The “old” publishing industry has a reputation of being a little bit B&D—bondage and dominance, if you’re not in the know. Authors see themselves as the submissives—and the publishers, editors, and lit agents were all seen as the dominants or masters of the publishing world. They held the whips and controlled the authors in every aspect of the publishing process. Is that true? Eh, to an extent, maybe. But it’s not like publishers were or are these sadistic angry anti-author maniacs, hellbent on putting an author in their place while stuffing their own pockets to the brim. Publishers were head of the household because they came with an entourage of knowledge, experience, and capability.
The reality is publishers needed authors. Yes, they needed them. They still do. And authors need publishers. *Gasp* Yes, I just said that—feel free to get the pitchforks ready now. What I say next may make a few people unhappy.
In this new publishing land, the indie authors are banding together to rise up and fight the evil publishers, and the mob mentality is being stoked by the Mark Cokers, Hugh Howeys, and JA Konrath’s of the industry. Do they make some valid points? Of course. Quite a few of them. And they’re all successful in each of their respective roles. But what about the lesser-knowns? The bottom of the food chain indie authors—some of them are mediocre storytellers, not-so-great self-editors and marketers, and they can’t churn out ebooks like the Duggars spit out kids. And those are the few major traits that help these self-publishing success stories (Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath—they’re all either great storytellers, great self-editors, aggressive marketers, and/or they can write a book faster than you can say “bestseller.”
Because the truth is, there is an oversaturation of self-published books and authors—some great, some honestly terrible. We turned our backs on the landscapers and now the overgrowth is getting out of hand. Are there some amazing things blossoming amongst the weeds? Definitely. But just like an overgrown garden, it’s hard to see the beauty when you can’t prune back the weeds.
And there’s a reason why “self-publishing” still carries a stigma: so many fledgling self-published authors are like teenagers just hitting puberty—they’re still a bit sloppy, still messy, and quite awkward. And a lot of them are latching onto that mob mentality, shooting daggers at the Big Five, unaware that the self-publishing world is essentially the same game as before. Only now, many authors have to work twice as hard, write twice as much twice as fast, and spend twice as much of their own money to market their own books without any help or backup or support…ya know, if they actually want to be successful—all in the name of taking back control from the publishers. Because other self-published authors aren’t your friends or your support group. Yes, you’re all in it together, but be honest, the self-publishing world is the new Hunger Games and it’s all about survival of the fittest. So, yay for the Peetas and Katnisses who make it out alive, but it’s going to be a sad day for all the Rues and Foxfaces.
See, I’m going to tell you a little secret: we don’t need to be at war. The self-published authors who have what it takes to succeed should absolutely keep pushing forward—they’re game changers and they’re doing a service to help foster a new publishing industry that is innovative and modern and adaptable. But the rest, the ones who are either too green to navigate this new self-supporting industry or not aggressive enough to want to should be seeking a little support, a little guidance, and a lot of experience. Where can they get all that and still have in-house editors, marketers, and bestseller-making figureheads? The publishers. And the publishers who are digging their heels in trying to recapture the glory days of yesteryear? They need to innovate—or die. Because that’s part of the problem—the old problem that is creating the new problem—publishers don’t want this change and authors do.
As the great Don Henley once crooned in the 70’s rock ballad, “Hotel California,” “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”
Really, that about sums up the publishing industry. We’re all in this together. We all love words and stories and books. We all choose to be here, in this profession, whichever side we’re on—the publisher side, the marketing side, the editing side, the authorial side, even the readers are part of the publishing industry today (in fact, you could say the readers actually crack the proverbial publishing whip). We’re not gatekeepers versus the oppressed. We’re not us vs. them. That kind of thinking only results in an unnecessary war in publishing.