In both my own interest and for those who stumble across my blog, I wanted to find someone talking about the other side of the industry. Obviously there is one, but it seems like the self-publishing advocates are a lot more vocal in defense of their trade; probably because they feel as though they have to be. Like I mentioned before, there’s still a stigma and an aura of unworthiness attached to the self-published, even if it is beginning to fade. Luckily, I struck gold.
Steve Laube of The Steve Laube Agency posted a five part series called In Defense of Traditional Publishing. Steve is an interesting perspective on the subject because years ago he founded his own company called ACW Press (which has since been sold) to help authors self-publish their books, but he also has years of experience in the traditional (or legacy) publishing world. Part one (the introduction to the series) explains Steve’s background in the industry and explains why he’s posting on the subject. Part two is where Steve starts digging into the usefulness of the traditional model. For reasons of time and space, I’m going to let you read the whole series on your own if you’re interested, but over the next few days I’m going to go through the sections one by one and talk about some of the points that seemed particularly pertinent.
Part two talks about curation (in the literary, not art-museum sense), and points out what I’ve heard a few others mention: the traditional publishing model is a valid way to thin the herd, to give readers the knowledge that some “expert” somewhere has judged this book ready for publication. Is that a guarantee you’ll like that book? No. But someone did. I can definitely agree with this. Even a lot of the good self-published books I’ve read could probably have been better if they went through the editorial gauntlet. In response to the argument that with budget cuts and consolidation a lot of mid-list authors are disappearing from print, Steve says that it’s true in some instances but:
Our book purchasing patterns have shifted from a browsing activity to a searching activity. When you are online you cannot scan dozens of titles in a second to see what jumps out. Online we usually type (or click) a specific word, genre, or author name and search from there. The bestselling authors are placed in our peripheral view by the algorithms created by the vendor. The unknown author remains in obscurity. But in a brick and mortar store we stand in front of 500 or more titles in a section and browse where there is a chance that a new author or title will catch our eye. This is not a defense of one way versus the other, merely how we have shifted in our patterns.
The implication is that it is that much harder to stand out among the crowded data online. There are always exceptions like Amanda Hocking or J.A. Konrath in the ebook world and The Shack in the paperback book world. But exceptions do not make the rule. Without curation books like Radical by David Platt or Crazy Love by Frances Chan would not have been placed front and center for your attention.
He also uses an extremely illuminating example:
Put it another way. What if all 10,000 applicants to American Idol were given recording contracts and their music uploaded on iTunes today? How would you know what is worth your time, not just your money? Watching the early auditions of Idol makes one thankful there is someone curating.
Granted YouTube is, in a lot of ways, self-publishing for musicians, but it’s free and therefore doesn’t cost you anything but your time. The same can’t be said for books. There are a lot of free books on Amazon Kindle, mostly in the hopes you’ll come back to buy others from the author, but most of the books are at least a dollar. And, on top of that, you won’t just be spending a few minutes on the investment, you’ll pour hours into reading this single story. Sure there are bloggers and reviews on Amazon, but one of the best and worst things about the internet is anonymity. You can’t ever truly know how many of those glowing reviews are legitimate, how many were written by the author (or his/her friends and family), or possibly paid for. The traditional publishing brands give you a credible source to look to and sometimes that’s a relief when all you want is to find something worth three to twelve hours of your time.
Tomorrow I’ll look at Part Three: Editorial. This part I definitely don’t need convincing on, but it will still be fantastic to see what Steve has to say on the subject.