What are we entitled to?

I want to start off this post with a disclaimer: there are many, MANY reasons to choose self-publishing over industry publishing, and a lot of authors go to great lengths to make sure that a self-published product has been revised, edited, re-edited, and polished to present a professional work.

Unfortunately, self-publishing still has a strong stigma attached. At this point I have only published short stories and poems, and have done so in literary magazines and e-zines. I’m working on a number of novels and, when I have finally written one that is good enough to be seen by a wide audience, the time will come for me to decide whether I want to start sending letters to agents, or to hire an editor and try to self publish. And whenever I speak to other writers (also unpublished) about the possibility of self-publishing, they wrinkle their noses and their eyes dart nervously from side to side.

They all have different ways of expressing their opinions, but at the end it comes down to ‘well, people who self-publish are the people who can’t sell their novel to a publishing house.’

This is untrue and grossly unfair (see the disclaimer above). This label might apply to some people who, upon getting a couple of rejection slips, decided to skip the process and publish their novels themselves. But it will never apply to everyone, and in pondering a way to make self-publishing a bit more acceptable to the wider eye, I started wondering what would happen were some kind of standard imposed – some kind of proof of editing, of care prior to obtaining an ISBN.

Firstly, I don’t know how plausible that would be. Probably completely impossible to enforce.

Secondly, it led me to think: are people entitled to publish their books? Is it something we all deserve to do, whether we can write or not?

One could superficially argue that the publishing industry says No. But it has become evident recently that publishing houses have to balance their books and an editor is as likely to choose something that is good as he or she is to choose something that is a more probable bestseller. Thus we have genre ripoffs (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, you name it) as well as good, original work.

At this point, the setup of the self-publishing industry implies that yes, everyone is entitled to publish. While writers who are serious about the craft and concerned for their reputations will do everything possible to make sure that their books are well-crafted and indistinguishable in quality from traditionally published books, I could theoretically put all of my blog posts into one manuscript, sans editing, and turn it into a ‘book.’

I would argue that everyone is entitled to write, if they want. Just like I’m entitled to sing in the shower, and to buy a little canvas and a set of paint brushes. But to what extent are we entitled to publish? If there is no quality control on self-publishing, isn’t there a danger that readers will lose the ability to distinguish bad from good? Will we perpetuate a downward spiral? And worst of all, will we use generalization to blacken the names of people who don’t deserve it?

Thoughts are always welcome.

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5 thoughts on “What are we entitled to?

  1. obiwannabe says:

    I think you could argue that traditional publishing is no guarantee of quality either — or, perhaps more importantly — no guarantee of innovation.

    I don’t know if ‘entitled’ is the right word — but I think that the barriers to self-publishing have fallen to such a minor economic and technical hurdle, that we have to ask ourselves the question: why not?

    We’re kind of in the Wild West when it comes to digital publishing, and the old press houses haven’t quite worked it out yet — and the tools they would use are laying around, easily accessible by lowly artists like you and me.

    • forgingshadows says:

      I definitely agree that traditional publishing doesn’t ensure quality. Publishers have to look out for the bottom line at the end of the day, and sometimes that means printing a book that they think will sell no matter how bad it is.

      Regarding the question, “why not?”, I think I prefer to ask, “why?” Why am I writing a novel? Why do I think it’s worth publishing? What am I going to get out of it? If the answers to those questions are personal rather than economical, I think that the quality of the work is likely to be higher than if someone just decided he or she could knock out a bestseller.

      • obiwannabe says:

        Ha — agreed. I think you should self-publish because you want to get your art our there – maybe because it’ll lead to some money waaaay down the road – but mostly for the love of the act itself.

        There’s something very exciting and empowering about the thought that I can offer a physical and digital version of my work without having to kowtow to all the gatekeepers that stand in the way of traditional publishing.

        If you’re self-publishing because you think you’re going to unleash the next ’50 Shades’ Miracle Success Story, then you’re basically deluding yourself.

        Do it because you can, because you must, because it’s innately a cool thing to do.

  2. Great topic. You clearly embody everything that is good about self publishing, even though you haven’t done it yet, because you think of self publishing as something that needs to be done after the book has been professionally edited.

    There are a lot of people who use self publishing as a get out clause, and forget that self publishing isn’t ‘put your book up for sale’, it’s everything that goes with publishing (writing, editing, marketing, packaging, etc) that you have to do yourself.

    Personally I don’t think I’ll ever self publish a novel (although I’m open to the prospect) simply because I need the achievement. If I hadn’t had an obstacles to overcome (like getting an agent, then landing a book deal), I wouldn’t feel that I’d achieved anything, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile for me.

  3. MishaBurnett says:

    I believe in the power of the marketplace to ensure quality. Anyone can buy a guitar or a paintbrush, but not everyone can get people to listen to his music or buy her paintings.

    Right now the marketplace for the written word is in a state of flux–readers have for so long relied on publishing houses as gatekeepers that the grassroots mechanisms for filtering the gold from the dross have atrophied, but they are returning, and quickly.

    Instead of a top down critical paradigm–the publishers tell the people what they can and cannot read–we are seeing the rebirth of populism is literary tastes. People tell their friends about good books, there are book clubs and review blogs and reader review sites.

    Given the speed of the internet, a good book can be passed around to millions of people in a month, while a bad book will be read by few, enjoyed by none, and ignored by the world.

    The function of judging quality has just been passed from a few executives to the reading public at large, and I think that’s a good thing for both readers and writers. Honestly, I think that the term “self-published” will be meaningless in a few decades, because there won’t be any other way to publish. What gave the big publishers their power was a monopoly on the avenues of distribution, without that, there is nothing that an author can’t do personally or have done on a contract basis.

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