Since I’m about to confer on myself the dubious honor of being a self-published author, I thought I’d try to find others like myself and read a few of their things.
In so doing I’ve reached a few conclusions.
First, that the most common sort of author to self-publish is the author of talent who is writing things that won’t make a publishing house any money. Let’s call them Unconventional Authors of Talent, or AUTs. These people are capable of writing works of substance which do not conform to conventional expectations in some way, and therefore are not likely enough to become popular that a publisher would sink money into them.
I think this happens a lot to well-read people who are uninterested in popular literary trends because their spiritual, aesthetic, literary and philosophical formation is widely different from those of their peers. They are speaking to people like themselves.
It might also happen to highly-intelligent people with learning disabilities or other neurological differences.
AUTs are often trying to write the sort of book that they themselves enjoy reading, and which they don’t find in any abundance on bookstore shelves.
So that is the most common sort to self-publish.
But I don’t know whether this is the best sort of author to self-publish.
Those who make a killing at indie publishing are still those who are writing things that publishing houses would gladly take on, but for whatever reason the author is flying solo anyhow. These people push their craft to acceptable levels, learn the business, hire editors and cover-designers, and successfully blend in to the market. They work hard to build their brand as an entertainer or informer, and treat writing and publishing like a job.
(There are also many charlatan-ish self-published authors who pay for a good cover design and marketing, and master the art of attracting the search engine spotlight, but the content of whose books is highly-formatted web sludge.)
I’ve been reading publishing blogs for at least five years now. I’ve read enough about the business and the professional standards that nothing anyone says about it sounds new to me anymore. A lot of other indie authors do this as well. Do AUTs in general bother to do this? Do they realize that the next step after writing a novel is getting someone to tear it down for you so you can re-build it, better?
My second realization, following on the previous considerations, is that AUTs must become more than authors – they must also become publishers. Therefore it is necessary for us to build publishing institutions. Flying solo is not an ideal. Professional standards are only possible when you are a member of a profession, and there was never a profession of one.
The psychology of the reader is involved in this need. I notice as I read a self-published author that I read with far less trust than otherwise, and I am sure that other readers experience the same phenonmenon. If you are writing for an intelligent audience, you must expect that they will be literate in the expectations and standards of the profession.
You must know exactly where you depart from convention, and why; and you must not allow yourself to be sloppy elsewhere.
I’ve read plenty of poorly-written, dull, and unoriginal books from conventional publishers, but I expect them to be professional, and I am usually not disappointed. As a result I am not embarrassed to have read them, even if I dismiss their content as more or less worthless.
In the works of AUTs, on the other hand, I find a consistent tendency to unevenness in editing, in style, and in technique. In other words, such books tend to be more substantive but less professional.
What can we do, then? I think that instead of rejecting traditional publishing as inherently flawed, we must form new institutions that meet our needs as authors while gaining the trust of readers.
This is basically what I am hoping to do with Heart Tree Books, although I’m in the very early stages of development. I want it to be a publishing consortium that takes advantages of indie publishing platforms (like Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace) to cheaply put out work that will not appeal to publishing houses but which nevertheless has merit. I want the Heart Tree Books symbol to become a badge of professionalism so that readers don’t see my books (and the books of others who I may be able to gather under its canopy) as suspicious but rather as truly independent.
I think other AUTs should form similar partnerships, consortiums, and book galleries.
As I see it, the best model for such a consortium is a model of moneyless trade. The end product – the books – would definitely be sold for money on the general market, but the editing, critiquing, design, and marketing would be traded amongst the members in exchange for other such services. If you can have the best by giving your best, irrespective of your ability to pay, I think quality would increase naturally.
In short, it is possible today to have output similar to that of a traditional publishing house without the overhead, and I believe it is this, rather than indie- or self-publishing, that unconventional authors of talent should be aiming at.
My primary current obstacle is how to approach currently-self-published AUTs about joining the consortium. Tact is required.