… and, I should add, I look forward to the day that I have a pink pony with a marshmallow mane who poops candy canes. In other words, I look forward to a day that’s not likely to come.

The debate: the efficacy of self-publishing. A friend of mine is developing a true-crime book that he is intent on self-publishing, for reasons that he has thoroughly researched and is thoroughly comfortable with. He is confident that his chances of making a go with it as a regional success are as good as, if not better than, they would be through a small press (the kind that would be most likely to take on a project like his). And the potential rewards — financial and personal — are much better. And you know what? I’m equally confident.

My friend has managed to annoy some of his friends with his aspirations. All too often, the blowback comes in the form of broadsides by what I’ll call establishment authors and editors — that is, the ones who have reached their station through the traditional publishing means. And that’s where I get annoyed. I think the traditional publishing establishment needs to decide where it really comes down on indie publishing. If the traditional houses and traditionally published authors are so above it, why all the low-level sniping at a bunch of ankle-biters? If the establishment isn’t above it all, then come out and acknowledge it: Savvy (an important word) indie publishers represent a threat to the status quo. If I’m to judge from what I read — big houses cutting editorial staffs and scaling back acquisitions (particularly of new authors), throwing more and more of the financial onus for marketing and publicity on writers and whiffing on books that can nicely satisfy niches rather than masses — it’s little wonder that authors new and established are giving the indie route an increasingly close look. And don’t fool yourself: They are.

One of the tired refrains I hear against indie publishing is that the quality is low. I might be willing to accept that argument if the same weren’t true for vast sectors of what passes for traditional publishing. I will concede that the barrier to entry is low in indie publishing, and thus there is a lot of noise out there. On this, you have to trust the market. One of two things will happen with the folks who jump over the smallest possible fence: They’ll not have the slightest idea what to do once they’re in the great current of publishing and will drown. Or they’ll figure it out and do better (been there, seen it, buying the time-share). This is not altogether different from a band that works up its sound and self-releases a few crappy albums on the way to becoming more proficient and more marketable. Slapped-together CDs, by their presence, don’t have much impact on your enjoyment of somebody good. What possible difference does a slapped-together book make to you, the discerning consumer? You’re not going to buy it anyway.

That’s why I look askance at the vehement arguments against indie publishing. If the crap books are the objection, the critics make too much noise for too small a problem. If the objection is that an author, if he’s any good, should prostrate himself before the traditional means, then I’m left to ask: Why do you care, really?

I’ve written about this before, and my stance is the same now as it was then. I welcome someone’s putting me out of the book business. Until someone does, however, I have as much right to enter the marketplace as anyone else, and I have enough pride to do it the right way (submitting to editing and peer review, commissioning a top-notch cover, forming partnerships with printers and distributors, working hard for reviews and other publicity, etc.). I am a bit different from my friend in the sense that I’m not likely to crow about the means of publishing — indie or traditional — when my next book hits the marketplace. It’s a secondary, perhaps even tertiary, issue. The question will be: Is it a good book? That’s where more of us should be focusing our attention. 

In the meantime, some links worth considering:

A primer on the economics of publishing:
http://www.genreality.net/publishing-economics-101

Attitudes toward self-publishing:
http://zoewinters.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/current-attitudes-toward-self-publishing/

A publishing person self-publishes:
http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2009/05/04/guest-post-a-publishing-person-self-publishes/

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