Experts on Publishing

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I saw this article, Self-Publishing and Community Experts: Are We Getting The Balance Right?, and was entertained by the author's skewering of some self-publishing "expert" stereotypes. It's all in harmless fun, right?

Towards the close, though, he says:

Few serious writers who self-publish their books spend any more than a book or two before realising they have to farm out these critical aspects to external professionals.

There are two problems I have with this statement:

  1. The grand generalization he makes about what "serious writers" do (and by extension if you don't do these things, you're obviously not serious) are right up there with the self-appointed pundits he satirizes in this article. Pot, meet kettle.
  2. The notion that going the traditional publishing route bears any resemblance at all to "farming out" work is pretty ludicrous. In traditional publishing, writers don't farm out work, writers are the livestock that the publishers milk, shear, and butcher to fill their product pipeline. Maybe this is an unfair characterization, but when you look at the contracts the traditional publishing houses (which in fact aren't all that traditional these days, being divisions of multinational finance corporations) are handing to authors, it's hard not to feel that the writers aren't farming out anything, but rather are the ones being farmed.

In general, none of us has very much clear information on the publishing industry. The traditional publishers don't share their data, except in self-curated summaries shared with trade press; and the independent publishers are far too new, varied and diverse to provide any coherent data, either. Hugh Howey's efforts to read between the lines of the public sales rankings on Amazon are a great help, but even then they recognize and admit the limitations of this approach.

The author of this article, Mick Rooney, falls into the same trap of hubris. It's easy to mock or criticize others for their blind spots (as I am admittedly doing here), but not so easy to recognize one's own.