So much for corporate publishing

A rather idiotic article in the Huffington Post postulates that self-publishing is “An Insult to the Written Word“.  Here’s an excerpt.

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

. . .

I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

There’s more at the link.

In response, fellow author, blogger and friend Larry Correia has written one of his magnificent fiskings.

Oh… Wait… Laurie is being serious. Dear God.

At this point I realized that Laurie wasn’t providing writing advice for people who actually want to make a decent living as writers. She is providing advice to people who want to be aloof artistes at dinner parties, before they go back to their day job at Starbucks.

As for what Laurie says about gatekeepers, it is all horse shit. She has no flipping idea what she’s talking about.

Publishers are the “gatekeepers”. If they like you, you’re in, and if they don’t like you, you’re out. Problem is, at best they only have so many publishing slots to fill every year, so they cater to some markets, and leave others to languish. And at worst, they are biased human beings, who often have their heads inserted into their own rectums.

. . .

Editors try to make the author’s stuff better. Period. They aren’t gate keepers, because it is their job to make the stuff that got through the gate suck less (seriously, the HuffPo should hire one).  Only self-published authors can hire editors too. Andy Weir hired Bryan Thomas Schmidt to edit the original self-published The Martian. Last I heard that book did okay.

. . .

These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.

The problem is that “good” is subjective. What you personally think is “good” is irrelevant when there are a million consumers who disagree. I wouldn’t buy a copy of Twilight, but the author lives in a house made out of solid gold bars. “Good” is arbitrary. The real question is whether your product is sellable (and yes, it is just a product, get over yourself).

Again, more (a lot more) at the link.  It’s highly giggle-worthy.

The biggest single problem is that people like Laurie Gough (the author of the HuffPo article) are arrogating to themselves the right to prescribe how people like me should publish our books.  Unless we follow their One True Path, we’re beyond the pale, unworthy of consideration as ‘serious’ authors, beyond contempt.  Trouble is, her ‘gatekeepers’ of which she’s so fond have proven themselves to be unworthy of consideration too.  They’ve become obstacles to their own success, never mind anyone else’s, because they’re trapped in a big-business, big-bucks world of corporate success, rather than focusing on the creative artist and figuring out how to ‘monetize’ their creativity.  There are a considerable number of self-published authors (Larry CorreiaAndy Weir, Hugh Howey, and so on – I could name dozens) who are very successful indeed (some are multi-millionaires) – but who were rejected by untold corporate ‘gatekeepers’ before they became successful.  Rather than become discouraged, they stepped out on their own and succeeded anyway.  In many cases, that’s led to offers from and contracts with traditional publishers.  Others have remained independent, and are quite happy that way.

Simon Owens has pointed out that “Book publishers are incentivizing midlist authors to abandon them“.

So we have these [self-published] authors who have built up fanbases consisting of thousands of readers, readers who gladly shell out money for each subsequent book, and yet the publishers are abandoning these authors in droves. Why?

Well, over the past few decades, what was once a diverse publishing field has consistently coalesced, through acquisitions and mergers, into an industry with only four major publishers. What’s more, these major publishers are owned by even larger, multi-billion dollar media conglomerates:

Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

So when you’re a company that’s dealing with revenues in the billions (with a B), suddenly a product that can only sell a few thousand units and is ultimately “unscalable,” isn’t worthy of investment. So instead they invest in products that have the potential to not only sell millions of units, but also spawn spin-off merchandise and movie deals.

Amazon, with its ecommerce system and now its Kindle publishing platform, has figured out how to scale midlist authors, and is therefore willing to gobble up those writers the big publishers turn away, offering them a bigger cut of their sales in the process.

But this, I believe, is to the long-term detriment of the publishers. Because now a new generation of writers is growing up on the Amazon platform, using social media and email lists to market its books, and several of these writers will advance from selling merely thousands of books to selling millions. And once they’re selling millions of books and collecting 70 percent of each copy sold, it’ll be extremely difficult for those conglomerates to lure the authors back under their umbrella with the promise of a puny 10 percent of cover price royalty. By abandoning the midlist to Amazon, publishers are hastening their own demise.

More at the link.

I agree with Mr. Owens’ analysis.  Even though I had been traditionally published in non-fiction back in the 1980’s, I didn’t even try to get through the obstacles of the ‘gatekeepers’ before publishing my first efforts at fiction.  I knew it would be almost impossible to do so, given their present business structure and focus.  Instead, I planned on doing it myself, and began working on it as far back as 2005.  I kept hard at it for several years before I felt I was ready, and self-published my first novel back in 2013.  (You can read about my plans and progress in this 2013 article, if you’re interested.)  Thanks to your support, I’ve been able to achieve moderate success so far, and I look forward to even greater success in future.  What’s more, my self-published sales numbers were sufficiently large to interest a publisher in picking up my Western series, as well as some of my science fiction, so I now straddle the line between self- and traditionally-published works.  If I can do it, I don’t see why anyone who’s prepared to work hard and has a modicum of talent can’t do so as well.

So much for Ms. Gough’s argument . . .



  1. The problem is that the publishing houses really are gatekeepers, but they are inherently subjective. They tend to filter out anything which does not align with their corporate philosophy. I may even be ok with that as long as they accept the fact that other publishers and authors have and propose a different philosophy, but the fact is that is increasingly less the case as the whole Tor hoo-ha vividly demonstrated.
    Under this circumstances I'd like to keep a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the gatekeeper role so highly praised by Mrs. Gough and I'll keep buying self published books as long as they are interesting…
    As for Mrs. Gough she kan keep working with her publisher – nobody said she should switch to self publishing, but I'd prefer if she would restrain from lecturing on this topic and let the market filter the wheat from the chaff…

  2. Laurie Gough is brilliant! Her alma mater should be so proud! This woman needs to be the lead marketer for buggy whip manufacturers and whale oil salesmen the world over. The planet needs her spectacular intellectual skills!

  3. If I relied on traditional publishing and the agent system, none of my fiction books would ever have found readers. Cross genre, relatively short at a time that the tome-of-the-month was reaching its peak, a protagonist who works with a system instead of yelling "I am Wymyn, hear me ROOOOAAAARRR!" . . . not a prayer. thanks be that Amazon, and Kobo and Barnes and Noble, and Draft2Digital and other services are now available to get stories to readers and help readers find stories they like.


    PS. What is it with sushi in the reCAPTCHA? I've seen nothing but fish this past week.

  4. If I recall, JK Rowling's inital foray into the publishing world (with the Harry Potter series) was met with (I think) 12 publishing rejections.

  5. Let us take a look at that paragon of American literature, "Moby Dick."

    Written by the esteemed Herman Melville, it friggin bombed, tanked, flopped, languished upon bookshelves unread for forever. Then some pretentious, leftwing, limpwristed literary knucklehead publisher of an obscure, really obscure literary rag and list resurrected the overly pretentious twaddle known as "Moby Dick" or "Oh, God, this book is so queer and boring (to most high school readers) in the 1920's.

    So, considered a losing piece of crap for over 70 years, now is "An American CLASSIC" because, well, we should read it.

    I would rather read something not as literarily classic but a whole lot more fun. If I want to read punishing page count books, I'll go read a whole series of David Weber, and I'll enjoy it a hell of a lot more.

    1. I liked Moby Dick, and I doubt that I'm the only one. It is truly deserving of being a classic.

      Great Expectations, OTH, is dreck. At best, we can say it was instrumental in inspiring all the grey goo that befouls the bookstore shelves.

  6. "I now straddle the line between self- and traditionally-published works."

    That's right where you want to be, Peter. On the whole, indie authors out-earn tradpub authors, but hybrid authors get the best of both 🙂

    The Big Five have fallen into the same blockbuster-chasing trap as Hollywood. The problem is, everybody who thought they knew the magic formula for cranking out blockbuster books and films has turned out to be wrong.

    Amazon, on the other hand, know how to make the long tail work.

  7. I bought a Kindle 3 years ago. About 95% of what I have bought and read is self-published. Some of it is crap but some of it is just as good as that you get from the traditional publishing houses. I read mostly spy and covert op novels as well as alternative history. The self-published author cited in the linked article, Christopher Nuttall, is one who's stuff I've read. I think his novels are every bit as good as those of Harry Turtledove, who is also an excellent alternative history novelist.

    The spy and covert op stuff is often written by retired spec warriors and spies themselves, who actually know the background of the story that they are writing. This is also a genre of novel that the traditional publishing houses disfavor because it is too manly and patriotic and not left-wing enough for them.

    I think this is the REAL reason why HuffPo writers and their ilk resent people being able to bypass "gate keepers" in publishing. Its not that they want only good prose to be published. Its that they want only ideologically correct prose to be published.

    As a reader (and consumer), people like the HuffPo writers can go and get stuffed. Screw them and their leftist political ideology.

    Screw them in the ass.

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