Traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers

Does self-publishing represent a threat to traditional publishers, or perhaps an opportunity? A number of people in the publishing industry seem dismissive of self-publishing writers or their numbers. But Philip Jones of FutureBook thinks that this is a mistake. He notes that readers who buy cheap self-published books will be spending time reading them that they might otherwise have spent reading more expensive works from traditional publishers.

What strikes me most about indie writers, however, is not what they write, but how they publish it. Konrath may be a ‘downmarket’ writer for some, but he is a first-rate publisher for many, as was Hocking: they wrote regularly, priced to the market, and promoted like hell. Heinze and Wilkinson may be looking for publishing deals: they just can’t be bothered waiting for traditional publishers to “discover them”.

Traditional publishers need to learn from these successes, if they are to throw off the irritating “legacy” tag some self-published writers hang around their necks.

He suggests publishers should be trying models similar to that floated by Macmillan New Writing (which is unfortunately closed for new submissions right now when it should be scooping up all the fresh “indie” talent it can). They should be building communities and courting the more successful self-published authors (as with Amanda Hocking).

All that makes sense, but the article’s close in which Jones suggests that badly-edited and poorly-presented self-published e-books will put readers off over time, and traditional publishers could improve their appearance, is actually rather amusing. I find myself wondering just where Jones has been over the last few years if he thinks that “professional” e-books are uniformly well-edited or presented. I’ve seen plenty of self-published works that were better than some pro-published for typos.

(Post originally appeared on Teleread.)

4 thoughts on “Traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers”

  1. It’s a vicious circle, actually. In order to maintain a profit margin, publishers must keep costs down. As raw material (paper) costs are not within their area of control, they have been skimping for years on other overhead, mainly personnel. Proofreaders (which I was in addition to being an editor) are quite often severely overworked, pushing hundreds of pages a day without having the time to do an adequate much less good job. Proofing supervisors (spouse is one) are told to raise required page counts while increasing quality when the number of titles being pushed has gone up close to 200% and higher. It’s the classic “quantity vs. quality” situation with insufficient wages thrown in.

    On the other hand, an indie has more invested intellectually, has more ownership. So the recompense is, dollar for dollar, not as high. Recompense isn’t all foldaway cash.

    I’m not in the business anymore, primarily because I was sick and tired of not being able to do the quality work I wanted. Pollyanna-ish perhaps, but we all have to stand up for what we believe.

  2. I signed on with a boutique publisher who promised top-notch editing, marketing and the option to go into paper within 2 months of e-print. The editing was awful. There was no marketing at all unless I did it and they never got into paper. I know it was an economic issue. I am now an indie and going over my books very carefully with critique partners and editors. The two that are out will be reissued and the third is close to being ready to format. I’m taking back the reins. I want people to love my stories and not trip on the errors.
    Marketing is still a problem but I’m working on the other two points.

    1. Doing it all yourself is a helluva lot of work, but it is more rewarding. I am glad you have people near that you can count on to keep the quality up. I am glad I have some myself.
      Good luck with your work!

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