Thursday, September 27, 2012

What does "Self Published" mean to you?

The debate over the legitimacy of self publishing is heated and very, very long. Some people argue the mainstream publishing industry is dying and that self publishing is squeezing the Big Six out of the market. Other's balk at the thought that self publishing will ever eclipse the stronghold these publishing powerhouses have over the industry.

I've read both sides of the debate many times over. One thing is clear – it's complicated. Regardless of what I read, and what side it's supporting, I'm left with a very important question. So I will ask you, my friends, this very same question. Because maybe someone, somewhere, might give me a definitive answer.

What constitutes self publishing?

Is it only those who publishing their own work via companies such as Smashwords and the like? Is it those who form a publishing co-op, providing services such as editing and cover design for each other, and then sharing the cost of publishing? Does it include authors like myself, who have been published by a small, independent publisher?

These questions arose for me mainly because of various articles I've read on the publishing phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey. I know, I've stayed away from discussing this book, for the most part, and I intend to stay away from discussing the book itself. The only part that truly intrigues me is almost every article I've read describes the initial publication of FSOG completely differently. The dominance of this book over the NYT Best seller list, the fact that it was picked up by a major publishing house, and it's origins raise many questions for authors in a variety of areas.

But mainly, I'm curious about how the rising tide of changes in the publishing industry are reflected in this phenomenon. Some articles I've read referred to Fifty Shades as self published. Others called TWCS Publishing a "vanity house". A few made reference to it coming from a small independent publisher. This got me to thinking – what does "self published" really mean?  And I still haven't found an article that provides a clear answer.

I'll tell you what I think, though. Concerns over publishing fanfiction aside, posting fanfiction online is a work of self publishing. Yet, I consider TWCS Publishing an independent publisher and not a vanity press (as authors do not pay to have their book edited, produced, or published in any way by TWCS). Therefore, Fifty Shades falls into all three categories: self published as fanfiction, indie published by TCWS, and then picked up by Random House.

Maybe I'm biased, but I believe wholeheartedly that indie publishers are carving out their own niche in the publishing industry. They're creating a space for those books that have been passed over by agents mainly because, as the gatekeepers and voluntary filters of crap-writing, they're struggling to fit reading over 100 queries a day into their schedule. Indie publishers are providing an alternative platform for amazingly talented writers to get their stories out to readers. And they're giving readers the opportunity to find authors who would have otherwise remain unheard simply because the machine of the Big Six can only produce so much. But what indie publishing is not, is "self publishing".

I think traditional publishing is fantastic, I think self publishing is a valiant labor of love, and I think independent publishers are the Steve Jobs of the publishing world. Each path is a valid path (albeit challenging in different ways) to follow and I'm very excited to see where the industry goes these next ten years.

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