This week, three of us ended up posting on various aspects of the same topic: My book blogger post, Don Linn’s Tragedy of the Commons publishing call to action and Porter Anderson’s weekly Writing on the Ether roundup of publishing news. If you haven’t read them, start with Don’s post, then Porter’s, then mine. Then come back.
Back now? Good. Don does a great job setting up how publishing got to this point, and it’s the same problem newspapers and networks have run into over the years: When each element only focuses on what benefits its interests, we wind up with a broken system. And, in this case, an advantage that Amazon, etc., have rushed to fill. That’s allowed all sorts of people to move into self-publishing, which is the chaos Porter has so well described. Because we’re in the Wild West stage of of things, it’s messy and ugly.
We started with the few bold, brave explorers like Amanda Hocking, who stepped out into self-publishing when it still had some of the stigma that it traditionally had. Kind of like the first pioneers west, her path carried lots of risks, but there was great reward, too, because there was lots of room there and nobody was fighting for it. Then you started getting the rush — lots of people were going that way. Some are well prepared, such as literary writer Terri Giuliano Long. They brought a good book or books to the table, invested in quality editing and have found success through lots of hard word. Others have just headed out there without enough preparation. Remember playing Oregon Trail in elementary school? (For those of us who are mid-30s and younger, anyway.) If you didn’t plan well enough, you ended up running out of supplies before you got out there. The self-publishing landscape is littered with those books, people who figured they could head out to this open land of promise and succeed regardless of what skills they had for the journey.
At this point, we’re not in the untamed West that Amanda Hocking found; we’re finding lots of other people out here. It’s crowded, and it’s easier for the cloud of “self-published junk” virus to spread and infect us by proximity. It doesn’t mean we can’t succeed, but Porter nails it in the comments section of his post — we need standards. Book bloggers provide some help for readers, but that single go-to site I postulated doesn’t exist. There is no Good Housekeeping seal of approval for self-published books. No Consumer Reports exists, to use Porter’s example.
There are possibilities out there: Indie Book Collective has a number of us working together to help each other, and Kristen Lamb’s #myWANA principles provide another community of indies to look at. But neither group has admission standards. For a lot of indies, the idea of standards or admission is anathema, but for this to become a successful part of publishing long-term, there needs to be some seal of approval or gatekeeper function that arises to help readers separate out the good writers choosing an alternate path from the developing writers who have turned Amazon and Smashwords into the new slush pile.
It’s the only way we’re going to make this work.