The world is changing—technologically, socially, culturally—more
drastically than ever before, and the publishing world is changing along with
There are now tiny human beings running around who have never experienced a world without Facebook, iPods, and tablet computers. Anyone with an internet connection can talk face to face with anyone else in the world—even in orbit.
The ability to build and maintain an online platforms has almost become a basic human right. And now, with the increasing accessibility of print-on-demand technology, this democratic cultural attitude has leapt like fire to print media.
Self-publishing has turned the book publishing industry on its head by doing away with the dynamic of permission and exclusivity that has always been at the very center of publishing for over a century.
Traditional authors need permission to publish their book. Indie authors just do it; they don’t have to ask.
In a very short time, we will live in a world where children will grow up blissfully unaware that publishing a book was ever an exclusive power—reserved for authors who were given permission, denied to the rest. This new way of publishing fits with the world view they’ve held since they were old enough to develop one—open, unfettered communication and knowledge.
With this shift, the whole paradigm changes. As layer upon layer of quality control in the form of a multilayered editorial department is stripped away, more and more authors forego those crucial steps in their eagerness to publish—which, predictably, has lead to an astonishing amount of low-quality, unsellable self-published books.
Self-Publishing: The New Paradigm
In self-publishing, the publishing house is out of the picture. The indie author has complete control over every aspect of the process. But, as Peter Parker’s uncle famously admonished, with great power comes great responsibility.
There’s a joke in the business startup world that while many entrepreneurs get into the game to “be their own boss,” this turns out not to be the case at all. Sure, you may not have one person signing your paychecks—but instead of one boss, you’ve suddenly got tons of them: your customers.
(This, of course, assumes that commercial viability numbers among one of your goals for your manuscript, which may or may not be the case. No judgment.)
1. Publish a great story that readers will connect with.
The first is borne out of a responsibility to your manuscript, to make it the best it can be. In a fiction world, this could mean character development, pacing, etc. For nonfiction, it means solidifying the main concepts, drawing those concepts into a theme, and structuring the book in a logical way to expand on that theme. Hook your readers. Be interesting.
2. Meet readers’ expectations by conforming to industry standards.
It’s impossible to predict which books will catch fire and which won’t. Sometimes a formula just works, the book strikes the right chord with the right people at the right time.
But with the sheer number of self-published books on the market, the reality for most authors is that lightning isn’t going to strike at all. Success comes, if it comes at all, in the form of a slow heat, burning brighter the more logs the author adds to the fire over time.
But authors cannot control the market—they can only control their manuscript. For the best chances, the author must ensure that conditions are right for combustion.
The second goal is to release a book that’s up to industry standards. You have a responsibility to your audience to deliver a product that meets readers’ expectations. This means internal consistency.
The first goal—publishing the right story—can be met in any number of ways: writers’ workshops, peer critique, beta readers.
The second goal is best met with the help of a professional editor.
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What do you think? Does “traditional” quality remain important in the self-publishing arena?