An Open Rebuttal
Yesterday, I read a blog post by an author who was, apparently, traditionally-published, and the entirety of the post was a scathing verbal beat-down on self-published authors as a unit. The language, inflammatory and all-caps, sought to crush self-published authors, while acknowledging that the majority of the blog audience was indeed composed of these self-pubbed victims of this tongue-lashing. There seemed to be no point to this rant, only the urge to tell all this writer's self-published readers that they shouldn't be self-publishing because all self-published novels are, quote, "atrocious." No advice, no helping hand, just both barrels' worth of insult. Now, I'd like to say that I was shocked, because I'd never seen such shameless lambasting. But the truth is, I've read more than twenty blog posts of this very nature, by various small indie authors across the web. Rather than leave comments on their posts, I decided to be stupid and controversial and write an open rebuttal. I'm not defending self-publishing, or condemning traditional publishing. I'm defending artists who just want to get their art on, and condemning the confused writers who think ripping their fellow writers to shreds is a good way to promote their books.
Part of the problem, I think, is the current socio-political culture of nastiness. The world's bitter and nasty right now. Money's tight for everyone, and that makes people grouchy. All writers - indie published, self-published, traditionally-published - do their share of advertising. You have to; that's part of the game. But what I'm noticing across the board, among writers of all categories, is this tearing down of other writers. I'm not talking about a genuine critique of a particular book; I'm talking about writers whose platforms include a broad-spectrum ripping-apart of the topics and styles of other groups of writers. You know it happens. You know someone has done this in front of you: "Unlike those other crappy writers, I do..." etc.
This is an ineffective technique. Why? Because nastiness turns people off. Differentiating your work is all about saying unique and interesting things about your books, not about trash-talking the competition. No one cares what you think about everyone else's work - sell YOUR amazing work by talking about IT. And that's another point - there is no "competition." The book market is like a crowd waiting in line at Baskin-Robbins - each customer has her own taste, and wants something different. Lucky for them, there's lots of flavors. Some other author's success doesn't limit your own potential for success, and being overly critical of others appears unnecessarily competitive.
To traditionally-published authors, I would say this: No one is arguing that traditional publishing isn't the optimal situation. Anyone who seeks to diminish your success through hurtful speech is just being a jackass. But as a traditionally-published author, how are the self-pubbed authors harming you in some way? I ask this, because the attacks I've read - and they ARE attacks - feel so personal and so impassioned. You are not helping anyone, least of all yourself, by ranting about self-publishing. Write and let write. Self-published authors aren't taking away your success. You are not the publishing police. What are you hoping to accomplish? You aren't going to end self-publishing; the horn-tooters will ignore you, and the shy, quiet, truly talented emerging authors will be crushed and swamped with self-doubt after reading your inflammatory posts. Your arguments are about as logical as a franchise jeweler blasting small-time jewelry makers selling their wares on Etsy. If someone's work isn't up to snuff, then it won't perform well, and this writer will learn that lesson without your cruelty. And if readers want to purchase and read a self-published author's work - then they should be able to do that. That's their business. Writing is, after all, about keeping the readers happy, not about pleasing other writers. If your readers are happy and their readers are happy, you know what it is? Not your problem. No one is getting hurt. And let's stop talking about the "right" and "wrong" way to write books. Writing is art. ART. It's not cardiothoracic surgery. If someone does something "wrong," no one DIES. Self-publishing doesn't hurt anyone.
Then there's the flipside. To the self-published authors, I would say this: Stop ragging on each other. Stop telling the world that all self-published authors suck except for you. This is a stupid statement. You haven't read every self-published author; you don't know this; you sound desperate. Stop ragging traditionally-published authors. Just be a sweet, genuine person, promote your work in a positive way, and stop tearing down your peers. Seeking to elevate yourself by bad-mouthing those struggling to reach the same dream as you is a low-class move, and I have no respect for it. When someone advertises by being a snot about other writers, it never convinces me of a writer's talent. In fact, when someone trash-talks, I make a mental note to never read that author's work. I will not support a jerk. Your books are what set you apart, not what you say about them.
There's lots of great, educational material out there on the web. I'm a big believer in constant education, the study of literature - both classic and contemporary; I believe authors should always be learning, striving to hone their craft. And I believe in writers helping other writers. What I can't abide is this culture of cruelty. Especially when this cruelty is used as a marketing tool. Just stop. No one holds the magic key to writing the perfect novel. We're all just finding our different roads, finding what works for us. Like I said before: write and let write. Focus on your work, and your best efforts. It's a lot less frustrating that way. And guess what - there's "atrocious" books in all categories. I could walk into Barnes & Noble right now and pull ten books off the shelves whose pages I wouldn't use to line a bird cage. I read a book by a major author who misattributed the Trojan War. I'm reading a traditionally-published book now chock full of typos. There's mistakes and imperfections on both sides.
Some food for thought:
Famous writers who self-published.
Best-Sellers Initially Rejected