Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fisking Ros Barber

I’ve never understood the snobbery that comes from traditionally published authors regarding indie publishing.  They clearly view themselves as better than indie published writers, and if that’s the case, why do they care so much?  Do they sense a threat?  Do they view publishing novels as some kind of elite club that requires approval to get in?

I mention these things because an article recently written by Ros Barber in The Guardian newspaper in the UK has every stereotype about traditionally published writers that we’ve ever held…and I think she was serious.  So let’s take her claims one at a time.

If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.

I hate to break it to Ms. Barber, but most time as a writer will be spent marketing.  Any author, especially one published for the first time, can expect to do the majority of the marketing for his or her work nowadays.  In fact, the publisher is going to expect it.  Unless your name is King or Patterson, the publisher isn’t going to spend heavily on putting your name out there – you’ll be expected to do that.  Further, does any writer who wants to do more than sell a few copies seriously want to rely on someone else to do all the marketing?  This strikes me more as a case of wanting to be lazy rather than any desire for expanding the audience.

Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool.

She’s referring to those who do nothing but talk about their books.  Look at their Facebook page and it’s all about their new book.  Log in to Twitter and they’ll accost you about buying their book.  Run into them at a party and they’ll talk your ear off about their book.

I hate to break it to Ms. Barber, but it doesn’t take being an indie writer to act like an ass about this.  I’ve run into my share of traditionally published writers who act like this too.  For that matter, I’ve come across lots of people who just started their own business who do the same.  It’s not indie publishing that does this – it’s being a douche that does.  The key for anyone, regardless of method of publication or business model, is to strike a balance and know when to market and when not to.  Does she really think only indie writers do this, or that all of them do?

Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego.

To an extent, this may be true.  More often than not, it’s more about protecting the publisher.  A lot of editors are no better at figuring out what will sell and what won’t than the first 25 people in the phone book(as evidenced by Harry Potter’s rejection by over a dozen publishers).  Also, the market does a pretty good job of being a gatekeeper.  If you suck at writing, your book won’t sell.

Traditional publishing is the only way to go for someone who writes literary fiction. With genre fiction, self-publishing can turn you into a successful author (if you can build a platform, if you enjoy marketing and are good at it, if you are lucky). But an author who writes literary fiction is dependent on critical acclaim and literary prizes to build their reputation and following.

Sorry, Ms. Barber, but literary fiction is hard to sell to anyone, regardless of the method of publication.  For all the crap we have to read in high school – Jane Austin, Moby Dick, Pride And Prejudice – most people think literary fiction is boring.  That’s why few people buy it.

Good writers need even better editors. They need brilliant cover designers. They need imaginative marketers and well-connected publicists. All these things are provided by a traditional publisher, and what’s more, it doesn’t cost you a penny.

Um, duh?  And what’s to say the editor at that traditional house knows how to properly edit better than a group of beta readers who meet your target demographic?  In indie publishing, you can say yes or no to the editor’s comments.  In traditional publishing, those comments aren’t suggestions – they’re commands.  Additionally, I want control of my cover.  I know what I’m going for more than a person who read the book once or twice but wasn’t involved in the motivation and vision behind it.

My final caveat is fiscal. You can put all of that effort in, do all that marketing, and still not make a living.

Once again…duh?  You’re not guaranteed to be able to make a living as a traditionally published writer either.  In fact, you’re less likely since royalty rates suck(usually around 15%) and they’re only paid twice a year…after being filtered by your agent for that person’s 10%.  Few traditionally published writers can quit their day job to write full time due to the miniscule rates infrequently given by traditional publishing houses.

I think what sticks in my craw most about this is that this woman has never indie published, yet she feels imminently qualified to comment on how lousy it must be.  That’s like me never flying but saying that the turbulence must make it horrible.  Maybe she should take her nose out of the clouds long enough to join us on planet Earth.  She might learn something outside of her comfort zone.

Pfft…what am I saying?  She’s clearly not interested in that.

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