I’m reading The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, and for some reason it’s helped me put into words something that I’d been having trouble expressing, about indie publishing.
All over the place, what I’m seeing is that everyone, indies and traditionally published authors and hybrids, are almost universally extremely anxious to express the need for self-publishers to behave in a professional manner. They then proceed to lay out exactly what constitutes “a professional manner,” and what it comes down to is that everyone–indie, hybrid, or trad–needs to make their products in line with big publisher standards.
I am tempted to name names, but I won’t. I think that would just be an attention-grabbing device at this point.
But if you’re in the indie world, you’ve heard it (or said it): the argument that indies should make sure their products are up to professional standards before they release. The shock and dismay that anyone would release something that was less than perfect (“I’m not like those indie writers! They’re not even professional!”). Then the finger-wagging at indies and how sloppy they are, and the counter-wagging at the big publishers and the typos, oh the typos, that have been made in big publisher books*.) The hysteria that people might be putting substandard books up for sale.
That word gets repeated. Standard standard standard. Until it’s no longer comprehensible.
What disturbs me about all this is that there are process people and there are cut-and-dried people, and the cut-and-dried people are acting like their opinions are the only ones that count.**
The cut-and-dried people take the given wisdom and insist that everyone stick to it. Either you meet standards, or you don’t. And if you had been able to meet standards in the first place, you would be a traditionally published writer by now. [Sniff.] The only people who should self-publish are previously midlist authors who can no longer get decent contracts (such a shame). When those acceptably indie people publish in the right way, then they have a TEAM. OF. PROFESSIONALS. And they do not experiment, aside from the already questionable experiment of indie publishing in the first place. They do it THE RIGHT WAY. The first time. Because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
Okay, group of cut-and-dried people, that’s your way. But it’s hardly the only way.
The rest of us have been surviving typos and bad covers and screwing around on social media and blogging and playing around with YouTube and fan fiction and gaming and a ton of other things that don’t involve professional standards, and we’ve been enjoying ourselves, as creators and as consumers.
And we’ve been seeing businesses–real ones, that play with real money–put their entire business plans together with the idea that maybe everything isn’t cut-and-dried, that maybe in order to make fundamentally new things, you need to approach the situation in fundamentally new ways.
You know what we got with cut-and-dried? A monopolistic chain bookstore that was perfectly happy stacking the shelves with the equivalent of Top-40 radio, taking money to put books at the front of the store, instead of reader feedback. We got angry when they started carrying toys, we were so invested in the idea of what a bookstore could and could not be.
Maybe it isn’t the idea of self-publishing that’s the problem.
Maybe it’s just the cut-and-dried attitude.
And maybe we process-based weirdos get to play with the process and don’t need to be shamed about it. Maybe what the trad publishers ought to be doing is building smaller units in which the entire line is put together by a group of authors, and there are no editors, designers, marketers, salespeople, etc. Maybe a small press needs to hold a weekly online symposium of their authors to teach each other how to write by working on a joint project. Maybe an indie author needs to hire writers to develop their worldbuilding via an anthology of short stories. Maybe a lot of things, maybe a lot of quick-turnaround projects to explore what’s working and what isn’t, and maybe not a lot of drama about how it might inconvenience the accountants.
Maybe what the problem with indie publishing is, is that it is messy and it is best when it is messy and it’s even better when it’s run by fundamentally messy people whose goal is to make messes.
Maybe writing gets to have a little R&D.
*I do this too. I rarely make it through a big publisher book in which all the quotation marks are correct for three chapters running. It may be that I read a lot of Brit fiction in U.S. editions–which means changing all the quotation marks–but still, you expect a certain level of professionalism. From the professionals.
**Yes, I know this is oversimplifying. For example, I’m all about the process when it comes to covers, but when I see U.S. books where “air quotes” are made with single quotes, I lose it. “What, did you just feel like single quotes today?” But this, too is fair. Why not?