In another example of running a controversial story to get clicks, the Huffington Post published an article by Laurie Gough that argues that self-publishing is an insult to the written word. (Of course, they also published a reaction to the original article, so they have it both ways.) As a self-published author myself, I disagree with Laurie’s argument. There has been a few angry responses to this opinion piece, but I thought I’d offer some personal thoughts on why I take issue with it.
Self-publishing was the catalyst that enabled me to start making my writing more public. Before publishing Amber Stars: One Night of Stories , I was very shy about what I shared. By forcing myself to get my work out there and available for criticism, it gave me confidence to write more. It is a strange little project of linked short stories, mostly stream of consciousness and I couldn’t see a traditional publisher going for it. I was also frustrated by writing for years without completing anything and wanted to produce something tangible. As a result of getting it out into the world, I have been emboldened to write even more. Indeed, 2016 was my most productive year in terms of word count. I wrote a couple of drafts of a play, about twenty short stories, fifty or so blog posts, a load of poetry and a whole stack of journals. If I hadn’t self-published my first book, I doubt I would have been this productive. The positive feedback from Amber Stars meant I felt more confident to continue to share my work. Later in the year I even self-published another book, a play script called Remain Vigilant. None of this would have happened without the tools of self-publishing. I was in control because I looked after the means of production, the distribution, the rights and the promotion. It hasn’t sold as well as a traditionally published book, but I never expected it to. The whole point was to get it out there.
Laurie has some genuinely good advice buried under all the controversy. She says:
Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours
I agree with this 100%. Any creative art form is a long slog. It takes constant practice, years of honing and lots of work. But you need encouragement to stick with it. Otherwise you may not get to the point of continuing to still write after the ten years. You may have given up long before. Self-publishing offers an alternative to being rejected by publishers that may not want your book because it doesn’t fit their market. You can still sell paintings by yourself without hanging them in a gallery. You can sing for years in clubs or bands without having a CD published by a major label. Neither of these means you are any less of an artist, nor does it diminish your ‘apprenticeship’. The same goes for writing. If you want to self-publish then you have the tools and you can call yourself a writer. It doesn’t mean your book will be any good, constant practice will do that. By publishing yourself, you are able to get feedback, build a platform and grow as an artist. Your future work, which can be the mythical good writing that Laurie desires, will be built on the back of your previous books.
Later in the article, Laurie argues for the harm this openness causes to writing:
With the firestorm of self-published books unleashed on the world, I fear that writing itself is becoming devalued.
Except it’s not diminishing anything. I would argue that writing is more valued in today’s world, just in different forms. The pie only grows the more people get involved. Self-publishing is not reducing the impact of other books. It is creating a larger audience for all types of work. We are lucky to live in an age where the internet has enabled the democratisation of art. So many different artists are able to produce new and interesting work and as such it allows a platform for voices that may not have been heard. Instead of diminishing the written word, it enriches and enhances it by offering many different perspectives that will feed into future work. Sure, it also offers more competition, but again this is a good thing, as it forces authors to work harder to sell more books.
If you dislike self-published works, that’s fine. You don’t have to read them. It’s not necessary to see it as a sign of impending doom for the art form. You are fine to safely ignore any book that is not published under a traditional imprint. There is room for every approach. Self-publishing is simply another avenue that authors have to explore. It has worked wonders for me, but it may not necessarily be for you. That doesn’t mean the sky is falling on publishers or on writing itself.