Is a Traditionally Published Book Superior?

I’ve been having a friendly discussions with a traditionally published author on Linked-In. He maintains that self-publishing is bad because it floods the market with poor quality products. The traditional publishing system is designed, in his opinion, to weed out the inferior work because a manuscript has to go through many vetting steps before it becomes a published book. To ignore those steps and let just anyone who thinks they are an author publish a book is harmful to the industry.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

I’ve thought a great deal about what he had to say and I can see where he is coming from, but after all is said and done, I have to disagree.

  1. Self-publishers, especially in the current business climate, are incapable of flooding the market. Big book sellers like Barnes & Noble, and Borders have plenty of inventory to fill up their shelves from traditional publishers. They don’t have to consider self-publishers, and they don’t. You couldn’t crack into that lock with a crowbar and dynamite. It wouldn’t happen now–but it could in the future. If The Red Hen Association of Self-Publishing Authors grew big enough, and powerful enough we could change things. But for now traditionally published authors are safe.
  2. I would also like to address the vetting system. Come on now–when faced with the choice of publishing a masterful work by a new author and the next annual piece of junk from a popular author, who wins? My money is on the popular author because like Deep Throat said in the movie All the President’s Men, “Follow the money.” Publishing is first and foremost a business. If the business isn’t profitable it won’t stay in business. My argument is not about the choice, but with the assumption that a traditionally published book is somehow superior to a self-published one.
  3. If Mr. or Mrs. Tiny Book Publisher has an idea that they want to put into book form, tell me again how that is harmful. Maybe they’ve written a 250 page treatise to their hair follicles, how many copies will they sell? The real vetting process is the marketplace. The readers will buy what they want to read, and publishers sensitive to the will of the people will find products that they hope will appeal to the marketplace. You can’t force someone to buy a book, any more than you can force them to read it. They have to be enticed, otherwise why even have a dust jacket? An unappealing book on an unappealing subject will never get through the gauntlet of readers. There is no reason to fear. They aren’t a threat.

Is there anything to be done about this stand-off between the self-publishing upstarts and the traditionally published? I think there is. I believe that The Red Hen Association of Self-Publishing Authors is a good place to begin. Self-publishers need to learn the ropes. They have to have support and encouragement to seek good editing, art, and printing. A professional looking product doesn’t appear by accident. Then they have to be shown how to sell the book, and run a publishing business.

Furthermore, if enough self-publishing authors join the cause there is power in numbers. Our voice gets magnified. Perhaps that power will be useful in cracking open those previously closed doors. In the meantime we can explore many other marketing paths and find other ways to promote our books. The intention of the association is to help every market-worthy self-publisher earn a decent living so they can continue to write and not have to keep their day jobs.

If the traditional publishers looked at it like a baseball metaphor, and saw the self-publishers as a huge minor league, or farm team, whose players could be called up to the bigs when they’ve proven themselves, then they wouldn’t have any reason to be critical or derisive. Can’t we all just get along? Our goals are the same. We all believe that the world is a better place because of books. Where would we be without them?

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