Erin Lausten

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The Quality of Self-Published Books- The Question

Posted by erinlausten on August 14, 2012

Bestselling Author Sue Grafton has made some waves in a recent article where she states her opinion on writers and self-publishing.  Before reading on, you may want to stop by the article first.

I do not usually weigh in on the opinions of authors or others in the publishing industry. In general, opinions are just what they are– one person’s view on a situation based on personal experience and philosophy. An opinion is devised through a specific experiential reality. Through debate, conversation and discourse, opinions can add to understanding and therefore change perceptions and opinions. And an opinion should not be disregarded simply because one facet is seen as contrary to another’s experience. It’s complicated and that is why I rarely speak up. The dissection of an argument is a lot of work, and honestly, I have fiction to write.

But, in this case, I feel that there is something deeper within Sue Grafton’s argument that deserves analysis. Not the statement that says, “Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.” This one line has drawn the most fire from critics. And justifiably so.  A blind monkey could find the errors in that statement. But sweeping generalizations are easy to refute.

The challenge is addressing the underlying issue. Opponents to the self-publishing model grasp onto the question of quality of the writing within self-published books. They argue that the traditional model produces higher quality product. The usual method to dispute this argument from the self-publishing side is to point out that even within the traditionally published works there are vast levels of quality. Many self-published books meet and exceed the best produced by traditional publishing. The level of quality can run the gamut in both methods. But again, we fall into the fallacy that if you can find one example where something is incorrect, then the argument itself holds no merit.

When there is only one road to take, the responsibility is to decide if the risks of taking the road are outweighed by the risks of not taking the road at all. So essentially, the question was originally: what risks are there to following the established method to publication? And the alternative was quintessentially: never being published. If never being published was acceptable, then you had your answer.

The choice has become more complicated. And that is both a good and a bad thing. With multiple models, the risks and benefits to each must be analyzed to determine a choice taken. And the answer could be following one road, or jumping from one to the other. The options are numerous and the opportunity is vast. But there is no Google map for this trip, so it must be drawn by the individual.

Rather than argue right versus wrong, it is essential that professionals adequately analyze the business and industry. No matter which side you prefer, the question of quality within self-published work is important. It must be addressed and determinations made on what impact it has on both the individual publishing professional and the industry at large. They are, as expected, undeniably connected.

So I pose a question. And the only way it can be answered is if businessmen/women in the publishing industry remain rational, temper the emotional response, and attempt to evaluate the truth of the matter.  The type of response that these arguments tend to elicit suggests that authors make their decisions based on emotional and visceral reasons rather than sound business analysis and evaluation. This is not good no matter the decision made. But I digress.

The question is: Is there a high level of low quality material published through self-published models. And if so, does it matter?

(I am intentionally ignoring the question of whether the same is true through the traditional model. That is a separate exercise and would be the second step, if it is even necessary).

Unfortunately, this exercise has turned into something much larger than what would suffice in a single post. Now that the argument is established, I will evaluate and analyze the issues impacting the determination of quality within the self-published literature. But, it will have to wait for another day. I’ll have Part 2 posted tomorrow (Wednesday).

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5 Responses to “The Quality of Self-Published Books- The Question”

  1. W is for… Wow, that was a shallow thing for Sue Grafton to say.

  2. I hadn’t read any of her work before, Erin, so this has been my first exposure to her in any way.

    I think the rapid expansion of self-publishing has, of course, resulted in a good deal of low quality material being put out there, unfortunately. It falls to the writer to ensure that they’re putting out the best quality they can.

    Rather than muddling through and thinking of it as a route to a payday, or because everyone else is, for example, writing a vampire story or a bondage erotica book, so why can’t I?

    Ultimately the reader will be able to see quality when they see it, and it’s those who take it seriously among indies, who think of it as a long term work, who will sustain themselves.

    • I think you are hitting it on the button, William. I do not believe that low quality material negates the validity of the model. However, with it being a new model, I believe we are seeing the growing pains that come with any new venture. It will be interesting to see how the market looks in five to ten years. Will we see improvement in the quality as a whole? In addition, I think many fail to see that self-publishers are working as independent business people. Just as in any industry, there is significant risk and a variety of permutations. Those that are able to adjust to the needs of the market and provide quality product can ultimately succeed. Those that do not, will move on to something else.

  3. I’m currently reissuing my traditionally-published backlist as ebooks–and my current editor has found countless errors that my Big Six editor missed!

    I will longer buy Ms. Grafton’s books

    • Norma, I applaud you for improving the quality of your material even after it has been through the traditional publishing product. Ultimately, I believe that work is what will bring success. And over time, it will be amazing to watch what you do with your publishing!

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