Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A tiny request

I hold these truths to be self-evident. Self-publishing is a good thing for authors, readers, and traditional publishers. Its proliferation and diversification are objectively good. The media should cover self-publishing, including interviews with its success stories—people like Smashwords CEO, Mark Coker.

I also hold this truth to be self-evident. The media should not be incredibly lazy in allowing the owners of those success stories to, if you will, self-publish their narratives unchallenged and unquestioned.

Exhibit A.

Please, for the love of of Gutenberg, the next time a self-publishing advocate says “self-published authors keep [some very high number] percent of the profits, whereas a traditional publisher only lets you keep [some conspicuously lower number] percent” can just one host say, “I’m going to stop you for a second. I hear this comparison all the time, but isn’t it more complicated than that? Let’s talk about actual dollars. A traditionally published author gets an advance. How does even a very modest advance of say $10,000 compare to the average earnings of a Smashwords title?” Etc.

(I don’t see this as a devastating “gotcha” question. I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty confident it’s not a knockout argument either way, and I do know it’s much more interesting follow-up than “What about Random House’s 50-Shades bonuses?”)

The choice of a publishing path—self- or traditional or whatever else—inevitably involves compromise. One defers payment and leverages uncompensated DIY labor with an eye on a greater long-term payoff. Another shares risk and labor with a partner in exchange for upfront investment and a lower share of the long-term profits. The story is not that one option must crowd the other out any more than the story of Home Depot is a tale of the end of contracted remodeling.

I don’t expect the CEO of a for-profit self-publishing platform to say this without some questioning. I do expect a journalist to do some questioning.