The Honest Writer: Is a self-published book as worthy as a traditionally published one?
Recently, author Jonathan Franzen told The Guardian just what he thought of Amazon and what it’s done to both writers and book publishing. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t flattering. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, is “decimating literary culture in favor of the yakkers and tweeters and braggers.” Serious writers are being undermined, Franzen says. Anyone can self-publish a book and hire people to write five-star reviews that get posted on Amazon. He has a point. There was a time when publishing a book meant you’d worked at the craft of writing for a long, long time, paid your dues, if you will, found an editor who believed in you, worked with that editor line-by-line to bring forth the fruits of your labor. Now publishing a book means that you have something to say, or at least think you do, pay a fee to Create Space, Amazon’s self-publishing platform, to produce your eBook, and then enroll your title in Kindle Direct Publishing. Publishing a book doesn’t have the same value if anyone can do it. I think the people who strike back at Franzen are people who haven’t come up the old way – the way of having someone who actually knows something about writing decide whether or not he wants to take a chance on you. What’s so wrong with that system? Was it truly elite? I don’t think so, but it’s limited in terms of the number of players. There are only so many traditional publishing companies. Only so many literary agents who can meaningfully represent your work. Only so many editors who can make the time to work with you for that final, final polish. To get into that world you have to be two things – talented and persistent. You don’t have to be either to self-publish a book with Amazon. Does that mean that there are no really good writers self-publishing today? No, not at all. I suspect that a lot of writers – good ones – got tired of waiting for someone to open the door for them and took matters into their own hands. If they feel that they’re just as worthy as say someone like Alice McDermott or Elizabeth Strout, or countless other big names, for that matter, I say good for them. But what about readers? How do they wade through the electronic mire to find the good stuff worth reading? I say look for the award winners, because awards may be the one place left where the wheat truly separates from the chaff. Some will say awards don’t mean anything, but I suspect that remark would come from someone one who hasn’t won any. This debate isn’t going away, and neither is Amazon. And neither are writers and readers. It may be silly or slight to say that we’re all in this together, but that’s the way it is, folks. As writers, we all need to decide what this new publishing model means for us and the people we want to buy our books. As readers, we’re probably glad that we can get books so easily and conveniently, even as we wish for the help of that tried and true intermediary – the traditional book store that introduced us to writers we didn’t know before and were happy to discover.