It is not too often that I use TIPM to draw attention to an opinion piece elsewhere on self-publishing, but Lin Robinson's article this week on Indies Unlimited is worthy of it. Robinson is a journalist, author and screenwriter, and as long as I have engaged with the self-publishing community and written on many aspects of the publishing industry, Lin Robinson has never been too far from its heartbeat.
There is a reluctance in Robinson's words in his latest article, EX-PERTISE, not generally present in most of his honest and down-to-earth assessments of how he sees writing and publishing as it is now. Nobody wants to knock or criticise a community they engage with day to day and Robinson is careful to deliver his words without ever allowing them to descend into a rant, or that of a testy publishing curmudgeon.
"So it’s not without a certain sense of irony that I write a piece suggesting that the opposite can be a problem: that “experts” online are often worthy of being ignored because they are full of crap, or at least that their expertise in no way applies to the actual situation that contemporary writers face. I think you’ll admit this is a delicate subject to approach, so I intend to just barge into it and make a mess, as usual."
Robinson's core argument is that the publishing world is changing, month on month, and some of it's loudest voices are from experts claiming years of experience in publishing, only to disseminate 'crap', when in reality, some snotty-nosed teenager could be sharing valuable up-to-date information and experience highly relevant for authors about to take the plunge into publishing.
"One of the more, to me, infuriating examples of this comes from those who use a position to pretend to expertise. So you see a magazine editor offering webinars on how to get a literary agent when he has never done so in his life. Why would he? He’s a career magazine hack. Or a famous writing magazine publisher doing $90 webinars on self-publishing when she’d never published a book in her life, much less self-published one. These people are not just useless, and not just more of the parasites that feed on writing dreams, they are actually harmful to those who pay them for their lore. Example on that: one of the bullets of the SP webinar was, “How To Choose The Right Self-Publishing Company.” It wasn’t worth $90 to find out if it was “our magazine advertisers on parade”. I jumped to the conclusion. But people paid $90 to get informed."
Robinson is by no means out to diss experts in the area of modern publishing–in itself–and he happily name checks those he respects, but his piece does highlight why the publishing industry attracts so many scamsters, shysters, bullshitters and 'experts' out to earn a buck on a wing and a prayer. Sure, self-publishing and the democratisation of the industry–if that's what you want to call the advent and ease of e-publishing, social media as an avenue of marketing, and the blurring lines between retailer and distributor–has made the reader and author question what publishing and its value truly is.
I've written a great deal on TIPM about the vanity element of self-publishing, and how it has evolved over decades. There is no doubt that the forefathers of vanity publishing of the 1960's and 1970's became the modern day POD publishers since 1999. Equally, the modern self-publishing industry is built–to a vast degree–on the finances and support of author communities, authors as business and marketing entrepreneurs, and not readers. That's a hard truth many within the community are still not willing to accept. Remove the author community as readers and buyers of self-published books and you may find a less than vibrant independent movement. Readers are readers, and most often, nothing more. Authors are authors, but almost all are readers and buyers of books. If the label of vanity has migrated from the minds of self-published authors, it still exists as part of the collective psyche of their community.
Back to Robinson:
"Here it is: if you’re a new writer trying to get out there and score, who should you take advice from: Neil Gaiman or Joe Konrath? Or, for that matter, Konrath or some hotshot who is selling stacks of a book very much like yours without doing any of the “right things”? A million-seller like Stephen King… or some housewife who just sold $45,000 worth of her dippy romance in a month? Or… here it comes… some guy who’s been writing professionally for 40 years or some 13 year old skater who’s selling $1100 a month of his lame spy adventure novel? Obviously the answer lies in a balance, in being able to lay off what is “known” and what sort of experience produces real-time, useful expertise."
I can't answer some of Lin Robinson's questions, but I do agree that it is about what every writer feels is right for them. I visit hundreds of author and publishing resource sites every week when I carry out the research I need to do to put together the information, reviews and news for TIPM. What turns me off the most about those sites immediately is someone selling a service, book, webinar or event from the moment I arrive there. Imagine being tapped on the shoulder every time you took a book from the shelf of a library and reminded that you, too, if you reach for your credit card, can learn the knowledge to become a bestselling author in three easy webinars or by purchasing another book by that publisher or author.
The only answers I can offer, as helpful to Lin's questions, is that a writer should know first what it is he/she needs answers to. The most vulnerable writers using the Internet for information on publishing are the ones who have not asked themselves what they really want from their publishing experience and what their measure of success is. There are too many websites and experts out there happy to tell writers what the value and meaning of sucessful publishing is. Generally, those experts are selling their view on the publishing universe according to their paths and what proved right for them. It's a bit like visiting a doctor with a chest infection and getting advice on Shingles. The advice might sound reassuring, and is another way to get you on the path to where you want to be, but, chances are, you are no better off after a few weeks.
I've been a publishing consultant for almost five years. I don't upsell consultancy services here and I keep it tucked away on the menu and sidebar. In fact, every bit of consultancy advice, review of publishing services, opinion or article is free to view for any author. There is nothing more here I won't advise or tell you privately in a consultation. Yet, I've never had two consultations that were the same. Every writer brings their experience, wishes, goals and dreams to the table. The challenge is always to make a writer's journey–their journey. The knowledge and experience of other writers–no matter how successful and expert they are–can never come close to replicating your experience.