Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Re-Thinking the Arguments for Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

The debate rages in the blogosphere about traditional publishing (or, as some call it, legacy publishing) and self-publishing. This debate has always raged, waning and waxing according to what new self-publishing company is ripping off how many writers, but technology has brought it once more to the forefront. Electronic self-publishing, or eSP as I call it, along with affordable print-on-demand printing processes, have changed the game. The cost to self-publish, especially to eSP, has gone way down. The playing field between traditional and self-publishing is much closer to level.

I’ve blogged about this before, but want to again. Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, wrote a post in defense of traditional publishing and asked readers to say why they intended to publish traditionally. I want to say that Rachelle is very fair and even-handed about the two methods. She doesn’t overstate the advantages of traditional nor trump up the detriments of self-. I found the 200+ comments to be quite interesting, and wanted to discuss the reasons people give for wanting to embrace traditional publishing or avoid self-publishing. Those are not the same thing.

The first issue is one of quality. Self-published books are poorly done, the commenters said. The writing is poor, the editing is poor (or non-existent), the printing is poor, the binding is cheap, and the covers are amateurish. You look at a self-published book, you can tell right away that it was self-published, and then shy away from it.

That might have been true at one time, but I think the quality gap is closing. At least it is closing for the best produced self-published books and the average pub house’s book. Again, this is partly a technology thing. POD is now so inexpensive to set up any computer literate person can do it—provided it isn’t an illustrated book. Computer art technology makes excellent cover production inexpensive, and again can perhaps be done by the writer with only a modest learning curve to climb. Binding and paper quality are also overcome in the POD process, so I’m told. So you can have POD self-published books that are as good in physical quality as a traditionally published book.

What about the editing? On The Writers View 2, the current question is what would you like to ask an editor. One member said she wanted to ask an editor at a major Christian pub house why their books are so full of errors: typos and grammar. She marks the books, she says, and reports them to the pub house, which invariably then asks her to send them the needed edits, a request she declines to fulfill without payment. An editor who is on TWV2 panel responded this way:
Wow! I just watched an earth-moving machine, maybe a D-7 dozer (a big one), take a huge swipe out of the playing field. If pub houses are no longer going to guarantee their books to be as error-free as they can possibly make them, then how are they better than self-published books? Content editing, copy editing, line editing, and proof-reading have always been touted as a reason why traditionally published books are better. As Inspector Clouseau would say, “Not any more.”

Other issues in Rachelle’s blog, including quality of the writing, will have to wait for another post.
…the rising incidence of typos is inevitable as revenues and time allotted for the final proofing stage decline, I'm afraid. The final proof is usually the last in a long line of missed deadlines, and all involved often have their hands tied. Those with responsibility for quality control before print often have their hands tied because of scheduling, lack of competent freelance proofers, or even incomplete collating of those proof edits in-house (if there were an uncommonly high number, some always get missed).

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