I’ve been working on a piece for Novel Journey (I post this Monday), and am spring-boarding off the recent announcement that Thomas Nelson, the biggest name in Christian publishing, will be cutting its workforce by 10% and its new author titles in half. Michael Hyatt, CEO of TN, cites both the ever-changing industry and the need for better, not more, books. While I tend to find myself agreeing with the decision, it’s raised some interesting questions.
Among them is the issue of self-publishing and independent presses. With the big boys seeking, primarily, brand name authors with shelf cred and/or the cream of the “breakout novel” crop, it makes sense that novice and middlin’ authors should look more toward flipping their own bill. Heck, blazing the indie trail has worked for numerous musicians and filmmakers; in fact, some of the biggest names in the music/film business started with no-name artists, working on a shoestring budget. Problem: Unlike film and music, indie authors get little respect. But why is that?
Bookninja recently broached the subject in a post entitled, On Independence in the Lit World, which links to a fascinating article in The Guardian about indie authors. From Why Writers Can’t Go It Alone:
Doing it yourself is to be much admired in music and cinema. That mainstay of Hollywood, Robert Redford, was so enamoured by the growing movement of indie cinema in the United States that he set up the Sundance Festival to give the film-makers an outlet and an audience.
Without indie music, there would be no Smiths, no Happy Mondays, no Kylie, even (she was on Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s own indie label, PWL). Without indie cinema, there would be no Reservoir Dogs, no Ghost World, no Night of the Living Dead. Without indie publishing there would be no … who? Who are the big indie writers, those who refuse to compromise by not allowing The Man to dictate what and how they should write, and earn massive respect because of it?
The literary world only bestows acceptance, it seems, on those who are published through the traditional avenues. Independent and small presses get short shrift – national newspaper supplements seem loath to review indie books, the big high street sellers won’t stock them, unless the books are about the tough lives of mill girls or histories of public house names, which can be shoved on a shelf marked “local interest”.
Is that true? Does the literary world only bestow acceptance on those who are published through the traditional avenues? And why is it that independent filmmakers and musicians receive far more interest in their respective industries than do authors?
The Guardian author, David Barnett, speculates that the lack of respect toward indie authors is due to the fact that “books are a much higher art than pop or film” — an interesting premise that I won’t explore here. Nevertheless, I’d add a couple more possibilities to that list.
- Writing is far more accessible to the average person than is music or filmmaking. I mean, everybody’s got a PC and some wild story. I may not have a guitar, an amp, a sound studio, an 8mm camera, special effects, and a stunt double, but by golly I can plop down at the kitchen table, tell a tall tale, and dream of being featured on Oprah. In other words, more amateur authors means, percentage-wise, less good books.
- Independent publishing is far less costly than are music and film. Which reinforces the previous point — more novices can pocket the expenses of publishing their memoirs than can a film school student cough up enough jack for his first film, which means potentially more mediocre product.
Either way, it’s pretty obvious that self-published authors receive far less respect than other indie artists. But with us trending toward less books — at least, less books by new authors — perhaps we are poised to see an expansion of indie presses and, just maybe, a little more respect for authors who go that route.