• January 5, 2017

Self-published authors deserve it, too


I got a late Christmas present last week, in the form of a column from Laurie Gough, a “traditionally” published author. I consider it a present because I wracking my brain for an idea for this column.

Right off the bat, let me say that Laurie Gough is an accomplished writer and obviously a very nice lady. She has written for the Guardian, USA Today, the L.A. Times, the Globe and Mail, Huffington Post and many other prestigious outlets. Among her books is Stolen Child: A Mother's Journey to Rescue Her Son from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

So this column is in no way meant to demean her talent.

Having said that, I must quote from her article (you will have to take my word for it that the parts I left out are just as strident):

  • “I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.”
  • “To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.”
  • “Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, ‘Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.’ Margaret Atwood said, ‘Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!’ The irony is that now that brain surgeon really could dash off a ‘book’ in a couple of months, click ‘publish’ on Amazon, and he’s off signing books at the bookstore. Just like Margaret Atwood, he’s a ‘published’ author. Who cares if his book is something that his grade nine teacher might have wanted to crumple into the trash?”
  • “From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.”
  • “With the firestorm of self-published books unleashed on the world, I fear that writing itself is becoming devalued.”
  • “I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. (An editorial aside: ouch!) Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren.”
  • “Author Brad Thor agrees: ‘The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.’”

Whoa, Nellie!

I consider myself an accomplished writer — having written for as many, if not more, prestigious outlets than Ms. Gough, and having been nominated for a Pulitzer at the New York Times — and must take issue with her entire premise. I mean, as an exclusively self-published author, being compared to someone who would presumably want to share a cabin with Donald Trump may be the ultimate insult.

But in a more serious vein, let me say that there are self-published authors out there who can write rings around some of their traditionally published brethren. I know, because I’ve reviewed dozens of books by the latter. Some of their writing contains just as much dreck as some of the self-published authors Ms. Gough references.

Of course, she is right about a huge section of the self-published world, and if anyone wants to paint me with the dreckish brush, so be it. But I was unable to get a publishing contract, despite putting in many more years at writing as Ms. Gough.

As I pointed out in this space before, perhaps I gave up too soon. And it’s not like my self-publishing career is setting the world afire. I did manage to break into the top 50 of Amazon authors last week, and my thriller Sound of Blood was briefly No. 1 in the “Conspiracy” category, but that was undoubtedly the result of huge and costly promotions I ran. Most weeks, I’m in the middle of the pack.

There are some self-published authors who sell millions of books. Someone is buying them. As for those sainted “gatekeepers,” the list of authors who were ignored by “legacy” publishers and forced to self-publish would make a hell of a coffee-table book (self-published, of course). Thriller writer Vince Flynn had to self-publish because he couldn’t get past the “gatekeepers.”  He sold so many books on his own that they finally opened the gates. Now they are happy to keep selling his books, even though he’s dead!

Then, there is Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian as a 99-cent book for Amazon’s Kindle, where it became a bestseller. Then, and only then, Weir was approached by a “gatekeeper” (literary agent) who sold his book to another “gatekeeper” (Crown Publishing Group).

In its “legacy” print form, it became what the Wall Street Journal called "the best pure sci-fi novel in years." It was then made into a hit movie starring Matt Damon. Weir would be the first to say that his prose, despite its soaring interplanetary storyline, is pedestrian. Trust me, had the “gatekeepers” gotten their hands on the book first, it would have never have lifted off.

I respect many “traditional” authors and their books. Hell, some of them are good friends. I buy print books and haunt the local library. I know that Amazon and its massive universe of self-published authors is savaging their income stream. Mid-list authors, especially, are being abandoned by “legacy” publishers in favor of big-name authors who can sell a million copies of what they write on a cocktail napkin.

I wonder if Laurie Gough wants to write an article about the loyalty of those gatekeepers?

There is plenty wrong with Amazon and the self-publishing world. And change is never easy for those who prospered doing things the old way. But in a world that seems to be drifting back to its book-burning days, I live by this mantra:  “Let’s all give the written word the respect it deserves.”

Amazingly, that is the last line in Ms. Gough’s column.

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has written more than a dozen thrillers and mysteries on Amazon.com. His most recent thriller, THAWED, is available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA). He would sell out to Hollywood in a New York minute if the occasion arose.  

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