That whooshing noise you just heard was the sound of a thousand fusty professionals disappearing in a puff of smoke. Publishing is finished! In fact, it's just a button! Anyone can push a button! Formerly, a cadre of snooty professionals stood between writers and fame, adulation, awards, and buckets of cash. Now that the libertines have stormed the castle wall, anyone with the presence of mind to write a book will be able to put it within your reach in mere moments. The deserving — those who really worked for it, you know — will rise to the top, laughing as the industry falls to dust around them.
J. A. Konrath's blog, popular for its boosterism, self-help tone, and outspoken hatred for traditional publishing, has become a flashpoint for this kind of magical thinking. In a recent post, "The Industry Model Sucks," Konranth talks about how self-publishing through Amazon is better for the author because he gets more money for every copy sold:
[Traditional publishing is an] archaic, inefficient industry controlling the prices of the books I've written to further their own Machiavellian agenda. It's absurd that I'm the one who wrote the book, and I get 17.5 percent of list price, while the company setting my list price is getting 52.5 percent. Even worse, that company setting this list price is NOT PRICING TO MAXIMIZE REVENUE. They are PRICING TO PROTECT THEIR STRANGLEHOLD ON THE INDUSTRY which is HURTING MY INCOME.
Who could quibble with a model that pays the talent more money? It's easy to see why self-publishing advocates disdain bookstores and publishers: bookstores and publishers are staffed by autonomous individuals. In Amazon-land , the writer becomes a consumer — of the status of having published a book, of promotions that place his book in the middle of the virtual display table. If he wants to charge a quarter for his book, great! At least it will be his quarter.
But the notion that self-publishing is revolutionary— or even desirable for most authors — is horribly flawed.
SELF-PUBLISHING ISN'T PROFITABLE, OR MERITOCRATIC
OUT OF THE MISTS “I published it and forgot about it,” says author Sergio De La Pava about his first novel, A Naked Singularity. Until it started getting good reviews and a university press decided to pick it up.
For every Joe Konrath, there are many thousands of self-published authors who'll never see much revenue from their books. Some wouldn't make a dime off the old model, since no publisher would take them. Although nobody would begrudge an author who profits from his work, however modestly, the truth is that the Amazon model often doesn't yield profits. The truth is that self-publishing costs money.
Take one of this year's biggest self-publishing success stories, Sergio De La Pava. He's a Brooklyn-based public-defense lawyer who made headlines when his first novel, A Naked Singularity, was picked up by the University of Chicago press three years after he published it himself.
"I published it and forgot about it," De La Pava says. Even though he had moved on to his next novel, his wife — also a public defender — worked tirelessly to promote Singularity to review outlets she thought might appreciate it.