This is a ponder piece rather than an opinion piece.
Despite having run the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off for two years I don't have strong opinions about self-publishing other than to say that there are definitely brilliant self-published books and that being brilliant does not guarantee that they will take off.
Here's my thought.
To get a book off the ground you need either a lot of luck or a significant push. Any book needs to break the noise barrier and achieve a critical mass of readers before it can launch as far as its quality can carry it.
If you get a good deal with a large publisher they will put their weight behind you and it helps a lot. Bloggers will be interested because the publisher's name carries a cachet (an expectation of quality), and the book will be in stores. This all gives significant advantage.
But the big publishers (and the literary agents who have their attention) are the much-maligned gate-keepers. It's their opinion that keeps countless books from the public. The tastes and guesses of a handful of people are standing in the way of writers having their work tested in the crucible of public opinion. That's the theory, and it is true. It sounds elitist.
Now consider the alternative. Self-Publishing allows anyone to put a book immediately before the general public. The trouble is that so many books are put into the public eye this way that almost all of them are overlooked, and that brilliant books can flounder.
So, many self-published authors consider how they can help themselves. Many spend some dollars. They might buy a great cover. They might pay for some Facebook adverts etc. And with swift access to sales statistics I have already seen sensible scientific approaches to this where an author spends in one way, looks at the impact, spends in another, looks at the impact etc.
It seems clear that these publicity strategies will be honed and shared, with ever more bang-per-buck delivered.
But what then? Consider two authors with equally good books. Jenny A is a stock broker and Sarah B stacks shelves at Walmart. Jenny drops $10,000 into tried and tested book publicizing methods. Sarah B does not. Jenny has purchased herself a much better chance of success.
But if they approached a traditional publisher both would stand exactly the same chance. Suddenly the elitism of the big publishers is sounding egalitarian and the even playing field offered by self-publishing is sounding as if it can be tilted in favour of those with money.
Conclusion? I don't really have one. There are problems on both sides of this fence. Do you feel better thinking it was the opinions of a minority of supposed experts that kept you from success or that it was your inability or unwillingness to invest (gamble) enough in publicizing your own book? Neither sounds good.
On the plus side, it is certainly still possible to do well following either route if you have a good book and some luck!
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