Books by Melissa Bowersock

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Stage We're In

The wisdom, folly and meaning of independent publishing has certainly been argued to death over the last few years. As we speak, the fire rages on, sometimes with more vocal support, sometimes with more vehement abuse. There are days when it seems like the independent platform surges ahead in use, conviction and results; other days it seems to have to fight tooth and nail against outmoded opinion to prove itself yet again. 

So where, exactly, are we?

Let's use for our measuring stick a quote frequently attributed to Gandhi (but never proven):

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

The ignoring part is rather hard to place on a timeline, since it implies no action, no response--nothing. Suffice to say that Traditional Publishing (TP) ignored any other publishing source for decades because the only competition was vanity publishing and everyone knew that anyone who paid thousands to have their childlike memoir published, then filled their garage with boxes of books which they could never foist on enough people was a completely different animal and no competition at all. 

In 1999 when iUniverse was founded, its business-to-consumer print-on-demand publishing stripped the old vanity press model of most of its scaminess and created a new model of publishing that was accessible and affordable. No longer did Uncle Harry have to hock his 1957 Chevy to bankroll the gripping history of his shot glass collection. When Barnes & Noble invested in the company and began selling iUniverse books both online and in stores, another milestone was achieved. Not only could Uncle Harry keep his 57 Chevy, he could park it in the garage that was previously used to house boxes of books. 

All the while, muffled sniggers and chortles could be heard emanating from Traditional Publishing. Self-publishing? What a joke! 

Then in 2000, BookSurge was launched, a small company created by writers for self-publishing while retaining rights to content and sales profits. For the first time, a company existed for the express purpose of supporting independent writers rather than fleecing them. In 2005, Amazon bought BookSurge and in 2009 the company name was changed to CreateSpace. 

Amazon bought ...? Wait, you mean the 900 pound gorilla is getting into self-publishing? But, no, wait-- That's not ... that's not ... fair! Waugh!!

Suddenly the laughter stopped.

For Traditional Publishing, this was the gauntlet thrown down and the fight was on. It seemed that everyone ever connected to TP, from editors to agents to authors, had a blog post or an article about how inadequate self-publishing was, how awful the books were, how deluded the authors were, how scammed the readers were by this drivel that people tossed up on Amazon just because they could! There was no quality control, there was no vetting process, there was no GATEKEEPER, for God's sake! 

Amid all of TP's diatribe, however, independent authors just kept on doing what they were doing: writing great books, designing great covers, creating great platforms and selling books. 

Yes, selling books. 

But how many? Five? Ten? Okay, maybe fifty or a hundred. But not enough to threaten traditional publishing.

Enter Hugh Howey's data release in February 2014 showing that not only were indie books selling, they were selling very well, thank you very much. While the data release has spawned huge arguments about what it all means and where it's all going, Howey had this to say: The ... eye-popper here is that indie authors are outselling the Big Five. That’s the entire Big Five. Combined

Eight days later, Mark Coker, founder of the indie publishing platform Smashwords, weighed in on the meaning of Howey's data release with his own interpretation and with a stunning prediction: The indie author insurrection has become a revolution that will strip publishers of power they once took for granted.

Make no mistake, the fight is still on, but guess what? 

We're winning.