I unsubscribed from a trade author's posts to my Amazon Plog today after he quoted from and linked to the blog post of another trade fiction writer beating up on self publishers. I'm not giving either of their names because I don't want to generate publicity for them, but I thought the basic phenomena is worthy of comment. Why would a couple of successful trade authors feel they have the either the need or the expertise to write about self publishing?
For starters, I don't think it's fear of competition. Their take on self publishing is so negative that they undoubtedly see their posts as a public service. As to expertise on the subject, I write on all sorts of topics where I'm hardly an expert, so I can't really fault them for trying:-) But it's a phenomena I've seen quite a bit of, trade authors stepping up to "debunk" the business of self publishing, branding the vendors as con artists and the authors as suckers. In nearly all cases, they conflate self publishing with vanity publishing and confuse POD with the latter. They also declare in no uncertain terms that nobody would self publish a book unless they couldn't get a trade contract.
Taking the last point first, I quit being a trade author after authoring books that sold well over 100,000 copies because I earn more money and sleep better as a self publisher. I've turned down at least one trade contract every year since I began self publishing, including offers with advances for the last three titles I self published and for a couple more that were just a twinkle in the acquisition editor's eye. That's not an unusual situation for a successful self publisher, but the argument of the trade authors who have it in for self publishing would be that this sort of success is rare. Well I have news for them. Success as a trade author is rare as well, but it's easy to forget that once you're in the door and the checks and the offers are coming in regular.
Most trade authors commenting on self publishing fail to differentiate between authors who start their own publishing company and authors who pay a subsidy publisher to have a book printed and distributed for them. Thanks to years of participation on Internet discussion lists for trade authors back when that was my chosen career, I know why they fail to make this distinction. They don't care. It's of no interest to most trade authors who are settled on their career path to do homework about self publishing, anymore than they study up on printing, warehousing or distribution. There's about as much relation between starting your own publishing company and paying a subsidy publisher for publication as there is between playing professional sports and buying a ticket to the game. Which brings me to the final point.
The authors beating up on self publishing in this case were focused on fiction published by subsidy presses. Both authors are fiction writers themselves, and while they are undoubtedly aware that they have beaten some long odds to get there, one gets the feeling that they are as convinced as your typical billionaire that were they dumped naked on a street corner in Iceland without a dime to their name, much less a name, they'd be back on top of their game in no time. Never having been a billionaire, I don't know how well that would work. But as a former trade author, I know that luck, timing, and most importantly, my economic situation (savings and part-time consulting for income) were instrumental in getting an authoring career launched. It took time.
Not everybody has the time or the fire in the belly to embark of a dicey career path or to change horses midstream. Should such peoples be barred from writing books, or from dreaming about becoming a published author? I tell everybody who asks me questions about making a living as an author to start their own publishing company, but most of the unpublished authors who write me just want to get their poetry, memoir or novel in book form. Some have submitted to trade preses or agents, others never saw it as a career move to start with, they just want to see their years of late nights or early mornings printed up as a book. For those authors who have no business ambitions and aren't looking to publishing for an income, I recommend choosing an honest subsidy publisher who doesn't take any rights, paying a few hundred dollars, and not wasting any money on advertising or promotions.
It's hard for the professional authors to remember, but most people who write a book will never make any money from it and didn't write the book for that reason in the first place. When it comes to paying to see a book in print, just remember that the people who buy a ticket to see a game probably have a better time watching than the professionals who are playing it, and they don't have to take pain killers to get out of bed in the morning.