An article by Mokoto Rich in the New York Times recently covered the booming industry of self-publishing books. As traditional publishing houses scramble for an increasingly smaller reading public and suffer from the effects of the re/depression, many writers unable to sell their manuscripts are choosing to foot the bill to publish them themselves. There are six reasons that I see this as the worst trend to hit American writing in a century. These are
1. No-one vetts self-published books, allowing even the most puerile piles of crap to adopt the guise of polished, professional prose. While hacks often can't restrain themselves from titles that tip their hand as talentless, readers browsing through the infinity of the Amazon catalog could be fooled into wasting their money. Rich quotes an executive of Lulu, a self-publishing house, as saying "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind." Wow.
2. Self-publishing kills the drive for writers to improve their craft. The artificial, undeserved success they enjoy will trap them in mediocrity.3. Self-published authors are the bane of bookstore managers everywhere. If the number of authors who drop by the stores begging for shelf space were replaced with customers, book stores might start making money again.
4. Self-publishing demeans the accomplishments of successful authors. When everybody has a book out, where will a young writer to find the aspiration to write the next The Sound and the Fury?
5. Self-publishing drives down the value of quality prose by suggesting to the public that making money is of no consequence. And this is an important point - self-published works almost never make more than pocket change, and often end up costing the writer and/or his relatives handsomely. The few that do well are notable exceptions, but are overly publicized by the industry hoping to drive more business.
6. To the degree that self-publishing drives out good writing, the reading experience will be diminished.
If you care about literature and value good writing, don't honor the self-published simply because they have a book. Anyone can buy a bat and a glove, after all, but how many can play center field for the Yankees?
For a hilarious example of bad writing, check out what many think is the worst sci-fi novel ever written, The Eye of Argon, Read it aloud. (thanks, Tobias Buckell)
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