"Oh brave new world that has such people in it!"
We're hitting the dawn of an era where authors can literally go out and publish their own work by themselves. No longer are they truly constrained by the gatekeepers that once dominated the industry. They can hold forth and self-publish, market and put into the hands of eager readers their own words.
Leveling the Playing Field
Okay, maybe not. But I think it is good because now there are more choices to read than ever before. Works are being published and distributed at a fantastic rate. The ultimate in free speech is occurring -- namely anyone can say anything. We have true freedom of the press. Without the gatekeepers.
The playing field isn't completely level, but it's close enough. An independent author can self-publish a book and make millions -- provided there's a market for his or her work. So, where does the publisher come into play here? Is the publisher even needed?
The Need for Publishers
A friend of mine told me he was going with my publishing company because it would take him at least $1000 to self-publish his work and do it right. Actually, it would cost more than that because he needs an editor, a typesetter, a cover artist and a publisher. And he's a pro and an awesome author.
Another friend of mine was skeptical when I told him I wanted to publish him.
"I already have our self-published books up on a website," he said.
"Cool," I said. "How many books are you selling?"
"About 15 books a month."
"That few?" I let slip out. "Dude, I'm selling hundreds to thousands of my books a month."
Now, you can say I'm a better writer, or more popular (arguably, probably not), or you can say that the formula for my success has something to do with the way I market, publish and even have my books edited. And some folks still complain about them.
But sales numbers don't lie.
The Jungle of Self-Publishing
There's a lot of crap out there when it comes to self-published stuff. Anyone and his dog can put out a book through any one of the PODs and have a book. The problem is that most of these books are, well, garbage. They're not ready for publication.
The author who publishes crap has decided to stick the book out there before he or she has learned the craft. They haven't "paid their dues," as it were, and have put out a story that doesn't hang together, is full of typos and misspellings, and grammatical errors. If the author is somewhat smart, he or she might hire an editor and get it cleaned up enough to print. Maybe. There are crap editors just like there are crap authors.
So, what happens is that the author gets a few hits and then word gets around that he or she is no good and they get no more sales. Sad, but true. This is how the marketplace works.
The Difference between Self-Publishing and Going with a Publisher, or Money Flows to the Author
First, as the publisher of Sky Warrior Books, I have to think your story is interesting. Engaging. Not boring. It has to be of a certain professional level before I'll even consider publishing it. If I reject you, it's not because you're a crap author, but it's because you're not ready to be published yet or it's not the kind of work I publish.
Once I get you as an author, you get teamed up with an editor. The editor does what he or she does best, and that is edit. I have a professional cover artist do the covers. And we check the book over for problems.
Although I publish only e-books, my imprint publishes trade paperbacks and I have a line on RPGs and audiobooks I may license out. You never pay a cent to me; I pay you money. Money flows to the author.
Can Cream Rise to the Top?
With all the self-published books out there, can cream rise to the top? Of course. And it doesn't matter if you're published by a NY Publisher, me or self-published. If it's really good, it'll succeed. But interestingly enough, all the authors I have signed up are pro enough to publish their own work. If they had the time. And the money. And the promotions and skill level to market it.
I know enough writers who have tried it. Some with good results; some with not so good results. Like anything, it's a crap shoot, but at least I have enough knowledge to understand the game.