Indie Authors, Why They’re Telling You to Go Away

October 4, 2014
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Two major book media outlets this week told indie authors to go away.

And their reasoning will fascinate you.

Major media turn their backs on indie authors

Major media turn their backs on indie authors


It started with what editor-in-chief Roger Sutton of The Horn Book, Inc (which serves the children’s and YA market) called “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.”

Sutton writes that The Horn Book refuses books by indie authors because “there are too many of them.” And most of them are “pretty terrible.” And “the books aren’t filling any kind of need that isn’t already being met by established publishers.” Ouch.

Then Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, joined the fray with a column called “No, I don’t want to read your self-published book.” The title is actually a bit harsher than the rest of the column, but the points he makes are similar to Sutton’s.

We can’t deal with so many books.

Like Sutton, Charles tells indie authors that their sheer numbers are the main reason the Washington Post is ignoring them. “The idea of dumping several hundred thousand additional books on our small staff every year is terrifying,” he says.

Sutton was just as blunt: “If we were to commit to giving self-published books the same level of scrutiny we give to what we already cover, I would need to increase our staff exponentially.”

The “sheer numbers” argument is a strong one — but only in the context of a gatekeeper model. And that model is dying. (More on that in a moment.)

Are indie authors really such terrible writers?

Ron Charles does not directly address Sutton’s assertion about the quality of indie books. And even Sutton concedes that while most self-published children’s books are terrible, “self-publishing for adults these days is demonstrating considerably greater skill and sense of audience than it used to, especially when it comes to niche topics and genre fiction.” In other words, Mr. Sutton, you’re saying many indie authors are pretty good writers.

Charles admits the likelihood that the Post is overlooking some indie author gems: “Are there great, truly great self-published books being produced — and ignored — every year? I’m sure there are, and that’s a tragedy.”

But he can’t help returning to the “sheer numbers” argument: “It’s not a tragedy that I can solve by reading 25 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published book that would land in our office if we opened the door.”

But the gatekeeper is dead.

The Horn Book and the Washington Post represent the “gatekeeper” media model that maintained dominion over books, music, film, art, and television for decades. No work of creative art was worth your attention until an established media gatekeeper said it was. The gatekeepers need a “moat” to keep out all but the most qualified contenders for their attention, and in book reviewing, that means “no self-published titles.”

(I must disclose that I maintained a similar “no-indies” policy for many years when interviewing authors on network radio, for many of the same reasons Sutton lists.)

No, the Washington Post Book World and The Horn Book Inc cannot review every indie author’s book, or even a substantial fraction of them. But I find it difficult to believe that thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of indie books are suddenly going to swamp their offices if they were to decide that some of them may, in fact, deserve the attention.

But then again, as Roger Sutton told Ron Charles in an interview, “If old media is so passe, why do they care so much about what we think?”

Why, indeed?

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Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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6 Responses to Indie Authors, Why They’re Telling You to Go Away

  1. October 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Sometimes the transition from the old traditional publishing model to the next — electronically based — indie business model, seems like a revolution, but it’s really an evolutionary process. There’s going to be push-back. There are still readers uncomfortable with e-readers and plenty of news outlets reluctant to acknowledge that self-publishing and vanity presses are not the same thing.

    It’ll take time. I think the transformation is an ongoing process. I read both indie and conventionally published books. I’m NOT alone.

    • October 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Indeed, we’re in a unique place right now, witnessing a tectonic shift away from an old model to a new, not just in books but in the arts and media generally. The arguments that Sutton and Charles present make sense, but only in the context of the old model.

  2. October 8, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Great article! I think the “we’d be overwhelmed” argument is especially specious. An unworthy book usually displays its demerits very early on.

  3. Jean Joachim
    October 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I understand the overwhelming numbers of indie books. And, yes, that makes it impossible. And,yes, there are some truly terrible books being indie published. But what I can’t understand is the obvious lack of interest in attempting to find gems among the indies. I guess that means that the scope of these media outlets is severely limited and therefore, not really worth much anyway.

  4. October 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Gordon, you’re right – I’m not even a “book reviewer,” but I know flawed writing within the first two pages.

    Jean, the scope of a traditional, gatekeeper media outlet is, indeed, severely limited, as that’s what conferred upon them the power to be a gatekeeper. And they are resistant to surrendering that power.

  5. October 13, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Während es Hobbyhuren gibt, die für eine Stunde 50 Euro verlangen, gibt es durchaus auch jene Hobbyhuren, die der
    Ansicht sind, weit mehr wert zu sein.

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