Writing on the Ether: Self-Publishing’s Parallel Disruptions

21 November 2013 iStock_000002016601XSmall photog hfng texted story image 2

Table of Contents

  1. “The Trap (for Many) of Self-Publishing”
  2. Question: Which Event Would Mean More to You?
  3. “A Diminishing Part of the Market”
  4. “Increasingly confusing and complicated”
  5. Not Ready for Publication? Not Even Ready for Editing


“The Trap (for Many) of Self-Publishing”

The 10,000 hours required to master the complex art form of fiction is a lot to ask. Most [writers] seek validation along the way, hence the trap (for many) of self-publishing.

This is one of two parallel disruptions generated by self-publishing. And this week, they’ve come into a little clearer view of each other.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Donald Maass

It comes as news to no one in the industry! the industry! that self-publishing is controversial. We may tend, however, to think of it as controversial for that industry, while not looking at what it can mean for writers and writing. It is, in fact, a development full of argument not only for publishers but also for literature.

I sometimes wonder whether self-published authors actually read other self-published authors. There are stacks of such stuff at my agency and just an hour with them would show anyone why those novels didn’t make it with New York publishers.

This is agent Donald Maass writing about “such stuff” in one of his terrific comments at Writer Unboxed. Maass is a fellow monthly contributor with me there, and a frequent, effective responder to many of the posts.

Dave King

Dave King

He was exceptionally articulate in his comment, for example, on my own post from the end of the last week, Leveling Up: In Praise of Writer Dads. And he’s no less eloquent in the comment he’s made on editor and contributor Dave King’s post, Creating a Masterpiece.

I want to use some more from Maass before I go further on this because his comments, especially paired with some others I’ll show you shortly, are some of the most potentially troubling yet.


The road to traditional print publication is longer today but it can be done. Writers are doing it all the time, even now. True enough, publishers are highly resistant. This is the toughest market I’ve seen in my 36 years in the industry.

However, it’s tough because recession battered retailers and readers don’t have the patience to see new authors through their early training novels. They want mastery, in the modern sense, right away. Especially for $25. In a way, who can blame them?

His phrase “in the modern sense” about mastery, by the way, gets at King’s very apt point:

In the days when many professions were controlled by guilds, your masterpiece was not your best or most celebrated work. It was your first halfway decent work – the piece you presented to the guild judges to show you deserved to be named a master of your craft.

But, as King writes:

One supposed shortcut I try to steer clients away from is self-publishing. I realize that there are examples of much-rejected novels finding self-published success. I’ve also encountered writers for whom self-publishing made sense for other reasons. But for most writers, self-publishing is a distraction from the real business of writing. I certainly understand and sympathize with the temptation. If you’ve already put in a year or more of hard work creating characters you love and a plot you can recite in your sleep, the siren song of Amazon Kindle can be nearly irresistible. But while you will get something to put on your shelf, or in your e-reader, you will probably spend a lot of time and money trying to market a novel you should be rewriting.

Those words, like Maass’ comments, won’t fall easily on the ears of many.  I know that, you know that. Let me give you King’s most succinct layout of his point:

You don’t become a writer by writing a novel. You become a writer by learning to write. Your novel may only be a means to that end.

And Maass, from his rejoinder:

The very conditions that make it so difficult can also be taken as a challenge. High mastery is expected of symphony musicians, ballerinas, Olympic athletes, brain surgeons and more. Why not novelists too?

What do you “hear” in your mind’s ear when you read King and Maass on this?

It’s easy to say that they’re condemning much of self-publishing as a dodge, isn’t it?—to say that they’re accusing self-publishers of jumping to get their work out without paying a true journeyman’s dues.

We’ve been doing a lot of time on what self-publishing means to the industry. What about what self-publishing means to the work? To the art? To literature?

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Question: Which Event Would Mean More to You?

We frequently hear speculation about when “a really big author” is going to cross over into self-publishing, primarily, abandoning a major house in the process. The implication in the question is generally that we’re talking about more than a “hybrid” author’s split of work between traditional and self-publishing. This question normally imagines a kind of sonic boom in the business, a huge icon’s ardent defection to self-publishing. It’s a question of industry.

But here’s what we don’t hear a lot of speculation about: When does a  native self-publisher—a writer whose career is originally in self-publishing—become that “really big author”? When does it run the opposite direction, when does someone from the “indie” ranks, in other words, ascend to the status of a “big book”-writing, market-driving, industry-influencing powerhouse author?

Can we see such a phenom yet?

Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey may be among the closest so far. Not only is his WOOL (or Silo Saga) trilogy, of course, getting a lot of genuine long-distance traction (as of Frankfurt, he had 30 foreign publishers for it), but he also continues to roll out  new work, much of it helping to set him and his writings in the context of success that generally helps define a major talent.

For example, he writes this week from here in Europe (still on tour for the Silo Saga) of The Apocolypse Triptych he’s producing for publication in summer 2014 with John Joseph Adams of Lightspeed, the heavily regarded and awarded science-fiction anthology.

Apocalypse Triptych artwork by Julian Faylona

Apocalypse Triptych artwork by Julian Faylona

Of special importance here is that Howey is electing to write material that relates to the WOOL books, “one [story] from the before, one from during, and one from after.”

The triptych has given me an excuse to revisit a place I didn’t think I would ever see again. I’m excited as hell about that.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013, Writer UnboxedParticularly in new treatments of the Silo Saga construct, this project can represent the sort of maturing of a creative consciousness that could well, yes, mean a potential runaway some day. But clearly that’s not how Howey or anyone else goes about creative work of any kind. The intentional, self-made blockbuster is a mythic beast.

And for our  purposes here, it seems interesting to note that, in general, we tend to await the “big author who goes indie,” the business move, with more anticipatory excitement than we watch for the independent author who goes big, the rise of a writer’s literary profile.

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“A Diminishing Part of the Market”

What publishers need to understand is that they have some built-in handicaps. One is speed. Publishers are slow compared to authors. And there’s very little a publisher can do to change that.

The second thing is that publishers need to share more of the revenue — a big chunk of the revenue. That’s two things a publisher has to compensate for if they’re going to be appealing to an author.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker

Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin is probably our best-known longtime industry consultant and a player in the business for  more than 50 years. He seems unusually pointed about the potential upheavals of self-publishing on the business in his Jeremy Greenfield interview, The Challenge and Opportunity of Self-Published Authors for Publishers, ahead of the #DBF14 conference (January 13-15) that Shatzkin programs.

As sales move online and concentrate at Amazon, a publisher can’t really make a huge difference in Amazon compared to what an author can do on their own. So, the publisher has to make a difference in a diminishing part of the market, which is everything else.

And here he sums up the possibilities from the viewpoint of many author who may be skeptical of what traditional publishing can do for them.

If it [ebook adoption and Amazon market-share growth] stopped where we are now, with amazon getting 35% to 40% of the [print and ebook] business, and online being half the business, then you still have a pretty firm basis for a publisher to make a difference in the career of an author. But if Barnes & Noble closed or if the Amazon share goes up to 60%, it’s going to get extremely difficult for publishers to persuade authors that they’re worth employing.

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“Increasingly confusing and complicated”

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing

Jane Friedman

It may come as a relief to some writers to find our great colleague and Ether sponsor Jane Friedman addressing the question of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing this week by writing:

It’s an important question—one that tends to result in heated debate—but it’s becoming an increasingly confusing and complicated question to answer because:
(1) There are now many varieties of traditional publishing and self-publishing—with evolving models and varying contracts.
(2) You won’t find a universal, agreed-upon definition of what it means to “traditionally publish” or “self-publish.”
(3) It’s not an either/or proposition. You can do both.

4-Key-Publishing-Models-662x1024If Friedman thinks things are getting more complex, not less, then maybe the rest of us aren’t crazy, after all.

Friedman is introducing Infographic: 4 Key Book Publishing Paths, a smart second-version update to her Key Book Publishing Paths Infographic

In consultation with self-publishing writers and observers—including those in discussion at Mick Rooney‘s Independent Publishing Magazine , she now identifies four key paths, making an original fifth path, partnership publishing, part of the traditional pathway.

Her four pathways, each fully explicated in this free infographic, are routes she characterizes as traditional; self-publishing; do-it-yourself; and community. The details in her infographic are well worth your attention.

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Not Ready for Publication? Not Even Ready for Editing

Never mind publishing. What if the author’s manuscript is not ready for editing?

Carla Douglas

Carla Douglas

That’s the question posted by Carla Douglas in Self-Pubs: Is Your Editor Trying to Tell You Something? at Beyond Paper Editing.

Friedman’s infographic and good counsel are, like Shatzkin’s observations, more related to the industry questions, the state-of-the-business issues around self-publishing.

King’s points and Maass’ follow-up are closer to concerns held by many about quality and, most keenly, about authors’ own abilities to appraise and execute on their own personal levels of capability. This is where Douglas, an editor, is focused, writing:

Catherine Ryan Howard, at her self-publishing blog Catherine, Caffeinated, published the results of a poll that asked: Do you read self-published books differently? The answer? A resounding “yes.” …Howard’s respondents regard self-published books as WIPs. Ah. 

So remember when Maass writes, “I sometimes wonder whether self-published authors actually read other self-published authors.” Douglas is pointing out, through Howard’s unscientific but telling bit of survey work, that self-published writers may be reading each other’s work, but seeing it as works-in-progress, unfinished, fixable.

It’s doubtful that paying readers see it that way or want to.

It’s not likely at all that self-published authors might announce their work as such to readers.

Tanya Egan Gibson

Tanya Egan Gibson

And Douglas finally points us to where I want to leave you on these questions about quality and about author responsibility in self-publishing, with a piece by Tanya Egan Gibson run by Brian Krebs  at Writer’s Digest.

In 10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should, Gibson parses the problems of premature publication and editing with easy clarity some won’t like at all.

She elaborates well on each point, I’ll just give you some highlights.

  • You should avoid the temptation to hire someone to edit your first draft.
  • An editor is not a ghostwriter.
  • Your editor is likely to feel more invested in the kind of book she enjoys reading.
  • It’s a waste of time and money to hire someone to copy edit your book before you’ve addressed all developmental and line edits.
  • There’s a difference between wanting to publish this book and wanting to learn how to write better.
  • Tinkering is not revising.

There are more points there, I hope you’ll look at them.

And I hope we all can put some thought into what really comes down to two bodies of debate running in parallel about self-publishing.

One is the industry question. As Shatzkin tells us and as Friedman’s infographic reveals, the technical questions of what self-publishing and how it can affect the industry and/or be best deployed by authors in various circumstances.

The other is the literature question. Which, finally, lies closer to the readership question. As King and Maass and Douglas and Howard and Gibson all have flagged in different ways, the process of writing and editing, of conceptualizing a work and its readiness for editing, let alone publication, is being disrupted along with the industry’s traditions. This part of the field is harder to argue (no matter how you see it) because it’s never far from charges of subjective opinion, writerly professionalism, and—if you really want to clear the room—talent.

The issues of the marketplace, of publishers’ and authors’ practices within the business, will work themselves out on the floor of the plaka, as ever, although, as we’ve seen, it’s hardly a quiet process.

Our questions, though, of how self-published material is prepared, processed, appraised, and produced may be, in the long run, the more difficult.

In the traditional model, even an amateur writer, if picked up by a publisher, has had a team of professional text-wranglers standing between him and his readership.

In self-publishing, that same writer has no such experts to guide and enrich the work unless he, the writer, (a) knows he needs them and (b) takes on the responsibility to engage them before publishing.

Which disruption—of industry or literature—do you think is likeliest to prove most critical?

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Main image: iStockphoto – hfng

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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46 Comments on "Writing on the Ether: Self-Publishing’s Parallel Disruptions"

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AC James
I think the number one thing that indie authors should invest in is giving their MS time to breath in between writing and revision. Only then should you look at it. And then have your CP read it. Revise, revise, and revise again. After all that, you need to find a good editor who won’t co-sign your bullshit. Rinse, repeat, revise again. I have read many self-published books and understand why some people cringe. I know I’m still growing as an author, but I do think that it is possible for your work to have standards, be polished, and find… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@acjames:disqus Hey, AC, Apologies for my late reply — a coverage trip to London for The FutureBook Conference there slowed me down this week. I think your advice about letting a manuscript breathe is very apt. Even a sensitive email benefits from a night as a draft rather than being sent right away. I also agree that it’s fully possible for self-published authors to establish and stick to standards. It is, however, very hard for some writers to know what those standards are. The digital dynamic draws a lot of folks to the industry who are, in a word, amateurs… Read more »
Jane Friedman
I’m currently working on a long piece about serializations (for Scratch Magazine), and recently had an opportunity to chat with some of the folks from Wattpad. One of the points I came away with—that really resonated probably because of my recent collaborative writing experience in Frankfurt (Sprint Beyond the Book)—is that younger people are using the site, and the serialization process, as a way to learn writing. Also, writing a scene or a chapter at a time is not as intimidating as deciding to write an entire book. The semi-public performance of writing the work, and gathering motivating feedback and… Read more »

[…] Table of Contents “The Trap (for Many) of Self-Publishing” Question: Which Event Would Mean More to You? “A Diminishing Part of the Market” “Increasingly confusing and complicated” Not Ready for Publication?  […]

Fascinating, and I have to say a lot of excellent points on the part of the discussion – the quality of the literature – that interests me the most. A couple of points to make 1. I read other self-published writers. Quite a lot of them. I have found some of the most remarkable writing I have ever come across in those ranks – writers like Penny Goring, Andy Harrod – even Kate Tempest, who has since gone on to win a very major gong with her Picador-published Brand New Ancients (yes, she’s a poet, but if you want a… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@eightcutsgallery:disqus Hello, Dan, It’s great to have you here. For our readers who don’t pick up your name since you’re using the title “Eight Cuts Gallery,” this is Dan Holloway, a UK-based author and frequent commenter on the self-publishing scene, a prominent member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). Always good to hear from you and my apologies for the late reply — flying back and forth to your country for the FutureBook Conference and coverage ( http://ow.ly/rbXs9 ) has thwarted the usual timing. 🙂 To your first point, it’s good that you’re seeing so many self-published writers’ work… Read more »
apologies – I think my disqus account is linked to one of my twitter accounts and has an avatar from the other, or something equally bizarre! On the first point – I think we are agreeing – I was saying just how rare the truly brilliant stuff is – I absolutely agree that “almost publishable”, whilst it represents what many in the self-pubishing world seem to consider the pinnacle of self-publishing (i.e. when I read a book all the recommendation sites and people I respect rave about, by and large the best I think is that it’s almost publishable) is… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@eightcutsgallery:disqus t Dan, thanks for all this — good to have the clarifications and further thoughts (some very smart thinking here). To your very last point, the media will never satisfy folks working at the more granular and conflicted levels of these issues as you are (or as I am, for that matter). Our media have made simplicity one of the guiding mechanisms of their effectiveness and they will always attempt the most crushingly simplistic interpretation of things possible. As long as the widest population accepts this approach as valid, we’ll be struggling against its shallowing result, which pleases advertisers… Read more »
I think you’re right about energy – in the mental health world we’re used to talking about spoons, represeinting a finite energy resource we have, and one that gets automatically depleted for those with mental health problems simply by the effort of mundane tasks – I think you’re right that it’s a germane way of thinking about our energy levels in the digital age. Which makes your rousing last paragraph (that I wholeheartedly agree with) an interesting one – it would seem that the key if we are to make art that requires the use of significant energy in its… Read more »
m.e. welman
“The very conditions that make it so difficult can also be taken as a challenge. High mastery is expected of symphony musicians, ballerinas, Olympic athletes, brain surgeons and more. Why not novelists too?” “But for most writers, self-publishing is a distraction from the real business of writing.” Yes, why not novelists too? But doesn’t that mean getting past the gate-keepers to to prove one’s worth and talent as a writer? For surgeons, athletes and musicians there are well-laid out processes to gain those proficiencies. For writers, there are steps–and I took them–to achieve that mastery, but in the end, no… Read more »
Barry Knisteer
M.E.Welman–Your comment makes a lot of sense, at least to me. Maass & Co need to consider the state of their own profession. What about the many agents and editors with little or no experience/literary sophistication who nevertheless are standing in publishing’s schoolhouse door? Traditional publishing has failed many good authors by forcing them to take the only remaining path open. As a result, decent books and some very good ones are mingled with drek, in what one wag calls “the leper colony of the industry,” indie publishing. And if you sense in this someone talking about himself, you aren’t… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@M.E. Welman Hi, M.E, Thanks so much for your thoughts, sorry for my late comeback, lots of travel. I get everything you’re saying. Is it not possible that mastery of this profession includes learning how to handle the gatekeepers? I hardly wish them on anyone, believe me, but they will always be with us … in the form of the readership if not before. And surely as in the old days a master fresco painter had to master the not-so-fine art of handling a touchy ad stingy patron in order to get paid, a writer today must learn to finesse… Read more »
m.e. welman
Hi Porter, Thanks for the reply. I’ve been mulling over your question about mastery and the gatekeepers and you are right, there is a large portion of our work that includes that. My screenwriting classes at NYU were, at times, focused entirely on how to pitch what you’ve got, so yes, that’s a huge part of the profession. With regards to what Barry said above, learning to get past the gatekeepers with little experience is, unfortunately, part of that too. I’ve read more books than some of them have been alive by number of days. I think it’s also a… Read more »
Lexa Cain
I so enjoy coming to this blog and getting a great overview of a topic! Yes, there are plenty of self-published writers who just don’t see the need to study, learn, or improve, and they’re so sad–amazed even–when their book doesn’t sell. I doubt they’ll ever change. But I must disagree with Maass’s (?) comment about Big 5 pubbed writers being masters and Olympians. I’ve read plenty of books from major publishers that have plot holes, shallow characters, or ridiculous premises, etc. and get trashed by the critics. Plus many large publishers put a stranglehold on a book’s rights (digital,… Read more »
Anne R. Allen
Donald Maass’s remarks sound as if they’ve just arrived via TARDIS from 2009. All self publishers are raw amateurs? He’s never heard of Barry Eisler or Joe Konrath or Ruth Harris or the 1000s of midlisters who have left traditional publishing to make a living self-publishing? And obviously the name Hugh Howey has never made it into his consciousness. He doesn’t seem to know that most successful self-publishers are long-time professional writers who have already reached Mr. Maass’s august citadel of traditional publishing… and rejected it. His revered NY Publishing houses are the home of Snooki novels and children’s books… Read more »

I’m a big fan of self publishing, but to be fair, Donald Maass never said that *all* self publishers were amateurs, and the context of his comment makes it clear (to me at least), that he’s talking about beginning writers and a specific problem he’s encountered in the slushpile.

Susan G. Weidener
Interesting that one of the key characteristics Friedman quotes for “traditional publishing” is that you pay nothing. My understanding is that partnership publishing can require a significant upfront outlay once the manuscript is accepted. In addition, one has to consider the “hidden costs” associated with traditional publishing in terms of lower royalties and higher pricing to purchase books, etc. than being self-published. I feel that part of the ongoing dialogue needs to include sales figures. I would be interested in a study that attempts to show how being “traditionally published” for the everyday author (not people landing on the bestseller… Read more »
Jane Friedman
This may be a problem of shared or indistinct terminology. I’ve heard “partner publishing” used to refer to situations that I would call “subsidized publishing,” where authors pay for production and/or marketing costs. As far as my definition, however (for the infographic), I’m trying to point to arrangements that follow the so-called “rules” of traditional publishing, but implement them in a more sustainable and sometimes innovative manner, by making the author a true “partner.” This typically means no advance and a revenue share. In such cases, the publisher has something risked (the time and energy of the staff that go… Read more »
Virginia Munoz

I’m not sure what self published authors you hang out with, but everyone I know talks sales figures and money. That’s why were doing what we do. Some of us don’t care if they make a living at this or not, but the majority do. Check out the self publishing group on yahoo. I would say almost all are incredibly open about the money made and sales. Only when some have hit the absurdly high sales (millions) do they bow out of the conversation.


[…] One of the most insidious “reasons” I’ve found to defame self-publishing appeared in the article, Self-Publishing’s Parallel Disruptions. […]


Great post, Porter. I think generalisations should be avoided. 50 Shades is now traditionally published, so what? Every writer is unique and definitely not defined by a publishing route. I get Maass’s point. In any profession there is enough schlock 🙂

“The very conditions that make it so difficult can also be taken as a challenge. High mastery is expected of symphony musicians, ballerinas, Olympic athletes, brain surgeons and more. Why not novelists too?” As Anne’s comment suggests, there are many outside the ranks of the elite who still have talent–as musicians, athletes, or what have you–and have spent years practicing their craft. (I’ll grant him brain surgeons; I really don’t want anyone but the best of the best slicing my head open.) Are none of these people permitted to share their abilities with others? Of course they are. Many of… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@disqus_wNYgYhdkTY:disqus Hey, Leslie, Many thanks for sharing your thoughts here, much appreciated (and sorry not to get back to you more quickly, it’s been an exceptionally challenging month). I do get and appreciate what you’re saying. I’ll just offer you one thought in return to consider. When we ask whether a rush to self-publish on the part of some — not all — authors could be short-circuiting better work and damaging the literary oeuvre overall, it may not be entirely the writers we’re concerned for. You speak of Amazon’s generous return policies (hear, hear, I’m a fan!) and of the… Read more »
Hey Porter, Thanks for your thoughts; the system just, very frustratingly, ate my reply. Since this is an important topic, I’ll try to reconstitute it as best I can. We agree that that quality writing is worthy of promotion, and that authors should strive to master their craft and produce the best work they can–some of which, depending on the writer, may make its way into the annals of great literature. Beyond that, I perceive a number of assumptions embedded in your response that are worthy of further examination. I’ll grant, for the sake of discussion, your assertion that self-publishing… Read more »
Jan Thompson
Good article, as always, Mr. Anderson. Two things came to mind as I read your blog: 1. While there are self-publishers who are picked up by traditional houses for wider distribution, especially for print, anecdotal word on the street is that a number of self-publishers who have been offered the option to go traditional (or hybrid) have been earning more on their own than the advances that traditional publishers could offer them. I think things could change if the deals are sweeter, but print-only contracts are not easy to get these days for obvious reasons. Everybody wants a piece of… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@jan_thompson:disqus Hi, Jan, My apologies for the incredibly late reply (travel and a near-perfect storm of deadlines in the past couple of weeks). And do call me Porter. Your points are very well taken, especially the idea (I’ve run into this, too) of an innovative writer’s voice or concept being diluted or damaged or “normalized” by the introduction of developmental and/or copy editing. This is a dangerous myth, as veteran writers know — even the most avant garde of them. A truly singular voice is one of the great treasures produced from time to time by literature. And no professional… Read more »
Jan Thompson
Thank you, Porter. And a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Glad you traveled safely. I hear you on publishing democracy, and agree on the need for quality in both the self-publishing and traditional publishing arenas, stanching off “bad work coming from pros who should know better.” On amateurism, the good news is, as you alluded to, all professional writers began as amateurs at some point in their careers (most astronomers would concur). To me, that genesis, that nursery, that incubator, can be applied to self-publishing that has produced both diamonds and cubic zirconia in what some of us… Read more »
Nick LeVar
As a book blogger for self-published authors, I strongly agree with the notion that other professionals don’t become professional until they master their crafts. Somehow, we have gotten away from that. Someone, somewhere, started the idea that there are no rules, and I think self-published authors have taken that belief the wrong way. There are rules, and it would behoove a beginning author to follow them. But in order to do so, one has to study and practice with a borderline unhealthy obsession. Most people are not willing to do that. It’s too easy to self-publish, and that makes for… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@2b1af1ba9386176d3075ec7798a001e8:disqus Hey, Nick, Please forgive my insanely late comeback here — some overseas travel and a few Thanksgiving-cancelling deadlines have conspired to make the last couple of weeks even more mad than normal. 🙂 But I did want to get back to you and thank you for taking the time to make this extremely cogent point about the fact that there ARE rules, and the “there are no rules” jargon enjoyed by our open-access-loving friends and colleagues in online settings actually can mislead folks, especially newcomers, into thinking this means that publishing and the literary arts have somehow been sprung… Read more »

[…] In Writing on the Ether at JaneFriedman.com, Porter Anderson looks at how self-publishing may be disrupting both the industry and editorial process.  […]

Jami Gold

Fantastic post, Porter! I agree that it takes many, many hours and words to reach the point where our work is worth publishing, and yes, too many want the shortcut. I find it depressing (ridiculous?) that some would consider a self-published book as a work in progress. I wrote about that phenomenon two years ago, and if anything that attitude seems to have spread.

I’m all for self-publishing, but I expect self-pub authors to have just as professional an attitude as any other. If not, they can’t expect professional level respect, IMHO.

Porter Anderson
@JamiGold:disqus Jami! Forgive this terribly late reply — it’s been a couple of weeks of unbelievable deadlines and travel here. But many thanks for your kind note and perceptive comments. You’re completely right, of course, about the folly of thinking that something self-published is a work in progress. On the other hand, I worry at times that the rise of “agile” processes that guide the author to test various iterations of a book (or part of it) on readers, then make changes and updates, may actually contribute to this attitude about digital works as being less than “real” or “finished.”… Read more »
Barry Knister

Maass says: “This is the toughest market I’ve seen in my 36 years in the business.” I’ve been hearing the same statement from agents and editors for longer than 36 years. Assuming it’s still true, that means “the market” just keeps getting tougher all the time. If you add to it the new pre-condition that any new-hire in a publisher’s stable of authors must demonstrate a gift for self-promotion, what possible incentive is left to stick with the traditional approach?

Porter Anderson
@936e6c683b24a7467147fe53d5ab8370:disqus Hi, Barry, Sorry to be late getting back to you, some international travel slowed me down. I think many writers would say that the traditional publishers’ capacity for wide distribution in print — getting books into the stores that even Amazon can’t reach — is a considerable benefit. I also think a lot of writers who prefer to have such services as editing and design handled by the top-drawer team a publisher can provide. Some authors still appreciate an advance, albeit perhaps a smaller one than they might first have had. There are other reasons some authors prefer to… Read more »

[…] Porter Anderson (Jane Friedman) with Writing on the Ether: Self-Publishing’s Parallel Disruptions […]


[…] Writ­ing on the Ether:  Self-Publishing’s Par­al­lel Disruptions […]

Mary Burns
Very glad to read this discussion. As a traditionally published writer who has recently turned to epublishing, the writing quality issue worries me. I dread being among writers who care more about going public than about making the best work that they can. I just read an article about Phillip Roth, who confessed that he might get a page that satisfied him after five or six hours work. Compare that to the advice I have read re self-publishing, that more is better, i.e. the more often you publish, the more likely it is that people will notice you/your work. I… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@disqus_B3IxJ8bXan:disqus Mary, thanks for your good input here. I agree with you that the most alarming element of the movement at this point may be this quickly-to-market thing. Roth is inspirational in this context (and many others) for that very fact of such long, painstaking work. To some degree — and with many fine exceptions — I think the digital dynamic has opened us to a great many folks who simply aren’t coming from the same place as some of our best-honored traditionally published leaders like Roth. I’ve had the same issues you’re having with self-published material I’ve read. Am… Read more »
Mary Burns

Thanks. In the spirit of the season, I will concentrate on the hopeful instead of the tough and keep on keeping on.

Linda Aksomitis
Great discussion here! As a hybrid author I’m reveling in the freedom that self-publishing gives me to write and publish the dozens of ideas I’ve pitched over the years that traditional publishers felt were too “niche.” Now, I can write to my niche and find my own readership, skipping the middleman who often said “no thanks.” That said, there are still a couple of book ideas that I’ll beat the pavement for to sell through traditional channels, simply because I feel that’s where they should be to reach the audience I want. I think it’s awesome that authors like Hugh… Read more »
Porter Anderson


Linda, thanks for this. You have precisely the right idea, congratulations, this is how to handle your material — case by case, whatever is best for each work. Do check our new Ether just out today with Hugh Howey’s insightful commentary on a problem we have in surveying earnings of traditional vs. self-publishing authors, I think you’ll find some rich thinking there: http://ow.ly/rHPkV
Thanks again!
On Twitter @Porter_Anderson

Virginia Munoz
Several thoughts. First, I’m a traditionally published author with Harlequin, who jumped to self publishing. I was perfectly content(and making tons more money) self publishing, but Simon and Schuster offered to buy one of my self published series and I came back to traditional publishing. Hugh Howey is not the only one. We are here and we are growing. Not sure where we fit into Donald Maas’s vision of the slush piles that circle his desk… There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, and all that jazz Anyway, as for this line: “In the traditional model, even an… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@virginia_munoz:disqus Very cogent points, Virginia, thank you. I’m especially glad you brought up the potential pitfall of the self-published author who may feel empowered to dismiss the points offered by a paid editor at his or her peril. This is, I’m sure, happening. And while any of us can understand the wrong side of edits imposed on a book by a publishing house, we can also understand, as you’re saying, the danger of bad decisions made by authors about editors whom they’re free to dismiss. It is, indeed, an odd set-up. And one of the most frustrating aspects of it… Read more »

[…]  Writing on the Ether: Self-Publishing’s Parallel Disruptions (Jane Friedman) […]


[…] This November 2013 Writing on the Ether feature from Porter Anderson addresses that elephant sitting quietly in the front office of Self-Publishing Inc. It’s not as if this topic hasn’t been discussed here before; it has. (Here, for example. Also here, here, here, here, and this one has links to older posts.) As you can see, industry professionals have been wringing their hands over this for quite some time. […]


[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER | Self-Publishing & Lit­er­a­ture | JANEFRIEDMAN.COM […]