It’s not uncommon (and it used to be far more common) to hear people decry the self-publishing industry. At least, there are as many who oppose the self-publishing movement as there are supporters of it. The common critique usually goes something like this: “Since anyone can publish anything, there’s a lot of garbage out there.” That’s certainly true, but there are some positive effects that self-publishing has had on the craft of writing itself.
One of the most noticeable effects is a renewed focus on the quality of prose. Now, you might be thinking, “But that’s just the point! There’s a lot of bad writing being published!” Again, I believe that’s true. But think about it this way. If everyone is given equal access to expression, if the restrictions that people used to encounter in publishing have disappeared, then what separates “good” writing and “bad” writing (I know, defining those categories is a job in itself) is not the matter of the message; it’s the manner. It’s not merely what you say, but how you say it. Readers now step into the limelight as judges of quality. And just because you can publish anything doesn’t mean that they’ll read it, as many self-published authors would affirm. It just means that they can read it, if it’s balanced, precise, rhythmic, clarifying, insightful, poetic. If it can charm the mind, it can keep the reader.
This, for me, is one of the reasons why traditional publishers are still vital to the industry. Traditional publishers have layers of quality inspection (initial readers, reviewers, editors, typesetters) that lead to a higher quality product. They also have something that self-published authors cannot buy: trust. Readers trust that traditional publishers know the difference between good prose and bad prose, and that they’ll keep the latter from entering the market (at least through their doors).
Now, this is not a post either in support of or in opposition to self-publishing. It’s simply a writer’s reflection. The plethora of new books published each year (between 500,000 and 1,000,000 in the US alone) means that authors must commit themselves to the craft of writing if they are even to have a chance at gaining readers. The number of books published annually is staggering, but the time in a reader’s day has not increased at all. That means they can afford to be very selective. If you’re a writer, excellence has to be your standard, not your goal. You can publish a million words a year, but they might never affect the perspectives of those for whom you write. The ease of publishing has meant, among other things, that quality is critical.