I've been reading some of the back and forth between TheWriteAgenda and Predators and Editors, Writer Beware, and the Science Fiction Fantasy Writer's Association, most of which seems to center around whether or not PublishAmerica is a pernicious predator on par with some sort of deep sea angler, dangling dreams in front of hopeful new writers in order to draw them into their toothy maw or whether they're really stand up guys who are providing routes of access for the little people into a market strangled by cronyism and a Manhattan bottleneck.
Incidentally, this is straight from the PublishAmerica website, bold original:
"Each day, an average 125 new authors who are looking to find a book publishing company ask us to publish their book, more than 30,000 per year, an absolute record in the industry. While we pride ourselves in maintaining lower acceptance barriers than any other traditional publisher, like all serious book publishing companies we have to be picky as we can only accept the works that meet our requirements in both areas. Our contract includes no author fees, period."
They have also apparently accepted one book deliberately written to be unpublishable and one book which was the same 30 pages repeated over and over, which doesn't say much for their review process.
It's also a little difficult to take TheWriteAgenda seriously because the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Association is loaded with individuals whose names I know and whose work I respect, and Predators and Editors and Writer Beware have both been highly recommended to me numerous times in blogs and interviews of genre editors, writers, and columnists. TheWriteAgenda is, by contrast, an unspecified number of anonymous individuals who are not releasing their names purportedly for the noble purpose of not detracting from their crusade by taking time to self-aggrandize and peddle their own works.
But, whatever, really. I have trouble believing they'll have all that much of an impact. Anecdotes and weird politics of disinformation aside, this and a few other incidents both online and in my personal life have made me look a little more closely at self-publishing and e-publishing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I currently have absolutely no interest in self-publishing. I'm looking for the prestige that comes with validation by the current system. That's not just shallow glory chasing- I've read and genuinely respect a lot of the writers who comprise organizations like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Horror Writers of America. I've exchanged some really lovely e-mail, even in the form of rejection letters, with traditional short fiction publishers. I've sat at home and read multiple editions of Wilding and Datlow's "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror". I'm a writer specifically because I dream of someday being able to sit at a table with Kij Johnson, Tim Pratt, and Kelly Link and have them respect me as a peer.
I also, quite notably, lack a burning belief that I have, to date, written something that, in its present state, absolutely deserves to be published no matter what anyone says, which I think is kind of the cornerstone of self-publishing. And that's the thing of it- you have people who believe that, and they're absolutely right. There are authors who have built up huge fan followings and/or catapulted themselves into lucrative publishing deals. But then you've also got the Jacqueline Howett types, who've put out something full of spelling errors and get spiky when you point that out; but that's really the problem. When whether or not you do get published is entirely dependent on whether or not you can pay the cost or use the technology, there's not a mechanism up front to sift out the best from, well, those who perhaps might have benefited from a bit of gate-keeping. The best signal gets drowned in a flood of noise, and you have to rely on a new sort of gate keeper on the back end. Ultimately they're more democratic, and this is a point in their favor- popularity aggregates by word of mouth and the playing field is leveled, at least in theory, down to the skill and tenacity of the self-published.
I'd like to pause for a moment to make a few armchair observations, as an aside, about the future of publishing. I don't think traditional publishing models are actually in danger of dying, as long as they're willing to adapt to the new technology and the shifting market place. Some have, and they really seem to be doing well. I do think consolidation, especially as parts of larger corporate entities (Harper Collins, for example, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation), tends to favor streamlining cost of production and a market strategy of fewer products designed to have the most broad appeal. The Top 40 model, in radio. While it doesn't necessarily mean those works selected are bad, it disincentivizes niches, risks, and untested talent. I suspect as the big six become more consolidated and printing technology becomes cheaper, we'll see a wider blossoming of small presses specializing in those three avenues, and the very best of e-publishing is just one more logical step in that direction.
I think the main problem, though, is not self- or e-publishing in and of itself. It's all the sharks in the water. Nobody wants to wait for their dreams to come true, and lots of people have promised a shortcut up and then run off once they had your wallet. Traditional publishers had the strength of their reputation as a safeguard against that sort of thing, though vanity presses and scams certainly flourished in their shade. (Not that that stopped Harlequin from trying to cash in on their name with an in-house vanity press.) With e-publishing, everything is relatively new and easy and the legitimate channels aren't well differentiated from the traps. But then you have the absence of gate keepers reducing the need for vanities at all. Why pay someone several thousand dollars to print your book when you can upload it right into the Kindle store yourself?
Ultimately dreams make you vulnerable. I don't think this makes it bad to have dreams, but you open yourself up to some hard knocks either way when you put tear yourself up, arrange it into words, and then try to get someone else to spend money on it. Most people won't, whether it's a traditional print editor or someone whose ninety-nine cents might conceivably buy them a heath bar instead of your book. Traditional publishing puts a lot more of that rejection up front. E-publishing downplays the rejection early on, but sometimes neglects to mention that even after you're published, that indifference still affects you profoundly.
Some people make it. Most people don't.
I love webcomics. For about the last ten years and some change, it has cost virtually nothing but a creator's time and effort to have a comic published on the web- so let's work for a moment on the shaky premise that the Kindle is the Keenspot for the tens. Over the decade, there have been thousands of these little comics being born and dying out. Ten years later, there are less than fifty comics that provide their creators with a living. It's one of those problems that sorts people into half-full and half-empty types. Thousands fell by the wayside, struggled in anonymity, or at the very least had to keep a day job (horrors!). The attrition is staggering by anyone's standards. But slightly less than fifty people who loved what they did were able to do it for a living, when they never would have been able to otherwise, which, you have to admit, is pretty damn cool.
So I guess those are my thoughts. The odds are still stacked against you, no matter how you chose to publish, but either way, you stand a chance to make it if you're good, and if you can put in the work.