Has the rise of self-publishing tainted the ‘purity’ of books?

Yes, that does sound pretentious.  Tell me about it.  I was going to write ‘fuck off’ under that first sentence because that’s what I really feel like saying to those who subscribe to this idea.  Believe it or not, there are sensitive souls out there who might say yes – actually it has darling, the rise of self-publishing has tainted the ‘purity’ of books.  They’ll say that the beautiful book thing has been tainted by the onslaught of commoners – the hundreds of thousands of Joe and Joanna Averages uploading their Word documents onto KDP/iTunes/Smashwords/Kobo, and calling them books.

How dare they?  How dare they call themselves authors?

I’ve seen this mentioned in a few publishing-themed articles.  Usually it’s a subtle reference, loaded with condescending intent – a little backhander designed with indie authors in mind.

Now to be fair, maybe the people who’re saying it don’t even realise they’re being patronising.  Or maybe I’m just being paranoid?

But I don’t think so.  And I certainly don’t agree with the notion that books or the publishing industry are in any way damaged by the rise of self-publishing.  If anything, books have become more fascinating, less inclusive, and unafraid.

It’s true.  Thanks to the recent evolution in the publishing industry (which came from retailers, not the traditional publishers who understandably loathe change), anyone can write and publish a book.  And sure, some of what gets published might not be up to a certain standard of technical brilliance.  Some of it might be downright shit – in your opinion.  But it’s a big world out there, and one full of readers – lots of different types of readers with all kinds of tastes.  This might come as a surprise, but not everyone wants to read somebody else’s definition of a classic.  Not everyone wants to read the Man Booker Prize winner.

That’s why the open door policy of twenty-first century publishing is a beautiful thing.  Even if it does appear messy and chaotic at times.  So what?  Authors have more opportunities to be read and readers have more books to choose from.

This sums it up for me – writing is your unique voice.  Nobody else in the world can write like you and that’s a fact.  It’s an incredible thing that you are so unique.  Whatever you have to say, whatever story you have to tell – it’s yours (unless you’re a plagiarising git!)  When you put pen to paper or finger to laptop, it’s your unique voice that comes out within those words and what’s more, you can guarantee there’s someone else out there in the world who will respond to you – even if it’s just one person who’s every bit as weird as you are.

Your unique voice.  That alone gives you the right to write.  Those who don’t like the sound of your voice, they can just stay away from what you write.

It’s that easy.  Live and let live.

When I first picked up the guitar as a teenager, I had a friend who was learning at the same time as me.  His style was kind of odd by conventional standards.  His left hand (the one fretting the notes) was pretty normal but his right hand – the strumming hand – had a mind of its own.  Instead of a traditional up-down, up-down flowing motion on the strings, it was a jerky-jerky, down-down.  Something in between punk rock and a seizure.   It was bonkers and unorthodox, but it worked.  Nobody told him to play any differently and they couldn’t because that was his unique voice coming through the guitar.  And nobody else in the world sounded like that, or ever will.

So your grammar might be a bit wonky.  Your third act might be all over the place and your punctuation may very well be pants.  Keep practicing.  I will always defend your right to write and publish your book, whichever way you see fit.  Read a lot of books, study storytelling in all its guises and absorb, absorb, absorb.  Get better, because in no way am I condoning or advocating mediocrity.  What I’m saying is that writing gives you a voice.  It’s communication.  And no matter what stage you’re at, everyone’s entitled to that.