I've been reading about a well-known traditionally published author bashing self-publishing. (Although I don't know that she's necessarily against self-publishing, she was vague enough that I don't know the opposite to be the case either.) This isn't a new phenomena. People have loved and hated the idea of self-publishing even longer than they've loved and hated ebooks.
I think self-publishing can be both good and bad. It's good, because it allows ideas and writing to get out there that a lot of publishers won't take. Publishers want to make money. And if you give them something new that's really not being done, they may not want to risk investing in what could be a great product, simply because the market being what it is, they don't want to lose their shorts.
However, those publishers can often weed out the crap. Yeah, I went there. A lot of what's out there right now is crap, because every Joe Schmoe with an idea thinks he's an author. And in general, authors tend to be an impatient lot. So instead of editing, proofing, and going through an actual editorial process, they want what they have to be immediately accessible.
Eight years ago, after I finished writing my very first penned novel, I thought it was stellar. The best thing ever written. In actuality, I head-hopped all over the place (meaning POV shifted faster than you could blink), my dialogue tags weren't actually dialogue tags, the story basically unfolded piece by piece, me telling you what happened instead of showing you, and the pacing had issues. And those are a just as few of the problems with that manuscript.
But if self-publishing had been as viable back then as it is today, who knows? I might have foregone the traditional route and published it myself. And boy, would that have been a mistake.
By submitting and getting those many rejections--for that book and the ones that followed--I learned better how to write. I read a lot, so I had a basis on which to pattern my books, but reading and writing aren't a hand-in-hand process. If they were, we'd all be Nora Roberts. By submitting, I was able to experience harsh rejection, learn where to go for help (RWA--for all that they can be a PITA, they also help tremendously, especially when beginning writing), and how to write a better book.
How can rejections be good? They reinforced the fact that I'm a writer, because they didn't deter me from continuing to write. And they insured that I know everyone has an opinion. So when someone trashes my book in a review, I continue blithely on. Whereas some other writers, not used to hearing anyone disparage their books, rant and rave and act like complete idiots at poor reviews.
The most successful self-published people these days are ones who tried the traditional route. (And by traditional, I mean New York or smaller press publishers.) They were rejected. They finaled in contests or won but just couldn't nab an agent or contract. Many have never been with a traditional publisher, but they still hone their craft. They edit. They understand decent cover art (hello, marketing) and how to tell a good story. They know that commas and periods are our friends.
Granted, my experience in publishing has been with romance and through small press. I tried for big name publishers back in the day. But I grew tired of waiting 4 months or longer to hear a no, then to resubmit and wait another half a year, and another... Also, as much as I try to, I don't write inside the box. My stuff is always a little out there, sexually or idea-wise. I'm impatient, and I'm lazy. I admit it. Having a publisher do my edits, cover art, and formatting, not to mention distribution, takes a load off my mind.
That said, I tried self-publishing to see how it would work for me. I find it to be both liberating and a huge hassle. I okay the cover art and the editing. I'm in control. Yet everything is also my responsibility. So while dealing with edits, art, formatting, distribution, and advertising, I'm not writing. Not good.
Do I think self-publishing is a legitimate source of publishing? Absolutely. There are many successes out there today. I also think true writers hone their craft and do their very best to put out a good story. Waiting is a part of the writing process, like it or not. New York definitely needs to wake up and realize what readers want. Good storytelling, obviously, but how many years were we inundated with vampire romances while the underground, if you will, ate up BDSM and shapeshifters and m/m romance? Self-publishers and small presses have given readers a true taste of what's available, not just what publishers want you to read.
So yes, I think self-publishing is a terrific venue. But I also think a smart author will try to publish through other means first, to get a handle on what the editorial process is like. And by building an audience through other means, it also guarantees at least a few readers when you set out on your own. Easier said than done, I know, but having a basis to compare before heading out on your own really helps.
My two cents on this sunny Monday morning.