Why would I be a member of a club that would let me in?

For some time there has been a fracturing in the author community over the opportunities provided by technological advancements. Namely: self-publishing.

Twenty years ago, self-published books usually fell into one of three categories:

1) Written for such a small group of people that it was not viable to be commercially produced. A genealogical book about your family history, as an example.
2) Written in such a way that no agent or publishing house knew what to do with it. It could have been a terrific novel but how do you market a science fiction romance between a werewolf and an alien that takes place in 16th century Scotland?
3) Just a bad book.

Those were the reasons. That’s it, end of discussion. Go on, go ask someone in the publishing industry to remember back to that time and they will tell you that only unmarketable books were self-published. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back. But a funny thing happened in the past twenty years – a funny thing that has continued to pick up speed with every passing year. Ebooks came along and readers liked them. Suddenly the outlay cost to produce a book dropped dramatically. Then on-demand printers were able to print and ship small counts of books. Without the high cost of printing an initial run and stocking bookstores, independent publishers began popping up like weeds.

But the publishing industry shrugged, said “They’re still our cast offs so they can’t be any good” and went on their way.

But then that funny thing happened again. Readers stood up and said the publishing industry was wrong. They said that not everything that was self-published was crap. Authors like Hugh Howey and Sylvia Day sold a ton of self-published books. While those two and others are outliers, now there are hundreds, if not thousands, more who are making a few thousand dollars per book. And who knows how many they might have been able to sell with a publishing house marketing department behind them. Authors who could have gone through the big publishing houses decided not to wait on a 14-month publishing cycle and they put the book out themselves in three months. Independent publishers started selling more units with authors who did not want to hurry up and wait.

Recently a lot of the publishing industry has been taking notice of these authors. So have movie and television companies. Who does that leave languishing in the rear to recognize this sea change in the industry?

The authors’ own industry groups.

Go to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website and look up the qualifications for membership. Go to the Horror Writers Association and other industry groups and you will not find full voting membership requirements that make allowances for selling self-published or, in some cases, independent publisher works. (The HWA recently announced they are looking into changing their requirements so kudos to them.)

So why does this matter? Because a lot of small newspapers and magazines rely upon these industry groups for vetting. They receive dozens of press releases every month about author interviews and new books and generally speaking they do not have the manpower to check out all of these possible stories.

Do you want to interview Joe Smith who just wrote a sequel in his vampire series? Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t have time to research to discover if Smith’s last book sold three copies or 30,000 copies. Do you want to interview HWA Active member Joe Smith? That one addition is probably enough to make me take the time to check out Smith’s work.

So what really happens to authors who are selling a good number of units, making a good bit of money, is that they are probably being held back by the very groups who were started to encourage and help them. To return to one of our outliers, Hugh Howey sold tens of thousands of units of his Wool series online before he signed his print contract with Simon & Schuster and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox. Shouldn’t the tens of thousands of units sold have been enough for full membership into an industry group? Does it really take someone to bust out as big as Howey to make the grade? Why should someone who sold twice as many self-published books as a mid-list author who published through an industry house not be recognized for that work?

I am not talking about the industry groups lowering their standards, that would defeat the purpose. What I want the groups to think about is recognizing the changes in the publishing industry.

(The headline is a twist on the Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”)

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