From an Internet writer’s forum:
Comment: I see self-publishing as vanity publishing. There’s a reason there’s a traditional route; it really does sift out the crap. I may not be a published author, but I’ll be damned before I chuck in the towel to push out my writing through self publishing. I did not spend years honing my craft, get myself into all sorts of tight corners just to get my stories, and lose all those late night hours redrafting just so my work can get lost in the crowd.
My Response: I’m a proud self-publisher. Self-publishing is, by definition, not vanity publishing. I own all my own rights and my own ISBN numbers. My press is a legal entity. I also got myself into all sorts of scrapes to get my stories and I spend hours honing my craft every day, seven days a week. It’s 5:30AM as I finish this. I challenge any traditional press to exceed the quality of the work I produce.
Traditional presses do indeed filter out some crap, but to assume everything not vetted by a Big Six publisher is crap is the literary equivalent of racial prejudice. Major marketing vehicles like the New York Times Book Review serve only the upper crust of the publishing world, defining by exclusion who “the crowd” is.
Big publishers are fundamentally book investors who wholesale a series of offerings through retailers based on their assessment of what will sell. Many of their offerings are exemplary works of literature. Most of their offerings are exemplary products that pander to popular tastes to turn a profit.
That’s okay; publishing is a business. But by reference, “real” publishers will not invest in esoterica or works that aren’t a good fit for a particular target market. Many excellent works will never be published by traditional publishers. That doesn’t negate the quality or the literary merit of the excluderatii.
When it comes to nonfiction, choosing to bypass traditional publishing may likewise be a simple business decision. Nonfiction writers provide solutions to audiences that need them (learn actionscript, write a better essay, market with facebook, etc.). In many cases, nonfiction writers will be better equipped to find target readers because they already know the various forums and websites that serve that market. Why have a publisher pick fruit off the ground and hand a small fraction of it to you?
If you can get an advance from a big publishing house willing to buy table space at bookstores and send checks to major reviewers, go for it. But be prepared to have your work edited by the publisher to their standards and tastes. Be prepared to have the cover designed by someone you never talk to. Be prepared to wait a long time before the book gets launched. Be prepared to do a lot of marketing on your own to keep sales floating after the book is pulled from the shelves three months later to make room for newer offerings. When you sell your house, the new owner may not paint it a color you approve of. Selling your book to a publisher is no different. I hear traditional publishing horror stories all the time.
Yes, there is plenty of crap in self-publishing and yes, there is a stigma perpetuated jointly by the careless and ignorant authors who produce it and narrow-minded people who live in a world of flawed logic and witless generalizations. The needed solution is leadership…which brings us back to the role of great writers, great writing and great books, a matter that has absolutely zero to do with who owns the printing presses and who stands to make what percentage of the profit.