◎ Does the Traditional Publishing System Need Saving?

April 24, 2013

"Who will save our books? Our bookstores? Our libraries?" 

On behalf of all the self-published authors out there, I'm calling bullshit. 

In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, Patterson expressed his concerns for the future integrity of literature and asserted that what the book industry needs is a bailout from the Federal Government. (Read the articles here and here.) I'm going to omit my thoughts on bookstores and libraries for now and instead focus on Patterson's enormous fuck-you toward non-traditional authors.

"Spread the word about our endangered books!" 

Are you f(#*&$g kidding me, man? Books aren't endangered. They're anything but. The output of books is at a record high thanks to the ease of self-publishing. It's no secret that a lot of it is unpolished crap, but by no means does that translate to each and every author who takes matters into their own hands. Like with any competitive marketplace, the cream of the crop is going to emerge through some combination of talent, viral sharing, and marketing efforts. There are plenty of self-published authors putting out solid content that easily rivals that of their traditionally published counterparts. 

"I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature."

The implications of this sentence have me floored in the worst possible way. Really, James? Really? Do you truly believe that literature can only come from authors with an agent and a contract? That us lowly self-published authors are incapable of producing timeless literature without the guiding hand of a publishing deal and a paycheck? Hot damn. Face it, buddy: the publishing industry may cease to exist as we know it, but the human race will never stop writing. Never. There will never be a shortage of new books with literary merit in the marketplace.

Here's what I think: there will always be literature. Why? Because a publishing contract does not, by definition, make a work a "piece of literature." The label of literature is not synonymous with "traditionally published"; rather, it is synonymous with the idea that the work is timeless and universal. I would like to think that my self-published book, Creation, is work of literature. It does not boast a publisher's name on its spine, nor is it hailed as a bestseller far and wide. What it does boast, however, is a message that will resonate with people of all ages and through all facets of time. THAT, my friends, is literature. It is the content of the work that determines its literary merit. A piece of shit with "HarperCollins" stamped on it is still, at its core, a piece of shit. This idea that a work has merit only if it's backed by one of the Big Five is superficial as hell and bound to go out of style.

You guys want to know the irony of this whole movement? Patterson has a whole division of HarperCollins dedicated to his books: books, I must point out, that his team of ghost and co-writers pen major portions of on his behalf.

I come up with the idea. I write an outline, about which one of my agents says, with this outline I could write the book. Usually, with a co-written book, somebody else will do the first draft and I will do subsequent drafts. [source]

 I love the man's books and have a whole shelf full of them, but it's clear to me that James Patterson is no longer just an author. He has effectively become his own publishing entity, meaning that he's got a lot to lose by the eventual fall of the traditional publishing industry. Some food for thought, folks.

Don't get me wrong. I would love to experience the prestige and thrill of being a traditionally published author someday. What I'm seeing, however, is that the rewards of self-publishing are starting to outweigh the costs. Even reputable traditionally-published authors are turning to self-publishing. This, I believe, is indicative of the future. It's quite possible that traditional publishing will become a stepping stone for successful self-published authors.

(Oh, and James? The great thing about self-published works is that they're affordable. After all, there are only two entities--the distributor and the author--who need to get paid. If you truly want to ensure that kids can afford to get their hands on new and exciting books, throw us a bone.)


  1. I came to the conclusion long ago that many agented, established authors are a somewhat territorial lot. I can understand that, but to imply that indie authors are somehow substandard as a whole and that our work will damage the integrity of literature is ludricrous.

    Let's look at Patterson's own work: I find it formulaic, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Formula books can be great if the writing is exceptional. His is not. But people still like his work and still buy it, even though I doubt it's ever going to be hailed as great literature like, say, Dickens' work. Enough said.

    People seem to forget that these NYT bestselling, agented, traditionally published authors had a starting point, too... And already established authors back then were every bit as prickly about what they saw as a bunch of interloping hacks, just like they are now. Nothing new under the sun.

    The collapse of literature and libraries at the hands of indie authors? What a tragically insulting and childish claim.

  2. Interesting article. Nice opinion piece too!


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