With the recent economic downturn, much has been made of publishing being a broken industry burdened by outdated business models and a general lack of innovation. While these arguments aren't without merit, there's another fundamental issue degrading our industry that needs to be called out: the censorship of authors by our own kind. Let's address it head-on.
Our business development manager, Tanya Hall, comes from a broadcast background and recently commented on how publishing is the only media sector where the creator is scorned if funding his or her own work. In film, if you are an "indie filmmaker," you're the darling of the industry. In music, most record company deals are ultimately artist-funded (the record company pays to produce the album and draws down those costs from royalties before the artists see a dime). Despite funding their own ventures, those artists are not shut out from selected award opportunities, association memberships, and certain media reviews the way self-funded authors can be.
Entrepreneurs who bootstrap are the heroes of business and the backbone of the economy. I bootstrapped my company 13 years ago and have been lucky to receive many accolades for building it from the ground up without investors. Authors who fund their own works are due the same respect.
My company's authors are a confident bunch—they contribute to production costs on the front end (from a few thousand dollars up) and retain much more (35% of list price) on each unit sold than they would in a traditional model. Our company brand is built around quality, so we don't suffer from some of the snubs that our self-published cousins contend with. Even so, a handful of our authors have been flagrantly shut out by status quo operations married to the idea that money can only flow one way in publishing.
As an example of bootstrapped author censorship, consider some high-profile organizations that are designed to support authors of specific genres—but that simultaneously deny membership to any author who has paid his or her publisher for services. To exclude an author based on the business model behind the work is shortsighted and goes against everything these organizations claim about supporting authors and developing their respective genres. Why should it matter? The work should be judged on its merits—not on how it got there. Elitism has plagued publishing for centuries and it's time to end it.
To be fair, I fully realize the volume of bad self-published work out there. We reject hundreds of submissions every month, but unlike those who blacklist author-funded works, we take pride in recognizing the potential in books that need a bit of help in positioning, titling, and repackaging. Without this support, aspiring authors work in a vacuum and never have a chance to develop. Associations, reviewers, and others with a vested interest in the growth of publishing owe it to themselves to take a similar stance.
Ultimately, alternative organizations open to all publishing models will take the reins from the old-school, "money flows one way" groups. It's beyond debate that the growth in publishing volume is coming from bootstrapped works. Our company exists to give a strong voice to the cream of this crop—and we're exceptionally proud of what we have accomplished in recent years. But it's time for the old guard to recognize the industry shift and acknowledge the growth and necessity of new publishing models.
Many of those in the publishing community lament that with traditional houses gambling less on new voices, the overall quality of modern literature will decline. Whether you are a book review editor, media producer, awards director, or literary association leader, if you are blacklisting bootstrapped authors, you are a huge part of the problem. The talented new voices are out there, but you must be open to hearing them regardless of the business model behind their work. Your reviews, awards, communities, and connections are a key component in the future of quality publishing. Take this as a friendly warning from someone in the industry: open your minds or new competitors will take your place. This is no time to keep a closed mind.
Clint Greenleaf is the founder and CEO of Greenleaf Book Group. He sits on the University of Texas Libraries Board and the AOL Small Business Board of Directors.