There is a raging debate (hyperbole actually, no one really cares) over the impact of self-published works on the state of literature. To understand that debate it is valuable to understand that the critics of self publishing fit into two categories. The first are those whose argument draws comparisons between self published books and Literary fiction. Literary fiction, for those not in the know, is that body of work that focuses on internal dialog, on introspection and on “big and important” things. Plot is less important in literary works than these other qualities. The second category of the debate are those who criticize self publications based on the perceived quality of the work. They are important distinctions because those in the literary fiction camp often expand argument to include traditionally published work, while those in the second category tend to isolate their criticisms to only self published works.
Both arguments have their merits, but both arguments tend to include vast generalizations that prove unsupported upon closer examination. The literary fiction (LF) argument is stronger than the self publishing argument(SP), but it is also far less important. At the heart of the LF argument is that literature should serve a higher purpose than just entertainment. Furthermore, to achieve that purpose, novels should be more than an interesting plot line — they should reveal meaning and universal truths. I don’t argue with either statement (I just sort of yawn) – I think some novels should do those things. I also believe that reading serves many purposes and that one of those purposes is entertainment. Faulkner’s, As I Lay Dying is a classic, but one could point out that it took an awful long time to bury mom.
“One thing is destroying another thing” in discussions of art, literature, music and culture is not a new contention. Some people like to hold on to the old things and the old ways. Even in video games. There are scores of players who only play Call of Duty, World at War 1. They consider themselves “purists” and contend that every evolution of the title in subsequent releases should be scorned. Sound crazy? Well a few hundred thousand people are still using Windows 98. The problem with the literary fiction argument is that it takes about a hundred years to know if a book is a classic — being literary fiction is not synonymous with having long-term cultural value or containing universal truth.
We can also draw comparisons to the movie industry. Often the winner of the Oscar is a movie that three people watched, while the most popular films go unmentioned. LF’s don’t argue this point. They are sort of hipsters in that sense — if it’s popular than it is trash. Many popular things are trash (see Velcro wallets and the song Pumped Up Kicks) but not everything is trash because it’s popular.
I can concede that most self published work is not literary fiction. Neither, however, does it intend to be literary fiction. Those facts do not suggest nor prove that within the self publishing world there are not masterpieces of literary fiction. They also don’t prove that self published works are destroying the value of literature because “value” is defined by the reader and readers read for a variety of valuable reasons. I also believe far more children would discover a love of reading if we provided at least some stories that were both entertaining and educational. If I had to base my evaluation of reading’s value on the Scarlet Letter or anything written by William Bradford, I would most assuredly be illiterate. It is possible and probable that a hundred years from now the new classics may be stories parading under genre categories like Fantasy, Romance, Horror, or Women’s Fiction…and they might also be the P word — popular.
The second argument that self publishing means the destruction of literature is codswallop. I will agree that just because you “can” publish does not mean you “should” publish. I will agree that some self published authors are disrespectful to readers because they are not proper stewards of the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. On the other points of the argument I disagree. It is dishonest to state that all self published works are substandard. Dishonest because most claims of such are based on either a very limited reading of self published works or by readers (trolls) who haven’t actually read self published works and make statements based on false and untested contentions. Many dismiss self publishing quality under the premise that “if it was good, it would be traditionally published.” An argument which demonstrates ignorance to the traditional publishing selection process. — publishing criteria are not based on whether it is a good story, but if it is a good story within a popular (high selling) category. The volume of queries also means traditional publishing cannot possible get to every story of merit and thus great works will be in the slush pile. The critic’s logic is tantamount to believing that if Wal-Mart doesn’t carry a product then it can’t be any good.
It is difficult for a self published author to overcome the pockets of readers who hate self publishing. It is unlikely that critics will change their minds or that they will retreat from their position that self published works mean the destruction of literature. Critics will always counter any logical arguments by pointing to one or two examples that prove their point. Confirmation bias and subjective validation are common to those with strong disdain for self publishing.
Fortunately, it is also unnecessary to the future of our industry or to literature in general that critics change their position or opinion. I think the important lesson in such criticisms is that a self published author should ensure that he or she does not add fuel to the argument. Readers may not like your plot or your characters or your treatment of a specific topic — I received a 3 star review because the reader did not appreciate my characters’ attitude toward God. Readers however should not be tripping over spelling errors, wrong words, punctuation minefields or wading through info dumps. Aside from those basics, an author should pay no heed to generalized and unfounded statements that claim self published authors are hacks or that they provide no literary value.
I find it interesting, perhaps intriguing, how many critics see it as their duty to take any and every opportunity to criticize a category of writers based solely on the method of publication. An amazing form of prejudice and ignorance. It supports the contention that as intelligent as a critic may sound with the words he selects to throw at authors, the prejudice itself dismisses the critic from being considered a competent and contemplative thinker. Rhetoric may make one appear intelligent, it may make an argument influential, but it is often a weak argument disguised by pretty words —like a chocolate covered onion.
I find these critics as bemusing as the atheist who goes to great effort to remove spiritual words, symbols and the rest from public view. I’m not out hunting vampires…because I don’t believe in vampires — So why are they so willing to give up their valuable time fighting against something they believe has no value?
Makes me wonder if perhaps their hearts are just “three sizes too small.”
- Today Lynda taught me how to create an em-dash which is why I sprinkled them throughout without concern to proper placement.
- I kind of do believe in vampires but it seemed making such an admission would detract from my desire to sound intelligent and authoritative in my argument.
- I don’t use the word codswallop but since critics often dazzle with pretentious vocabulary I felt it was amusing to do the same.
- Wal-mart may have seemed an odd choice when making a comparison to quality. It was purposeful because I unfairly and ignorantly accuse traditional publishers of seeking profit over product.
- After writing on “tolerance” I felt like being intolerant to critics