Self-Publishing: Forest/Trees Phenomenon

The self-published writing scene is getting more and more difficult to navigate. Why? Because there is so much content out there to shovel through.

In past posts I’ve likened it to fan fiction. Back when you could only get fanfic through zines, you had to order or attend conferences, and there were only a handful of options. Now fan fiction is all over the web and finding anything decent to read is a taxing, time-consuming activity.

The same is true of all the self-published books and stories out there. Like with fan fiction, word of mouth is still the best possible way to find anything worth reading.

But authors pinning their hopes of success on self-publishing are only going to continue to find it increasingly difficult. One only makes so much per book (if one wants to be competitive, one must price relatively low and hope to sell large quantities). And so the author must put out a lot of content and hope it catches regular, faithful readers. But the faster one writes, the less time one devotes to quality. A lot of authors will say they can write well and quickly, but my overwhelming experience as an editor is the faster it’s written the sloppier it will be.

And then, with these authors putting out a book every couple months, the market only becomes more crowded. Competition gets fiercer, and it gets even more difficult to get your stuff discovered and read by the masses.

I hear self-published authors often bemoaning the fact they must take so much time from their writing to also market themselves. Twitter, Facebook, blogs . . .

Not that traditionally published authors typically get much more marketing support from the publishers. BUT. As traditional publishers cut back, each of those authors will begin to be more visible. “Deforestation of traditional publishing,” let’s call it.

This isn’t an argument against self-publishing, mind you. I’ve done it myself. This is really just an articulation of the phenomenon. Those trees that were planted early have grown tall, but they are casting so many other, smaller trees in the shade. Can they all find the light? Is there a way to thin this forest? Or is it better to let it grow unchecked? It’s easy for those who are established to say, “There’s nothing wrong with this system; it works fine for those who will put in the effort.” But what would the less satisfied self-published authors say? Or are they all satisfied? Is just having their work out there—whether anyone reads it or not—enough? If a tree falls . . .

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