Not long ago I had a discussion with a printer who told me one of my authors had said they were an indie author. The publisher took this to mean the author was self-published. Then I came across this list of Indie best books for 2017. Why is this list separate to the other Best books of 2017? And who determines what list a book features on? One can assume that the ‘real’ best books of 2017 are by the big-name recognised publishers who work in the traditional way and control most of the market, dictate the processes of sales and have the systems work in their favour. Where Indie and Independent fit in, I’m not quite sure – what I do know is that TSL publishes books although our model is rather different to those of most publishing houses. And then there’s self-publishing.
All I see the labels do is place a value-judgement. One assumes that because a book is self-published it’s going to have an unprofessional look and have an amateur cover – whatever that may mean. In all honesty, many self-published books jar on the eye but so did some of ours when we started out. It’s all part of the learning curve. Similarly, the big name publishers tend to convey money, investment, marketing, book launches, huge returns, authors being ripped off in terms of royalties but status for the author. Yes, some might operate like that but there might well be others who are ethical and do what they can for authors and readers but we don’t get to hear of them. Similarly some Indie/Independent publishing houses take their authors for a ride, only in it for making money for the publisher and not the author.
The same with authors, JK Rowling, Peter James, John Samson, Sue Hampton and Arnie Wilson are all authors irrespective of how many books they’ve sold and how many audiences they appear in front of. An author is someone who writes books. Some started off self-publishing such as John Samson and Josie Arden, others do both – Paul Ross for example, but it doesn’t stop them being authors. There seems to be a stigma about self-publishing – the author couldn’t get a publisher or agent so their writing can’t be any good. I’m often asked what we at TSL publish and I hesitatingly say ‘anything’ – but I need to qualify that. It’s got to be readable and hang together. Whether the author can spall or not is not an issue – that’s for the publisher and editorial process to sort out. If the author has a story to tell and can tell it coherently, and fit within our ethical framework, then we’re in business.
When asked to clarify about quality of story, I throw the question back – how many books on the top 10 list at your local bookshop do you think are ‘good’ books and worth reading? The answer is invariably ‘none – there’s so much rubbish out there.’ So, why if these books are put out there by ‘big-name publishers’ should they have more status than a book which doesn’t make it to the shelves because it doesn’t have big money backing?
I can’t help but recognise this is the way to go – I’ve seen Vocational A-Levels ruin the intended parity with A levels; reverse racism is still racism as is reverse discrimination and discrimination. It’s not undoing, it’s simply refocusing. Why do we worry about whether a book is written by someone of a specific gender? What is a woman’s book and a man’s book? I enjoy a story for what it is and read different books for different reasons. The only time I do take note of what I’m reading is when it comes to history material for research purposes, but then it’s no so much the author I’m concerned about, as I know many ‘enthusiasts’ as opposed to ‘professional’ historians uncover amazing stories, as their references and source material. That’s what gives historial writing its credibility.
Isn’t it time we got rid of all these distinctions and let books stand for themselves? That’s the only way I see we’ll eventually get true equality.
Celebrate diversity – don’t treat it differently.