Digital goats v Paper sheep?

So there’s been another spat reminiscent of the Stephen Leather equivalent at Harrogate last year. This time involving US self-pubber Barry Eisler.

Apparently agents and publishers don’t like being told they risk being redundant. Quite a few people have commented on this—at considerable length—so I’ll keep this brief.

Of the current top five (as of 25th April 2013) Kindle bestsellers in the USA, three are self-pubbed, one is published by a small, specialist e-book publisher and only one is published by a mainstream, bricks-and-mortar publisher.

It really doesn’t matter what publishers think or how unnacceptable they find some of the terms used by self-published writers in the blogs and speeches written about publishing, the facts are the facts. Mainstream publishers ARE being left out of the process and the value they are capable of adding to the publishing chain IS more and more open to question.

Yes, some self-published writers are horribly disingenuous and self-serving in their arguments—"legacy publisher" is designed to irritate publishers (where do they keep the embalming fluids?) and it fatally undermines their protestations of innocence that they are just the guys who happen to be pointing out the emperor’s nudity.

Barry Eisler, for example, happily peddles the canard that he had never considered that self-publishing might work better for some genres than others. Not only is this from the guy who will happily tell publishers how they are getting it wrong, but I happen to remember a UK agent making this exact same point to him on a radio show he was on over a year ago.

Self-publishing suits Barry Eisler—great. It doesn’t suit thousands of others, nor is it likely to. The trouble is, as far as publishers are concerned, that is beside the point—self-publishing suits commercially savvy, genre-defined authors brilliantly. The authors who have historically been the commercial driving force of all major publishers. If the Kings, the Grishams and Pattersons of the future are going to be self-published where does that leave traditional publishers?