Today's writer has so many publishing options available, the barrier to publication is lower than ever before. Like Gutenberg's moveable type printing press enabled writers in the 1400s to reach new audiences, the Internet today allows writers to expose their work to a global audience with surprisingly little effort.
From blogging to online periodicals to publishing on demand and eBooks, today's writer has many avenues to publication that have opened up in only the last few years.
Some people consider this a bad thing, saying that a lower barrier to publication means a proliferation of bad writing. Print-on-demand writers have had a certain stigma attached to them by the self-anointed literati.
I take the opposite view. I believe that allowing more writers to publish more books more easily is a boon to both writers and readers. There are a lot of reasons why I believe this, but for now I will give you three:
1. The needs of niche markets can finally be met.
With a traditional publishing house, there's a finite number of books that can be published each year. This number is dictated by a company's limited resources - budget and staff - and has traditionally been relatively small.
Because the number is small, a publisher can't afford to deviate very far from the mainstream. They prefer to travel down well-beaten paths, with established markets of predictable size. This means that niche markets are underserved or ignored completely.
Sure, there isn't a huge market for books about a mystery-solving tree surgeon, but there could be a small market whose readers turn out to be utterly devoted. Perhaps such a market isn't big enough to allow a large publishing house with its overheads to be profitable, but it may provide a nice little revenue stream for an independent author.
A writer who self-publishes today can do so with little or no overhead, enabling them to target previously untapped niche markets without much financial risk. Internet pundits have dubbed such niches as "The Long Tail", and an independent author that meets the needs of grateful niche readers might find that The Long Tail can be profitable indeed.
2. Easy publication allows writers to hone their skills while enjoying the satisfaction of sharing their work with others.
Let's just say it - there are a lot of badly-written books that have been self-published. So what? I would argue that those poorly-written books are actually a good thing. No, I'm not barking mad. I simply choose to see each of those bad books as a stepping stone to a better one.
Writing a book is not easy. Every book was written by an aspiring author who had a story to share or information to relate, and had the dedication and perseverance to see that book through to completion. Why not allow them the satisfaction of seeing their work in print? Why not allow them to share this work with others?
If these writers pursued traditional publication, they may instead be exposed to waiting, more waiting, and rejection. The traditional process crushes motivation, causing many promising writers to abandon their dreams.
Seeing one's own work in print is very motivating, and some writers will be inspired to continue improving their craft, with the goal being to have their next book be even better. Each book becomes a stepping stone to an even better next book.
3. Self-publishing allows writers to maintain complete control of their work, and reap all the financial rewards.
When writers publish with a traditional publishing house, they give up a large amount of control over their work. It is the publisher who decides what the final product will look like, from the typeset to the cover art to the title of the book itself. Sure, writers can offer their suggestions, but the publisher has the final say.
With self-publishing, the writer can have complete artistic control of the finished work. The writer gets to decide exactly how their book will end up looking.
On the financial side of things, writers who self-publish are again in control. The writer can decide how much or how little to charge for their book, and self-publishing royalties are well-above those offered by traditional publishers. Publishing houses have a lot of overhead to support, and it's the writer that pays the price for this. Why should this continue to be the case?
For the first time in history, the writer can be in control. It's an exciting time to be a writer.