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Board Member’s Memo: Judge a Book on Its Merit, Not Its Publishing Model

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by Brooke Warner, Publisher, She Writes Press —

Brooke Warner

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the publishing industry who disagrees with the sentiment that a book should be judged on its merit. And yet, the industry promotes an environment in which books are instead judged on how they get published. Authors who invest in their own work are routinely barred from certain awards and reviews—and membership in some associations—solely because they subsidized some portion of their publication.

Whether this is selective thinking or outright bias is up for debate, but the facts are the facts, and excluding authors for investing in themselves is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, it’s a double standard. Traditional publishers ask authors to invest in themselves. Outside editing is often recommended, and hiring an outside publicist is par for the course. So if it’s OK for traditionally published authors, why is it grounds for exclusion for authors who subsidize their own work?

Second, it’s steeped in outdated thinking. The reason most contests, reviewers, and associations cite for barring independently published authors is that there are too many books in the marketplace, and they need a measure to separate the wheat from the chaff. But self-subsidization is the wrong measure because today’s independently published books are on par and competing with their traditional counterparts. Not to mention there are hybrid publishing options, where authors who invest in their work get a high royalty in exchange. These are entrepreneurial models that many authors are choosing over the traditional route. As the publishing landscape continues to change, contests, reviewers, and associations should be keeping up.

Third, it’s punitive. If we turn to our creative cousin, the film industry, we see examples of how to celebrate and champion indie voices. There are indie film festivals and far less stigma attached to filmmakers who might, heaven forbid, invest in their own films. It’s time for the publishing industry to change its tune and become more inclusive.

In March 2017, IBPA’s Advocacy Committee published an Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book. The purpose of the checklist is to give book authors and industry professionals an at-a-glance gauge of the professional presentation of any book in order to help level the playing field between indie publishers and large-scale conglomerates. Check it out here.

The publishing industry gains nothing by operating in such an exclusionary way. Creating mechanisms that keep traditionally published authors separate from everyone else may seem like a way for the traditional players to retain their dominance, but this is not a good long-term strategy. There are many reasons to level the playing field for all authors, but the most obvious is that a book’s financing has no bearing on its professionalism and impact. Let’s let books speak for themselves.

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book (June 2016) and What’s Your Book? She writes for Huffington Post and SheWrites.com, and sits on the board of the Independent Book Publishing Association (IBPA).

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