The Youtube Effect

My mother handed me a book and told me it had been written by a local high school student. I was flabbergasted, impressed even. I come from a town of about nine thousand so someone getting a book published would be a pretty big deal–the town paper had even done a short writeup on him. The book’s cover, however, was poorly designed and even though we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, we really, really should. And I did. I flipped the book open to find that the publisher was a vanity press. The kid had paid for his book to be published, which is sort of like paying someone to give you a trophy.

A few months ago I ventured back to the Midwest. During my visit, a teacher friend invited me to sit in on a NaNoWriMo group she’d started. It was their first meeting, so we went around and introduced ourselves, and I admitted that I’d never been published.

“Oh I have,” said one particularly precocious teenager.

“That’s great,” I said, “Congratulations.”

But really she hadn’t been. My friend did some digging and it turns out that she, too, had been self-published.

Am I trying to say that teenagers are dirty, filthy liars who like to inflate their ego by bragging about things that aren’t true? A little. But I’m also saying that being self-published is not the same as being published. If it were, we wouldn’t add the prefix “self” to it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a self-published author shamelessly states that they are published. Being published happens after someone in the know sees merit in your work and thinks it’s so good that they want to distribute it for you. Being self-published happens anytime anyone has a few spare hours, some cheap artwork, and an Amazon account.

Since the digitization of books, self-publishing has become ridiculously easy. It’s creating a Youtube effect–when there is an endless sea of content that must be sifted through to discover the gems. Most often these gems are easily digestible material that can make a quick buck à la Fifty Shades of Gray. But is this good for literature? Books aren’t like videos. You have to invest in the reading of a book, but a video takes just a couple of mindless minutes of watching the screen. Further, the market is going to begin catering to those who can hit it big, and the faster the better. The Youtube effect, I fear, is going to degrade the quality of what we read.

Overall, I’m against self-publishing. I think if your work is good, it will, eventually, get published. I believe J.K. Rowling was rejected something like twelve times before finally getting a book deal, so rejection is all a part of the game. But there are certain circumstances that I think self-publishing is permissible. They are as follows:

  1. You put time and effort into your work to ensure that there are no typographical or grammatical errors.
  2. You pay for quality art.
  3. You release your work for free.
  4. You do not call yourself “published”.

I think those are all pretty self-explanatory save for number 3. The reason why I think self-published work should be released for free is because it has not been vetted. Maybe all your friends and your mom think what you created is great, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will. Putting a price tag on your work should be done only if your writing has shown that it’s good enough to warrant one. So, if you write a series, release the first one or two for free, and if people like it, put the next one out there for 99 cents. I’m fine with that. But whatever you do, for the sake of all things holy, do not claim that you are published until you sign a book deal.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.
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4 thoughts on “The Youtube Effect

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  1. A very thought-provoking post–as usual! But I disagree greatly about your point that self-published books should be free. It implies that the work of a self-published author isn’t worthy of being paid for. Writers deserve a chance to be paid for their work.

    Self-published books are lower than that of ones put out by a publishing house, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s not as if books are sold with no way of checking the contents: most have sample chapters available. It’s also far too easy for readers to post reviews that may or may not be fair. So perhaps one is the price we pay for the other.

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