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TOPSHELF MARKETING: Let's Talk Shelf-Talkers

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What makes you want to buy something? Did you…

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The other day I read an article that went viral by a traditionally published author. Her main point was that in publishing we need gatekeepers on all published books. The whole article kind of felt like communism, if I’m going to be completely honest. This author was obviously trying to stir the indie pot, and it worked based on the billion comments she received. Her main point was that without strict controls––I’m going to relabel that “a totalitarian system of government”––then the quality of books goes down. My first thought was, “Yes, I’d like an authoritarian publisher to dictate what I get to read. Bravo. Now, please assign me a job and housing.” Before you start to think that I’m adamantly against communism, please understand I’m only trying to make a point about publishing. I think as readers, we should have the choice on what we read. Let the market dictate what sells.

Is there anything wrong with traditionally published books? No more or less than what I see with indie published books. In all fairness, I spot so many errors in traditionally published books, that frankly, it should be embarrassing. But I’m not over here telling the big publishers how to do their job, but if they’d like me to, I have a few tips. Here’s what I am saying, publishing doesn’t exclusively need gatekeepers. From my perspective, the big publishers sell to market. They analyze what readers want. They don’t flood the market with a certain genre because they think it will shoot them in the foot. They do guard the publishing doors to the press with their unending rejections and meager approvals of authors and books. And that’s fine. However, in general, we can’t guard what books get published. That was the author’s point. She thought indie authors were flooding the market with works that were unedited, unprofessional, and lacking in many ways. Are there bad indie books? Absolutely. Does that mean we need over-arching, strict controls on publishing? No. Why? Because, typically, bad books don’t sell. 

I’m an indie author, and I’ll be honest, my books sell. Every. Single. Day. And why? Because I take the time and resources to use professional editors, content editors, cover designers, etc. And I’d like to bring up a key point here. I’m an indie author by choice. No, I won’t turn down a ten million dollar deal from a publisher if they approach me (see contact information below), but in general, I find the indie market suits me better. One reason is the gatekeepers. Because they carry that large ax around, they tend not to be as quick as I’d like. Traditional publishing is slower than indie because there are so many stairs in those darn publishing houses. It is my understanding that a traditional publisher isn’t going to allow me to publish six books in one year like I did in 2016. There are rules for these publishers, and I kind of like doing things my way. I don’t answer well to authority, and that’s perfectly fine if we have choices--if the dictates of the old system don’t strike down the indie market.

So do we need gatekeepers in publishing? Sure. But do we also need indie options? Unquestionably. And more than anything, we need tolerance and respect for each other. I love the big publishers. They’ve published many of my favorite books. But there seems to be a divide between them and the Indies. And the only one that hurts is the authors. So let the traditional publishers continue as they have for so long. And have respect for the indie books that go their own route. At the end of the day, the readers are the ones in charge. They are the true gatekeepers.

by Sarah Noffke  (TopShelf Columnist)

Twitter @RealSarahNoffke / SarahNoffke.com