Hey, John Green: One Size Does Not Fit All

I love John Green. The Fault in Our Stars in one of my favorite books. He has funny, enlightening videos and a lot of the times he’s a refreshing breath of air with his vlogging.

He recently received the Indie Champion Award (which I’ve actually never heard of before this — new things everyday!) and his acceptance speech praised the book building community and condemned “the lie of mere individualism.” He says we need editors and publishers and booksellers. He’s not in the “widget-selling business” or the “profit maximization” business: he’s in the book-building business.

In a way, I agree with him. I agree that many times, a book succeeds because of the community around it. But why does this only apply to a commercial publisher? Why can’t the community surrounding a book be an author, freelance editors and formatters and cover designers, other authors of the same genre, bloggers and reviewers who aren’t paid for their love of reading, retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, blogs and websites that promote good books, and readers who find the book online? Why does it have to be one kind of publisher or one kind of bookseller?

I’m glad that John Green sees the value in what he has. I’m glad he appreciates his editor, his agent, his publisher, and all the other people involved in his success. But not all of us are rewarded with what he has and not all of us want that kind of community heralding our book.

Personally, I am for either way, self-publishing or traditional publishing, and my ideal career would incorporate both. But I don’t think there is a right way to publish a book. I think a book is a product written by the author, and it is up to him or her how to get it to readers. I do think that every author, no matter what direction they go, should realize it’s not all about him. John Green is right in that aspect — if all you do is make a cover in Paint and upload it to KDP Amazon, there are still many other people involved in making your book available. Mainly Amazon and its employees. And most authors will benefit from a community backing her up: an editor to make sure the book is readable, a cover designer to make your book catch other people’s eyes, reviews who praise your book and spread the word. But if someone doesn’t want to “build their book” the way someone else does, is that a horrible thing? There will always be plenty of authors who want to build a book with publishers because they recognize the value of that type of community, so I don’t think publishers are in any danger, no matter what some people say.

What I find interesting is the fact that DFTBA Records supports projects from all sorts of independent artists. Music, clothing, posters — and some would say these these independent artists are missing out on the “music building” community or the “fashion building” community. Music is an entertainment product, and, hate to break it to you, so are books. So why can we make our own communities to build any kind of art other than books? Why are books only allowed to be published by the untouchable gods of the Big Six Five, but we can be independent with our music? Why is literature one of the only things left in the art world that so many people want to be vetted first before it reaches consumers?

Now, I have a few ideas why — you can judge music by a three minute song, but it takes longer to judge a book’s quality and people want to be assured it’s passed some “test.” But then you, as an individual, can make a decision not to look at self-published book. That’s your deal. Why would want to stop someone else from trying to entertain others with their art or try to make a living on it? If it doesn’t work for them, fine, sucks to be them. But if it does, then they’ve enriched the lives of their readers and they’ve helped themselves. You not approving of it just furthers the stigma surrounding self-publishing and hurts other authors.

I don’t usually get on the soapbox about publishing because I feel like everyone should do their own thing and let the books and readers speak for themselves. But this one got to me, maybe because I really admire John Green and I actually agreed with some of what he said. I agree that community is important, but I don’t think our communities or our processes have to look the same.

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