Author Standards: What’s Good Enough?

Why do people band together for greater democratization of services, societies, and governments? They want greater fairness of inclusion, right? The people insist on being more included in the process—the process of debate, the process of establishing standards, the process of governance, the process of reforms. For the people and by the people is the sacred idea that unites all of these attitudes and instincts. We the people can help make things better because we the people are the substance for which services, societies, and governments exist.

The self-publishing revolution is imbued with these democratic ideals. Authors want a greater say in how their books are published. Journalists want greater liberties to publish stories that their editors may deem un-newsworthy. Brands want simplified and personal avenues of communication with their customers away from noisy media. And universally, creators of every kind want more recognition for their writing and creations, regardless of the chosen medium. After all, these creators are the substance for why publishing exists.

If the people are committed enough, and persistent enough, and unified enough, there will come a time when the playing field tips in their favor. That’s happening right now to the self-publishing revolution. It’s an exciting time because of the heightened attention and interest that is being shown toward self-publishing. It’s also a daunting time because we must deliver on what we’ve demanded. The critics of self-publishing have used words like unprofessional, amateurish, and lazy to describe the type of writing that is brought to market through self-publishing channels. The responsibility is ours to prove them wrong by holding ourselves and our likeminded friends to unimpeachable standards.

We talk about these responsibilities a lot within our team. At Snippet, we feel our job is not only to service the aspirations of fellow artists, storytellers, and makers but also advocate on their behalf by championing high standards. We value editorial scrutiny. We welcome reader experience debates. We contribute to the community of writers and publishers who are pushing for newer, better ways of doing things because we know that we’ll all benefit as a consequence. The conversation should no longer be between traditional publishing and self-publishing with the implied bifurcation being that traditional is professional and self-publishing isn’t. Rather, the conversation should be upon the professional or unprofessional nature of a work itself agnostic of publishing choice.

We also wonder out loud about you: Do you think about and talk about these responsibilities? How do you evaluate whether your book is good enough to go to “print”? How do you define success for your story? Do you invite scrutiny? And do you care as we care about the context of the quality argument? We’re not so naïve to think that every self-publishing creator shares these views. But we are proud optimists; we believe that more and more self-publishing creators do care about the perceived integrity of their work. We see such caring every day in the writers we meet and stories we read.

Where does the notion of the best-seller fit into this conversation about standards and integrity? Does it retain the same prestige if more and more books and publications are earning acclaim and success without it? Hitting the New York Time’s Best-Sellers List remains the dream of many writers. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. But it’s becoming increasingly self-evident that the best-seller label is no longer an absolute standard for great writing or predictor of prolonged success. Authors succeed in today’s book economy when they build trusting and engaging relationships directly with their readers. The same applies to brands courting customers and songwriters seducing listeners. The value of labels in this world matters less because the value of loyalty matters more. And more times than not, true creator-fan loyalty doesn’t bloom unless the work that’s at the center of the relationship is of upstanding quality.

Upstanding quality may not be possible on your first go. And that’s okay. Don’t let it dissuade your work. It’s a common misconception to confuse the pursuit of high standards with a lack of devotion to them. As Ira Glass says, “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. Your gap may not last years, but for however long it does, keep doing the work. Keep publishing. As Glass continues, “…the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. … It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” The democratization of self-publishing brings more transparency to such creative transformations. We don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, we think that’s why we banded together in the first place—to see each other’s work unfold, help one another, and ultimately arrive at the high standard we all have for each other.