Not all mainstream books are good.
Many self-published works are excellent.
Many mainstream books are dire.
All true. But the demarcation between the two is blurring. A reader doesn’t give a toss who produced a book they love. The things they do notice are rubbishy covers, unintelligible blurb, coarse, porous paper, bleeding (in the technical sense) fonts, crammed text – and those are just the production values.
Inside, a reader wants a story with great characters and a satisfying, if possible, stunning resolution. They don’t want flowery over-writing, rubbish spelling and grammar, weak plotting, unbelievable twists, gaping plot holes, characters’ names changing mid-book, solutions parachuted in, inaccurate historical detail, etc.
I read a lot, and across many genres, and nothing out of the above two lists is missing from either type of publishing. But beautiful books, well-written, well-edited, exist along the whole publishing spectrum. It is no longer tenable to say self-publishing bad, mainstream good.
The idea STILL persists that self-publishers don’t use copy editors, proofreaders, cover designers and other professionals. Um, they do. At the recent London Book Fair, services for the independent authors were prominent and varied.
As in mainstream, there is self-published rubbish out there – the write-it-in-a-month-and-bung-it-up-on-Amazon stuff. But something that is often not recognised is that self (sometimes known as indie) publishing has evolved from its homogeneous start and split into a variety of levels. At the top end are the well-written, well-edited, well-designed books with professional covers, sometimes produced by the author themselves, a group/collective they belong to or with bought-in services of all types. Their genres are often crossover, something that the mainstream publishing sector may not wish to take a risk on in difficult economic times. But these books are not to be dismissed and they sell in their thousands and thousands. Like mainstream, there are self-published authors whose books may only sell a few hundred, but who receive good reviews. While not bestseller books, they should not be dismissed, either.
And I hear that traditional publishers and agents are combing the self-published lists themselves looking for likely talent to add to their lists. Two of my self-published writing friends have signed with top agents within the past few weeks.
Readers are a canny lot. They’ll ferret out the poor product, and consumer market forces will do its Darwinian thing. But whatever the diversity of the paths to publication, the results are all descended from the concept of the writer getting their story out there in an intelligible format to a receptive and willing reader.