And I am guilty of propagating this message far and wide. You can find it mentioned in nearly interview I give. Why? Because it’s true. Technology has enabled us all to be active creators and distributors, without needing anyone’s permission or approval.
There’s something I teach my students in media ethics called The Golden Mean. Aristotle believed that we ought to strive for the middle between extremes as a way of finding our virtue.
I worry that all this proselytizing about empowerment is starting to become so pervasive that writers now assume there’s nothing that a publisher offers that they could possibly need. Or that professional help would have little or no impact on the quality of their work or future career.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here are three reasons why.
1. You’re not pushed to higher quality.
Working with professionals should challenge you. It should raise the bar. You’ll probably feel some doubts about the quality of your work. This is a good thing. Professionals usually understand and build off your strengths, and minimize the appearance of your weaknesses.
One of first things I teach my writing students is you need someone you trust to push you—to tell you where things aren’t working. Most people don’t have that gift of being so distant from their work that they can see objectively where it’s succeeding or failing. Even the writers who DO have that power usually have decades of experience and self-knowledge—from being pushed.
Yes, my argument does mean: To develop to your maximum potential, you need someone to create a little discomfort.
2. To compete amidst all the noise and distraction, we need the most professional quality possible.
All of you who are about to say, “Publishers put out bad quality work all the time,” stop right there.
I don’t care about them; I care about you. And since when did saying, “Since they screw up sometimes, then I have permission to screw up too” become a defense or a smart rationale?
It’s very common now for every John, Dick, and Larry to instantly publish their work using any number of services available. Yep, there’s a lot of crap out there.
That’s why quality work that has a professional touch stands out. Way out.
You think readers can’t tell? I beg to differ. There are subtle cues in every product and service we purchase—small signs that indicate “quality.” People may not be able to name them or point them out, but they feel them.
The disadvantage for independent authors is their lack of knowledge about what professional quality is or looks like. Traditionally published authors who go indie don’t have this problem as much. They know the process; they know the huge improvements that can be made by a professional. But people who haven’t experienced that professional touch may not yet have a good measuring stick—which only further necessitates the involvement of a professional, whether on the editing, production, or promotion side.
I do admit that an awful lot depends on knowing who to hire or partner with, but let’s set aside that concern for now.
3. Not everyone wants (or has the time) to immerse themselves in media, production, and technology.
I’ve taught enough writers by now that I realize some people just don’t have either the interest or the patience to do things on their own. They prefer a partner or professional assistance.
You may know how to cut your own lawn, but it doesn’t mean you want to do it—and it’s not illogical to hire it done if you have the resources. And, as Jason Black commented on my Facebook page recently:
Let’s not be fooled: tools do not make anyone an expert in anything. I have a bunch of pretty nice woodworking tools in my garage that definitely do not enable me to produce furniture anyone would want to buy. They do let me work on projects in my yard that are good enough for me and not worth hiring somebody to do for me, but that’s not the same as “good enough to sell to someone else.”
Don’t mistake me. I do believe in author empowerment and independence. You do not need a publisher.
But some writers can greatly benefit from partnerships or professional assistance, in different ways, and at different times, in their careers.
What if you took a one-week class with me that focused on how to become a power blogger? If I taught you in one week what it might take you one year to figure out, would that be worth the investment? Maybe; it depends on your goals.
There are some things you can figure out on your own. There are other things you want to be taught by an experienced professional, to shorten the learning curve. And finally there are those things that you may never be great at, and that you hire help for.
Part of a successful career is understanding the difference between these things, based on your aptitude, time, and resources.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Pink Sherbet Photography