I have just read Susan’s response to Michael Koslowski at GoodeReader, and I would like to offer another perspective for both readers and authors to consider. I will state first off that I have no particular axe to grind with either Michael or Susan; I have worked with Susan a few times during our respective tenures here at Teleread, and I read and enjoy Michael’s blog.
But I think that Susan’s plaintive ‘why does it matter?’ is a little disingenuous. It does matter. Let me give you an example as to why. We have a family in our school community who shares my ethnic background, and it’s one that is not particularly well-represented in our little community. Unfortunately for me, this family is a somewhat higher up on the whackadoodle extremist scale than I am, and there has been more than one occasion where I have had to listen to a co-worker gleefully relate the latest weirdo thing they said or did, and then gently explain to them afterward that for goodness sake, not all of us feel that way.
I hate doing that. I hate that some people are going to look at these people and make judgements about me just because they’ve never seen any other but us two to judge from. And I think this might be where Michael is coming from on the professionalism issue. If you’re the guy who is honing your craft, paying an editor, having a cover professionally done and doing all the right things to get yourself taken seriously, it must gall to have a prospective reader download one free sample from someone less careful than you, conclude that all self-published books are crapola and then go off to buy the latest Grisham. I can see how you might want to take that reader by the hand and, as it were, explain to them that not all of us feel that way.
The distinction between amateur and professional may be too subjective to draw with any guarantee of accuracy. But I do think that authors who do employ the marks of true professionalism and put out a product that meets higher standards—employment of an editor, for instance, or affiliation with a small press—should deserve to promote themselves as the professionals that they are. Of course, they can’t stop anyone else from calling themselves whatever they want to. But I don’t think it’s vain or selfish—or pointless—for them to try and carve that out into a distinction.