The good, the bad, and the ugly of new-age publishing


We live in a world where there is boundless access to all kinds of content. Even books. Self-help and business books have always been a large source of inspiration for the public, and rightly so. Except off late, publishing houses have begun losing their sheen due to the onslaught of self-published 'writers', who have a pool of money to spare.

Image : shutterstock

The good

Democratization of anything is good. In the era of self or hybrid publishing, more authors with no literary connections have a chance at getting noticed. Writing is not limited to the small groups of intellectual, even pretentious literary geniuses, anymore. The process is much faster than the times when authors had to run pillar to post to get their material published. Even the role of middlemen has been razed, allowing more creative writers and fresh perspectives to find a platform.

The bad

Traditionally, being a ‘published author’ was considered to be honorary stature. Earlier, you had to be an expert on a subject, find a literary agent, pitch the idea, develop the manuscript and finally win a book deal with a reputable publisher. It was a long and arduous road, and it tested not only the writer’s patience but tenacity.

Now publishing, much like everything else, has evolved into a different ballgame. The concept of self-publishing truly took off with the introduction of e-books and the digital platform, on-demand printing technologies. It was ridiculed in literary circles, often called ‘vanity publishing’ but it survived the test of time.

Following on the heels of self-publishing came a hybrid model that allows the author to get the credibility and support of a publishing house by paying for it.

The ugly

Gone has the era when publishing a book meant you can entrust legitimacy to the content and the author. With the advent of self-publishing, books in many circumstances have become tools for marketing and personal branding. It In a world starved of real heroes, self-published authors can just pay to be recognized as subject matter experts and are often falsely idolized. This does often end up in manipulating unassuming readers.

What can the reader do?

The power of option still rests at the hands of the reader, and it's judicious exercise is more important than ever.

Jon Westenberg, an entrepreneur, comedian, writer, critic identified four traits that differentiate bad business books from good ones in a comprehensive op-ed on Medium. Taking a cue from his work, here are some easy ways to identify a good business book from a bad one.

Use of real life examples to explain complex matters

The best fodder for any good book always comes from personal analogies and experiences. If the book contains of just metaphors and analogies instead of real life examples, they are opinions at best, perhaps better suited to a blog.

A good business book tells a story, doesn’t regurgitate jargons

If a book uses unnecessary jargons to state and explain simple things, chances are that the author is trying too hard to appear credible.

A good business book cites research, not brand names

If a book uses past experience alone to build a case for his theories, he runs the risk of being insular and subjective. Stay away.

A good business book provides practical lessons, not formulae

Go to any bookstore today and you will find hundreds of books telling you all about the success formulae of iconic brands. These formulae are often not very relevant to one’s career in a different industry or a different market. As Westernberg puts it, “There’s no easy path to success, and if a book is trying to sell you one, or trying to teach you the formula to Google’s rise, you’d have a more productive afternoon tearing it into pipe lighters than reading it.”

We live in a world where sources of inspiration have exploded in recent times. Hundreds of op-eds follow each government decision, millions of tweets tell us the good and bad in all that is happening around the world. Books are supposed to help us separate the wheat from the chaff. But we need to learn to choose well. Eventually, the content we consume is in our own hands. It can either add value personally or professionally or be yet another chore in our busy lives.

For our writers’ lists of some of the best books in the business, read on –


Updates from around the world