So, I'm not big on self-publishing.
I have no problems with people that do, you know. Live and let live. Not my thing. But I go back to a podcast I was listening to a few weeks ago while cleaning. Two quotes stood out and got me so pissed that I wanted to write about it. I'm glad the name of the person saying it has been seared fro my memory.
"Well, I shopped my manuscript around for two years and no one wanted to take it. So I decided to self-publish, and now more people buy it."
"I mean, it's just some traditional publishing and their ivory towers"
First thing, alright, if you've shopped around your manuscript for two years and no one's taking it, I don't think it's the fault of the agents. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Don't blame others. The second quote just reinforced what I was doing and why I opted for traditional publishing. Really? Ivory towers? You Garth Brooks now?
I invite you guys to read Chuck Wendig's own take on this, and it's very enlightening since he's a hybrid author, publishing independently and traditionally.
I'll confess. I have self-published before, a year before my MFA and one semester in. I published a short story through Amazon KDP that was terrible and I also published a mini-chapbook through Smashwords. I regret this, not because I didn't make any money, but because I had no idea what I was doing.
And you know, every time I bring up writing of any sort on Twitter, I get a few new follows from these brand new authors, who're trying to push their own books and any view gives them a tiny bit of confidence; and marketers, who're trying to get the next person to pay them to either publish their book, or who want to sell their own patented 100% free success guide to self-publishing success! Or they'll share articles like this one that read more like a HerbaLife/Advocare instruction manual than anything.
When people like that decide to follow me on Twitter, it lets me know they're not reading what I'm writing. Not like I think anything I say on twitter has any groundbreaking and earth-shattering importance, but, you know, you're not going to get a mutual follow from me. You're just searching for #writing or #amwriting on Twitter and clicking follow on every author.
Sometimes I get curious, and I'm like, I wonder who <click> this RandomJoe <scroll> is? Ah, Amazon link, this looks <click> promising, let's see who pub...oh, CreateSpace? <close tab>
And then half of those have their book titles in Papyrus. That's a great way for me -not- to read something. You know what happens when I see Papyrus anywhere else? I'm like, "Wow, someone's using Papyrus and they're not 12?"
You could be the greatest writer in the world, but if your book cover has Papyrus or Comic Sans font...I'm not going to read it. Even if you paid me. Actually, maybe if you paid me, but if you have enough to afford my meager labor hour costs, you can have enough to pay someone to design a book cover that doesn't have fucking Papyrus.
Here's what Amanda Valentine, a book reviewer, has to say in the Wendig post referenced earlier:
“I review middle grade books at reads4tweens.com and I’ve struggled with how to handle self-pub books. On one hand, I want to support indie authors, and I have discovered some really great books I would never have discovered otherwise. Also, self-pub and small press are more likely to provide me with review copies of the books, so that helps.
However, even if I’m not paying for the books, I’ve grown wary of accepting self published books. When a book is poorly written and essentially unedited, I pay for it with my time and opportunity cost. I want to do right by an author who has taken the time to write a book and contact me about reviewing it, but I can’t in good conscience bring attention to a book that isn’t ready for public consumption. And I do feel disrespected. You think you’re doing me a favor by adding to the to-read pile that threatens to crush me under its weight? Not so much. I’m doing you a favor by reading your book and writing a review. Please have enough respect for me to send me a book that’s gone through multipe revisions, careful proofreading, and at least plenty of beta readers if you can’t afford a professional editor.
I know a lot of reviewers have simply stopped accepting self pub books, and I can understand that. I’m not there yet, although I won’t *buy* self pub books unless they come highly recommended by someone I trust (no, somehow the seven glowing 5 star “BEST THING I EVER READ” reviews you got your friends, your writing group, and your mom to post don’t do much to convince me).
The stuff I’ve read with typos, huge plot holes, major inconsistencies, cliched characters and situations is painful. And I get a good bit of it. I’m not a slush editor. No one pays me to slog through your attempt at writing looking for unpolished gems. I expect to get a book that’s ready for a reading audience. One that the parents who come to my site can recommend to their kids.
The books that make me saddest are the ones with real potential. They need more work, but there’s a story worth working on there. But if you put your rough drafts out there and charge people for them or expect reviewers to spend their valuable reading time on them, you’re *losing* audience. I’m not reviewing your second book if your first was awful. I’m not buying your third and maybe much better attempt if I couldn’t read the first because it was such a mess.
The slog wears down readers and reviewers alike. We value the time we have to read, and we feel cheated if you don’t value our time enough to give us something worth reading. It’s disrespectful to your audience, your reviewers, and your work.”
It's about presentation, and shoddy work like that is a real good indicator that the book isn't going to be worth my time. Here is what you have to consider about traditional publishers. Think of your favorite book. Think of how it made you feel. Think of that wow, that was such a a great book moment. I know how that moment feels like. I know that the first thing I want to do is say, I want to write something like that. Then I write something and it looks like something out of the Worst Short Story ever catalog, it's frustrating, but then I remember that that's how books start, even by my favorite authors. Harry Potter and the Chamber of secrets, the book you see on your bookshelf, that wasn't a first draft. That was a final copy that was revised god knows how many times. Movies are the same thing, you know? We see 2 hours, we don't see the months, if not years, of dirty work.
That is the advantage traditional publishing offers. You get an editor (or in my case, a group of beta readers), then you query an agent. The agent then connects you to the publisher. That's a group of people that's going to HELP you get better.
Is there elitism involved? Sure. Is it hard to find agents if you're deviating from the norm, yeah. There's a lot of valid criticism out there against traditional publishers. Do I sometimes have to go out of my way to get certain books? Yeah. But it's worth it. I have confidence that when my manuscript gets accepted, it's going to go through a battery of editors and the end product is going to be something that I'm going to be proud about.
If that makes me elitist, sure. But I'd rather be that than turn in shoddy work. Writing is about constant betterment, after all.
In doing the minor research for this article, I came across the following comment underneath it:
"I went with ePublishing because I could not grow anymore as a writer on my own. I'd grown all I could with all the free help available to me. I did not have the money to pay for help that was not free."
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. If you're not growing, you're not moving. If you truly couldn't grow anymore as a writer, where's your Nebula? Where's your Hugo? Your Man Booker? Your O. Henry? Your Pulitzer? Your Nobel-frigging-Prize? Newbery medal? There is always room to grow and you don't need to spend a damn dime for it. There are writing circles, there are critique groups, there are many ways to continue honing your craft. I'd love to see this commenter's book. Guarantee you I'd find three errors in the first paragraph. I mean, bravo to that guy for not going straight to vanity presses, but still.
"Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep." - Ludwig Wittgenstein
I know it seems as a bit hypocritical for someone who hasn't had a book published yet to start giving lessons on ePublishing vs Trad-publishing, but I'm just telling you what's out there. Take it however you want.
Or, listen to an industry veteran like Harold Underdown:
My advice is that you do not consider self-publishing until you have spent at least a few years working on your writing, making submissions, and learning about the business of publishing. That won't be wasted time, because even if you don't get published, if you do decide to self-publish later you will be much better equipped to do so successfully. You will have a more polished manuscript or manuscripts. You will also have learned something about what you need to do (which is, very briefly, get your book edited, illustrated, designed, promoted, reviewed, and distributed--things a publisher routinely does, but which are difficult and expensive for an individual to do. See also my article on what a publisher does).
Or listen to an indie author who understands the process!
So if you're going to go straight into self-publishing. Try trad publishing first. Get some short stories written. If they're accepted by established journals, that spells good things for you. If not...keep writing. Find a workshop group with people you mesh well with. Write. Edit. READ books. Read journals. Don't play the victim.
(Blog title song: Orgy - Fiction (Dreams in Digital) )