I’m probably going to irritate a few people again – but hey, everybody’s got to have a hobby, right?
This topic keeps coming up, coming up, and coming up and I haven’t really said anything about it for a while, but I need to vent my spleen a bit.
Let me start by saying I think there are limited reasons to do it, and it can be a worthwhile endeavor. If Grandma Essie wants to record her life story for posterity, then printing a few dozen copies for the kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, and the occasional neighbor is not a bad way to go.
If Winona Writer wants to get her cutting-edge, dystopic, romance knock-off of Robin Hood published, but she isn’t willing to work hard at becoming a better writer, going through the traditional process, that doesn’t mean self-publishing is her better alternative. But this is what seems to be happening these days. Pretty much if you know how to use a word processing program and you have access to the internet, you can sling about anything onto a page (or into a file, as the case may be), pay a few dollars (or a few hundred, or a few thousand) and – VOILA! – you’re a writer!
Here’s the problem with this scenario: quality. I’ve recently had the – well, pleasure isn’t the word I’d use – let’s go with opportunity, to read several self-published works. Some were just bits and pieces, others were entire books given to me (I wouldn’t pay for this stuff – and trust me, you shouldn’t either). Some were local writers, some were writers whom I have no idea where they hail from. But they share one very crucial element in common: every single one of them would have benefitted by the advice of a half-decent editor. And herein lies the problem with self publishing. There are no editors to critique and help polish the work when a writer chooses self publishing. There is no one there to point out grammatical errors, to identify character inconsistencies, to suggest alternatives to redundant passages, or to frankly point out the plot holes.
In all of the pieces I read, at least two of these issues – and more in many cases – existed in the stories. In one particular case, the writer indicated that his/her critique group had helped immensely with the manuscript. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the other group members are also self published, and either didn’t think to look for some of these issues, or didn’t know to look for them. But even the sharpest critique group won’t be able to address many of the elements that a true, professional editor can – such as emerging trends or changes in publishing industry standards. Here’s a real-life “for instance” on that: a manuscript of mine that is currently sitting dormant was reviewed by my editor. While she loved the story and the concept, she indicated to me that the market was too soft for that type of story. She offered some suggestions for changes, but at the time I wasn’t willing to make them (that’s another whole story for another blog). My critique group read the same novel and said they thought it was ready to go and it would have no trouble finding a home.
Now, if I wanted to, I could take that book and self publish it. All the self-publishing companies tout how much more money you can make than with a traditional publisher, and especially if there is an agent involved. However, self-published writers quickly discover that they are on their own for marketing and distribution. They have to become the sales staff, the marketing department, the PR department, the warehouse and distribution center, and all of this (with limited exception) is on the writer’s credit card.
On the flip side – I attended Book Expo America in Washington, D.C. when my novel came out. I didn’t have to pay a dime to be there. I went to school visits and book signings in Ashville, North Carolina and all I paid for was one dinner and my rental car. I’ve done dozens of local book signings, I’ve done radio, newspaper, and internet interviews and I never had to make one phone call to set any of them up – they all came to me, and most of them came by way of my publisher. Yes – I do things to promote my books. I have my own website, I keep my blog going, I talk about my books whenever possible, but it isn’t my full-time job. I actually know one writer whose entire car is a mobile billboard for the book he/she wrote. It cost thousands of dollars to have that done, too.
Of the self-published work I’ve read recently, not one piece held my interest past the first few paragraphs. In the case of one book, I kept laughing out loud, even though the book itself was deadly serious. I am certain there are well-written self-published books out there, but the truth is, I have yet to see one.
I’m sure there are at least a few people who will point to my publishing history and say that if I had considered self publishing, I’d have a few more books out. I look at it this way – publishing is a matter of getting the right book in the right hands at the right time. Things will line up again, and sooner rather than later, so I have no reason to consider anything but the traditional route that I’ve taken before. It’s worth it to me to wait for the right set of circumstances to be assured that I’m going to have a quality product that is handled with professionalism.
That is all.