I know I’ll be sorry, because those people who believe deeply, truly, sincerely in the value of self-publication, they’re going to come to my blog and torment me. Fine. I just can’t help but write this post after the self-publishing laugh/cry fest I recently witnessed in the form of a promotional website for a soon-to-be-released self-published novel.
Sadly, I will not name names nor link links. I’m willing to hurt and piss off self-publishers in general, but I won’t poke any one self-published individual, no matter how ridiculous and sad I find his promotional website or indeed, his prose.
I readily admit that there are writers in specific situations who are better off going the self-publication route. For example, I have a passing acquaintance with someone who writes Christian Nudist Humor. As surprising as it seems, there is not a huge market for Christian Nudist Humor. Why? Being neither a Christian nor a nudist, and only occasionally funny, I won’t hazard a guess. So, to preclude anyone bailing into me on that front, I acknowledge that there are niche markets best served by self-publication and self-promotion.
Beyond that, however, self-publishing seems to be the last resort of the uninformed, the desperate, the stubborn, the delusional, and the…gosh, I was hoping I’d think of something neutral to put in here that would allow the self-publishing believers who don’t think of themselves as any of the above to walk away from this blog post without wanting to kill me. Fail. Um, the easily satisfied?
At any rate, from my occasional encounters with people who believe in self-publishing, I perceive the rhetoric of self-publication to be that the publishing industry is inept, corrupt, sheep-like, narrow-minded, or some other epithet that explains why traditional publishers don’t want to publish a particular book much beloved by its writer. The rest of the rhetoric goes like this: I know some self-published books are really bad, but mine is really well written but too controversial or innovative or just too darn good!
So let me just say, the current rate of disappointing books to good books among the traditionally published books I’ve bought or checked out of the library runs at about 3 in 10. Seriously, of every ten books I buy or check out, I find only 7 of them both readable and enjoyable. Two of the other three tend to be not to my taste, but typically at least one of the three is poorly written or indifferently edited.
As for self-published books, the rate of disappointing books to good books runs at about 9 in 10. Don’t think I’m making that up. I didn’t pull that ratio out of my ass. I have some experience reading self-published books, some of it quite by chance and some it a product of my own perverse curiosity.
When my husband was stationed in Classifiedistan with the Marines, he was tormented by a lack of reading material. Being a bit of a scammer, he contacted Alibris, the used book seller, and asked about creating a program to get books to Marines and soldiers in Classifiedistan. Alibris agreed and asked Hubby for a list of books, which he provided. Shortly thereafter, Alibris customers began buying books off the list to be shipped overseas.
It got big. Really big. Think pallets of books. This was in 2001 and everyone was eager to “support the troops.”
When Hubby returned home, some of the books followed him, because they came addressed to him personally. Over the next several months, we received many boxes of books, including several that contained multiple copies of self-published books. It was clear in those cases that the authors had purchased and shipped the books themselves. Never mind that those books weren’t on Hubby’s request list, making the whole thing smack of a sleazy sort of self-promotion to a captive audience, the books were uniformly bad. Bad. Laughably bad. If I’d been asked to critique or edit those books, I would have returned them filled with notes and corrections. I didn’t even know these people and I was embarrassed for them having published those books under their real names–I assumed.
That first brush with the self-publishing world created my morbid curiosity. I found myself at library donation sales and used book stores and garage sales, sifting through boxes of books for the self-published ones. In an interesting turn of events, I learned that my boss had published a book. My co-workers talked about it as something very important and special. She’d written a whole suspense novel and had it published! Then I looked the book up and learned it was self-published. It was also available used from amazon.com, for a penny plus postage.
I bought it, of course, and learned two things. 1.) Someone who knew my boss well enough to get the book signed had later sold it to a used book dealer. 2.) My boss could put together a grammatically correct sentence, but her dialog and description were death-dealingly boring. I tried to read the book and foundered after a mere 30 pages. I later passed it surreptitiously to another unindoctrinated co-worker who experienced the same level of proxy-embarrassment.
After that I went through a few months of buying a variety of self-published books for a penny plus postage. I suppose I was searching for that elusive thing: the self-published book that was truly too good, too controversial, too innovative for traditional publishing. I haven’t found it yet, but more than that I haven’t found even one self-published book that left me thinking positive things about the author’s decision to publish. (Excepting the niche market element I cited earlier, which represents my 1 in 10 that I consider readable.)
I have winced, giggled, and sighed over these books, but I’ve concluded that the traditional publishing process does have something to offer. It’s something more than a filtration system to keep out “bad” writers as some people have suggested. Rather, I suspect it’s that the process produces better writing. Having other people evaluating your writing with an eye to improving it can never be a bad thing. Certainly, it’s possible to ruin a book by forcing revisions by committee, but far more often the revision process required by the traditional publishing system produces better writing.
Maybe it’s a sign that I lack confidence in my own writing, but the thought of being the last arbiter of editorial decisions for a book I wrote…it skeeves me out. I want someone else who has something on the line to say, “Yes, this book is ready to go to print.”
Now, before you bail into me, two things:
1.) If you are considering self-publication, but haven’t done it yet…wait. Wait to bail into me until you’ve actually published the book. For that matter, wait a while before you publish the book.
2.) If you have self-pubbed your book and you’re experiencing righteous indignation at my attitude toward it, e-mail me. Don’t e-mail me insults, just e-mail me to let me know you’d like to send me a free copy of your fabulous book. (Don’t e-mail and offer to send me a copy of some historical example. The times, they have already changed.) I swear, I’ll send you my address, I’ll look at your book, and if it is indeed the exception to my sweeping generalities, I’ll send you a check for the cost of the book AND I’ll document the whole thing right here. Promise. It’ll have to be more than merely adequate or serviceable. It’ll have to be good. A book that is as skillfully written and edited as the average book published through traditional routes. If it’s outside my preferred reading areas, I don’t demand that I enjoy it, but simply that the writing reveal quality workmanship.
3.) Okay, three things. Again, niche market writers, don’t get huffy with me. I’m not talking about you.
ETA: Time just ran an article about how publishing is changing, and that self-publishing is the wave of the future. They base this on a few radical exceptions–people who first self-published and later sold the rights to major publishing houses. All of which seems to prove only that the more things change the more they stay the same. Yes, some writers have successfully used self-publication as a kind of grand sales pitch to…traditional publishers. The success comes not from the “selling books out of your trunk,” but from getting a six-figure advance from a big publishing house. If I hear about a bunch of writers making six figures from selling their books out of their trunk (or off their website), then I’ll consider the possibility that traditional publishing is dead.
Also, it all smacks of entrepreneurism, to which I say, “Are you kidding me?” If I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I’d already have started my own business. I’m a writer. I like sitting around by myself writing, not going out and selling myself to people. Eeek!
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