Self Publishing: Still No Room for Crap

Many years ago, self-publishing got it’s bad rap because the quality wasn’t there.  Self-published books were usually inferior in design and inferior in materials.  Picking up a book, you could easily tell it had been self-published.  If the xerox’d pages didn’t give it away, it was the terrible bindings (or three-ring binder encasing it).  In quite a few of the cases, it was also the inferior quality of the contents too.  But, even then, there were many that did it right.  They paid the extra money for a quality design.  They paid the extra money for the quality materials.  And, they put in the time and effort to publish quality content.

Now, with the greater availability (and reduced costs) of self-publishing, more and more books are being self published.  More and more big names are self pubbing their stuff.  Self publishers have access to the same design and materials that many of the big name publishers have access to.  Amazon has started it’s own imprints using the same services that many self publishing authors will use.  But, even with all that increased access, there still seems to be a stigma to self publishing.  In many ways, it’s an earned stigma.  Many people still expect something that’s been self published to be crap.

Chuck Wendig wrote a terribly good post on his site terribleminds (see what I did there? terribly good … terribleminds… ) about self publishing not being the minor leagues.  It starts off a little bit like a defense of self publishing, but it turns into something much better.  It’s a call to authors to be the artists that they can be.  It’s a call to not settle for the crap, but to refine it, polish it, and publish the diamond that was hidden in the refuse.

If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

There’s a whole lot more to the post, but that’s what really stuck out to me.  Self publishing isn’t that much different from traditional publishing.  You still need to put out your best work.  You can’t settle for good enough, or “mom liked it” and expect to have any better results.  Say what you want about readers, but they aren’t stupid.  They aren’t going to suddenly buy your self published crap just because self publishing is more widely accepted.  But, they will buy your self published masterpieces.  But, they have to be masterpieces.  They will buy your art if you present them art “with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.”

What are you polishing today?

Let’s Get Digital

Lets Get DigitalLet’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should

By: David Gaughran

I think it’s important, regardless of what stage you are in on you publishing journey, to try and understand as much about the options available to you as you can before making any major decisions.  There is quite obviously a rather large discussion going on about publishing right now.  There are those who say that you should self-publish, and there are those who say that you should publish traditionally through the publishing houses.  I’ve discussed a bit about both sides here before.  I still am not entirely sure where I sit, but think that, at the moment, I am leaning more towards the self-publishing side.  Why?  Partially, because I read this book.

Gaughran makes a very strong argument for the self-publishing route.  None of which are anecdotal.  He backs up his thoughts with some very solid logic and even stronger facts, and really makes a good case for doing it yourself.  He doesn’t just tell you to wade in and get your feet wet, either, but makes the argument for still having your manuscript edited at least once by someone other than your mother or yourself.  He makes an argument for professional cover designers as well.  This isn’t just a book that says that self-publishing is great, now jump in.  The steps are outlined and ready for you to discover the path you will take with your creation.

If there’s any one thing that the book is thin on, it’s extreme detail.  For instance, Gaughran writes about using professional cover artists and editors, but doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail about who, where, when.  He also writes about the process of getting your work loaded into the various publishing services, but again doesn’t go into the exact detail on how to do that.  Which, I think, is good.  He actually expects you to learn how to do those things.  The information is freely available in several locations, and is really just a search away, so why waste the readers time hand-holding them down the path.

The book is an excellent primer on self-publishing, and is by far the best book on digital self-publishing that I’ve read to date.  This will sound a bit strange, but with some non-fiction books, you come away with the desire to read other books on the exact same subject so that you can learn more on the subject.  I didn’t with this book.  In part, I think that is because there is plenty of information there, and what detail is missing, Gaughran points the reader in the right direction to find that detail.

The book is currently available digitally only.  You can pick up a copy of Let’s Get Digital for the Kindle at Amazon (and support this site while you’re doing it).  Also, I’ve added Gaughran’s blog to the blogroll in the sidebar if you’re interested.  He posts regularly, and continues the conversation on self-publishing. He’s also listed the other ways you can get pick up a copy of the book (including a free pdf version) on his blog: Let’s get Digital.

Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


Heinlein’s Business Rules

I’ve never heard of Heinlein’s Business Rules before.  Thankfully, I read The Passive Voice, who pointed to this post by Dean Wesley Smith, wherein he mentions aforementioned rules in a post that really should be read in full by anyone who fancies themselves a writer. I mean that.  Click on Dean’s name and go read that post. What are Heinlein’s Business Rules, you might ask?

Here they are (with small additions from Smith):

His rules go simply:

1) You must write.
2) You must finish what you write.
3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.
4) You must mail your work to someone who can buy it.
5) You must keep the work in the mail until someone buys it.

Those rules do seem so simple, and yet are so hard to follow at times. They set out a simple practice schedule and a clear process of what to do with your practice sessions when finished. But for this chapter, note rule #3. Harlan Ellison added to rule #3. “You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.” Harlan addition: And then only if you agree.

And, of course, if you indie publish, substitute “publish” in #4  for “mail” and let reader’s buy it. And then for #5 just keep it for sale.

An interesting take on things.  And it goes against every fiber of your being, if you’re a aspiring writer.  Mostly because every fiber of your being has had the edit, edit, edit, rewrite, rewrite, proof, proof, edit, rewrite, submit, repeat mantra beat into your head at every turn by everyone.  Will Heinlein’s rules work for everyone?  Certainly not.  But, I’d be willing to bet that a large majority of you would find they work just fine. Maybe you should give it a try.




Time to Look at Self Publishing Again?

The cycle seems to perpetually go around on this.  Every few months or years, we all start talking about self publishing and all the pros and cons that come with it.  The major difference this time around is that there’s been a pretty significant paradigm change in the publishing industry.  The rise in popularity of ebooks and ebook readers (like the Kindle and Nook) have made it easier than ever to get a book.  Even more important, it’s made it even easier to publish a book.

A writer can now choose to go exclusively electronic and publish a novel as an ebook.  It’s easy to get them listed in marketplaces like Amazon or Barnes and Noble as well.  Of course, the same questions come around about quality.  Is the author really doing himself/herself any good by skipping the editing process that happens when going through a traditional publisher?

One person who has been an advocate for self publishing recently is J.A. Konrath.  At the end of December, he even came right out and said that you should self publish.  And, I have to admit, he makes a pretty good argument for it as well.  He’s published quite a few posts recently by himself and others who self publish that make an even stronger argument for self publishing.  Here’s one by Aaron Patterson on his experiences.

I still have somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing.  I’ve argued before that there is a certain sense of acknowledgment that comes with getting the acceptance from an agent and then again when you sell a book.  However, I find myself wondering if that same sense couldn’t be achieved by having a book sell thousands of copies a month in ebook form?

There is no question that the quality issue will continue to come up.  But, I think that if you are planning on self publishing your novel, it’s your responsibility as the author to publish the best work you can.  Which should include at least one pass by a professional editor.  Sure, it’s going to cost you some money, but so will putting out sub-standard work.

I think this whole argument needs  a bit more thought before I can honestly say which way I would go, but recent changes and evidence seems to point to the self publishing ebook as the way of the future.  I’d still be curious to hear how these authors handle foreign rights (Konrath confirms having an agent for that), translating those same, and many of the other rights issues that come up that an agent would traditionally handle.  Or, perhaps if the book is popular enough to have those problems, the author then goes looking to hire an agent to do that part?

Update: Here’s a very good post by Jim C. Hines, whose opinion I deeply respect, on this whole thing.  I think he takes a much more level-headed approach to the whole thing.

Thoughts on Self Publishing

I’ve seen quite a bit of debate recently over whether an author should use a self-publishing route to publish a book.  Of course, as an unpublished author, the debate interests me because I would like to become a published author.

From my reading, and a bit of self deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t think that self-publishing is for me.  Probably the biggest issue I have with it is the procedure.  In the normal flow of publishing, the novel goes to an agent, then to a publisher and is then published.  If either the agent or the publisher don’t think it’s worthy of publication, it doesn’t get published.  Despite what I think about my own writing, agents and publishers have far more experience than I do with what sells and what doesn’t.  So, if my novel gets rejected, it’s off to the next agent or publisher.

More importantly, if the novel gets an agent and/or a publisher, it validates (to me) my writing.  I know that it’s good enough.  Any question of that is erased from my mind.  Until I start on the next book anyways.  😉

By self-publishing, you don’t get that validation.  For all you know, you’re publishing a flaming bag of dog poo.  But, that’s me.  I need that validation.  I could never be sure of my writing without it.  Maybe that doesn’t make me a very good writer?  I don’t know.  Or, maybe that’s more normal than I know.  Whatever it is, it’s the reason that I don’t think I could self-publish.

Of course, that opinion is subject to change after my “greatest” novel gets rejected by 30 or 50 agents.  We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  I’ve got to have the “greatest” novel first.