Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting published the quick and easy way

More and more aspiring authors are abandoning the rocky path to winning contracts from publishers and are hopping on the bus to self-publication. If you haven't heard traditionally-published authors grumbling about that, you just haven't been paying attention. "That's not publication," one of my fellow Harlequin authors sniffed after learning that our mutual acquaintence had paid to have her novel made into a softcover book. "All she did was have her manuscript printed and bound."

But that is publication, albeit of the do-it-yourself variety. And what's wrong with that?

Plenty, according to many of my traditionally-published friends. "She's self-published," they'll sneer, implying that the writer in question is unworthy to call herself a published author. "Real" authors will scratch out the upstarts' eyes sooner than they'll make room on their pedestals for those who have "cheated" in the publication game and declared themselves winners.

Maybe we traditionally-published authors should get over ourselves. It makes our profession look ridiculous when we preen and all but beg to be adored. Our attempts to elevate ourselves in the eyes of the world by pointing out the unworthiness of self-published authors to share our pedestal is mean, and few things are as pathetic as our childish insistence on receiving the full measure of adulation we believe we have earned by selling books to traditional publishing houses.

So what if "just anybody" can call herself an author these days? How does that hurt those of us who get published the hard way? It's not as though self-published romance novels are going to knock our books off the shelves at Target and WalMart.

I am not endorsing self-published books. Self-published books are notorious for being poorly written and badly (or completely un-) edited. My neighbor's cat could write a novel tonight and publish it tomorrow--which is, in a nutshell, the reason I don't read self-published books. But I'll defend Fluffy's right to find her own way into print, and I won't bristle when she calls herself a published author. My self-esteem does not hinge on anybody's work but my own.

Maybe I'm sensitive to this issue because even before I started writing, I never put authors on pedestals. To me, they were professionals not terribly unlike dentists or schoolteachers. Yes, getting published the old-fashioned way requires talent, dedication and hard work. But aren't those the essential ingredients for success in most other careers? Being a traditionally-published author may not be as common an occupation as being an accountant, but in my experience, the only people who view authors as a higher order of humankind are authors.

I wish traditionally-published authors would stop lording it over the rest of the world--and by the rest of the world I mean those who aspire to be published and those who are self-published. If Fluffy the cat wants to print ten copies of her novel and call herself published, so what? I submit that any traditionally-published author who has a problem with Fluffy trying to horn in on our "glory" has an ego sorely in need of a little healthy deflation.


ForstRose said...

"Self-published books are notorious for being poorly written and badly (or completely un-) edited."

On some points I agree with you - the authors that "put-down" those who are self-published or aspiring to publication might have an ego problem. However on the point quoted above I have to disagree to some extent. I've seen traditionally published books with a rash of errors and poor quality of writing as I've also seen small press and self published books that are of high quality. The method of publication does not determine the quality of a work. The effort of the writer and their talent do to some extent. Granted there are fewer checks and balances to weed out the "garbage" when someone can just sign a piece of paper, pay a fee and have their work printed and on Amazon or other online bookstores without anyone reviewing the manuscript first. Despite this not everyone that goes that route does it because their work could not get published any other way or solely to get their work published. I know of one author who chose a small press for their customer service and commitment to quality books. Her book made it onto the shelves at Barnes and Noble within a few months of release and at least 4 of the stores they tested it in have reordered larger quantities than the test batch. Authors need to do their research and make their book the very best they can before they publish or submit the manuscript. And for goodness sake have 2, 3, even a half dozen other pairs of eyes help you edit and proofread during that process. Even I who see things a recreational reader misses or overlooks don't catch every typo or misused word.


Brenda Coulter said...

I've seen traditionally published books with a rash of errors and poor quality of writing as I've also seen small press and self published books that are of high quality.

Certainly. But both are exceptions and not the rule.

The method of publication does not determine the quality of a work. The effort of the writer and their talent do to some extent. Granted there are fewer checks and balances to weed out the "garbage" when someone can just sign a piece of paper, pay a fee and have their work printed and on Amazon or other online bookstores without anyone reviewing the manuscript first

"Fewer" checks and balances? Try NONE. Traditional publishing houses have editorial reputations to uphold; self-publishing companies do not.

Until I watched my first book make its way through the editorial department of a major publishing house, I had no idea how many hands touch a book during production. That book was, to my knowledge, read by four different editors. My upcoming book will have been read by five editors. How's that for checks and balances? While typos are common in all books (it's next to impossible to catch them all because every time you make a change, you risk messing up something else), it is wildly unusual to find even a small plot hole in a Love Inspired book because they're so tightly edited. Self-published authors don't get that kind of attention, even when they pay people to edit their books.

It's true that a few very talented authors have gone the self-publishing route because there was no established market for their kinds of stories. It's also true that some very good authors choose self-publishing because they want full control over their work. We could swap anecdotes all day long, but the truth would remain: the vast majority of self-published authors are simply not good enough to sell their manuscripts to publishers.

Are all self-published books awful? Absolutely not. Only about 99.9% of them are.

Mcurran87 said...

Everyone makes a good point. Self-published books often don't get the same attention that traditional publishing companies give. It is obviously a risk but I feel that if the author is confident in their work and truly wants to self-publish their book, then why not go for it? And i have to agree that the method of publication does not determine the quality of work. It all depends on the author and if the author is confident in their work, I definitely encourage that they go for it and self-publish it if necessary. There are many great self-publishing tools and websites that are helpful and have many useful resources. One of them that I've come to learn much about it Author House. They are so helpful and I would greatly recommend them. They have been around for over 10 years and have helped publish over 40,000 books. So, all in all, I feel that if someone wants to self-publish their book, they should go for it. The method of publishing the book does not determine whether it will be a good book or not and self-publishing a book can give someone a great deal of satisfaction!

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks for the input. I think I've heard some bad things about Author House, and I'm pretty sure they're on the "Not Recommended" list over at Predators and Editors. Anyone who's thinking of self-publishing should do some careful research, which should include Googling the publishers you're looking at and reading what their customers say about them. (Reading customer testimonials on the companies' own websites isn't helpful because the companies can't be expected to publish comments portraying them in a bad light.)

There are probably more reputable companies out there than stinkers. Just be careful.

Mcurran87 said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll definitely keep that in mind. You know, I've visited the Predators and Editors website and for some reason it just doesn't seem like a very reliable or credible website. I agree, though, I think that when planning to self-pubilsh a website, you really have to look into it thoroughly and do your research. I've read countless blogs on self-publishing and there's usually both good and bad stories about all of the self-publishing websites. That's just the way it goes. I've read some good success stories and testimonials for AuthorHouse on some blogs. Another website I've been learning about recently that I've also heard good things about is WordClay. There are just so many options out there! Thanks again for your tip, though!

Anonymous said...

There are people skilled in writing and editing who have published their own books and have the professional skills to put out a quality book. They are not relying on the self-publishing house to provide the quality - they do it themselves.

Sometimes there are good books that have been overlooked in the highly-competitive publishing world.

Sometimes a writer has a reason to self-publish one or more books but it doesn't mean she isn't still trying to get published the "hard" way. Good for her for persevering in all forms.

What about artists and musicians and actors who practice their art in all forms - on the streets, in small theaters, in coffee houses, etc? Are they ragged on and spoken of with disdain? :)

We're all artists just trying to practice our art in one form or another. Why not applaud one another?

Great topic, Brenda!

Katrina Stonoff said...

Let me assure you: teachers do look askance at someone without their credentials and training who calls him/herself a "teacher," hence the conflict between schools and homeschoolers. And I know for certain dentists would be up in arms if an uncredentialed, untrained person set up a dental practice and started drilling in teeth.

Credentials do mean something, and in writing, being published by an established house is a credential of sorts. It doesn't guarantee quality, but it increases the probability.

There may well be individuals gifted in dentistry who've never been trained, and I know for certain there are people born with a raw talent for teaching. But those gifts don't change the fact that credentials tend to show professionalism.

Which is not to say I'm for bashing self-published authors. More power to them!

But the rash of self published books does not reduce the cachet of being published traditionally.

(BTW, does anyone else suspect Mcurran87 is affiliated with AuthorHouse?)

D.K. White said...

I don't want adoration. I want respect for the hard work I'm doing to make writing a career. I don't care if people self-publish. But, yes, self-published authors that brag about being "published authors" have already hurt me: some people now think the end-all objective of being an author is to have a bound book to show off.

I'm not yet published as a fiction writer and have been trying to get an agent for my first fantasy novel for half a year now. When I told my friends I was done with the novel and now querying agents, one asked, "Oh, so when will it be out?" I had to explain that I didn't know and how it could take a long time even if my novel quickly caught the attention of agents and editors. She said, "Oh, it's not that hard. [Name of a friend] got published almost immediately and his book wasn't even any good." Another chimed in with a similar story. I explained that those two people were self-published, but I was trying to get paid for my work. They asked what I might expect to get.

Those ladies aren't stupid, but they didn't seem to understand why I should do the waiting game of normal publishing when I could get a "good job" and still become a published author by paying someone to publish my book. And they quickly agreed that self-published books are generally not worth buying or reading.

It's not ego, I just want to be treated like a profession. Instead, a number of my friends think I'm an idiot for not taking the (apparently) easy way out. They don't seem to understand that I write because I want to share my stories with thousands of people, not just have a bound book to show off.

Gerrard T Wilson said...

Hi, I'm also an aspiring author of children's stories, 'Alice on Top of the World' and 'Jimmy and the Glue Factory' being two of them. I have lost count of the number of letters that I have sent, trying to secure the services of an agent. But all to no avail!!!
I am now considering self-publication. What is the procedure for sellinbg on Amazon?
You can see samples of my work on - I would love to know what you think of it. All the best from Gerry Wilson

Anonymous said...

Alice on Top of the World - Has anyone had a chance to take a look at it on my website?
All the best from Gerry