Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

I want to begin by saying something I have told hundreds of writers at conferences, and, I believe, I have mentioned here on this blog. I believe writing is one of those few activities that everyone in the world can do. This is one of those few activities of creative self-expression that your ability level does not come into play. With art, you have to have a sense of color and shape; with music - a sense of sound; with dance, a sense of rhythm and movement; but with writing, it is just your thoughts taking shape on the page. But, when I bring this up, I am talking about writing and not publishing. There is a huge difference between the two.

Recently, we have all seen the huge wave of self-publishing opportunities for writers popping up almost daily. Either in e-pub format or in POD format (and yes, a couple of "independent" presses). The problem I have with many of these outlets is that there seems to be no quality standard being put into place. Sure they claim to have people editing these manuscripts. Sure they may have an art department and I.T. department to insure the writer's project "looks good," but, in terms of the stories I question the quality of the project.

I have heard many authors tell me they went this route because:
  • Their story was unique and fell outside the "restrictive" guidelines of publishers.
  • Their story was misunderstood by editors.
  • Their story needed a "special" form of marketing that editors wouldn't take.
  • Agents were too concerened about money to even consider their "unique" project.
Now, while this might be the case for a few projects out there, in most cases, the real issues is that the story is just something that is not marketable. This does not mean you can't sell the project, it simply means that there is likely no market out there beyond your friends and family purchasing the story. Local bookstores in your own community might sell the project on the table market "Local Authors" but that is about it.

My concern about many of these publishing outlets is simple. They are simply printing anything that comes across their desk, regardless of the true quality of the writing. In the end, however, the message that is being received by far too many authors out there is that this is an opportunity to either be published since the traditional publishers don't know their butt from a hot rock; or a chance to get published without being "fleeced" by those entrenched in the system (i.e editors and agents).

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying EVERY one of these formats for publishig is bad. I am great friends and have great respect for several editors/publishers that work in this business. What I am simply saying is that if we want to talk about people "fleecing" the author, we need to stop and consider what these presses are really doing. They are simply making a profit off of writers with writing that is probably less that quality and, in the end, hurting many of these authors professionally. They are learning bad habits about the business. They are not seeing success. They are getting a false sense of success with their writing. And, when they do have a project that might have potential to do real things, they won't see it and may ruin that project as well.

I want to stress here that there is a place for markets such as this (this includes vanity presses). Maybe you have a project that you simply want to look better than something you print at your local FedEx Kinkos store. Maybe you want to memorialize someone or something. Maybe you have a church, team or school that wants to have something they can remember a special moment with. Maybe you are a creative writing teacher at a K-12 school that wants to produce a yearly Student Literary Magazine. These opportunities are FANTASTIC!!! But, for the serious writers out there, we need to stop and think.

(Wow, maybe too much coffee this morning).



  1. I can't tell you how many people try to sway me toward self-publishing. Many people outside the writing community don't understand the amount of time needs to be spent on queries and edits and the like.

    There have, however, been some really great successes with the self-publishing industry. However, I'm more interested in the traditional method. I much prefer the collaboration of agent, editor, publisher and writer.

  2. Amen! And I'm not sure there is such a thing as too much coffee! :-)

  3. I disagree for several reasons. 1) How many self published works have you read recently? I'm not saying that there isn't junk out there, but there is traditionally published "junk" too. Things so bad that they actually made me angry that I wasted my money on it, things that I fought the urge to get out a red pen while reading and correct the terrible mistakes in them. While I've recently read a ton of self published works and yes, some had plot holes or the pacing was off, but for the most part they WERE well edited and enjoyable and a handful have bumped several traditionally published works off of my all-time-favorites lists

    2)The argument that self-pubbed works are flooding the marketplace and filling it with unreadable non-sense is getting old, and I find it insulting that so many agents and publishers and other authors are out there basically saying that we as readers aren't smart enough to choose quality books on our own and good thing we have others to do it for us.

    3) there IS a market for many of the self published books I've read (and fallen in love with recently) its just not the market that publishers are recognizing. I've talked to countless teens and YA readers and they all say things like, "we're so sick of paranormal/dystopia/sci-fi what have you." the publishers? they say all of that is still hot hot hot. Yeah, because thats all you're buying and putting out there.

    As someone who had an offer of rep from a big NY agent and still chose to self publish, I look forward to the day when self publishing is more accurately depicted and evaluated, rather than being touted as something to fear... Things are changing drastically, whether the publishing world likes it or not...

  4. Yeah! What Steph said!! People have a story they want to tell and they are not waiting around for traditional publishers to "like" them. They're telling their stories anyway to whomever is willing to buy and read them.

  5. I'm an Australian author, currently living in West Africa. I chose to self publish for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones was wanting to prove to other authors here that authors in non-traditional markets could produce and publish without having to get a US publishers endorsement and that it was financially viable to have beautifully printed books produced and shipped here. I can print through Create Space and have my books shipped to Ghana cheaper than I can get them printed locally. At the moment my main problem is keeping up with demand!

    I think the best thing about self publishing is choice. Authors now have another option to pursue. It's not for everyone, but for some it's brilliant!

  6. I thoroughly agree. The celebrities out there with books about nothing really disturb me.