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March 5th, 2009

9:52 AM

Self-publishing ra-ra-ra: can we just get to the facts?

POD People brought this blog entry (newspaper article?) to my attention. I read it, hoping it will say something new about self-publishing, but to my disappointment, it is yet another puff piece with big leaps of conclusion (better than expected Kindle sales = self-publishing is catching fire... say what?) and grandiose declarations with very little statistical or factual evidence to back up all that hot air.

I like the idea of self-publishing as an avenue for daring and edgy non-mainstream fiction to get published, but I often wonder who these circus barkers are trying to fool. Self-publishing is thriving? Yes, but come on, those authors are not getting rich - it is those folks who run vanity publishing services that are getting rich as authors, lured by offers of "Free self-publishing!", end up buying overpriced and usually not effective add-on services like editing (ha), marketing, and such.

The problem with self-publishing propoganda, if you ask me, is that most of these circus barkers are telling people what they want to hear, as opposed to telling them the hard facts. They tell barely literate high school dropouts that grammar and writing ability don't matter because stories "come from the heart" or something like that. They tell desperate authors that traditional publishers are evil people who deliberately set out to crush their dreams. They tell these people that they are entitled to be authors, and yes, fame and success and respect will follow shortly after because look at the handful of current self-published authors who have made it big, blah blah blah. It's like an online version of a huge telemarketing sales pitch trying to sell people tickets to overpriced motivational seminars.

Why not tell the truth and let the authors know that self-publishing requires as much hard work as breaking into traditional publishing? And that to succeed, you need to either market your rear end off after doing careful market research and do it well (and with luck on your side) or you already have a pre-established audience. And that you will have to think like a businessman as well as an author because you do not have a marketing department to stock your books in bookstores for you? Self-publishing is no short cut to success - it is another way to get published, but it is also another kind of hard work awaiting the author. And the rewards are far lower than you would reap with traditional publishing, unless you are an expert in your field with a ready-made audience at your seminars and classes, you are willing to go all out and develop the tenacity of an MLM fanatic in marketing your book to everyone and anyone, or you are content to sell a dozen or so copies and knowing that there is an audience, however small, that appreciate your art.

But of course, if we tell people all this, then self-publishing won't attract that big an audience and those fly-by-night vanity publishers will have to find another get-rich scheme to latch on to.

My point here is not that self-publishing is bad, but that if we want self-publishing to attain a legitimate kind of credibility, we need to start by admitting the warts as well as the pretty parts of self-publishing. We need to tell the barely literate wannabes out there who think that they can write, "Look, self-publishing won't make you the next Stephen King. Go back to school, or at least improve your English, read some books from your library, and then think about whether you want to write." Those people shouldn't be encouraged to self-publish, they should be encouraged to either improve themselves first or... I don't know, try pitching their stories at soap opera producers. Just make them stop becoming the #1 clients of self-publishing industry, because that will not help improve the image of the industry as a cesspit run by con men to exploit gullible people. And really, we should stop letting circus barker types write propaganda that has very little difference from the sales pitch of an MLM racket. Stop pretending that self-publishing is the magic button to success. There is no short cut in having a writing career - self-publishing is one way to do it, but like traditional publishing, it too has its own set of challenges that the author must overcome.

25 comment(s).

Posted by Stacia Kane:

I've seen a lot of comments around lately to the effect of how great it is that self-publishing is becoming more popular because it will collapse those snobbish Big Houses and give readers what they really want. Which makes so little sense to me I don't even know where to start. If anyone should be for the traditional publishing structure it should be readers; in essence, agents and editors act as gatekeepers for them too, and ensure that the books on the shelves in their local bookstores are at least mostly readable and well-written (yes, tastes vary blah blah, but you know what I mean.)

The failure of that structure would make it almost impossible for readers to find quality books without endless hours of searching, without endless hours of research. You wouldn't be able to go to a bookstore, check the genre section you like, grab a few titles that look interesting, flip through them, and buy them with confidence. Even if the first couple of pages are written well and typo-free, how do you know the writer can tell a story? How do you know aliens don't land in chapter fourteen? How do you know character names don't change or the genre doesn't switch midstream? How do you know the author won't decide they're sick of writing and never finish the books?

I shudder to think of a world where I can no longer trust that the books in my local store are professionally edited and produced, and written by people with skill. And while it sounds romantic and cool to shout about how you're (as in the univeral "you," not YOU) going to tear that bad discriminatory corporate system down, what you're essentially doing is making your own life so much harder and exposing yourself to terrible books.

JMO. But I think all of us who love books and reading have an interest in keeping publishing going as it is.
March 5th, 2009 @ 6:54 PM

Posted by Tina Anderson:

These glorious articles are a near perfect Catch-22: Companies in the business of selling 'editorial, design, and/or printing' services, are the circus barkers. Naturally, these 'literate high school dropouts' see these articles and blogs praising self-publishing as the future and corporate publishers as the enemy, without realizing that it's a well disguised sales-pitch. Sadly, 9 out of 10 of them get to the end of these blogs/articles and say ˜Hey I can do this myself!", and then go find LuLu. :/ They completely ignore the small print at the bottom of the article that says ˜blah blah blah can edit, design, and plan a marketing campaign for your book click here. :/

A majority of self-pub=wave of the future articles are all by people working in the freelance ˜book creation market. http://www.selfpublishing.com/ is loaded with excellent info and resources”but I never fool myself into thinking that they're doing it to advance self-publishing. The entire site is geared toward enabling an unpublished writer to seek their services. If only those writers technically challenged by things like grammar, style, form, and structure would read the damn fine print and procure these services.
March 5th, 2009 @ 10:33 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

Ms Anderson, I've taken out the last paragraph because stupid Bravenet cut it off midway and it doesn't make much sense. On behalf of Bravenet, please accept my apologies.

Ms Kane,

give readers what they really want

I hear this line often and I always wonder how those self-published people know what readers really want. Or that readers are actually clamoring for their books. Are they psychic? Sigh.
March 5th, 2009 @ 10:42 PM

Posted by No Talent Self-Published Illiterate High School Grad With Some College Under My Belt:

There are a lot of things wrong with the publishing industry, and I don't think that self-publishing is the devil that everyone wants to make it out to be. Some small presses and e-pubs that call themselves "real" or "traditional" publishers are no better than self-publishing outfits like Lulu. The only difference is that the authors get to say that they're "really" published.
For example, I have a self-published book and this is its story. The book was first accepted by a "real" publisher. The editing was ridiculous. It amounted to nothing more than a spelling/grammar check in MS Word. After not seeing the MS for six months, I reread it and couldn't believe the stuff that the editor missed. They slapped an atrociously ugly cover on the thing and put it on sale two weeks before it was supposed to release and unfortunately, before I'd had a chance for a second proofread. I found over 56 typos in the finished product. Since I'd never published a book before, I knew nothing about marketing and received no help at all from this "real" publisher. Within a month, the senior editor emailed me and told me that they were cancelling my contract due to lack of sales and interest in the book. She even admitted to me that she'd never even read it. She'd accepted it solely on her assistant's recommendation.
A friend of mine suggested that I try Lulu. I had the book edited by a friend who earns her living as an editor, designed a new cover and put it on sale. To date, the book as sold around 150 copies. It has also been placed in a couple of libraries, and I've given away dozens of free copies. And it's still selling (17 copies since December) on Amazon Kindle. Granted, that might not be a stellar achievement that I should brag about, but it's much better than the grand total of 8 copies that I sold with the "real" publisher back in 2005. Plus, it helped get my name out there and my foot in the door to much better things.
March 6th, 2009 @ 12:02 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

For example, I have a self-published book and this is its story. The book was first accepted by a "real" publisher. The editing was ridiculous. It amounted to nothing more than a spelling/grammar check in MS Word. After not seeing the MS for six months, I reread it and couldn't believe the stuff that the editor missed. They slapped an atrociously ugly cover on the thing and put it on sale two weeks before it was supposed to release and unfortunately, before I'd had a chance for a second proofread. I found over 56 typos in the finished product. Since I'd never published a book before, I knew nothing about marketing and received no help at all from this "real" publisher. Within a month, the senior editor emailed me and told me that they were cancelling my contract due to lack of sales and interest in the book. She even admitted to me that she'd never even read it. She'd accepted it solely on her assistant's recommendation.

So since you don't understand what a "real" publisher is or does or even understand how it all should work and you obviously signed a contract with some strange firm that does business unlike any other ePublisher or traditional publisher I know of...

It sounds more like Self Publishing is an excuse for you to not do your homework, write professionally, or even attempt to understand how the business actually works.

None of that leads me to want to buy anything from you.
March 6th, 2009 @ 2:04 AM

Posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner:

Couldn't have said it better myself, mrsgiggles. Notice I made no direct comment on the peeps regarding that "news" story. Self-publishing is a difficult task, not for the weak-willed or those who say, "My ineptly placed clauses and my blatant butchering of the English Language is just my style." But, the world of Lulu makes it so easy that people get swept away and don't care. I don't know how many times I have mentioned in reviews and blog-posts that if self-publishing is a short-cut, it's a pretty deep and painful one with a rusty blade, no less. Those of us who do care and do take it very seriously would like someday to breathe a sigh of relief. Some of us decided on self-publishing for very specific and valid reasons. Some of us want to be career writers someday and some of us don’t. I have read and reviewed some amazing Indie books, and I have also read some pretty crappy mainstream blockbuster books, so the definition of quality is a bit flimsy these days. You can’t get quality if you don’t pay attention to the process, and that goes for “real” publishers and the ghoulish “phantasm” publishers. Sorry, I had to make that joke. Bottom line: Self-publishers need to work hard, educate themselves, not only about the industry but about the craft itself, continuously strive to perfect their skills, and most of all, have a set of balls and a good deal of stamina. The cheerleading Ra! Ra! Ra! stuff is nice once and a while to take the edge off, but those of us who know what we are doing, know a puff piece when we see it: although, we are obliged to report it, take it for what you will. :)
March 6th, 2009 @ 4:14 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

Two examples I have seen of reasonable use of Self Publishing have been

China House by Vincent Lardo and My Dearest Holmes by Piercy who went with Booksurge.

Both these were out of print titles where the author had gone through editing and publishing but then got back the rights.

Now they are making all the money from just providing their back catalog books through Amazon by simply self publishing them.

That makes a lot of sense and I wish more authors would do that because I certainly would support it.
March 6th, 2009 @ 4:55 AM

Posted by LKCampbell:

I have three self pubbed books. Like Cheryl Ann, I had specific reasons for going that route, but I do not push it/promote it to writers. Everyone has to make their own informed choice. Thanks to blogs like POD People for keeping us informed.
March 6th, 2009 @ 5:22 AM

Posted by No Talent Self Published Illiterate:

Teddy Pig, Bravenet cut off the end of my first comment. I said that the publisher I was talking about was a print publisher in business for 10+ years. I can't help whether or not you believe that, but it's true. I also said that every writer should be careful no matter who they deal with. BTW, my new book is not self published, so I am aware of how publishing really works. My latest novel was published by a major publisher, and you may have already read it for all I know. I'd rather be anonymous since I'm aware that "talking" about your problems with publishers can hurt your career.
March 6th, 2009 @ 7:56 AM

Posted by Teddypig:

I can't help whether or not you believe that, but it's true.

I do believe you had "a" bad experience with some publisher. I hear about writers having bad experiences with publishers all the time.

I think you gave a prime example of a "bad" publisher experience.

Not that your example proves that Self Publishing is the answer to a writer starting out or for any writer for that matter besides simply finding a "good" publisher as you have proved with your latest novel.

I have to question the people giving a "all or nothing" attitude of lumping all publishers together in a pile after a bad experience and saying BAD BAD PUBLISHERS.

As Mrs G says there should be a balanced view given. I know and talk to professional people involved in ePublishing all the time. ePublishers who invest time and effort and money into their writers success.

I also know there are tons and tons of bad ePublishers out there or even worse, good intentioned but just halfassed ePublishers.

I don't sugar coat those facts.
March 6th, 2009 @ 8:56 AM

Posted by Mark A. York:

Amen Mrs. G. Newbie writers want short cuts. They long for one. Most have a low tolerance for rejection of their ideas, no matter how half-baked they are. So, as in the case of some contest losers at Gather.com start their own "companies." It's pure vanity. Any publishing operation using POD as a backbone is a vanity press by default.
March 6th, 2009 @ 12:37 PM

Posted by Stacia Kane:

I feel the need to clarify that my comment wasn't intended as a blanket assertion that ALL self-published novels are badly-written garbage. I don't believe that's the case. Just that a large portion of them are, and without the system readers will have a much harder time finding books.
March 6th, 2009 @ 5:38 PM

Posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner:

Oh, I didn’t think that at all MrsGiggles, no worries. You have reviewed some of my books, one you liked, the other one … not so much. I appreciate reviewers like you who are willing to take the chance.
In the coming weeks on the peeps site, I have some news posts on a few self-publishers that don’t quite sit well with me. I try to stick to the facts and objectively review what I see on their sites.
Now, onto “vanity” use of POD, I also don’t think that starting your own company or imprint should not automatically be considered vanity. Having your own imprint gets you even more involved in the process. Now you are directly working with Bowkers, Ingrams, the Library of Congress, and the myriad of other distribution, marketing, and printing services; all the administrative tasks fall to you as the imprint owner. If it’s vanity, we sure are masochistic about it. Not to mention that most of the very prestigious and small University Presses use POD as their backbone; it’s just cost effective, and they put out some of the finest literature known to man. I think a distinction needs to be made between “POD” the printing solution, “Subsidiary Publishers” like Wheatmark and Outskirts, and DYI sites like Lulu. There is a big difference, not just in cost and services, but in the attitude, as well. As for me, well, I write novellas: too small to make any money for a mainstream publisher, but that doesn’t address the issue I have with control. I wanted to own the process. It’s my art, and I should have all the say, which also means I have to take responsibility for the quality of my work. I don’t want stock art on my covers, I don’t want editors telling me to tone down my imagery, and I want to make my work affordable, without a whole lot of middle-men and red tape getting in between me and my readers. And Yippee for novella and short story writers, we have an avenue to get the work out to readers for a buck or two now. Stephen King must think
March 6th, 2009 @ 9:28 PM

Posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner:

Sorry for the cut and paste typo, bravenet and my virus software do not like each other. The phrase should read: Now, onto “vanity” use of POD, I also don’t think that starting your own company or imprint should automatically be considered vanity. ;)
March 6th, 2009 @ 9:32 PM

Posted by Teddypig:

I also don’t think that starting your own company or imprint should not automatically be considered vanity.

If you are talking about Vanity Press then that is "a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense".

Yogs Law - "Money flows toward the writer."
March 6th, 2009 @ 9:51 PM

Posted by Teddypig:

My thing is... There really is no shame in being a vanity press or a self publisher like Lulu. Just be honest and quit acting like you are some how different than any other vanity press.

List your services and the costs at the door just like Lulu does. Then there is no secret and no arguing.
March 6th, 2009 @ 9:55 PM

Posted by cheryl Anne Gardner:

I was speaking more to author owned imprints vs. publishing outfits. I came across an intersting hybrid the other day that I will be mentioning on the peeps: They charge for services like any other Wheatmark or iUniverse type deal, but they have submission guidelines and rejection policies like a traditional press. I am not even sure where to go with that one.
And Hey, no one should ever feel ashamed for doing what they love and following a dream, providing it's legal, of course. :)
March 6th, 2009 @ 10:45 PM

Posted by Teddypig:

I was speaking more to author owned imprints vs. publishing outfits.

Well, Treva Hart owns Loose Id which is a top ePublisher and she is also an author. Plus as an added bonus there are no secret or multiple unexplained pen names involved either. So I do not see that as a negative if it is handled openly and with professionalism.
March 6th, 2009 @ 10:54 PM

Posted by Mrs G:

I agree with both Teddypig and Cheryl Ann Gardner, heh. I don't think we can lump Loose Id (or any of the big epublishers out there) with self-publishers, because businesses like Loose Id don't just publish the owners' books, they also edit, publish, package, and market other authors'. This is very different from an imprint or whatever you call those "publishing companies" started by authors to sell their own books. Perhaps Ellora's Cave, et cetera, may start out as one, but they are since grown into legitimate publishing houses over the years.

When it comes to fiction, I think using free self-publishing services like Lulu can work for fiction. For example, if one is an author opting to repackage out-of-printed short stories into an anthology, like Jeff Duntemann has done. Or perhaps you write something so edgy or taboo that has an audience but no commercial publisher daring enough to take a chance on it. I believe GLBT authors have long opted for self-publishing or small presses long before epublishers come into existence, but I'm sure you know that more than me, teddy! And of course, poetry - self-publishing is pretty much the only way one can publish works of poetry nowadays.

But someone writing romance or sci-fi or thriller? Even if such work is good, they would have stood a better chance to make a tidy profit AND find an appreciative audience if they try their luck with a NY publisher. Stephen King may self-publish a novella now and then, but I'd bet you that he will not give up his NY publishing contract for any other kind of publishing option.
March 6th, 2009 @ 11:03 PM

Posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner:

Absolutely ... it's all about honesty really and artistic integrity: you want to have an imprint simply because it's your brand, fine, you want to publish your own and other peoples' books and be a true press, fantastic. Whatever it takes to get you there, I say.
And yes, the sad state of poetry these days. I look for any poetry I can find, self-pub or not. Same goes for novellas, one of the great long lost literary genres. They just don't meet the major NY publishers min word count criteria. Now, at least, we have epublishers who are more open to the short-fiction genres. But, some of us just do it because we love it, and we want to own it, all the way! There are no great delusions of grandeur, just honest passion for the word.
March 6th, 2009 @ 11:42 PM

Posted by Teddypig:

Oh no, Loose Id or Samhain or Ellora's Cave I would not call a Vanity Press in no way shape or form. They all represent what I see as ePublishers

It is simple in my opinion, A Vanity Press is by definition "a publishing house that publishes books at the author's expense".

The only thing I MIGHT add to that definition as a twist on the same theme is any publisher that obviously leverages the participation and contracting of writers in order to provide a "select" group of writers extra services like "better" editing or "better" art work or "going to print". Now that would make for an interesting conversation.

But that is because I am EVIL
March 6th, 2009 @ 11:47 PM

Posted by Cheryl Anne gardner:

Ah! I have heard rumour of such a thing, and would that "select group" possibly be the press owners and their inner circle?
I will let you have at that one. It would make for an interesting, and I am sure a heated, conversation, but since I don't e-pub except for Kindle, I will defer to commentary that is better informed on the subject matter.

And you are evil, but even evil has its charm.
March 7th, 2009 @ 12:28 AM

Posted by Stacia Kane:

"It’s my art, and I should have all the say, which also means I have to take responsibility for the quality of my work. I don’t want stock art on my covers, I don’t want editors telling me to tone down my imagery, and I want to make my work affordable, without a whole lot of middle-men and red tape getting in between me and my readers."

Sorry, Cheryl, but I really have to disagree with you here. My work is edited; so? I'm still responsible for every word. I still have control. I can veto any changes my editor suggests; I'm not forced into anything. And if my editor feels I'm going too far with imagery or whatever she's probably right, because the author is not usually the best judge.

And I believe my books are affordable; vanity press books or self-published books are usually a lot more expensive than regular published books.

Self-publishing because you have a specific vision in mind is fine and I'm not trying to put you down or tell you you're wrong for doing it, but please pay me that same respect in return and don't imply that I don't have any "artistic integrity" or that I don't have "passion for the word" because I sold my work to a publisher who will do all the marketing for me, create an original cover for it, and pay me to boot.

Oh, and also, just an FYI:

"I came across an intersting hybrid the other day that I will be mentioning on the peeps: They charge for services like any other Wheatmark or iUniverse type deal, but they have submission guidelines and rejection policies like a traditional press. I am not even sure where to go with that one."

All vanity presses have submission guidelines, and all of them reject manuscripts on occasion, either because the work is libelous or plagiarized or for any number of other reasons. A vanity press is a a vanity press; it doesn't matter if they reject one ms a year or a thousand. If they make their money from their authors, they are vanity.
March 7th, 2009 @ 12:38 AM

Posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner:

No, Stacia, I wasn’t implying that traditionally published authors don’t care about and aren’t responsible for the quality of their work, nor did I say that … I was merely referring to the notion earlier in the thread that self-published authors and those who use vanity presses don’t care about the quality of the final product, don’t edit, use stock covers, etc. And not all traditional publishing houses give their authors total autonomy either. You must be with a good one.

The original blog post was about self-publishing, not traditional publishing. My thread of comments made no reference to nor did they have anything to do with traditionally published work or the artists involved in that.

As far as the artistic integrity thing, that post was in response to a prior comment regarding small author owned presses and imprints who try to give the illusion of not being a vanity press: Quote from Teddypig “My thing is... There really is no shame in being a vanity press or a self-publisher like Lulu. Just be honest and quit acting like you are some how different than any other vanity press.” The integrity thing had everything to do with how those particular press owners run their businesses and I was responding directly to that comment.

On the affordability thing, most traditionally published books are affordable because they have the advantage of larger print runs and discounts. Again, the comment was relating to vanity presses and DIY sites like Lulu, where the middlemen are many and this, in the end, raises the cost of the book, a disadvantage to any author. But there are other options for authors than overpriced vanity presses and DIY sites. And most vanity presses, if they do have submission guidelines, tend to very loosely defined, otherwise, self-published books wouldn’t have the stigma they do, right?

Lastly, my passion for the word comment was specifically referring to some “self-published authors” which is why I specifically sa
March 7th, 2009 @ 1:57 AM

Posted by Cheryl anne gardner:

Sorry, cut off again ... Lastly, my passion for the word comment was specifically referring to some “self-published authors” which is why I specifically said, “some of us.”

So, not only were none of my comments personal attacks upon traditional publishers or their artists, my comments had nothing to do with traditional publishing in the first place.
March 7th, 2009 @ 2:00 AM