I was chatting with a friend of mine, and the discussion turned to self-publishing. The question “Why?” popped up a few times…not as an insult, but as a genuine curiosity. Why do people self-publish? This is an extremely touchy subject because much has been said that is less than complimentary. Understandably, it has become the third wheel of “Thou Shalt Not Discuss Politics, Religion, And Self Publishing.”
Let me just get it out there that I don’t disparage anyone who uses this option. The reasons are many, and I’m in no position to pass judgement.
I can’t help but consider the vast number of times I’ve heard people say, “If I get one more rejection, I’m going to toss my book up on Amazon and see what happens,” and this is what I’d like to ponder.
First off, why would countless rejections be the igniter to self-publishing? What do you expect to happen? That readers will come flocking to your book and peg you as the next Amanda Hocking, thus proving all those rejections wrong? It could happen, but the numbers aren’t in your favor.
In my mind, they’re not considering the most important thing at play here, and that’s the quest for excellence. The old axiom of trying harder has been replaced with the entitlement community who insist we should be given the chance that we deserve. And somewhere, excellence has taken a back seat.
I think of the current uproar over 50 Shades of Grey, and how US publishers are falling over themselves for this book, though admitting it’s a poorly written piece of drek. If it’s that bad, then why do they want it? Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I grieve over the loss of exceptionalism and the uptick of mundane writing and low expectations. And yes, it pains me that huge publishers are barking for this book because it’s plain embarrassing – especially when there are so many truly talented authors.
Here’s the thing: Rejection isn’t a reflection of your character or your morality, and it certainly isn’t personal. Rejection is nature’s way of saying that THIS work isn’t viable. That doesn’t mean your next book, or two books after that won’t be brilliant. Rejection is the vehicle used to filter the unqualified, mediocre, not-ready-for-prime-time. Just because I want to be a jet pilot doesn’t mean I deserve it. If I want it, then I need to do what it takes to qualify to be a jet pilot. The same thing should be said for writing.
I’ve heard this countless times: “My first book(s) were utter crap, only I didn’t see it at the time. All those rejections forced me to become a better writer.” The problem is that self publishing has short-circuited this process to a large extent, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the hows and whys self-publishing has gotten a bad rap.
There are no shortcuts in publishing
Few wake up one day and decide to become a bestselling author. Writing is hard work and takes years to perfect the craft, often by writing manuscript after manuscript – that end up under the bed. If this is your first manuscript and 5,984 agents and editors have rejected it, do you believe your luck will change when you put it up with Amazon or Smashwords? It’s gotten to the point where anyone – and I do mean ANYONE – can call themselves a “published author,” so the words have lost their importance. If anyone can do something, then it’s no longer special.
Because we want to shortcut the process, our standards for excellence have been diluted. I see this when I read manuscripts that are filled with spelling errors, POV shifts that would make the beagle dizzy, horrendous pacing, and/or weak plotting. I wonder if this is the very best people can do. Instead of learning the art and craft and love of writing, they take those poor, dismal manuscripts and slap them up on Amazon for .99. Bada bing bada boom…I be an author.
I’ve heard all the rhetoric – publishers are the snobby gatekeepers who keep authors in their place by rejecting them. It’s a straw man argument borne of a minority who basically wants entrance into an exclusive club without having to meet the same tough standards. Publishers are gatekeepers to the extent that they employ standards of excellence in their books that a large marketplace wants to read. (And yes, I’m aware of the inconsistency of that statement, considering 50 Shades of Grey)
It’s not snobbery, but solvency. No matter what we read in the trade magazines and blogs, commercial publishing remains the gold standard because their success hinges on selling lots of books – and commercial publishers still sell the most books and make the most money. (Which is why U$ publisher$ want 50 Shade$ of Grey)
That doesn’t mean self-publishing is the antithesis. There are a lot of great reasons to self-pub, but it should be for the right reasons. Lack of excellence shouldn’t be one of them.
So what is your intent for self-publishing – or deciding on any publishing option? Whatever the reason, it should be a logical choice other than, “No commercial publisher or agent will accept me.”
Rejected: Have you been rejected by everyone in the industry? If so, ask yourself what you hope to gain by self-pubbing. Do you believe all those rejections are wrong, and you have a diamond? If so, what makes you believe this? Who has quantified that logic? Would this not be a good time to reflect on the quality of your writing? After all, if everyone tells the beagle she’s sober, she takes great umbrage and rectifies the situation. Shouldn’t you?
A Stepping Stone: I’ve talked with many writers who believe self-pubbing their book would give them a publishing credit and a step up toward a solid publishing deal. It isn’t and it doesn’t. Unless your book sold a ton, it won’t be given the time of day.
OP: Are you an out-of-print author whose rights have reverted? Self-pubbing makes great sense because it keeps your books in the marketplace and makes your readers jump for joy.
Niche: Did you write a book that has a small, niche readership? A commercial publisher may not be able to sell your book about whistling belly button tricks, but it may be a huge boon to those whose aim is to be the life of the party.
Ego: Is it important to consider yourself a “published author”? I know that sounds simplistic because that’s every writer’s ultimate goal, but does that desire usurp your quest for excellence? Are you the one who says, “I just want to get my book out there and see what happens.” What does this mean? Sure, there are the Cinderella stories, but the majority of “what happens” is nothing. Maybe you’ll sell 25 copies of your e-book.
What worries me about the Ego Author is that they don’t grow as writers. By self publishing, they have relieved themselves of the rejection process and continue to pump e-books out with the same below-average writing. The result is that they short-circuit the importance of confronting their suckosity.
I don’t understand this. Ever seen a stagnant pond? It’s got all that green goo cover the top so that nothing grows. For the Ego Author, self-publishing could be the green goo of their literary advancement.
Shouldn’t our quest for excellence be hard-wired in our DNA? Doesn’t the idea of working hard sweeten the result of grabbing the brass ring? The hard truth is this: Just because you love to write doesn’t mean that it’s any good and deserves to be published. If you truly love writing, then doesn’t that take precedence over the outcome? If your end goal is to be published, no matter what, then you’re missing the entire journey of excellent writing, which is delicious.
It’s not my intent to open up a fatwa between Published vs Self Published and screech about who’s better because that’s not the point. I merely want to put out there that the quest for excellence shouldn’t be a casualty of publishing…no matter the publishing option.
Don’t be afraid to strive for excellence because there are no shortcuts.