SPS: Self Publishing Snobbery

LAST WEEK ON Self-Printing: One Writer’s Journey Thingy Through Self Publication Or Rather Self-Printing, As She’s Calling It, Because She’s Being Realistic: Catherine moves to Orlando for 18 months to work in Disney World. She writes a book about it. While submission feedback was good, common theme was too niche market/weird/etc. to publish so she decides to go it alone.

Up until recently I was a certifiable self-publishing snob, or SPS.

Incidentally, SPS was also NASA shorthand for the Apollo spacecraft’s Service Propulsion Engine. But I digress.

Here in the shadows of Ireland there is an organization that preys on the young, mildly talented and extremely gullible who I will call, for the purposes of this blog post of cynicism, Irish Artistry Incorporated. They claim to be a talent agency specializing in Irish models and actors, who can offer golden tickets for trips to the States to meet with ‘top’ agents, casting directors, pimps, etc. and at first glance, this is exactly what they look like.

But delve a little deeper. Their website has only one page – the main one – and lists news items about real Irish stars like Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan, the implication being that their success is somehow related to Irish Artistry. (It isn’t.) The advertise in local newspapers, holding ‘open auditions’ in shopping centers and hotel ballrooms, looking for the Next Big Thing. The prize is a trip to Hollywood, meetings with top agents, etc.

It isn’t until after you’ve made it through several rounds and ‘won’ that they tell you the so-called prize is merely the opportunity – you have to pay your own way on flights and accommodation, as well as their hefty fees – and they’ll never tell you that these so-called ‘top agents’ they associate with Stateside are total fraudsters.

Now if you work as a professional actor – as my brother does – you would immediately recognize Irish Artristy as being a big pile of Irish shite. Since their modus operandi is so far removed from the standard practice (i.e. train, act for free, build up CV, make showreel, send out to agents, eventually get called on for auditions), you could sniff their lies out from miles away. But if you don’t, well, you might be very easily taken in, especially if someone is telling you that you’re extremely talented and could go far.

And that’s pretty much how I saw self-publishing, the book world equivalent of Irish Artistry. Companies encouraged you to ‘submit your manuscript’ in the same way agents and publishers did, as if it wasn’t already a certainty that the only barrier between you and acceptance was the having of a credit card. Just like Irish Artistry’s unrelated news bulletins about bona fide Hollywood stars, these services claim that many of the world’s best-selling author printed their first works themselves.

They love to point out that by bypassing agents and publishing houses you’ll get to keep more of the sale price, but not that there’ll be a hell of a lot less sales and in fact, to sell more than a handful of copies to people you’re not friends with or related to will count as an achievement.

They offer distribution packages, marketing help, novelty bookmarks (the best one I’ve come across is press release help that merely polishes up a draft you’ve written yourself and nothing else, for ‘just’ €75) and imply that your book will be just like all the other ones – real, of bookstore quality and on the bookstore’s shelves.

They tell you that the big, bad publishing houses and the agents they’re supposedly in bed with don’t want you to know about services like this, because they threaten their livelihood.

Best of all, their service – which usually costs hundreds if not thousands of euros/pounds/dollars – includes an amazing 100 FREE COPIES OF YOUR BOOK!

Now I’ve been pursuing this published writer thing for almost ten years but for about seven of them I didn’t write much at all. Hardly anything, actually. Instead, my time was spent reading about writing, listening to other people talk about writing and sidling up to authors at book signings and readings (in a non-stalkerish, restraining order kind of way) hoping to absorb by some form of transference as yet undiscovered by the scientific community the motivation to start my novel, the talent to make it good, the perseverance to finish it and the luck to get it published.

This is how, nowadays, I am only too familiar with all do’s, don’ts, how’s, when’s and why’s of pursuing publication.

Uncomfortably familiar, even.

Okay, I’ll admit it: sometimes I lie awake at night wondering what font to submit in.

(Courier? Courier new? Times New Roman? Doesn’t matter because the writing should be good enough to transcend the typeface? Is the most important decision I’ll ever make because maybe my targeted agent has a thing against italics?)

But Ms. Suddenly Aspiring Author, the one who decides to write a book the way other people decide to read one,  having never even heard of double-spacing and happening upon one of these self-publishing services after clicking on a sponsored ad with the headline ‘Want to get published?’ (like it’s as simple as ‘Want fries with that?’), doesn’t know any better. All she knows is that she has a collection of short stories squirreled away in some drawer and that publishing them would add some much needed Alka-Selzer to her life. (There might even be a launch party…) What she doesn’t know is that (a) she’s about to had and (b) no one – not even her relatives – want to pay €15 for seven short stories involving underestimated housewives who, despite living in the Irish countryside, have oddly American-sounding names, wear Manolo Blahniks and never miss an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Ironically, Ms. Aspiring Author’s ignorance will, in a small way, work in her favor. Whereas I would be mortified to walk into a bookshop and enquire if the manager would mind terribly, possibly, if he/she could, stocking one or two of my sub-standard, printed on demand, cover-looks-like-a-pile-of-poop excuses for a book, Ms. Aspiring Author will think nothing of it. She will call up the newspaper to tell them when’s good for her; I’d send them an anonymous e-mail and hope for the best. She will invite all her friends to a glitzy launch party; I’d publish under a pen name to hide it from mine. She will proudly announce that she’s a Published Author; I’d blush, look down and mutter, ‘Oh, it’s nothing, really,’ because I’d know it didn’t really count.

I’m still not sure it does count, even though now I’m doing it myself.

All I can do is try to make the book look, read and feel as little like a self-published book as possible.

Read all my self-printing posts or read about the book I self-printed.

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Self-Printing Prologue: Why, You May Ask, Am I Doing This?

I’ve told this backstory so many times that I am in danger of boring myself with it. So, instead of rehashing the whole saga yet again, please enjoy Catherine’s How To Go From Disney World Cast Member To Considering Self-Publication But Referring To It, Because She’s Being Realistic, As Self-Printing, In 12 Easy Steps:

Step 1: Move to Orlando, Florida, to take up a hotel job in Walt Disney World.

Ooooh, fireworks.

Step 2: Find experience so crazy/overwhelming/ripe for sarcasm that you start writing book about it, using the title suggested to you as a joke by your friend John Dixon, Mousetrapped.

Step 3: With about a third of the book written, send query letter to 9 UK and Ireland agents you picked from the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Include fake ‘flyer’ for book (see pic) which is headed ‘COMING SOON TO A SHELF IN A BOOK STORE NEAR YOU’ and includes photos, fake reviews from the ‘characters’ in the book, etc. as a ‘Notice me!’ gimmick. Although this is against all The Rules, this leads to:

Aforementioned gimmick. Punched holes not included in agent’s version.

Step 4: A personal assistant to UK-based Real, Live Literary Agent – we’ll call her Clare – e-mails you to say ‘Show me the proposal!’ in the style of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire shouting ‘Show me the money!’ (Well, it was an e-mail, but that’s how I imagined her saying it.) You send the proposal plus 2 sample chapters.

Step 5: She likes it; asks for more; you send a bit more.

Step 6: She likes that; asks for the whole book; you can’t send the whole book because you haven’t finished it yet and you are about to:

Step 7: Go backpacking across Central America for 9 weeks. You tell her this and she says ‘Don’t worry about it. Go enjoy yourself and get in touch with me when you get back,’ not realising that this is ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT and will undoubtedly spend the next 9 weeks obsessing that she will move jobs/get pregnant/be involved in some terrible accident before you get back home to Ireland.

Step 8: Eventually get back to Ireland, reinstall yourself in your childhood bedroom (which is about the size of 3 telephone boxes strung together) and spend the summer finishing the book. Print it out, kiss it, pack it carefully and mail it to Clare along with all your hopes, dreams and aspirations. Then the waiting game begins but-

Step 9: -doesn’t last long because only 5 days later, she gets back and says (I’ll paraphrase): ‘Me and my boss/Real, Live Agent read it, loved it and had lots of good things to say about it, but it is so weird (she said ‘original’ but she was just being nice) that we just don’t know what we’d do with it. But we like you and your writing – have you ever written fiction?’

Step 10: After dragging yourself up off the floor where you were drowning in a muddy puddle of disappointment, you tell agent you are already working on a novel (a teeny weeny little lie; there is no novel – yet), take your Mousetrapped proposal and send it to four Irish publishers. Then you wait.

Step 11: One of them calls almost immediately to tell you (a) she won’t publish it, (b) it’s ‘a bit self-indulgent’ and (c) it contains ‘too much moaning’. Those are direct quotes, people. She also says this sentence, which borrows its way down into the depths of your very soul and pierces your muse through the heart like a stake: ‘The thing is, if you’re going to try to be funny, then you really have to be funny the whole way through.’

BURN!

She also says, ‘Is it supposed to be satirical?’

1st DEGREE BURN.

You thank her politely for the feedback, vow never to buy another single book published by that house and go about assembling the items you need to make a voodoo doll of her. (Not really. I have to say that for legal reasons.) Another one e-mails to say that although it’s well written (you blush) he can’t publish it (you cry) due to that ol’ niche market business. Two others send you form rejections. My that was a long step. Phew. I think I need a lie down now.

Step 12: You have a deep think about everything. (Well, not like everything. Just stuff got to do with this book.) You remember how you Published Writer Dreams never involved non-fiction and were always centered on your first book being (a) published by an actual publishing house with headed paper, departments, staff and everything, (b) bagging you an agent first, (c) involving a glitzy launch party in which you are magically (and inexplicably) much skinnier, beautiful and wearing that ruffled pink dress from last summer’s Dolce and Gabbana collection and (d) being a novel. But on the other hand you spent months writing Mousetrapped and you do think – and some others agree – that it’s mildly amusing and has several interesting bits. On the bright side, while only a small number of people might want to read it, you know exactly where all those people are and how to contact them/shove your book in their face, so you decide to self-publish. However the idea of self-publishing has always left a bad taste in your mouth – more on that in future posts – so you elect to call it ‘self-printing’ because that is, in essence, all you’re doing – printing the book – and because this is no doubt going to be a long and lonely process, you decide to blog about while you go.

So come along for the ride, I’d love the company. (And, let’s not sugarcoat this, the potential readers. I think it’s best if we just be honest with each other right from the start.) And maybe I’ll make loads of silly mistakes (like get sued, only sell 11 copies, etc.) which you can learn from and then avoid should you decide to do this self-printing business yourself.

Read all my self-printing posts or read about the book I self-printed.

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