Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? – Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual

When I decide to do something in life – start a diet, work abroad, write a novel, learn a language, take up a new hobby – the first thing I normally do is buy a book that tells me how to. This is why I’ve a vast collection of How To Write Books Books and why I spent much of May 1998 studying things like newsgroups and Yahoo! chat rooms in the pages of The Internet for Dummies; the arrival of our first PC and home internet connection loomed and I wanted to get a head start on how to use it.

Oddly, when it came to self-publishing Mousetrapped, I didn’t read any How To books. This was partly because I was trying to keep costs to a minimum, and partly because a wealth of information on the subject is available online, for free. I also struggled to find titles that didn’t read like self-publishing propaganda. (If I never see the word ‘gatekeepers’ again, that’s fine with me.) But now that the job is done and I’ve reached an impasse on the promotional front (anyone got any ideas? ‘Cause I’m all out!), I figured I’d order up a few, read them and see what I could glean. I was particularly interested to know if I’d have benefited from them before I went ahead, or if the free online information sprinkled with a light dusting of common sense did just as well. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the ones I did read, starting today with The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter (Para Publishing, 16th Edition 2007).

Enter ‘self-publishing’ into Amazon.com’s pretty little search box, and The Self-Publishing Manual will probably be the top title in the returned results. At time of writing the book has 278 reviews; 240 of them are five stars while another 20 offer four. It’s tagline is ‘the book that launched a million+ books’ and Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul – one of the most successful self-published books in recent memory – credits Poynter for its astronomical sales, calling him one of the ‘essential ingredients.’ On the back cover is an endorsement from Dr. Robert Muller, ‘Past Assistant Secretary General of the UN’ (and therefore self-publishing expert…? I’m confused) and in more than one place in the book Poynter is referred to as ‘the father of self-publishing.’

Understandably, I was expecting big things.

I felt my first tremor of annoyance on page 14, where a helpful ‘tip box’ informed me that, “a common observation by those who use a highlighter to indicate the important parts of The Self-Publishing Manual is that their copy winds up being completely yellow”. I don’t like it when non-fiction authors tell me not to skip chapters (“Even if you’re already happy, DON’T skip Chapter 3: Discover a New, Happier You Now, Today!”) and this warning against highlighting made me feel the same way. I got annoyed for the second time on page 15 when, in the second of two glowing author bios (both written, presumably, by the author himself), the reader is informed that Poynter’s books have been ‘translated into Spanish, Japanese, British-English, Russian, German and others.’ Well I, for one, am really happy they took the time to translate it into British-English, because I can never understand what those damn Americans are on about. It’s a shame we don’t speak the exact same language. It also claims that Poynter’s mission is to ‘see that people do not die with their books still inside of them’, which, to me, sounds morbid and icky, as if the book is a diseased organ that must be removed at all costs.

But maybe I’m just easily annoyed, and after all, I hadn’t even started the book proper. I read on, but soon came across these nuggets that made me take my pencil and write ‘WTF??!!’ in the margin (literally):

  • ‘Writing a book is probably easier than you think… If you can say it, you can write it.’ (page 20)
  • ‘Be careful if you hang around with people from the traditional book industry. Learn, but don’t let their ways rub off. Study the big New York publishing firms, but don’t copy them. You can do a lot better.’ (page 31)
  • ‘Professionals sell then write, while amateurs write then sell’ – [a quote from Gordon Burgett] (page 33)
  • ‘According to Literary Market Place, about 40% of agents will not read manuscripts by unpublished authors… of those who will… 80% will charge for the service.’ (page 36)
  • (my favorite) ‘If the large publishers are doing so well, why do they require authors to send return postage with their submitted manuscripts?’ (page 80).

Oh boy, oh boy.

Then in a paragraph listing ‘well-known self-publishers’ the names John Grisham, Stephen King and L. Ron Hubbard were included. Anyone who has read his brilliant writing memoir On Writing will know that King didn’t follow a path of self-publishing to success, and that Grisham self-published is one of the most prolific urban publishing legends floating around today, but it ain’t so, and –

L. Ron Hubbard?

Seriously?

By this stage I wanted to stop reading, but the £10 I spent on the book, this post and the guilt-inducing photo of Poynter as a smiling, kindly, grandfather-type pushed me onwards into the book’s sections about promotion, distribution and advertising. These were the topics I was genuinely interested in, the ones that were likely to be of use to me, and so there was a greater chance I’d find something beneficial in there. But instead, I found gems like, ‘If selling books through bookstores was good business, the bookstores might be paying their bills’ (page 295), ‘at Para Publishing, we tolerate, but do not pursue, bookstores’ (page 310) and – quite possibly my favorite psycho quote from the entire book – ‘try to submit to an agent or a publisher and you will be dead before you hear back’ (page 352).

Yikes.

The Self-Publishing Manual is filled with useful, detailed and comprehensive information ideally suited to a writer based in the U.S. who is looking to self-publish in the strictest sense of the term, i.e. establish their own publishing company and produce a print run of their own book. It is laid out clearly and is, I’m sure, a great go-to reference to have to hand.

Unfortunately it is also propaganda for that god awful Self-Publishers Against Fat Cat Big Publishers and The Agents They’re Clearly in Bed With Unite movement, the self-publishing evangelists who claim that in ten year’s time only the likes of Dan Brown, James Patterson and [insert topical celebrity here] will be getting published, the ones who could paper their walls with rejection letters and yet think the problem isn’t with them but the gatekeepers’ (read: agents’) failure to recognize their talent, the ones who spend their mornings working on their 350,000-word opus, Things That Happen in Space During a Bleak Period in the Future, and their afternoons chiseling away at a tombstone engraved with the words ‘The Novel.’

As you’ll already know if you read my blog, I’m not one of them, and therefore I can’t recommend this book.

I can make a perfect latte in my kitchen with my (over-priced!) Nespresso machine, but last time I checked Starbucks were still in business. Moreover, I’m not marching through the streets screaming, ‘Death to the coffee shop!’ or blogging about how the baristas are only saying that my Nespresso lattes aren’t as good as the ones they make because they don’t want to face up to the fact that the writing’s on the wall and their days are numbered and who cares because they’re all in bed with the coffee roasters and are only motivated by money, blah, blah, gatekeepers, blah, BLAH.

There’s room for self-publishing in this world, but it’s not the death knell of the traditional model and it won’t be taking its place. Why we all can’t just simmer down, admit that and get on with it is just beyond me.

Now I’m off to consider writing the sequel to my Sane Person’s Guide to Walt Disney World, The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing: How To Self-Publish Your Book Without Proclaiming Death to the Traditional Publishing Industry, Saying “Gatekeepers” Every Other Sentence and Generally Coming Across as a Paranoid Loser.

I think it has best-seller written all over it – don’t you?

See all my self-printing posts.

Read about Mousetrapped, the book I self-printed.

19 thoughts on “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? – Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual

  1. Ita Roche says:

    Absolutely brilliant – priceless – honest to the core as always and I love it!
    And yeah, I think you should write that book honey – definitely a best seller.

    With a smile
    Ita

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I would if I had the time – or the expertise!!!

      I’m on the lookout for a straightforward how to self-publish book that doesn’t claim death to the traditional publishing world. Let me know if you come across one…! 🙂

  2. Marcus says:

    Thanks for this review Catherine. I only first researched self-publishing a few months ago and the name Poynter was mentioned all over the place. I followed a few links to sites offering info on self-publishing, and they all seemed to mention Poynter’s site and books. However, it was soon clear that these people were all in the business of selling their own books.

    Their free ebooks and info pages were all like giant diversion signs (like in the Roadrunner cartoons, meep-meep!) to buy their book.

    It all seemed very self-serving to me. The sites were all linking to one another too, which for commercial offerings is always highly suspect.

    I read Poynter’s FAQ and it seemed largely common sense to me. I’ve only ever read one book on “getting published” a few years ago written by a UK publishing agent, someone with a track record. None of these self-publishing folk’s websites had anything to say which had not been dealt with in that book or on other blogger’s websites — for free and without the self-serving hype.

    How do people judge these how-to books and give such high marks? Is there a successful author out there who started out as a naive, clueless self-publishing virgin, who read one of these books and whose success is based on knowledge gleaned solely from the how-to book? Could they please stand up?

    What irks me too is their “Get Rich” mentality. One of Poynter’s titles I just found listed is actually called “Grow Rich…”. What happened to, excuse my language, “literary integrity”?

    Every successful writer, songwriter, or screenwriter/director I’ve heard interviewed always says to remain true to yourself because people are, if at all, interested in your particular “voice” and style, certainly not a copy of an existing writer or artist. Hence, there’s no recipe, or it would have been patented years ago. You can only “do your own thing”, tell people about it, and if they like it they’ll reward you by telling others and asking for more. I haven’t published yet, but I thing these issues remain the same for most artistic/creative types work.

    I don’t doubt there are how-to self-pub books which can be of help, only what info is not available online? Secondly, there seem too many false promises being made, and unrealistic expectations raised.

    Blogs by authors who have actual experience in (self-)publishing (other than books on how-to self-publish or get published), seem far more helpful to me, and they are backed up by a certain amount of personal integrity. Hence, Catherine, I think this blog is far more useful, and believable, than yet another how-to publish book. Never say never though…

    Marcus

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks, Marcus! Yeah, I was expecting great things from Poynter but just ended up getting p–d off. Especially when I started looking at his other books and discovered he is one of the proponents of the ‘Bestselling Amazon’ plan…

      It basically goes like this. In the lead up to your publication date, you start collecting email addresses to form a mailing list. These can come from voluntary sign-ups via your site or even your friends’ contact lists. Then when your book comes out, you email everyone and ask them (or coerce them, or bribe them or whatever) to buy your book from Amazon.com on the same day, maybe even around the same time. As Sales Ranks are updated hourly on there, this artificially pushes your book into the bestseller list. Loads of people do it and I just think what is the point???!!! It’s completely fake success, and what for?

      The good news is that not everyone is like that – Aaron Shepard writes about self-publishing but he condemns all that type of crazy self-publishing behavior. I’ll be reviewing one of his books soon…

      • Marcus says:

        Trying to influence the rankings like that is short-lived. I’m surprised Amazon doesn’t watch out for it?

        Translation into British-English, that’s priceless. The new “Saner Self-Publishing Society” (“S3” for short) should have a manifesto and “translate” it into Canadian- and Australian-English, just for starters.

        Marcus

  3. Ann says:

    You only wrote WTF in the margin with pencil? I think I would have used bright red marker!!! I look forward to your how to book with yellow highlighter at the ready!

  4. Toni says:

    Brilliant post! Agree on everything you said — perhaps there needs to be a coalition of self-publishers/indie authors who aren’t all “DEATH TO TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING.”

    The way many DTTP-ers sound brings me back to high school…”Dude, you know what we should do?” “What?” “Like, totally go EGG THAT PUBLISHED AUTHOR’S HOUSE!” “OOH! OOOH! And let’s TP the trees while we’re at it!” “Yeah! Because they SUCK! And we are SO much better!” “For REAL!”

    That kind of talk (not my silly high school scenario, but the examples you mentioned) is really counterintuitive, unnecessary and unrealistic. Not too mention whiny and childish. Self-publishing is right for some and not for others — it’s all about your goals and realistic expectations.

    SELF-PUBLISHING PRAGMATISM FOR ALL!

    Eh, guess it doesn’t have the same ring DEATH TO TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING. Oh well.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Toni, I LOVE that idea! LOL. Our coalition will need a catchy name though… Sane Self-Pubbers Unite? The Non-Delusionals? The Sane, Non-Delusional Self-Publishers United Front? Our logo can be the word “gatekeepers” in a red circle with a line through it. 😉

  5. Suzanne H. Patton says:

    What can I say other than EXCELLENT post! I haven’t bought any books on self publishing (for the exact reason you gave. Internet!) but now I at least know I won’t be buying this one…

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Suzanne – and thank you!

      As I think I may have hinted (!!!) at above, I can’t recommend this book despite its oodles of info. But I do have a couple coming up that may be worth forking out for… We’ll see! 🙂

  6. diane says:

    That is a fabulous title! Btw, I’m so jealous that you got the internet at home in ’98. I had to wait until 2002. Like a savage.

    As for promotion ideas, I’m going to review your book on my memoir blog (www.memoirarmoire.tumblr.com) soon, promise. That should bring you at least 1 visit to your blog. You’re welcome.

  7. catherineryanhoward says:

    @Marcus – S3! I love it. Although I fear they won’t listen to us no matter what we say…!

    @diane – thank you so much! You should have told me you had a memoir blog and then I could’ve given you a complimentary copy. 🙂 (Do you have a print copy already? If not, let me know!)

    • diane says:

      Oh, thanks Catherine! I actually only have a digital copy.
      Would be great if you have a print copy to spare, then I could lend it to/force it on others 🙂

  8. Marsha Moore says:

    Oh, dear Lord. That bit about the highlighter would annoy me to no end, too. In fact, I’d probably put the book down just to spite him! You’re a better person than I am!

Ah, go on. Tell me what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s