Self-Printed Preview #1: The Stigma of Self-Publishing

(First, some housekeeping: if you are using Google Reader to read this blog, kindly hit Refresh. Unbeknownst to me I had all external feeds set to “summary only” so you weren’t seeing the whole post. Now you can read this entire blog on Google Reader or other blog feeders without ever having to stop by here, on my actual blog.)

As you may know, I’m releasing my next book –  Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing – next Monday. Chances are you do know this, as I’ve, ahem, mentioned it just a couple of times on here. The good news for you, dear blog reader, is that I won’t be blogging too much about it, now or in the future, but of course I do want to let the world know that it exists.

So this week is going to be the Self-Printed Preview Week. Each day’s blog post is going to be an excerpt from the book, which hopefully will give you a really good idea of what it’s like and maybe even convince you to buy a copy. After that, you won’t hear too much more about it. At least that’s the plan, anyway!

If you don’t need or want it, remember that you can still help by telling someone else who might need or want it. And if you do buy a copy, pretty please leave a review on Amazon – even if it’s only short. (Even if it’s only one sentence!) I will then love you forever. Swears.

So today’s excerpt is from Part I: Why Self-Printing? and it’s called The Stigma of Self-Publishing. It asks what is it about publishing books that makes anyone think they can do it, and aspires to serve as a “Stop” sign to those who can’t…

While recent highly-publicised self-publishing success has reduced the stigma of self-publishing somewhat, especially in the e-book world, it is still viewed by most as the last resort of the Great Deluded. And although that may not apply to you or me (we hope!), we have to acknowledge that it applies to the vast majority of self-publishers.

If you disagree with me, I can only assume it’s because you haven’t encountered very many self-publishers or their work, or you belong to one of those mutual back-slapping review sites that gives every “independent” book five stars, be they the next Great American Novel or a grammar-free allegory for nuclear war as told by a toy box of My Little Ponies that have magically come to life and published in 16 point Mistral over 27 pages, because writing a whole book – be it crap or really crap – is no mean feat and hey, let’s all take this opportunity to stick it to the Man while we’re at it.

Due to the ease with which people can produce and start to sell their books, the quality goes down as the quantity goes up. With next to no checks on copyediting, design or layout – or even whether or not the book is good enough to have a career in anything other than toilet paper – POD sites are becoming a one-stop-shop for things that should never have seen a computer screen, let alone a piece of paper, priced at just $9.99. I resent the people who decide, on a Friday afternoon, to finally self-publish their novella, Diary of a Teenage Luke Skywalker, spend a half hour summarising the plot into a paragraph that fits on the back cover (including the big twist at the end), make the jacket a yellow background spotted with daisies, put an index at the front and make all interior text 18 point Lucinda Handwriting. I resent them because until someone sees or holds my book in their hands – the book I had copyedited, with a cover I had designed, consisting of pages that are correctly and cohesively laid out – they assume that it’s going to be like that too, and I can’t blame them.

What I’d like to know is what is it about writing, producing and selling books that makes everyone think they can do it? I’m guessing it’s because it’s easy, cheap and you don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to.

Compare that to the music industry. If I decided I wanted to make an album, I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but I figure it would involve learning to play instruments or hiring people that know how, renting a recording studio, figuring out how to use it, writing songs, being able to sing, getting my CD into shops or online retailers, etc. etc. It’s very time-consuming. I could, of course, put on that automatic keyboard music and sing into my Mac’s built-in microphone, record the whole thing on Garageband and use CreateSpace – which, save us all, also does CDs – but the lack of professional input would be glaringly obvious. A well thought-out POD book may be able to play with the Big Boys, but a “POD” CD doesn’t stand a chance.

What about a movie? I’ve cranked out a script, but now I need to find a director, producers, camera and lighting crews, actors, extras, locations and money to pay them all or for them all with. Then I need to actually make the movie and get someone to edit it. Then I need a distributor to take it on so that it’ll be shown in cinemas and later released on DVD. I can, again, skip that and make DVDs myself, but that’s only after I figure out where I’m going to get the thousands of dollars required to make the movie in the first place. Even if I get some desperate actors for free and camera operators from a local film school who need a credit on their CV, I’m still going to have to hire the equipment. And I’m definitely going to have to leave the house.

Do you have any idea how many people are self-publishing books right now? There was probably a couple born in the time it took you to read that sentence and chances are neither of them are very good. Yes, there are a number of very successful self-publishers self-publishing very good books that lots of people like, but they are the exceptions to the rule.  I’m going to assume that since you had the good taste to purchase this book, you and your book will be exceptions to the rule too, but understand that despite the sensationalist headlines, the reality is that, right now, most books sold are:

  • Print books*
  • Purchased from bookstores
  • Published by mainstream, traditional publishing houses.

And that is why in this book – and in my life and hopefully in yours too – there will be no “Down with Big Publishing!” chants, literary agent-shaped voodoo dolls or rants about nobody even giving my novel about My Little Ponies come to life a proper chance. Yes, sometimes the traditional publishing industry prints a few million copies of a book that isn’t as entertaining as the instructions for our microwave oven, but clinging on to that as evidence of the beginning of their end is like being a lunar-landing conspiracy theorist who goes on about the shadows in the photos taken on the moon, and ignores the 400,000-plus people employed by the Apollo program who would have had to keep the world’s largest secret for going on sixty years.

Another popular anti-traditional publishing argument is that they’re only interested in making money. What? A business is only interested in making the money it needs to keep paying its rent, its employees and the factories that print its products? Surely you’re not serious! Of course they’re interested in making money. So am I. And if you’re not, then what is this all about? Because self-publishing is a business too, and if you just want to go chuck money down a toilet, go chuck money down a toilet.

And so, clearly, I’m not a self-publishing evangelist, or even a self-publishing advocate. I think it can be a great Plan B, and that’s about it. It’s worked for me and it may well work for you. I hope it does. But I’m not going to pat you on the back just because you wrote 100,000 words – and neither should you. We need to demand more of ourselves than that.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not to bum you out. (Or not just to bum you out, anyway.) It’s because I want you to understand three things:

  • Just because you wrote an amount of words does not mean it deserves to be a published book
  • Self-publishing deserves its bad reputation because a lot of people think the amount of words they wrote deserved to be a published book – and they didn’t
  • You are going to have to work extra hard to rise your book above all the self-published crap out there that those people have created.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s easy to rise above that crap, if your book is good. And I’m going to help you do it.

Side note: I also find that around 80% of the time, this traditional publishing bashing/Self-Publishing is Sticking it to The Man talk falls into the Lady Doth Protest Too Much category. That is to say, the people who do it the most – and I say this excluding everyone whose job it is to talk about stuff like that, like publishing consultants, industry analysts, etc; I’m talking about individual authors here – are flogging exactly the type of books I’m trying to steer you clear of producing: horribly stinky bad ones. Just saying.

*This isn’t in the book, but I just KNOW someone is going to leave a comment saying, “But haven’t Amazon said e-books outsold hardcovers last year?” Yes, they did. Or said something like that anyway. But what actually happened is that a greater number of e-books were sold than a print equivalent. This means nothing, because for $20 I can buy one hardcover or 20 e-books. So spare me. All that matters is the overall percentage of e-books versus print books bought which, while certainly growing, is still only very small overall.

Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, Self-Publishing Goals: What’s Realistic?

4 thoughts on “Self-Printed Preview #1: The Stigma of Self-Publishing

  1. Lissa says:

    Thank you for this post. I am working very hard on polishing several novels at the moment and sometimes I think to myself, “Who’s ever going to care? I could just upload them now and sell them.” But I DO care. I want my novels as good as I can get them before I even try to earn something from writing them.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Which is exactly the right attitude! I have a finished – and polished – novel since last summer that basically got the “we love it but not enough” from a few editors but they also all said they wanted to see something else. I’m working on the something else and although I’m ITCHING to release the finished novel as an e-book, I don’t want to in case it somehow negatively affects getting the current novel published. The self-publishing evangelists would burn me at the stake for sacrificing the profit off the finished novel for what will be a much smaller advance (IF it ever materializes!!) but the bottom line for me is not money, but getting traditionally published.

      But sometimes I come really close to throwing that e-book out there.. must resist! 🙂

  2. Tahir says:

    Thanks for the excerpt, this is a good summary of the problem of the lumping together of all self-published books as a major problem. I like the analogy with making a movie or a record. To be sure, in the 1990s and earlier, even though it was much harder to self-publish, people still thought they were qualified to do it when they couldn’t. The difference is that the high cost prevented a lot of people actually doing it, as well as the lack of an internet which meant that you had to hustle people and spend a lot of money on advertising. Which meant that rich, aggressive people were more likely to self-publish. What will happen now is that the quality of books will go the same as the information on the internet, down as you say. Ten years ago the internet saved many walks to the library when the quality of information was going up but now things have gone full circle and for serious research its quicker and more efficient to go to books and libraries because somebody has already done the work.

    By the way, I’m a bit confused about your book on Amazon – it looked like it was already available last week? Or is that a prelisting?
    Also, I signed up for your email subscription some weeks ago but I’m not getting any.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      The book isn’t “released” until next Monday. I’m still working on the listing which is why I’m not drawing attention to it, and as I’m still making changes you’ll see today that it’s switched to “temporarily unavailable.” When it’s ready, I’ll let everyone know on here and via the mailing list. That’ll be next Monday.

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