When Self-Publishing Is Just Screaming Into The Void

So, I read this article: “I’m A Self-Publishing Failure.”

It’s funny enough.

Pokes a bit of fun at author expectations.

Ha-ha, another Salon article where the writer didn’t suddenly strike it rich.

Except, there’s a deeper thread of something here.

And it’s something that isn’t maybe so nice, or maybe so right.

“Self-publishing is the literary world’s version of masturbation, except the results are quite often less thrilling, and you usually end up with a mess.”

Here’s the thing. I don’t know who John Winters is. I’m sure he’s nice. He seems to write well. But contained within this article are a few very important lessons for potential self-publishers:

First, you can’t just be a writer. Self-publishing is… gasp, not the same thing as writing. This fellow took his unpublished work, hit the publish button, and then leaned back and waited for the trap-door to open above his head and spill a fluttering rain of sweet, sweet cash on his naked body. Yeah, whoa, buddy, you actually have to commit more work than that. I assume this is his book to buy (and it seems to have appeared on Amazon the same day as this article, so I’m not sure what that means or says), and the cover is… ehhh, okay, and sure, yes, he went ahead and bought a little advertising and did a video — but that leads me to my next point:

You can’t just self-publish into the void. Self-publishing is a bit like Kickstarter in that it helps if you’re already talking to someone. Meaning, you have a robust social media network or author friends or an audience built off of… blogging or short fiction or other novels or puppet shows starring your genitals in various costumes, whatever. Here’s what this guy did: he seems to have wandered out, plunked his book down in the middle of a grassy field, then wandered away and waited for the fans to come screaming from the four Cardinal directions to scoop up his book and make him rich. Minimal promotion, minimal anything, just publication and — once again, the trap-door opens and BOOSH it’s raining money, motherfuckers. I’m not saying this is impossible, but it’s woefully fucking unlikely.

Frankly, this is difficult to do with even a traditionally-published novel. But there lies the third lesson: if you don’t have the publishing chops and don’t have any kind of inbuilt audience or signal boost, then traditional publishing is a smarter path. I don’t mean this universally, I just mean that self-publishing successfully takes a certain kind of reach and/or work ethic that doesn’t fit well with some folks. A publisher has that reach and that ethic (in theory) to carry your book forward in ways you could not or were not willing to explore.

Final note: self-publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. I feel like we all know this, and yet day in and day out you see authors who just keep expecting to up and quit their day jobs because they self-published one thing and one thing not well.

This is not me dinging self-publishing. You can do it and you can do it well —

Case in point, Marko Kloos with his novel, Terms of Enlistment.

Marko decided to do much as John Winters had done, and he put his book up on the marketplace and now, only a few weeks later, it has 100+ reviews, keeps dipping into the Kindle Top 100, is #1 in Military Sci-Fi, and is all in all just rocking it. He did this by writing first a good book, but also because Marko has a small but potent audience already. He has people who are willing to signal boost for him. That gets the ball rolling.

Marko is doing it right.

John Winters is just, as he says, masturbating.

79 comments

  • I open the link to the article, and the first thing I see is a picture of this author–a fedora and everything, although I was hoping the stereotype was just that. Great first impression.
    Later in the article, I hear him complaining on rejections, apparently giving up on traditionally-publishing. If I’ve ever learned one thing from so many authors, it’s that there’s a lot of rejection for someone new to the field.
    I have to say, my interest is worn down less than halfway through the article, and he expects me to read his book. Still not a good impression.

  • The one fallacy I see here is the assumption that published authors can get rich or even make a living with their own writing, whether it’s self-published or sees print via a traditional publishing company. Most published authors have a day job (maybe even two) and they don’t write for the money. Sure, it’s nice if lightning strikes and even if you can’t write you end up with Fifty Shades of Grey and all the money that came first from self-publishing and then a deal with a traditional publisher. Personally, I don’t think most authors are self-delusional. They have read too often that few authors get rich being an author. I’m glad this writer doesn’t slam those who self-publish. Musicians do via YouTube and websites. Artists have their own websites which is no different than self-publishing. With traditional publishers not taking risks self-publishing may be just the way to go. Just be realistic and don’t expect to earn a fortune. If that’s why you’re writing maybe you should quit and try to invent the next app or social network site that will make you your millions.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds