Self-Publishing Is Not The Minor Leagues

(This plays a little with the baseball metaphors dropped by Scalzi last week.)

Let’s all agree that self-publishing is a viable path.

It’s a real choice for authors.

You can, if that’s the type of person you are, be the publisher of your own work.

You are author-publisher. Behold your mighty yawp! Freeze-frame heel-kick high-five!

It is, overall, an equal choice to traditional publishing.

Let’s go ahead and just agree that. Even if you don’t agree — for now, nod and smile.

That means it’s time to stop treating self-publishing like it’s the fucking minor leagues.

See, here’s the thing. Though acting as author-publisher is a viable choice, it’s one that retains a stigma — lessened, these days, but still a stigma carried by other writers, by those in publishing, by bloggers, and in some cases by readers. The air, suffused with an eggy stink.

You want to get rid of the stigma once and for all? Clear the room of any bad smell?

Good.

Then it’s time to take a long look at the culture surrounding self-publishing. We’ve moved past the time where we need to champion the cause, okay? We’ve seen enough success in that space and have plenty of positive examples it’s time to stop acting as cheerleaders.

And it’s time to start acting as critics.

The attitude that pervades self-publishing is that it’s a good place to test your craft, to hone your work. We are reminded constantly that the cream floats to the top, that all the crappy self-publishing efforts have no effect on anything or anybody ever despite evidence to the contrary. The culture forgives and sometimes congratulates even the most meager of efforts because of how courageous someone is to take the plunge to publish their own work. The culture says, “Just click publish!” The culture criticizes the faults of traditional-publishing, but excuses (or celebrates) its own. And yet, sometime in the same breath, self-publishing gets painted as a path to traditional publishing, not as a path separate and scenic all its own.

The culture is full of contradictions.

“Traditional publishing screws you and you won’t get paid anything!” And then: “It’s okay to make $100 off your self-publishing because you just bought yourself dinner, now you’re living the high-life.” Well, which is it?

“Traditional publishing is just corporate control! Down with the Big Six! Er, Big Five! Big Four? Whatever!” But then: “Let’s hug and squeeze Amazon, a giant monolithic corporate entity kaiju who has changed the rules on us so many times our heads are whipping around wildly upon our necks! Amazon is the Big One! Yay lack of competition! Huzzah, all our eggs in a single basket! Woooooo corporations!” Wait, do we like corporate control or not?

“The readers are our gatekeepers, that’s who we care about.” Except: “Publish your first effort — it’s okay that it has errors, as long as people buy it! Who cares about readers as long as I’m satisfying myself?” Do we like readers, or do we wanna punish them with sub-par efforts?

“Self-publishing is a revolution! Traditional publishing is risk averse!” And then: you publish the safest, softest low-ball efforts that suggests it’s not a revolution but, rather, more of the same.

“Traditional publishing does it wrong!” And then: you do it worse. What the crap, people?

Get your head straight. Point north. Care about this thing you’re doing. You don’t want to be inferior to the books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. This isn’t a garage sale. You want to be better than the books on the shelves at bookstores. You say those books have errors? Ugly cover or bad books or lack of risk? So go and do different! Do better, not worse.

Let me get ahead of this — someone somewhere, here in the comments or on another site, is going to accuse me of bashing self-publishing and its authors.

I am not.

Self-publishing is an amazing option. You can now write a novel however it is that the novel demands to be written. That book that lives in your heart? You can now crack open your breastbone, rip the book out and hold the throbbing crimson creature in front of readers and say, “This is the story I wanted to tell and nobody was able to stop me.” You can not only write it your way, but edit it, design it, market it — again, all your way. Nobody but readers can say “boo” about it. You’ll have no publisher telling you the material is too risky. You’ll have no publisher trying to put a cover on your book that you don’t feel represents the story you told. You won’t feel like the publisher has forgotten the book when it comes time to market it. If anybody fucks it up, it’s you.

Self-publishing is also great for traditionally-published authors. Acting as your own author-publisher is a way to put out material staggered with your other releases. It’s also great to have as an option for if the time comes when publishers don’t want your other work. They start giving you the we love it but can’t sell it story, all you have to say is, “Well, if you won’t publish it, I will.”

I will continue to exercise my own self-publishing options this year with a few releases.

I don’t just like the option. I fucking love the option. It has changed the game for authors. Anytime creative people have a new door carved into the giant wall in front of us — the wall separating our work from our audience — I’m going to cheer and gibber and wail and probably swallow a half-dozen gin-drinks and maybe rub an aromatic lotion into my beard and then summon dark entities from beyond and couple with them.

But that love can still come with a criticism of the culture. Just as my love of traditional publishing can be tempered by its own criticism, too.

In fact: I criticize because I care. Because I want to see the option done right. If I didn’t give a shit, I’d just point and laugh from the sidelines and snarkily snark with other smug, self-superior traditionally-published authors. (And just as that superiority isn’t attractive from them, it’s not attractive from the side of author-publishers, either, by the way.) The authors who often get held up as paragons of the form? They’re doing it right. They’re treating it like it’s a professional endeavor, not some also-ran half-ass effort. They’re acting like it’s the real deal — a trip to the Majors, not time spent in some Dirt League.

Self-publishing isn’t a lifestyle choice.

It isn’t a hobby.

It’s not a panacea. It’s not pox on your home.

It is neither revolution nor religion.

(Oh, and it damn sure isn’t a place to improve your craft. That’s called “writing.” Writing is how you improve your craft — by doing a whole lot of it, by reading, by having your work read by friends and family and by other writers and by editors. Publishing is not where you improve your craft. You don’t learn to pilot an airplane by taking a job with U.S. Airways. A job as an executive chef is not analogous to a cooking class. You wouldn’t expect that of other careers, so why are we okay with it when it comes to author-publishers?)

Self-publishing is a financial and creative decision.

Self-publishing has no gatekeepers. That is a feature, not a bug.

So you’re going to have to be your own gatekeepers.

You are your own quality control. You are your own best critic.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again: it’s time to put down the Pom-Poms and time to pick up a magnifying glass — or, for some, a mirror. Don’t celebrate mediocrity. Don’t encourage half-assing this thing for a couple of bucks. This is scrutiny time. This is time to not to say, “Here, you’re doing this wrong,” but “Here, let me help you do this better.” This is time for conversation and constructive critique, not empty applause and pedestal-building.

The culture will need to start asking tougher questions. If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

To reiterate:

Fewer cheerleaders. More critics.

Self-publishing isn’t the minor leagues.

You’re in the majors, now. Which means:

It’s not time get hit with a pitch and expect a high-five for it just because you stepped to the plate.

It’s time to play hard or get off the field.

232 comments

  • Few people knew if John Grisham had real talent. Heck, plenty of people still go back and make fun of aspects of A Time to Kill or The Firm. “You can see how green he is, how new he is to the industry…ha!” goes the critic. But what the critic can’t dismiss is that along with his Newbie-ness, Grisham was displaying an unbelievable talent for getting people to turn the page.

    Having a community that looks out for each other and teaches each other about what you should do to make your work the very best it can possibly be is a great thing. Thanks Chuck, and Joe, and Hugh and many others for giving out advice to help us make our own work as good and as professional as it can be before sending it out into the world.

    But at some point, you’ve got to live life on the wire and really send the story out. You’ve got to find out what talent you may or may not have.

    I think most of us can agree with a both/and approach. Let’s share best practices with each other and let’s push each other to make our work the very best it can possibly be. And let’s also let the readers be the ultimate arbiter of what is good for them.

  • Thanks very much for the post. Maybe I read what I wanted to read (it has been a long day, and both my eyes and brain are tired), but I came away feeling encouraged. Yes, it is up to me to do the best I can–not only for my own sake, but for the sake of many. That’s heady, exciting stuff.

    I am self-published, or rather, I am “doing business as” Hickory Tree Publishing and publishing my own writing.

    Here’s the thing, at least for me. There is the writing–story, characters, phrases, dialogue, plot, description, setting, word choice, tone, and all the other things born of imagination and honed by fortuitous talent and acquired craft. And then there is the book.

    Ah, the book. The book is height and width. It is font selection and line spacing. It is readability and paper choice and cover design. It is matte or glossy. Cream or white. Shitty glue or glue that will hold up for years of reading pleasure without being so heavy as to force the reader to crack the spine (*shudder*). It is readability and as few glitches as possible in all of the major digital formats. It is distribution channels and price points and, most especially, it is weeding out the eight goddamned auto-generated hyphens (in a row!) on page two in the paperback.

    There is the writing, and there is the book. Two different things, two different skill sets.

    To my bibliophilic thinking, only people who can wield both should consider self-publishing. Ideally, only the ones who can excel at both would even attempt to self-publish.

    But excellence is a fluid, strange thing when it comes to storytelling, and is something best determined by its audience. So, we self-publishers can but try. (Sorry, Yoda. To try, in this case, is to do.) Try our best, seek the opinion of others before submitting that final copy and pressing GO, and hope that our efforts find an audience and are enjoyed.

    The Stone of Shadows came out last May. I did not pay for reviews. (Nor will I ever.) I did my first and last Goodreads Giveaway (ten people got free books; I got one review–a very nice one, but still, only one at all). I have sold several handfuls of print and digital copies through places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.

    I have sold almost as many as that in the retail store in which I happen to work. I do not promote the book there–but when someone brings it up to the counter, I introduce myself as the author. Each time, I am thrilled. Each time, I am tested. Is this book something that person might enjoy? Is it worth the money I am asking them to give? This is not the impersonal exchange of internet or even “in absentia” brick-and-mortar sales. I am standing right there, taking their money and handing over my book.

    They know where to find me if they later decide it sucks. If they hate the characters, if they find sixty-five plot holes or even just one, if there’s a glaring type-o on the goddamned back cover blurb (*arrrrghhh*), they can walk in and tell me to my face should they feel like it.

    Self-publishing should feel like working a high-wire act without a net. It is not for everyone and should not be undertaken without much training. And, in this way, it is also like a calling. The stories must call to the writer and demand to be told. The characters must insist to be let out. And the book itself must call to the publisher and refuse to be anything other than of the highest quality.

    And, so, the writer-publisher must try.

  • January 28, 2014 at 2:47 AM // Reply

    I would think, surely, that regardless how publication is achieved that putting out our best possible work is what we should aim for. Maybe it’s just me. I aimed for perfection when writing for the school paper (and man, it pissed me off that my editor took perfectly good prose and replaced them with tired cliches). When I wrote Pern fanfic for the local club, I tried to put out a good, complete story which read well. (And there is something sad about the happy cries of a fanfic editor who encounters something that doesn’t require replacing her red pen). I hunted down an editor of my own when I started getting enough book written to annoy beta readers with, because said beta readers indicated serious work was needed and I was clearly too close to it. He provided some excellent early training.

    I know, as a reader, I will obsessively hunt down the least minor work of an author who captures my interest. Occasionally capturing that interest is helped by a cheap price-point — oh, look what they’ve put in the remainder pile! Hmmm, a first book in a series is $1.99 in e-book form! (That is, in fact, how I found Chuck Wendig. Cheap books on writing, which sat on my Kindle for a while until I got around to reading them.) In the past, a publisher’s brand has helped — I regularly spent my weekly allowance on DAW yellowbooks, back in the day. Now? Not so much. The big publishers cover broad territory, and their imprints do not seem so reliable anymore. And on the e-book front, _everybody_ needs to work on proofreading. Deadtree books may turn out fine in the galleys and the presses, but the transitions to e-book frequently have a quantity of distracting typoes. The big publishers are doing a bit better on that front than some of the small, indies, and a-ps, overall, but really, everyone needs to double-check their work before hitting the publish button. Remove spelling errors, check tenses and POV, all the necessary grunt work.

    But anyway, either way, it still comes down to wanting to do one’s very best work. First draft, splatter blood on the page wildly. Second and later drafts: make it coherent, clean and beautiful. Trim it down and/or bulk it up, as required to achieve that end. Eventually inflict it on some cooperative soul who isn’t afraid to make you cry and the manuscript bleed, and work it over again. Possibly two or three times. I am inclined to then send it off to the trad-pubs, because with any luck that gets me away from that story for at least a few months, if not longer. Then I can go onto the next story in the queue. If it bounces off everywhere, I might consider self-publishing, if I think it can indeed stand on its own feet but doesn’t fit anywhere conventional. Or I might trunk it. Not really sure.

    Anyway, there’s my ramble. Now excuse me, I have to get my characters through a formal dinner and some torture.

  • I keep seeing people giving the advice to “Dare to write badly” for their first drafts.

    Perhaps a useful corollary to that advice would be “Don’t EVER dare to publish badly.”

  • Hear hear and Amen, Chuck. This is exactly why I shall be approaching traditional publishers and agents first when I’ve finally finished my first novel – not because I have anything ‘against’ self-publishing, but because, as a first-time novelist, I don’t believe I would be the best judge of whether it’s good enough to BE published – even after feedback from beta readers. I mean, I might think it’s worth going for it – but then I would, wouldn’t I? 😉

    If, after several submissions and rejections, the feedback I get from The Professionals is along the lines of “we like it, but we don’t know if we could sell it” (hey, I can dream, can’t I?) THEN I might consider self-publishing. If it’s anything other than that I will consider the verdict being ‘it’s just not good enough as it is,’ and decide between working on it some more or consigning it to the Writer’s Bottom Drawer of Shame and starting something else.

    I will admit the thought of self-publishing still scares the crap out of me though. I know my book cover art would end up on the Lousy Book Covers website, for starters… assuming I even reached THAT level of notoriety of course… 😉

  • I agree with the minor/major league metaphor. Fact is, it is big league, the same readers who can buy my books buy also those of trad-pubbed authors. Very much Big League to me, and if I dare to go to the pitch, I better throw the ultimate hard ball or throw to a touchdown! Self-publishing is not practice field.

    I received a few of the “We loved the story and the lyric of the prose but we are not sure how well we can market it” to “We like it and we will publish. Now, what’s YOUR budget to market and promote the book after it goes on the shelves?” thus I self-publish. I’ve been lucky so far; the budget for my books are in the black even covering graphic services for the cover, proofreading passes, and line and copy editing work. Readers have been fantastic!

  • When was the last time that an awful book (in which a large majority of readers will give it one star out of five) with a GREAT cover and GREAT editing sell well on Amazon Kindle?

    99.9% of the time, that book would sank into the depth of the Kindle Store and never rise again. And very likely, the author would fail to cover the cover/editing expense.

    authorofpatches describes it best in an earlier comment:

    ——-
    there will always be books put out by those who appear to be self publishing “hobbyists” primarily due to their lack of talent. Had they spent several hundred never to be recuperated dollars for editing and cover design and whatnot, they would have ended up with a more polished, still awful book.

  • To me, and this may only be me, an author can only see what they see. The job of an editor at a publishing house is to see what the reader can’t or doesn’t. The plot holes big enough to drive a semi-truck through, the characterization that doesn’t match from scene to scene, the tone that changes from beginning to end. These aren’t typos and they often aren’t things an author will ever see by themselves. They aren’t things that are enough to make the book a wall-banger but are significant enough that a reader might finish the book and say, “It was okay.” and honestly have no clue why they can’t seem to rave about it. In short, it won’t make a FAN out of a first-time buyer. I’m reminded of my first edit letter from the editor assigned to my book. Obviously, the book was good enough to attract an agent and a publisher. So I can’t begin to express my horror when the edit letter was 18 pages long, single spaced! The first line was, and I kid you not, “I really think this would be a stronger book if you changed from first to third person.” Um…say what? But the thing was, she was RIGHT. Now that I’m twenty books in, she was absolutely correct. But without her (and other editors I’ve worked with) guidance, it’s unlikely I would have ever learned that. Every book that’s gone through editing has made me grow as an author. I cringe now at what I considered my best a decade ago. Had I allowed that to be my best, without seeking out the harshest possible criticism, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Am I a millionaire? No. But I make more than my day job, and the quality is there now, so all that remains is the right story for the right moment to reach the next level. But there’s still more growing to do. There always is.

    If I decided to self-publish some works, I know I would recognize that outside eyes are critical to the book. That would mean paying for the service, and would definitely mean it was worth every penny I would pay. Because to me, self-publishing means taking the place of the publisher and that means paying the same up-front costs the big boys do. Cover art, editing, marketing, distribution. I would want to reach my same readers with the same product in the same markets that made them fans to begin with. Readers want pro level and they will only pay what they’ll pay for the privilege. It costs money to reach that point.

    The restaurant analogy is a good one. I live in a small town, and we often have restaurant turnover. The ones that fail are the ones that open shop in the same building and the same kitchen that failed before. They think, “As soon as I make some money, I’ll replace the stove with the missing burner, and replace the steam tables that don’t heat all the way, clean out the grease traps, throw on a coat of paint, replace the sign that’s badly hand-lettered, and maybe buy fresh food instead of frozen. Just as soon as I make enough from the customers to pay myself a living salary.” Except that’s why the last restaurant failed. Cutting corners doesn’t work well in retail sales. People notice. They might never tell you why they didn’t come back after the first visit, but they won’t be back. The lights might be on, the place is empty of customers.

    The people who go in with a plan, though, who gut the restaurant to the shell, get good equipment and clean, sturdy furniture, who scrub until everything shines, who pony up for quality product and advertise in a professional way in the same places as the bigger restaurants will more likely succeed. They KNOW that pouring in money at the front will mean returns at the back, and they will always make a living, in food and in books.

    Trade publishing got to the place it is now because it met reader expectations. Self-published authors would do well to look to the best parts of the trade business model as a goal, not as a process to be sneered at. Ultimately, free isn’t really free when the plan is to have a career at this business. As I say, just my humble opinion.

    Keep spreading the word, Chuck. It’ll help those who are in this for the long haul. 🙂

    • Hey Cathy – I did my homework as a self pub cookbook author. But then, had several trad. cookbooks behind me. I think if you check my cookbook out on Amazon you would see it got the full nine yards of editing, proofing, design, etc. (however modest) and yes, it’s a black and white cookbook. But the content is strong and the editing/production, equally so. With so many mid list authors crossing to the self publishing arena, you can be be assured we know what we are doing and will bring that quality, professionalism and experience to ALL our books. It’s a new day. Self publishing just means: another way to go. Not a lesser one.

    • You make some good points, but I will say that it varies from author to author. For you the structural editing your publisher provided was essential. But there are others who are either Self-aware” and can edit appropriately or they utilize beta readers or other authors to get the type of feedback that the house editor provides. I’ve had 9 books that have gone through some of the best editors in the business (Devi Pillai and Betsy Mitchell) and their changes have been very minor. But I do a LOT of work before submitting and even some market testing. So yeah, for some they can only see what they see, but that third party critique can be equally beneficial when it comes from other writers or beta readers.

  • Love the rebuttal, Chuck!

    I can admit to hesitantly accepting author-published work for my reading pleasure and for the reasons you outlined.
    – A lot of the material I encounter is of a shocking standard. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places though! Also, editing has ruined me for glossing over average mistakes
    – The author is skittish and has serious hang ups in regard to traditional publishers and agents eg; they don’t like new authors

    I always find myself asking at this point:

    ‘How hard did you try? How many edits, how many beta reads, how many professionals looked at your work and said “this is worth paying money for, this is polished”, before you slapped it on Amazon for $0.99 and spammed my twitter feed with terrible ads?’

    That’s bitchy I know, but all the same, author-publishing is perceived to be the domain of hacks and half-arsers too keen on their work to give a rats about their potential consumers.

    Ultimately, all consumers vote with their wallets, and badly written, poorly edited work won’t get you a following. Readers aren’t there to be your cheer squad. They are squawking chicks in a nest demanding more food for their happy reader brains. If you, as the author, produce shithouse work, these little chickies will fly the roost.

  • Hmmm. Other well known authors encourage publishing. Not putting out your first draft of course, but publishing never-the-less. Often. Write, clean it up, publish. Weekly if you can do it. Like any writing advise, publish less, publish more, we author-publishers need to find our own way.

  • January 28, 2014 at 9:48 AM // Reply

    Excellent article, chuck.

    I still receive that look from ‘friends’ and family. You know the one: eyes roll to the ceiling, head shakes. Then come the comments. “Self-publishing again?” – and the hidden meaning: “Can’t be good enough, can you.”
    Then the ‘encouraging’: “Don’t worry you’ll find a real publisher one day”

    Sod ’em.

    The big wide world still looks upon the self-pubber as a writer who’s failed to land a ‘proper’ publishing contract. And the truth is, there is a load of dross out there self-published by people who really can’t write very well. They bring the industry into disrepute, but, I guess, have as much right as anyone to publish.

    For me, self-publishing is a valid way of passing your work to readers. The struggle comes with letting the readers know of your existence (hence the link below).

    Keep up the good work, Chuck and please forgive the blatant advertising.

    Kerry J Donovan

    http://www.amazon.com/DCI-Jones-Casebook-Ellis-Flynn-ebook/dp/B00GXHWTV2/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390920142&sr=1-2&keywords=the+dci+jones+casebook

  • Agree with you 110%, Chuck. It’s all fine and dandy being eager to get the story out there – but it has to be the most polished it can be, and so many self-pubbed works fall short because the author can’t/won’t take the author/publisher role seriously enough. And I’m not just talking about words – it’s a whole package. I won’t inflict my work on anyone until it’s the absolute best I think it can be…

  • Hmm. Self-publishing is the business of selling books. Writing is the art/craft of storytelling/creation using the written word. Part of the big problem is that a book selling business requires a host of skills to come into play that have nothing at all with being a competent writer.

    As an author, your job is to write the best damned book you can, using your storytelling skill, your knowledge of craft, your scintillating prose and sparkling wit. Super. Congrats on that.

    Now you must take off the author hat, put it in the closet, and put on the publisher/book seller hat. That hat requires that you have a business plan that addresses all the mundanities of product creation and distribution: packaging (pro cover), quality control (editing, proofreading), branding, marketing (blurb creation, website, social media presence, interviews, blogs) and promotions (advertising, sales, cross promo), competitive pricing.

    As you view the two skill sets, you might notice that the writer skill set has virtually zero in common with the publisher/book seller skill set.

    That’s because they couldn’t be more different.

    Self-publishing is where you not only are the author, but you also assume the role of the publisher/book seller, with all its attendant demands. Most choose to skip that part and go straight to uploading their work to Amazon.

    Contrary to calls for more or better gatekeepers, I say let people publish as they like. Because in all businesses, those that lack one or more of the essential skills will usually fail. If an author wants to ignore the publishing/book selling demands of determining whether a product has appeal, determining how to position it within a genre, targeting an audience, investing in professional services to ensure high quality (editing, proofreading, formatting, pro cover), creating a business plan for launching the product and getting it visibility… Hey, that’s called evolution. That’s called a publishing/book selling business that doesn’t make it out of the tar pits. It doesn’t affect my publishing/book selling business an iota, any more than the universe of crappy blogs out there impacts the quality or popularity of mine.

    You can offer counsel on what folks need to do to make their offerings of reasonable quality, and tell them what a reasonable business plan for their publishing company should look like, but you can’t force people to alter their view and see that when they start asking customers to pay for their work, they are in a commercial enterprise where they’re producing and selling a product, and that they must take full responsibility for that product at every step.

    I say it’s all good. The info is out there to tell those interested in upping their game how to do it. To the percentage that choose not to, because operating a publishing/book selling business in a responsible and conscientious manner is too hard, or costs too much, or takes too much time? There’s a word for that in business: Failure.

    Which is as it should be. I have no problem with that.

  • Awesome job of saying it right, Chuck! As a self supporting career author now turned literary midwife, I spend a LOT of time trying to educate aspiring authors to the fact that ‘doing it’ is not the same as ‘doing it professionally’ and that sales are not awarded for good intentions. But every time you open your browser window, the publishing sharks encourage that ‘get it up there and it will sell’ mindset. As do a couple of popular bloggers. This mindset, alas, is one that too many of those aspiring authors are willing to embrace…and then they feel like failures when they only sell 25 books in the first year.

    Don’t get off the soapbox! We need more people chanting QUALITY FIRST in this field.

    You’re also one of the few people besides myself that seems to be concerned about turning Amazon.com into the new gatekeeper to replace the Big Four. Bravo for that, too!

  • Right On! You’ve hit it!. Self-publishing works, so let’s treat like it is – a writing profession. I don’t mind being criticized and held to task. If I screw up, I deserve it.
    Many of we self-publishers have done what other have only dreamed of. We began and finished a complete work. We sat our butts in the seat, and pounded out the words, page by page, until it was done. Then we started again, finding the errors, poor word choice, plot holes, flat characters, and other writing mistakes, to revise and edit until we had a satisfactory work.
    We did the hard work so we’re no different than anyone else. We need to be judged on our merits (or lack of them) like any other writer.

  • The problem is… there are lots of people out there who will self-publish anything they write, unedited and with crap covers because they are hobby writers. This will not change and nothing we can do or say will make them stop or make them spend money on editing/covers. What we need is a way to separate these people from the professional writers (who get their shit edited and spend time/money on creating a good cover).

    • I agree with you that there are a lot of people doing this…but I don’t think you need a way to separate them out. The readers do that for you. Those producing crap truly do sink into obscurity. For a book to rise to the top it needs word of mouth and it gets word of mouth by producing a work that others love enough to tell their friends and family about.

  • Damn right it’s not the minor leagues. Where else can you go from making enough for pizza to landing on the USA Today Bestsellers list. I’ve been writing full time since September. The perception of self published authors still need to change. Why would you avoid a self published book vs a traditionally published book? I’ve seen some god awful covers on traditionally published books. Us indies tolerate tons of negatives, but we continue to write for the people that count, our fans, the readers who follow the series we write. Most self published authors hire editors. We trust these people and sometime are let down. My most recent book I hired two separate editors and a proofreader. I have a great cover artist and she has helped me find my way onto bestsellers lists. We’re not all the same and shouldn’t be judged that way. We can do what no big six writer can do, publish more books.

  • I totally agree with you. If you are a professional writer, you never stop honing your craft. And you are never satisfied that your plot is tight enough, your characterization is creative enough, your prose are fresh enough. If you continue to feel that way, you are reaching for the pentacle of your calling.

    And writing is as much a calling as it is a job.

    There are books I’ve written in the past that are my tools of learning. They will forever remain under my bed and no other eyes than my own will ever see them. Which is a blessing. I probably penned the worst Harlequin romance ever written when you children were young. Thank God I never submitted it. I may have been blackballed forever.

    I’ve been published traditionally and now self-published, but whenever I feel the least bit of arrogance creeping in, I put another chapter before my critique group and they are quick to show me that I haven’t as of yet, reached the pentacle of my craft, not without help. Perhaps that is the answer. To look forever for the humility a good critique partner or group can dish out. Because they aren’t just writers they are readers.

    And above all else, once your book is finished, hire a good editor who knows the craft who can line edit and will not hold back if there’s a hole in your plot, or your characters have not grown, or you’ve somehow lost your conflict along the way. (Some things that become completely obvious to you, if you’ve studied your craft.) But also is obvious to the reader if you haven’t done your job.

    And it is your job to make certain you’ve produced a quality product that will satisfy them. And if you haven’t you’ll end up reading horrible reviews that will crush your creative spirit.

    Writing is a never ending struggle and learning experience. Whether you’ve been doing it for a year or thirty. And that’s what keeps it forever fresh to the writer and a never ending challenge.
    Teresa Reasor

  • Thanks for the great post, Chuck! Your words always get me energized and enthusiastic about the War of Art. 🙂

    I’m really grateful to Amazon et al for opening up the publishing gates to everyone with a keyboard, because that’s how I got in. I’m also grateful that self-pubbed books are released into the general population with no visible scarlet letters. (Though the low price may be a giveaway.)

    I’ve been following your blog since 2011, when I was querying agents. Self-pub has come a long way! It’s always great to have options. And it probably reduces the amount of querying competition for people who don’t want to self-pub. Win-win!

  • Spot on!
    As a reader and a writer, it hurts to hold a story that an author rushed to publish, and be unable to review it because I’d feel so bad for giving the author’s effort only one or two (or zero) stars. I try to give that harsh feedback BEFORE publication, but I am too close to some authors (and feel writers shouldn’t publicly dump on each other) to spread criticism after it’s too late and the book is out there.
    BUT! My eyes are wide open to the reality that the traditional publishing industry may not love my book(s) as I do. I may one day stand at the front gate of the self-publishing side and seek admission. The gate won’t be locked and I will be able to nudge it open with one toe. And that’s what scares me the most.

  • Excellent post, and I couldn’t agree with you more.
    As self-published authors, we need to be our own worst critics and not accept putting out sub-standard work. But it doesn’t help that new authors are constantly being told that the succesful authors write a book a month and that quantity trumps quality.

  • Loved this post! You summed up all my reasons for not self-publishing (at this time) but also for considering it in the future (when I feel my books are polished enough). I’ve read self-pubbed work that made me want to stab my eyes out. And I’ve read self-pubbed work so well-written it made me gasp. You are very correct, however, that criticism with direction is so important for author-publishers at this time.

    I’m a teacher during the day and nothing irks me more than horrible teachers giving the rest of us a bad reputation. It’s nothing more than guilt by association. “Oh, you’re a teacher? I still have nightmares about my third grade teacher.” I want to look at them and say, “Really? Me too!” Duh. We all have those stories.

    The same is true for writing. I’ve read traditionally published work that was so horribly written I couldn’t believe it made it past an editor. And believe you me, I didn’t blame the author as much as I blamed the editor. I read it and wondered how it was possible that no one told that author, “Look, you were doing okay until you started talking about Chakras out of nowhere in chapter 19.” (Yes, that was from a real book. I mean it came out of NOWHERE.) And I’ve read traditionally published books that were so well-written that I carry those characters and worlds with me even today.

    It’s not about which path you take. It’s about how well you walk the path.

  • Great piece Chuck. I’ve published traditionally with Random House, Doubleday, Oxmoor House, Ten Speed Press and the New York Times (and more) but recently ‘had’ to self publish my first cookbook (after 6-7 great book contracts over the years). My new cookbook is less glossy but beautiful in its way and miraculously selling. But the afterglow of being a publisher/author has given me wings. I don’t care what self publishing looks like or what the perception is. I’ve never written….nor (more importantly) felt better. Btw, I used every penny I had to hire a great editor, proof readers, indexer, formatters, and cover designer – I treated my self-published book with the same kid glove editorial respect Random House would have given it. I couldn’t give myself, my book or my readers….less.

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