Sunday, July 4, 2010

Self Publishing Part 1: Think Before You Drink . . . er, I Mean, Self Publish

Let’s have a chat about self publishing, shall we? But first of all, a disclaimer: I am not considering, nor do I think I would ever consider, self publishing a book. However, my lack of interest in the self publishing game does not mean that I don’t believe that self publishing is a viable option for some writers—it just isn’t right for me (in large part because I make the majority of my money from teaching rather than writing and I want my writing credits to count for something on my CV).

This discussion will have to be a two parter, and I think I will begin with the downside of self publishing. I believe self publishing can be—I’m going to go ahead and say it—dangerous, for a number of reasons. I’m going to lay out my biggest problems with self publishing here, although there are probably many other potential risks that I’m not touching on.

First of all, to state the obvious, if a traditional publishing house—even a very small press—agrees to publish your book, that carries a certain amount of weigh to it. There are numerous presses out there willing to publish a wide variety of books, so it can look bad for you if you weren’t able to get your book accepted by one of the many options out there. It may mean that your book simply isn’t that good, and you need to try to be objective about your work and face that possibility. It may also mean that you yourself don’t have a complete understanding of how to really market your book to a prospective publisher, and if you don’t know how to do that, how do you expect to market your book to your readers without the help and credibility provided by a publishing house?

But let’s assume that your book is good and let’s assume, also, that you do know how to market your book, but you’ve chosen to go the self publishing route for other reasons. Usually, when a book is accepted for publication by a real press, an editor will then give you feedback so that you can revise and strengthen the manuscript, make it the best it can possibly be before it actually gets printed. While you can pay for editorial services on your own, it seems to me that the feedback coming from someone who you have paid to give you editorial suggestions would be different from the feedback coming from someone who actually has a financial stake in the outcome of the revision. I’m sure there are some professionals out there whom you can pay to give you solid feedback, but I still feel that this is a risk worth considering if you’re thinking about self publishing.

I think a lot of writers these days think that they can kick-start their careers by self publishing a first book. They assume that the public will immediately see what great writers they are and their careers will be set. The danger here is that without good editorial feedback and a definite stamp of approval from a publishing house, you may be attaching your name to something that is actually going to kill your career before it even gets off the ground. You may genuinely have a good book on your hands, but if you send it to press right now without revision it’s going to read like exactly what it is: a draft. Great books are not the product of the writer alone, but are the result of a collaboration between the writer, the editor, and often the agent or other trusted readers.

The reading public, of course, doesn’t really realize that, at least, not consciously. When they read a book that wasn’t ready to go to print, they just assume the writer isn’t a good writer, when in fact, the truth may be that the writer didn’t have the help that he or she needed to turn the book into what it had the potential to become.

This may all sound like I am absolutely against self publishing. I’m actually not. I think it’s a risk, but it has proved to be beneficial for some writers and should not be, I believe, entirely eschewed. I’ll talk next time about some of the pros to the self publishing game.


Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Basically, not everyone is Dave Eggers or Steve Almond. Those two are the most driven writers I know. I can't think of any other respected writer who self-publishes. (Although I'd be interested to hear about it). And these guys went for it after their cred was established.

Ashley Cowger said...

So true! Steve Almond in that article even talks about how he doesn't recommend self publishing as a way of bypassing jumping through the traditional publishing hoops. He says the only reason it worked for him was because he had already established his credibility as a writer and built up a readership.