Debate, some quite vitriolic, has been raging for years on public writing boards over whether self-published authors can call themselves “authors” in the true sense of the word and whether or not self-publishing is a death sentence for a writer’s career or a stepping stone.
As an editor who has spent most of her working life as a lackey for traditional book publishers — and therefore, I suppose, part of the so-called “gatekeeper” set, although I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper but a reader’s advocate — I still feel that, in most cases, traditional publishing has a better track record of producing a quality, marketable product, largely because publishers follow stringent procedures and have a chain of trained staff available to polish, sell and distribute a book. However, the recent upswing in professional authors turning away from contracts with bigger publishers to go it alone in the self-published eBook wilderness is gradually increasing the profile of the self-published eBook, which can only be a good thing for authors wanting to e-publish themselves.
As Joe Konrath’s, Cory Doctorow’s, John Locke’s and Amanda Hocking’s success will convince you, there are now many talented self-published authors who have a commitment to quality and are producing and promoting their own work to great success. I say good on them. Some of the most dedicated self-published authors have amassed millions of fans. They put in the hard yards, they promote tirelessly, they believe in themselves without being inflated with self-importance, and they wholeheartedly deserve their success. I admire them for being entrepreneurial. But there are many more who rush a badly written book through Lulu or Bookpal, or put out an unedited, poorly formatted or just plain rubbish eBook without any of the vetting procedures used by traditional publishing companies. These books are full of errors, often have insanely implausible plots or very dull characters who go nowhere and do little, and contain gaping plot holes. The authors of such titles, puffed up with hubris and the belief they’re going to make a million, buy into the lie that they don’t need an editor, cover designer or anyone else because their work is that good and it’s that easy. Unfortunately, they spoil things for new self-published authors still seeking an audience because they lower the standard of self-published books and, therefore, the price people are willing to pay for them. Thankfully, the cream will still float to the top and the crap to the bottom, but it’s still a long wade through the mediocre milk to find the sweet spot.
I wouldn’t discourage any author from self-publishing if that is the option they feel will best meet their needs and they are prepared to critically assess their work first, hire an editor and a cover designer, and publicize and promote their work themselves, which can be time consuming. However, here are a few red flags I believe indicate an author is not really ready to be published (traditionally or otherwise).
You are not ready to self-publish if you only want to self-publish because:
(a) Stupid evil agents, editors and publishers, what do they know? Who died and made them gatekeepers? Most of them are failed writers. They wouldn’t know a good book if they see it! They published Stephanie Meyer, HA! What a crock of sh*t. Readers are stupid too. I know more than they do, all of them, so I’m going to self-publish. RED FLAG.
(b) I don’t want anyone touching my prefect work. I’ve been ofer it an thousand times. My work is 100% cleen. I am an ecellent self-editor and my grammar is wonderfully. I donut need anyone changing a singal word. Whenever I’ve let any one look at it they’ve changed things and MADE it WORST. I had my mother read it and she loved it and said it was 100% perfekt. RED FLAG.
(c) Why should I give part of my hard-earned to greedy publishers when I can make a FORTUNE, a FORTUNE I tell you out of self-publishing!!!! [Emphasis added] I tell you there is NO other book out there in the world like this book! This book has it all— vampires, good cops, bad cops, romance, psychopaths, sex scenes, unicorns, wizards, kung fu artists, dragons and a plot based on major world themes of war, corruption, redemption and transcendence. It’s timeless. Readers who like Tolkien, Meyers, Rowling, Harris, Patterson, Connelly, Doctorow, Banks, Courtenay, Ben Elton and Dame Barbara Cartland will LOVE this book. I reckon I can sell 500,000 of this book in the first few days. Just you sit back and watch me become a billionaire, b*tches. RED FLAG. Major RED FLAG.
(d) I need money fast. Real fast. They’re going to break my kneecaps if I can’t come up with three grand by next Wednesday and my luck on the geegees is well down. Damn! But I know detective mysteries. How long do you reckon it takes to write a book about a famous racehorse that gets assassinated by a ruthless bookie and a PI on the case — a week or two while I’m laid up with broken knees? Easy. If I can just sell 30,00 of these babies for 99c each I’m back in the black. Hit “Publish”! RED FLAG.
If you genuinely feel that you have a polished manuscript and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to gain representation — and by that I mean not that you’ve waited around for years, but that you’ve sent it out to a few agents or publishers and taken on board feedback from beta readers or writing groups at least— and you know you are prepared to put in the hard yards and spend some of your own money to make your book the best it can be by hiring a cover designer and editor and self-promoting your work, then by all means go for it. I’d highly recommend self-publishing and eBook publishing for publishing poetry, short stories and some popular non-fiction (for example, books on how to care for a baby, running a successful home-based business, herbal beauty products or whatever).
Ultimately, whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is best for you depends on your publishing dreams. If you just want to see your book in print or for sale and pitch it to family and friends before you die, by all means, do it. Don’t sit around getting disgruntled and becoming one of those authors mentioned in (a). But if you know that writing is hard work but you do it because you love it and you know you’re good at it, and one day you’re hopeful you will have success (however limited, but you hope for big things), then keep on submitting to publishers and good luck to you. I wouldn’t rule out using self-publishing or traditional publishing. It all depends on your aims.
As I am already a traditionally published author, perhaps my view is a little different, but I would publish poetry, shorts and some non-fiction myself as eBooks, and plan to do so as an exercise in having “options” if nothing else. However, at this point I would still prefer to send my novels to a traditional publisher and cross my fingers.