Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Temptations Involved in Self-Publishing

If you saw my semi-ranting book review on Tuesday, you may remember that the book in question was self-published.

Now, don't go jumping to conclusions. I've read plenty of self-published books in my time, and several of them are quite good. Sure, perhaps they shouldn't be judged the same way as one would evaluate a traditionally-published book (although some indeed can, e.g., Michelle Davidson Argyle's Cinders), but they tend to be good...

...if the author puts in the proper amount of time, energy, and possibly money.

I think there's a strong temptation these days to hop too quickly into the self-publishing route. I know I've thought about it, and I'm sure I'm not alone. There can be several factors involved in not having a book accepted by an agent or an editor that have nothing to do with the quality of the work: it's not the right time; the market's already flooded with similar stories; there's no market for similar stories; the agent/editor was in a bad mood that day; it got lost in the slush pile; etc. But, we all know that sometimes it IS the quality of the work that's the problem.

For many of us, we go back to the drawing board, edit, slash, burn, revise, repeat.

Some, though, may go the self-publishing route.

Again, I'm not saying this is a bad option. It's hard to get a break in this industry, we all know. But with self-publishing comes heavy responsibility to make sure that your book can attempt to stand among the more traditionally-published books.

Taking that book that never sold and publishing it as-is on CreateSpace is not the way to go. And just because you're best friend/spouse/neighbor/mother/sibling/cat think it's the best story ever written doesn't mean the general public—a.k.a. those people who don't know you from the annoying neighbor who doesn't clean up after his/her dog—will agree.

So, what needs to happen in the route of self-publishing? Here are my top three recommendations.

First, good critique partners. I suggest people you don't know in the real world, i.e., people who won't be afraid to tell you the truth. All of my critique partners, I've met online through blogging, and with most of them I don't even discuss my personal life. It's all about the words. Keep the relationship professional and potentially brutal. It's the best way to get honest opinions. They should spot technical and factual errors, comment on awkward phrasing, and tell you when the pace slows, when they're bored, or when you've strayed too much from your original story. Take those opinions and edit, slash, burn, revise, repeat.

Second, after you've ripped and shredded—which you might think you did before querying, but, hell, do it again! what could it hurt—hire a professional editor. You may think you know grammar, but this professional, if properly doing his/her job, will make you question how you managed to pass elementary English. This editor should have strong opinions on the Oxford comma (either pro or con, doesn't matter, as long as it's a strong opinion—and here's mine) and a sharp eye. S/he should not only cover your manuscript in so much red ink that it makes your HS English teacher blush, but this person should also once again be reading for factual and technical errors in the content. An editor that only edits for commas and typos isn't worth the money, unless you specify (and, dear God, why would you?) that that's all you want. A good professional editor is worth his/her weight in gold nuggets, so be prepared to shell out accordingly. In the end, it's worth it.

Finally, don't let your 12 year old design your cover. You may firmly believe in his/her talent, as do your spouse and the 7th grade art teacher, but, again, the rest of the world is full of brutal cynics like me who will take one look at the cover and decide never to read the book. Paying for a professional artist who has experience in cover design is worth the money. Don't think you can cut costs on this just because your brother's best friend's ex-girlfriend's roommate had a minor in art in college ten years ago. Just pay the cost.

Do you have any experiences in self-publishing? What do you think of the self-publishing option these days? Have you ever considered it? Would you?


Hildred said...

I'm taking the self-publishing route without even ~trying~ for traditional. (I wrote a whole post on why my debut novel would never be picked up, most of it having to do with subject matter that is the core of the story and no, not changing it) I'm currently in the heavy editing phase and about to beta as soon as that finishes, then sending it to a professional editor after that. It's something I've been researching for years now, and now more than ever is the time to go for it, especially with e-books growing.

Obviously my opinion on self-publishing is a positive one, but I definitely agree with you that the temptation to just throw it all out there "as is" is great. I'm really paranoid about making my story the best it can be before publishing it, and at least with self-publishing I can at least have it exactly the way I want it in the end. (But hey, ain't gonna say no to a great traditional deal if it comes along.)

DEZMOND said...

I don't overly believe in self publishing. In my experience most of such books are not according to my standards, which doesn't mean, off course, that lots of traditionally published books aren't bad too :)
But if you have a good book it's better to use the machinery of an official publisher and to advertise it and distribute it the right way.
The same goes for E-publishing.

Sarah McCabe said...

I think you've got it a bit backwards. You DON'T need to make sure your book can compete with a traditionally published book. You just need to make sure you offer readers a great story. And just because Traditional publishing hasn't taken up your book doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with it. It just means that THEY didn't think it was salable. But they've been proven wrong over and over.

I don't really believe there's such a think as market saturation for stories. I think that's one of the things traditional publishing gets wrong.

Also, slashing and burning your stories is not a good way to "fix" them, if they even need fixing. Writers are a lot harder on their stories and others' stories than most readers are.

Trad publishing has convinced you that it takes years to get a book into a salable shape. This is a lie. You don't need to spend that much time writing a good book. You can do it fast and publish it yourself right away instead of spending years querying and months to years submitting and then still waiting 18 months after you sign a contract for it to actually hit shelves. Trad publishing has to convince you this is normal and good to survive. But it's not how things have to be. It's not how things should be.

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I agree with everything that you've said here. I downloaded the free sample of Cinders and it is a riveting read. I'm sure Michelle would be aglow with you saying those nice words to her about her book.

Now that the price has dropped on Cinders I'm going to definitely buy it. Price wasn't an objection...more the genre. I don't read fairy tales or reworks of them often. But I loved how Michelle described the problems going on in Prince Charming's kingdom and how there was this other guy that she kinda missed and how it was tedious being a princess.

All of these were things I never would have thought of in the traditional Disney sense of the story.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've read several fabulous self-pubbed stories. These authors are not only talented and hard working, but they've put in the time and effort to make their work top notch. I think the choice to self-pub/trad-pub is very individual. A lot of research and time is involved whichever way an author decides to go.

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