A rant inspired by a comment about self publishing

Work has given me a Kindle and an account. I’m to download self-published novels looking for talent. Well, one nice thing about the Kindle is that you can have a sneak peak for free before buying, and honestly, I haven’t wanted to buy that much. There is very little that sparks my interest. Granted, I’m looking at them from the point of view of a future publisher (or actually, from an agent point of view, but it’s all business just the same). Maybe I’d spend the 99p if I was just looking for a bit of fun, but I’ve found nothing so far that makes me think, ‘My god. How has this person not been snapped up by a publisher? This is brilliant!’ In fact, I’m reading a lot of slush pile material that’s been made into an ebook.

This isn’t to say that these people don’t have potential, or that they aren’t good writers. But I’ll never know because their book hasn’t been properly edited. And I don’t mean copyedited (spelling and typos). I mean an editor who says, ‘the beginning is too slow’, ‘cut the prologue’, or ‘this is just an old Bergerac episode written down’. Perhaps if these people came through the slush pile, I’d be more likely to give them a chance, but because they’ve self published I feel like they’re a bit tainted. They could have spent more time on their novel, but instead they rushed to self-publish.

Which leads me to the next point, Why? Why would these people self-publish before they were ready?

I think the answer lies in the misconception that publishers are out to screw the author over. I simply do not think this is the case. By the time the publisher pays royalties, the editor, the layout designer, the marketing team (even if a small one) and the percentage the retailer receives (often 35% or higher) there isn’t that much profit left. This isn’t even taking into consideration printing and distributing for a traditional non-ebook. Plus, Amazon and the larger chain stores (if you’re lucky enough to get your book in there) will often cut the price of the book by at least half.

While the self-published author might earn slightly more than the royalties a traditionally published author will receive, do you have the time to be your own publisher? And do you have the skills?

Here lies the next problem, a good editor.

While I’m sure there are loads of good editors working freelance, does the self-published author listen to them?

In traditional publishing the editor says, ‘Cut this. It doesn’t work.’

The author says, ‘But I love that part. I want it in.’

The editor then says, ‘Tough shit. Now cut it or you’ll have to pay back your advance.’

The author then begrudgingly cuts it, but in the end the book is better for it. 

This relationship doesn’t exist with a freelance editor.

The freelance editor says ‘Cut this. It doesn’t work’.

The self-published author says, ‘No. It’s my baby. I’m going to publish it as it is.’

And the freelance editor can do nothing about it.

I’ve read blog posts where the self-published author claims he/she has become self-published because editors, agents and publishers ‘Just don’t get me.’ Well, if they don’t get you, no one else will.

Anyway, let me add to this that there are some bad editors in traditional publishing, and a lot of publishers don’t have time to really work with an author. Which is why most are only taking on print-ready manuscripts leaving the editing up to the agent. This is a shame and shouldn’t be the case. But it doesn’t mean that books shouldn’t be edited in a professional unbias manner.

And if we’re talking about the things publishers don’t do, publishers are asking authors to self-promote more and more. But a lot of authors don’t feel like it’s their job. However, if they aren’t going to promote themselves with a traditional publisher, it’s not going to be any easier self-published. In fact, it’s going to be harder. The self-published author doesn’t have a publisher’s name behind them to help them stand out in a crowd. Plus, I’ve seen all too many small publishers fall down in the publicity ring. These small publishers don’t necessarily handle things any better than the big publishers. So, what this means is that in traditional publishing or self-publishing the author has got to market him/herself.

On principle I’m none too please about this, but then again if you don’t love your work enough to promote it, then who else will. 

Right, so with this said, I’m all for the unsung talent, the gem that’s buried away in the pile. The author who is tirelessly working way on his/her craft and has quietly put their work out into the world. I’m all for finding that small little talent, the shy man/woman who is a brilliant storyteller, who just wants to spin an interesting narrative.

But, right now, I feel like the plethora of epublishing is keeping me from finding those people. I’m having to wade through so many novels that have gone to print before they’re ready, I don’t know if I’ll find the publications that are the modern classics.

I wish there was an easy answer, and Knotrune is correct in that publishers aren’t responding to the change in market. But right now, I’m not sure what the correct response would be. Yes, publishers should market their authors better, dig deeper for new talent, support new authors with stellar editing. But I still think – if I were an author – I would avoid self-publishing. It seems like self-publishing would take as much work, if not more, than finding someone to represent my novel. Then again, I’ve completely gone off ever wanting to be a novelist, and maybe I’ve become too much the publisher. (Or, more accurately, I’ve become too much the constant intern learning about publishing.)

Ah. I don’t know. I haven’t found my gem in the epublishing pile, and I don’t think I will by tomorrow’s conference call. So, I’m going to call it a night and go meet Pete and PoshPhD out for a night of pints and pool.

Oh, but before I run off, I want to say thanks for Knotrune for making me think about all this. It’s all really interesting and she is absolutely correct, ‘We live in interesting times.’

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4 responses to “A rant inspired by a comment about self publishing

  1. The reason they self-publish is two-fold: first, they haven’t accepted that their book isn’t well-written enough, secondly because they haven’t developed the critical skills necessary to recognise in which ways their work is lacking.

    I’m a working writer myself with books out from a London publisher. I know of one or two Scottish authors (who can actually write) who I can vouch for, and who could do with good representation. Drop me a line.

    • Hi there. I think you may have a point regarding self-publishing, but I know there must be some authors out there who have self-published because they felt it was the best option for them and whose work has been edited properly. (Those with crossed genres that are hard to get picked up, or maybe the writer who is also a designer and loves doing covers and layout. I don’t know.) I just fear that these are far and few between, and how to find them becomes the challenge.

      As for your writer friends looking for representation, this puts me in a bit of a quandary. This is obviously a personal blog (yes, at times too personal) not a work blog, and I am a bit nervous about relinquishing the minimal amount of anonymity I have maintained. If I were to drop you a line to discuss representing your friends, I’d have to tell you which agency I work for (especially if I decided to pass on your friends information to an agent), and my little house of cards could come crumbling down.

      So, here is my suggestion. If your friends have a blog or any bit of writing online, feel free to leave a link to it in the comments section, and I’ll slip it into my stack of research for new writers. Maybe something will come of it, maybe not.

      Also, you never know who else will see those links? Someone unrelated to NFTI could look at it. Who knows. (I certainly don’t, as I am really new to this whole business.)

      Thanks for your comments.
      –C

  2. Of course there are many very poor quality self published books out there, this is undeniable fact. But that isn’t a problem with no way round it, there are people working on it.

    I thought I should include a few links. I have chosen just 3 blogs as I know you’re busy! But I thought it would be worth sharing them.

    The first is Kristen Lamb’s blog:
    http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/bracing-for-impact-the-future-of-big-publishing-in-the-new-paradigm/
    She has experience in the US publishing market and her blog encourages writers to improve their craft and also how to market themselves. This is the post she wrote warning the New York publishers they were not reacting sensibly to the ebook situation, and also has some suggestions for a better way forward.

    The second is Michael Jecks, a successful author of medieval crime. This is a post he wrote about ebooks and royalties:
    http://writerlywitterings.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/ebooks-and-stuff/
    and this one is about how royalties are getting squeezed so low by Amazon that he thinks that could destroy the whole industry:
    http://writerlywitterings.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/this-really-is-the-death-knell-for-publishers/

    Finally the blog of a new author who has chosen the self publishing route, but doing it by paying for editing and cover design etc, with a carefully thought through financial plan:
    http://thehacknovelist.wordpress.com/

    Yes self pubbing this way takes at least as much effort as getting noticed the traditional route, if not more, but the potential reward is also greater. If an author only gets 5p a book the trad route then selling direct via Amazon or wherever means far fewer books need be sold to make a similar sum.

    It’s a fascinating discussion, with many opinions, and things are changing so rapidly it’s even harder to predict. But you’re in a great position to take full advantage of it, whether traditional publishing gets its grip back or whether things all go freelance.

    • Wow, these are fabulous links. Thanks so much for putting all this together. You’re right, it is a really interesting discussion. I’ll put these into my blogroll. Once again, thanks for sending these over.

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