Very few things are more exciting than typing “The End” on the last page of your first book. It has been the project of your heart for one, three, five years. Your baby, born after a long and painful labor.
Now: How to publish your masterpiece?
After researching agents and publishers, after talking to tons of other authors, and reading websites until even ClearEye can’t get the red out, you’ve come to the conclusion that getting published is hard–and frighteningly unlikely.
But you’ve written The Great American Novel and can’t imagine depriving the world of your work–it’s a great book! Everyone you know says so! And you’re not going to let a bunch of cranky, stuffed shirts in the publishing empire tell you otherwise.
You consider self-publishing. You’ve seen the vanity publishers, the small presses, the POD agencies, and you rub your chin and arch a brow as you consider the alternatives to the traditional route.
I’d like to say this about that: Please don’t.
I’m not claiming to have read every book published by these alternative routes, but I have read quite a few, and I’m disappointed in what I’m finding. With the exception of an excruciatingly few books–which would’ve snatched up immediately by traditional publishers had the authors tried–I’m learning just why these are called “vanity” publishers.
Several of the novels I read had good stories, but were poorly written–but not so poorly that a good pair of critique partners or a conscientious editor couldn’t have helped. And that’s point number one: Some of these books were published by small POD presses who promised to have editors go over the work. Judging from the misspellings, grammatical errors, and general writing mistakes I’ve seen, those promises weren’t kept. But this oversight reflects more on the author than the editor. Readers pick up books expecting to be entertained, and if the writing isn’t good, they don’t blame the editor. They blame the author.
A couple of the books I read had typos, which is point number two. We’re talking serious typos here: letters dropped off of words, words running together, spaces between the letters, inverted spellings, entire lines omitted. Sometimes several typos to a paragraph. When a company has the responsibility of typesetting your book, you want professional results. A few typos are understandable, but several pages worth of red-circled words is not a sign of quality.
I’ve read some books that never should’ve been put between covers. These are the ones who give “vanity press” its name, the ones who live up to the stigma. I couldn’t get past the first few pages, so I have no idea whether the stories were good or not.
Granted, there are viable reasons to self-publish. Some authors like the control they have, don’t mind the work involved in self-promotion, aren’t interested in making a living by writing, don’t want to wait as long as it takes to get published traditionally. As I said earlier, I’ve read some of these authors. Believe me, not a one of them have fooled themselves into believing they’re good writers. They are good writers. But there are so few of them.
If you want to bypass traditional publishing only because you’re anxious to see your name on the cover of a book, please reconsider. Submit your work to agents. If you get rejected, study the craft, make corrections, rewrite your work or write something new and try again. Imagine how proud you will feel when the cranky, stuffed shirts in the publishing empire agree that you’ve written The Great American Novel.
Hi Linda. I have followed your blog for a fews weeks and I now wonder if you have my Durango bugged. My husband and I were discussing this topic today. This is the second time in the last two weeks we have been on the same page.
My husband asked if I would consider self publishing, or a vanity press when I am ready to publish. I flat out told him, “If I am not picked up by a publisher then I probably should not waste the life of a tree.”
I can see the points raised here. A lot of self-publishing is pretty bad and cluttered, or muddled. However, I’ve also heard quietly frequently that there’s a strong chance that a good writer with a good story will never get published due to current trends and tastes. In fact, one agent agreed that I have a good writing style and story to tell, but stated he couldn’t accept the full mss because he thought it might not be commercial enough. Having worked extensively on redrafting and structuring the story, and having received positive comments from a number of agents/editorial consultants, I wouldn’t hesitate to publish the story online.
Neither acceptance nor rejection by an agent or a publisher is a significant judgement on a book’s quality.
Despite their experience and substantial investment in time and money, major publishers issue a huge number of books that don’t sell well and quickly move to the buck-a-book tables.
On the other hand, good books may be rejected for reasons unrelated to quality.
Aside from bad writing, there are legitimate reasons why a book may be rejected— such as an unknown author, a subject’s limited appeal, a too-controversial subject, an abundance of other books on the subject, or the inappropriateness of the book for a particular publisher.
But that rejection doesn’t mean that a book shouldn’t be published at all, and self-publishing is a legitimate option.
Michael N. Marcus
author of “Become a Real Self-Publisher,” due soon
Wow, such contrasting remarks! I agree with DarkSculptures, but I see your point, Lawrence. Your book is probably one of those “excruciating few” that would be great for the POD publishers. Is it the genre that the agents/editors are not finding marketable?
Michael, I agree that there are good self-published books out there and there are good reasons to self-publish, but I think the stigma lives. The quality of the writing is always suspect in self-pubbed books, and, as I indicated in the piece, the quality of the editorial work and book-making process is also suspect. I don’t think the author would have the marketing exposure that comes from being published traditionally, either. It seems the best the author could do would be to sell to friends and a few acquaintances from Twitter and Facebook.
The self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate isn’t a black and white matter, simply because there are so many variables. The book industry is changing and there’s every reason to believe that private POD publishing may one day become a viable alternative – provided authors get a few key issues (*ahem* quality control) figured out.
However, all in all, I couldn’t agree with you more. Self-publishing is *not* a quick fix to a writing career. Far, far too often, the decision to self-published is an uneducated one that the author will regret in the long run. Consider the options long and hard, identify your motives, and learn about the pros and cons before jumping into the often-murky world of self-publishing.
Aggie interviewed Gail Gaymer Martin back in August (http://www.visualartsjunction.com/?p=3019t), and reading what she had to say about self-publishing changed my mind about doing it. (Well, her interview and the words of a questionably sage woman in a mainstream writing site.)
I agree with you about the quality control. I don’t think I’d have as many qualms about POD publishers if the product was high-quality. But it’s disappointing that marginal writers aren’t encouraged to become better before they are published. And more disappointing that exceptional writers are lumped together with the marginal ones in the stigma attached to self-publishing.
The book is in the thriller genre. Basically, one agent showed an interest but told me I needed to have it edited by a professional before she would read it again. I’ve sent the mss off for editing, paid three hundred and fifty pounds and am waiting for the editor’s report. Apparently, this is how it’s done now in the UK, with the writer paying for the initial editor’s assessment.
Ideally, I would like to go down the conventional publishing route, but I recognise how competitive it is. I would certainly be prepared to self-publish to get my work out to the publish. Recently, I self-published an online recording of a piano recital I’d given in London a few weeks earlier, and this has given me a confidence boost.
Lawrence, it sounds like the agent was interested in your story line. Agents are notoriously slow. Have you contacted him/her since you sent the edited version back?
I’m still waiting for the editor to send me my report…seems to be taking ages. In the meantime, I’m working on another novel.
Update – editor sent email to say she’s starting reading.
How exciting, Lawrence! Good luck! It’ll take awhile. My agent (I say with fingers crossed) wrote me week before last saying that she liked mine, but I’m still waiting. Be patient with the process–put yourself to work on another book and try not to count days!