Lie down with dogs

Let’s talk about self publishing.

As with the traditional route, there are pros and cons to self-publication.

The pros are:

You don’t have to deal with the traditional industry’s machinery and gatekeepers.
You have complete control of the book’s content, format and look.
You get all the profits.
Anyone can do it.

The cons are:

You don’t have the support of the traditional industry’s marketing resources.
You have complete responsibility for the book’s content, look and format.
You pay all the bills.
Anyone can do it.

It’s that last that gets me. I know there are self-published authors who produce well-edited, well-packaged books. I also know there are a lot of self-published writers whose attitude is “I don’t care about the writing – I only care about the story.”

Let’s be honest – reputation is huge. People are impressed when they hear I’ve published a children’s book, but they’re really impressed when they hear it was with Scholastic. Scholastic has a huge reputation in the kidlit industry, and making it past their gatekeepers did great things for my book, and for my own reputation as a writer. Making any kind of money in the writing business is tough enough – why would I deliberately shoot myself in the foot by associating with a branch of the publishing industry that already has some reputation for uneven quality?

I’m currently reading a YA novel to review for Bibliobuffet. It’s self-published and it shows. Two pages in I found this gem: “He through on a shirt.” I had to read it twice to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Two chapters in, I’m bored and frustrated by poor writing. I’m giving it one more chapter, and if it’s not suddenly a helluva story, I won’t finish. I have too little reading time to spend it on stuff like this. One of the reasons I’m not interested in self-publication is that I don’t want to be lumped in with it, either. If you lie down with dogs, you get up covered in dog hair. (For the record, I like dogs!)

When I started pitching The Swan Harp to agents, I’d already run it by my writers’ group. They told me it was good, and I know that these people, bless their hearts, will tell me if I’m falling on my ass. The agent who read the manuscript gave me two pages of suggestions that set me up for a year of work and a deeper, richer, better story.

I thought the second draft of The Swan Harp was damn good. I was wrong. I’m very glad I’m a hard-core traditional-route sort of a gal, because if I’d self-published that second draft, I’d have missed writing a much better story. Yes, I want The Swan Harp published, and my name on the cover. But before that, I want it to be the very best story it can be, and after that, I want it to have the best chance for success that it can have.

Self-publishing has its good points. It may well be your best or favourite option. Just watch out for the dog hair.

This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Fumbling towards competence, Marketing, Out in the World and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Lie down with dogs

  1. I think your argument against self-publishing may be especially applicable to fiction, where getting people to buy and bookstores to sell, is much easier when the book is associated with a publisher as well-known as Scholastic.
    What self-publishing (lus the power of the Internet) has done is made it possible for people who write factual, but niche books, to do that for their audience. and print-on-demand means no-one takes a bath – heck, selling your e-book through Amazon has been a goldmine for a handful of people.
    Self-publishing has come up in the world. It’s no longer routinely called “vanity press”. Does that mean I would prefer to self-publish a computer book instead of being published by O’Reilly? Of course not. But I think you make the choice too black and white.

  2. ecreith says:

    Good points, Jennifer. Yes, my post does make things black-and-white, and I struggled with that. There’s only so much you can talk about in 5-600 words, and I started with fiction. I’ll be talking about non-fiction books in the next post, because I do agree that there are niche markets for information that the large publishers, or even any kind of small, mainstream publisher, can’t afford to handle.
    I actually do think there’s a difference between vanity presses and self-publishing, and I’m going to talk about that, too.

  3. You’ve made some good points, here. While there is some really good self-published stories, many are so covered in dog hair, you get too frustrated cleaning it all off hoping to find a sheep dog only to find it’s really a chihuahua. If a writer sends out their work before it’s ready, they may never get the chance to grow in the field because no one will want to take a chance on getting the wrong ‘dog’ again! Sorry, that’s a really silly analogy, but I hope you get the point.

    Personally, I prefer the ‘validation’ of having my work approved by a traditional publisher. I think if I had self-published my first-ever novel before my writer’s group got at it, that would have been it for my writing career. No one would ever have wanted to read anything I wrote after that, even if my writing had improved.

  4. LadyGrave says:

    I agree with almost everything you say here; I have found very few self-published books that seem to be of professional quality. At the same time, though, there are traditionally published books that began as self-published books, and I don’t think having an established readership through self-publishing is going to deter an agent from choosing to represent a book. Also, as an author-illustrator, self-publishing will allow me to have complete control of the design of the book, something I have the skill-set for but would likely not have any say in as a first-time author in the traditional publishing world. If you’re interested, I wrote a detailed post about my decision to self-publish here: . As I said, though, I don’t think you’re wrong about anything you’ve written, just that it’s a personal decision with a lot of factors, and maybe self-publishing isn’t wrong for everyone. Still, it should only be attempted by people who can put in the necessary work/time/money/whatever-it-takes to avoid embarrassing typos like the one you’ve mentioned!

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