Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Myth of Self-Publishing

More often now, I am approached by people who have just written a novel and immediately self-published it. Starting with their poorly presented request, continuing through their poorly presented material on their website or Amazon--and immediately upon reading the first page or two (sometimes the first paragraph,) the work reeks of amateur writing. I am all for trying to write, but it takes a lot more to reach the publishable stage.
While some books get the full professional treatment by the authors who have honed their craft and eventually hire editors to make their manuscripts as perfect as can be, I've heard would-be authors that "never want to bother" with the many rounds of revising and editing--"too much work and it's boring"--not to mention the cost of a professional editor who can shepherd a writer. (Beware of phonies, though, as the field is peppered with them.)
This lazy attitude is reflected in the first few page(s) of many self-published books I've been asked to read and to give my endorsement or write reviews--after publication. Unfortunately, the stigma is justified. It is simply too hard to find the gems among these many half-assed efforts in the self-publishing arena. The rare success stories give false hope to many would-be writers the same way that inner-city African-American boys dream of becoming the next Michael Jordan....  These boys stand no more chance to emulate his successful career as any writer can "pull $50,000 a month" as described in some articles or promised by self-publishing outfits. Those print-on-demand outfits make their $$s not from selling books they print, but from the hefty fees paid by authors for "marketing"--another scam since they do little more than make the books available on Amazon.
No star dust of success will be sprinkled from above unless you are willing to do the work.
Rare is the concert pianist who sits at the piano at age four, and then proceeds to compose and give performances at Carnegie Hall with little training. Most professional musicians spend a lifetime of daily practicing. Writing--especially fiction--requires mastering the craft, revising and editing numerous times--often for years. (I go over each of my manuscripts 80 times and have half-a-dozen astute readers with red pens give me their feedbacks.) It's not for nothing that many authors report 4-10 years of working on a single novel.
The exception to this doom-to-fail efforts are those who write personal biographies for their own family recorded history and do not expect to sell (or give away) more than 60 copies. The other exception are consultants who wish to put their wisdom into books they can use as promotions to obtain assignments, establish credibility to get on radio and TV shows, or give or sell copies at their workshops. But their books better be good! It is simply embarrassing to give out a book filled with errors.
I am all for the write-your-novel-in-one-month projects as they jump start many would-be authors. But that first month is only the first baby step. If you are writing your first novel, just make sure you love the long and lonely process, so that the journey will be the most exciting you've ever taken.


  1. You are so right on! I remember one lady with a 650 page book who wouldn't consider an editor, a second reader opinion and was absolutely positive it would sell a hundred thousand copies. As we say in the south, 'bless her heart.'

  2. I recall at a writers' conference a participant who demanded a refund because the editor she met there told her that her "novel" was not publishable, but needed work.....