This post is written with all due apologies to the wonderful self-published writers out there, Chuck Wendig and John Hartness and all you guys… keep up the good work. I get why you do what you do. And you guys are awesome.
Now. As for the rest of you…
Let’s talk about self-publishing and small presses. I know there’s any number of good reasons to do it yourself or to go to a small house – there are lots of good writers out there who have signed with small presses or have chosen to go it alone. Virtually the entire erotica genre comes through small houses.
And that’s what small houses are great for – niche books. They’ll take a chance on a lot of really great things that someone like Random House or Penguin wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. It’s a shame, in many cases, because a book having a narrower appeal doesn’t mean it’s bad, and it certainly doesn’t mean that those of us (or you) who are interested in the subject should be denied information/fiction on the material. It’s also not a bad place to get your foot into the door (see the lovely Kalayna Price‘s success story).
Same thing with self-publishing. God bless Chuck Wendig, because that man is equal parts hilarious and accurate. But he’s his own publishing company – for the moment. And I don’t doubt that someone will, someday, give him enough cash that he could bathe like Scrooge McDuck. John Hartness, of Charlotte, NC, is self-published because that’s what he bloody well wants to do. It allows him to have complete creative control (he does have an editor) and because, as he has said, he’s impatient. It also lets him get out far more books a year than most folks on a big label.
Oh yeah, and you get to keep so much more money. Immediately.
These are the success stories. These are the stories that make you go, “Ooh, self-publishing sounds sexy!” And, sure, these guys make it look easy, fun, and something that everyone should want to do.
Unfortunately, there’s another side to this spectrum. I’m not going to point the book out specifically, because that seems mean, but I will give you some of the horror stories gleaned from it.
A customer ordered a book into our store. It’s by a local guy – several more folks have ordered this book recently, as well – and these are probably his loyal friends who have come to help out sales. Good for him, and good on his friends. However… you remember what I said just a few paragraphs ago about having an editor? Remember the italics I used? As if to emphasize.
Right. This book – if it may truly be called that – is full of typos. Okay, not just typos, but horrible, atrocious, mind-numbing, hair-curling grammatical errors. And sure, I’m more of a fascist about grammar than a lot of folks, but this book – I asked my coworker, very seriously, “Is English this person’s first language?” A good section of it was literally – literally – unintelligible. Verb tenses, pluralization, spelling, comma splices, misusing words…
Look, I wish I was making this up. This book is the stuff of nightmares. Just because you can open a word processing document and fill it with sporadic black sticks does not mean you deserve a place in the Library of Congress, okay? A monkey could do that. You’ve got to work for this. Publication isn’t something that should just happen to you because you’ve bothered to show up at your computer desk and stop checking facebook long enough to puke something out.
The point of this is this: sometimes, when an agent or an editor rejects you, there’s a reason. Maybe being a writer is not something that’s in the cards – at least for right now. And the problem with self-publishing, especially with the ability to upload any ol’ pile of refuse onto an e-reader marketplace, is that now, suddenly, the reader is the one that has to waste his or her time – and money, in many cases – to find out that a book is bad.
And not just poorly plotted, or with weak action or two-dimensional characters. I mean truly ghastly, a waste of kilobytes that should be brought up on war crimes charges. Because everyone’s dropped $7.99 on a paperback that you’d hoped would be good, gotten a few pages in and said, “Man, that’s disappointing.” But, generally speaking, it’s not the stuff of English-major nightmares.
Because when you sign with a big house, you get an editor. In fact, you get several, and it probably feels like, at times, that you’ve got an overabundance of the damn people and they’re yelling at you to cut that and switch this and expand these four things and to rewrite the first hundred pages. But you know why they’re doing that? To make your book good. To make it readable, enjoyable, and recommendable. And you’re welcome, readers.
The advent of all this “I’m so awesome I’ll publish this without even a second read-through even though my antagonist’s name starts being spelled differently midway through and despite the fact that I, for some reason, never learned to use punctuation correctly and regardless of the fact that no one told me that every dialogue tag does not, in fact, have to be different than the last and that ‘said’ is a dirty word” SHIT that is on the internet and on e-readers and, for Christ’s sake, in bound form… it’s really making me feel for agents and editors. Because we have their job now. And their job sucks.
Thanks, editorial staffs of the world. You guys are awesome.