One year ago, I decided to learn the ins and outs of self-publishing.
I spent months reading, devouring various forums and blogs, listening to hours upon hours of podcasts. I studied the industry, the market, the nuts and bolts of production and sales through online retailers.
I decided to gain some hands-on experience by self-publishing a guinea pig project—a cute piece of pulp fantasy called Southwind Knights—and I even ended up committing to nine installments in a series.
The idea was to gain relevant knowledge, connections, and experience in preparation for publishing my masterwork, the door-stopper novel I’ve been dreaming up since 2009. When that project was ready, I wanted to be ready as well. I’d have a platform (albeit small). I’d know some book reviewers. I’d understand how to promote and interact.
I learned a ton, and at first I loved it.
Now I don’t.
Ready for a rant?
If you’re reading this paragraph, you answered YES to the question above. WARNING: I’m going to address the self-publishing culture as a whole, and this rant is therefore going to include sweeping generalizations. When I say that the self-publishing community sucks, it doesn’t mean that you suck, so try not to take this too personally. I’m an indie too, right?
When I began calling myself an indie, the community was one of the more attractive parts of the package. Here were authors who supported one another. They were transparent with strategies, shared results, and the feeling was that everyone was working together to succeed as a whole. That positive energy is still in effect in some places, but something has soured over time.
Maybe the culture changed, or maybe I did. I like to think that over time, patterns began to emerge. Certain conversations kept coming up. Weak arguments were made over and over again. Mostly, a certain tone became prevalent in the community.
It was a tone of desperation.
In the beginning, self-publishing pioneers such as Jo Konrath paved a new, exciting way for writers to share their work. Self-publishing became a real opportunity. Except, instead of writers coming over to share their writing, people in search of money came over and began writing.
Sales became god.
Business trumped art. Quality became a luxury for those with cash to spend. Skill was measured in words per minute, and craft took a backseat to marketing.
A booming, exciting industry was bogged down in desperate, fickle gold-diggers, and they brought an aggressive stupidity to self-publishing. The community and culture as a whole seems weak to me now. The forums are hard to bear. Podcasts make me sick.
Here are a few small examples of our stupidity that send me reeling.
1. What Am I Doing Wrong? Threads
On KBoards, it’s not uncommon to see new authors bemoaning failure and threatening to quit forever, gods forbid. Sometimes the downtrodden will just vent, but often they’ll invite criticism in hopes of discovering why they’re not selling more.
Usually, they’ll point out that their blurb has been refined to perfection, that they spent hundreds of dollars on a professional cover, that several editors have made passes on the text, that they have the social proof of multiple five-star reviews. They should be famous by now! They want to know what they’re “doing wrong.”
I find this repulsive.
This attitude implies that
A. Sales = success
B. There’s a formula for success
These people seem to think that if you follow certain steps, your book will be a commercial winner. There is no accounting for the art behind the marketing. Sorry, but maybe your writing sucks. Or maybe your writing is pretty good! Maybe your writing is great, but it’s nothing new.
Publishing is certainly a business, but it’s a business of selling art. You can fool X people into buying—you can even entertain them—but it’s the content that will take you places, not the marketing.
I’m all about improvement. Learn from your mistakes, hone your craft, study all you can, market your buns off, ask for help. That is commendable. But ultimately you should write because you love the craft. If you’ve done all you can, and you’re still not satisfied with the results, then yes please do quit.
This word is nonsense. It doesn’t exist in the dictionary. It doesn’t exist in reality. It is a contradiction in terms.
There are writers out there—both good and bad, I’m sure—who have chosen to self-publish their work without the use of a professional editor. Naturally, there is no law that says a novel cannot exist without first being edited. That’s fine. More power to you. If you don’t want to be edited, don’t be edited. That’s the beauty of independence. Run your business however you like. The readers will decide what’s “good.”
Let me say it again: IT’S FINE IF YOU DON’T USE AN EDITOR!
It’s not fine, however, to invent nonsense.
In order to save face and imply some level of quality, many deluded authors have decided to say that they “self-edit” their work. This can only be taken to mean one thing: that they read over what they have written and correct any errors they find.
There’s already a word for this.
It’s called WRITING.
The idea that this is “self-editing” implies that writing itself is done in one pass, without a backward look. This is so insulting to the process and craft of writing that it makes my eyes twitch.
So-called “self-editors” will argue that they’re as good as any so-called editors. Often, these are people who have never been edited, who don’t understand the value of not only a new perspective but also a professionally-trained, well-educated eye.
“Self-editing” is a symptom of the shameless arrogance in self-publishing that I find disgusting.
You know how I know there’s no such thing as “self-editing?” Because you’re not listing yourself as the editor of your book, are you? Your resumé doesn’t say “editor” on it, does it? No, of course not. That would be down-right cocky.
Your work is not “self-edited.” It’s unedited.
You’re not an editor. You’re an asshole.
3. Box sets
One of the biggest prizes in publishing is the title of New York Times Bestseller. When indie authors aren’t ranting about how traditional publishing has rigged the system, they’re doing everything in their power to get their names on that evil list.
Enter the multi-author box set.
These are a actually a good idea! Ultra low-price packages featuring all-star authors of a given genre. It’s cross-promotion meets discount-promotion—a guaranteed success.
For the vast majority of indies, these box sets are the only hope of making the NYT list, and it’s in the desperation for this prize that a good idea has been taken to embarrassing extremes.
I actually laughed the first time I saw this product.
First, it’s 24 novels for $0.99. That’s $0.04 per novel, but please believe that if Amazon allowed books to be sold for $0.01, that would be the price. This package exists for one purpose only: to give these 24 authorpreneurs the right to add “New York Times Bestselling Author” to everything with their names on it.
Most of the contention surrounding box sets is concerned with devaluing literature. Personally, I don’t think these deals devalue literature. I just think they show how little value the included works had to begin with.
No, the shameless prostitution doesn’t bother me so much. My beef is with the authors and their new bestseller titles. They’re not devaluing literature so much as devaluing the NYT list and insulting everyone who has written a book that earned its way onto that list. In fact, it’s my opinion that all of these new “bestsellers” are misrepresenting themselves.
If your book makes it onto the NYT bestsellers list, you are a New York Times bestseller.
If you’re 1 part of a 24 author box set that makes the NYT list, forgive me, but you’re not a New York Times Bestseller. You’re actually One-Twenty-Fourth of a New York Times Bestselling Effort, and that’s what it should say at the top of all your books. Anything else is a lie.
I’ve got more.
Podcasts called How to Make a Living Off Writing by people who have never made a living off writing.
The general exploitation of the perceived gold rush. People who criticize the gold rush-ers but then complain when they don’t find gold themselves.
The general disregard for professionalism. Authors who can’t be bothered to learn the basics of grammar but feel entitled to publish their work and expect results.
The mindless bashing of traditional publishing for no reason other than “Konrath does it!”
It makes me crazy.
Still, there are plenty of bright spots, good writers, and good people in this sector. It’s just that they get drowned out by all the noise from our contingent of blithering idiots. We all look forward to a day where the self-publishing community is held in equal esteem to the traditional houses, but that day won’t come while the community is represented by all of what I’ve mentioned.
The community aspect might be part of the problem. One of the draws of self-publishing is that there are no gatekeepers, but there can’t be a community without gates—some sort of boundaries or parameters. Otherwise everyone present becomes a part of the arbitrary community. Any jerk with a credit card and a DOC file is technically an indie publisher.
That’s just tough.
I agree with all you’ve said. As someone who started out supporting fellow self-pubbers by purchasing their novels, I had to stop because it was simply too demoralising (and yes, it’s an ‘s’ in Australia, not a ‘z’). Belonging to a crowd of writers who couldn’t spell, grasp the rudiments of grammar or take the time and effort to at least format their work made me cringe. Instead of NYT best seller, I’d prefer to include the label ‘proof-read, edited and formatted by many expensive, independent professionals,’ if only it didn’t make me sound like a ponce. Still, at least I’d be a ponce who readily admits I am neither qualified nor experienced in the aformentioned arts no matter how many books I’ve read on the topic. Humility and a willingness to learn from justified criticism should supplant the defensive, arrogant attitude of some, for the benefit of all.
Well said, and I don’t think you’re a ponce! Humility, willingness to learn, and patience. Everyone wants to be the overnight success, but too many people skip the education part, which unfortunately can’t happen overnight.
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