icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Thoughtful Research

Rants Against Self-Publishing -- by a self-published author


I first began this vendetta decades ago when the friend of a friend thought she could write a novel, just by sitting down and writing it. So she did, and then she self-published it. This was before KDP so I don't know what she used or how much she spent. She then published another, and it was worse. She quit, because she only wanted to call herself an author.


I started writing novels in 1984 and I'm still writing them today and I wish I didn't have to compete with people like that.


Just recently I read a book by a fellow who gave me a free copy and asked for a 100% honest review. Well the formatting was terrible, for starters, but I gave him a fair read anyway. Usually I just toss those aside. It was a self-help book designed to help people break out of their rut. And it wasn't too bad, all things considered, until I got to his rant against perfectionism. "See this book? It's full of errors. But at least I can say I'm an author!"


That, along with his free use of the word "shit" in the book, brought his review down to 2 stars. Sadly he has mostly five stars. I see that a lot. Crappy books getting five-star reviews. So maybe all we need to be a "great author" is a ton of friends. Or find ways to pay for reviews. I see this all the time at Goodreads. People begging you to review their book. I get the sample. And I delete the sample. (I recommend everyone get the sample of my books, too, by the way. Perfect way to find out what suits you.)


Here's a short take on the beginning of my authoring adventure. Starting in 1998 through about 2002 I had the makings of a pretty good writing career. I was getting articles and short stories published, for pay, had my first Bonanza novel published by a small press and was getting ready to write the second.  I was an authorized Bonanza novelist, given me by the series creator, David Dortort (he died in 2010 but we remained good friends). And I developed good contact with Bonanza readers through the various Bonanza conventions and my online activities. I had other books I was writing, and I was agented. I thought my future looked secure.


Then I decided to get a master's in history, and by the time I got out, in 2006, this writing career had collapsed. I published the second Bonanza novel with the same publisher in 2009, but then it took me until 2015 to get my third book published, and guess what? I did it at Amazon—yeah, I self-published. But wait! Before you judge—Dancing with Cannibals is co-authored, and he got tired of waiting and released it with someone else as editor. The book was half mine, but he didn't care. I made Amazon take that illegal copy down, and put the right one up, with another couple edits, of course, and a better cover created by my graphics talented son Adam.


Can I blame self-publishing for my woes? Not directly, not at first. I was busy with research and working and marketing my major nonfiction developed while getting my masters (so yes, I can blame my masters; Dortort told me not to go, but it made me a better researcher. That's it.) I tend to allow myself to be pulled in many directions at the same time, classic Type A -- now mind you, all the while continuing my stage work. But I am also constantly submitting to markets, and while I got a few contracts offered in this period, none were good enough. I even got one on Dancing but Spartan was brand new and, I think, a college experiment. I don't think they exist anymore. I didn't like that they were trying to maximize the size of the book with bad formatting to offer it for a higher price. I told Dicho we're doomed if we allow badly formatted books to be published.


So while I continue to tell people that you don't need an agent to find a traditional publisher, not all small presses are good either.  I have rejected more contracts than I've accepted. Small presses sometimes exist to take advantage of us who feel we are "too good" to self-publish. But do not submit to publishers with the hopes that you'll get a free edit from them and then look to cancel the contract and use the edits. That's wrong, too, and what small presses also fear. There are good small presses. Keep looking. That's what I'm doing. If I ever want to give up on this writing career, the rest of my materials will be given to Amazon, and I will walk away. I keep saying that, but not seeing my ability to actually do that.


My main rant about self-publishing is addressed at those who don't care how flawed their book is; they feel they are guaranteed readers as soon as they publish, and then wonder where the money is. Trust me, the money is not automatic when you're published. Shades of Gray is an anomaly. It's not going to happen to you.  Before you get too angry, I have to tell you that I don't write this because I want the self-publishing trend destroyed.  I only want people to write books for the right reasons, and not just to publish and say that they're authors. I want readers to be assured that if something is in print, it deserves to be read.  


Are self-published novels good enough to be read? That's the trend I want to see. Wannabe authors think they have something brilliant, so they hurry. Stop. Ask yourself: Did I edit it at least four times? Find at least two readers who aren't family? If you don't have a good enough grasp of English, did you get an editor? Submit to at least two publishers? This is really a good idea because getting responses will help you hone it even more. Go through the submission process first. You might get lucky. You might have something they've been looking for. Don't be lulled by the idea that if you self-publish ALL the money is yours. Big deal -- all of nothing.


Writers who become authors without paying their dues; that's what I'm against.  


Self-publishing, including by Amazon, has cheapened the publishing world with people looking to get rich fast; they think a writing career is the way to go.  Look at it this way:  Imagine you were starting to make good money as a symphony conductor after years of study and practice, and all of a sudden just anyone walks up out of the audience and takes over, and for a lot less money, too.  Sure, the band wouldn't sound as good, but the audience already bought their ticket, and they might get a good chuckle, anyway. There goes the career you worked so long and hard at, because now just anyone can do it.


Is my writing really to blame, and I'm casting around for a scapegoat?  Perhaps.  Perhaps I cannot stand the extra competition, like I once did, or I'm eaten with jealousy when I hear yet another vampire novel getting all the attention.  But as a historian who sits on the fence between professional and amateur, I know that if I want to lean to the professional side, I have to lean away from self-publishing.  At the same time, I'm not a professor who doesn't mind giving their work away to an academic press, either. I got two offers that way, neither of which would give me anything back.


I don't discourage people who seek writing careers from self-publishing. I've have two books I'll be putting up at Amazon myself in 2022.  My point is simple: don't throw your stuff out there before it's ready.  If you don't have the goal of being a writer for life, for all that it's worth, then you are cheapening the market for all writers and readers by putting crap out there.


There is no substitute for doing the work. Any novel that hasn't had at least four edits and two non-family readers is not ready for self-publication, no matter how good you think you are.  Self-publishing can ruin more potential careers than it can ever hope to help.  The biggest problem is that there are no gatekeepers -- no one to tell you if the book is ready, or good enough. Can you trust your own judgment?  


Self-published authors (there are always exceptions) produce and promote work that is not ready to be published.  They are not good judges of their own work. I know this as fact, because I have had three requests in a row asking for me to review their published books, and in each I could not get past the first chapter.  


Having independent beta readers is more important for fiction than nonfiction. The two I will publish in 2022 are nonfiction: one is the second copper resource manual and the second is local history. I have a dedicated market for both. You cannot say that for any fiction novel, even if it's genre. You're entering a heavy flowing stream there.


Be proud that you were able to write a book.  But be proud enough of that book to want to make it as good as you can.  When all you do is write a first draft, do a spellcheck, and then publish, you do the world, and your book, an injustice.  It's like ripping a month-old fetus from your womb, putting a pair of shoes on it and saying, now get out there and make something of yourself. Print a copy, and red-pen edit the book. Read it aloud. But even that's not enough, if you're not a good judge of your work. It takes time, sometimes a long time, to become a good writer, and become savvy about your work. It happens to very few overnight. "But I'm tired of editing it." Really? Then maybe the book's not as good as you think. "Felling of the Sons" was edited over 20 times before it got published, and I loved reading it every time.


There's only one thing that's a sure thing: You control your book, and what happens to its future. Don't turn readers off by competing for their time with sloppy work. It just hurts all of us. That reader might never buy another book.


ADVICE to readers: Most self-published authors have ebooks to offer. Always take a sample read first. If you don't have an ebook, download Amazon's free Kindle reader to your computer and/or to your phone. You will often see mistakes on the first page, and let that alarm you but read the whole sample. Can you get past the errors because the book captivates you? Also, make a habit of reading the lowest reviews received. If they sound valid and make sense, believe them.  (Except for fanfic like mine – that's often jealousy talking. There the three-star reviews would be the most valid.)

Post a comment