There are a whole host of myths surrounding self-publishing that, even in this digital age, still seem to have lived on from the days of expensive vanity publishing.
Whether quality related, or more to do with legitimacy, I’ll be covering each of the five main myths in a series of weekly posts, and why each myth is nothing more than just that: a myth.
I considered covering all five in one post, but really, each area is so sprawling that they deserve a post to themselves. The general formula will be to state the reasons why this myth exists, and then follow-up with a breakdown of why it simply is not true. You know me, though – I like change. So yeah, just enjoy the ride!
To start off, I want to look at one of the most common myths I have encountered in my self-publishing experience so far – that somehow, the quality of self-published works is ‘inferior’ to their published counterparts.
Not only is this statement not true, but it’s almost laughable when you break everything down and analyse it. Which is, um, just about exactly what I’m going to try to do.
In defence of the myth
Let’s not beat around the bush here: there are some really shitty self-published works out there. The rise of online self-publishing platforms has made the ‘gatekeeper’ of quality, the publisher, irrelevant, so literally anybody can put a book out there. Ten year old kid want to boast to his friends about being on Amazon? Check. Person who has never written a story in their life keen to try to make a quick buck? Of course.
Not only does self-publishing cut the publisher out, but it also means that people can easily skip the editing process, if they want to. Unfinished first drafts find themselves rushed to the virtual shelves, with even more rushed cover art on display. Yes, there are some really shitty self-published works, but there also happen to be some pretty damn good ones, too.
Hang on… this is beginning to sound a little bit like traditional publishing, dare I say it?
Bad books have always existed
Stop the press: bad books have always existed, regardless of whether they are traditionally published or self-published. Poor editing, and rushed cover art, has also always existed. Does whether it is self-published or published really matter?
Well yes, because you just said that self-published authors skip the publishing, editing, and cover art stages, didn’t you?
That is sort of true, but I don’t class those writers as self-published authors. I class them as hobby writers. They don’t represent our vast, growing community.
A self-published author, unlike a hobby writer, seeks out professional editing help. I reached out to Brenda Errichiello, who will do a full, comprehensive edit of my upcoming novel over the space of a few months. Sure, it takes time, but it’s better than rush-releasing a draft and tarnishing my reputation forever.
A self-published author also seeks out cover design help. I ran a contest on 99Designs.com, and whilst I am well aware that this decision is somewhat frowned upon in the design community, I ended up with a stunning piece of cover art, and a designer that I am more than happy to work with on many projects to come. More on the double-sided issue of crowd sourcing in a future post, but for a positive write-up, here’s a guest blog I did over at Karen Woodward’s site a short while back.
What about the publisher?
So, we’ve dealt with the issue of editing the story so it’s as good as it possibly can be, and we’ve managed to get a professional, eye-catching cover designed. But what about the ‘gatekeeper of quality’, the publisher? How do we actually know if our work is any good or not?
Want to know something that will blow your mind? The publisher only offers an opinion. That’s why J.K. Rowling was rejected by tonnes before being picked up by a tiny publishing house staring into the abyss. It’s why John Grisham was turned down by 26 publishers and 15 agents just jeans before becoming one of the best-selling authors on the planet. Publishers don’t have a crystal ball, and the sooner everyone accepts that, the better.
Another thing about publishers: they are getting pretty desperate right now. Much like the music industry, they don’t know how to respond to the rise of eBooks and digital media. They are stuck in a mindset where on one hand, they want to succeed long-term, but on the other, the desperate urge for short-term gains leads to baffling decisions.
You’ll probably be rejected by a few publishers. That’s the fact of the matter. In my case, I started writing What We Saw with a view to becoming traditionally published, but I’m so glad I changed my mind after weeks of research. Instead of a publisher being a judge of my writing quality, the readers can be. The freedom self-publishing offers is worth not getting an advance for.
I support the publishers, because I want them to succeed. To do so, they need to change their current mindsets and look to the future.
So, are self-published authors of inferior quality? Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes our work really, really sucks. But so does some traditional work. If you make sure you do your research, write a good story, get it professionally edited, and give it a beautiful cover, then the line between indie and traditional completely fades away.
Come back in a week for part two!
What is your view on self-published works? Are they always of a notably inferior quality?
Which other self-publishing myths would you like to see dispelled?
Image courtesy of Emily Carlin via Flickr
With the agent and publishers out of the picture it occurs to me that the responsibility for quality falls to the writer.
A hobby writer may rush out their work largely unedited, but a responsible author, one who is focussed upon a long-term career, must endeavour to produce consistently high-quality work if they are to build a solid fanbase.
Lazy editing = fewer followers = short or miniscule career.
I agree Andrew! The self-published authors and hobby writers can be identified from a mile away. At the end of the day, a lack of care is only detrimental on the writer themselves, in the long run.
I think having the read as the “gatekeepr of quality” is the best argument for self publishing. If the work is good, you’ll find a following of people who otherwise may not have been exposed to your work. Plus I think such a fanbase could be more exacting in their expectations of quality–it can challenge a writer to write their best for the sake of readers, instead of some random publisher looking at the financial bottom line.
I think you are absolutely right with what you say about the writer taking care to write the best story possible. It gives us more responsibility, knowing that we have traditionally published books with all their edits to deal with.