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To self-pub or not to self-pub?

In my last post  nico1908 asked the follow-up question:  What do I think about self-publishing as a first step?  I wasn't sure if they were kidding or not, but I figured let's go there, shall we?

In my humble opinion, I can't fathom why anyone would go with self-publishing as a first step towards trying to get published... unless they have assloads of money to blow or maybe such a fear of even one publisher rejecting them that they HAVE TO!!!

Let me say this:  Many rejections from publishers is a right of manhood/womanhood that needs to be gone through, much like learning to relish your one-star reviews once you're published.  It toughens you up, and as a writer, you need to be toughened up.  Why?  Because as a writer, at some point you're going to be putting your words-your baby, your soul in prose- out there under the microscopes of your readership.  And there will be a variety of opinions of your work... being able to take them without weeping into your pillow every night is a learned talent.  And it doesn't matter about an overwhelming volume of positive praise, either.  500 great reviews can be invalidated by one bad one in the authorly mind.  So where were we?  Ah yes, rejections from publishers...

Get them!  If you're sending your manuscript out to find a home, you're taking the right steps towards possibly getting published.  As much as your book is an art form, learning to handle the BUSINESS side of being a writer is an important lesson.  There's lots of reasons you're going to be turned down... very few of them are a personal attack on you.. you'll never know thanks to form letters and such.  Maybe you'll get lucky and get a reason WHY out of a few.  Read those... give a tough look at your manuscript and see if that editor has a point that can help make your book better.

And don't think your book can't be better.  Not that I am the most seasoned pro out there, but I am constantly trying to beat the suck out of my writing.  It's a never ending process.  Don't think your darling is so precious that parts of it shouldn't be killed...  even on the published author side, we're all still constantly learning.

Self-publishing as a first step reeks of a certain lack of confidence in a writer's work.  It smells of desperation to be in print BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. As if to say, "Listen, I'm pretty sure an editor would hate this, which is why I didn't submit it, but please please please read my words that I didn't have confidence enough to submit anywhere!"  No offense, but if you don't think its readable, why should the rest of us be forced to read it?  It's the same reason I try to avoid going to off-off-off Broadway shows in the city.   Sure there might be a diamond in the rough out there, but I'm not going to sift through the mountain of suck to get to it.  I leave the sifting for editors at publishing houses...

I'd only self-publish if, after hundreds of rejections, I had to see my work in print for my own sanity... maybe then, but you'll rarely see it in an actual bookstore.  And a final point here.. god have mercy on your soul if you fall prey to publishing with a vanity press.  A friend of mine HAD to see his book in print.. sent it to a "publisher", who said they'd love to publish it.  For $25,000.  For that he was promised: 1,000 hardcovers, signings, advertising, reviews.  He put up money against his house.  

Five years later, he can't get it into stores, only sells on Amazon, and at last count, has about 925 of them left.
So, aspiring writers, get out there and start racking up those rejections!  What doesn't kill you only makes you (your book) stronger!


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
but here's the big problem - most publishing houses won't accept unsolicited work. so a new author has to hunt down a respectable agent to push his/her work.

that's my hiccup. i haven't the FIRST clue on acquiring an agent, and that's mostly why i've sat on my children's book for over 10 yrs.
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
some houses do take unsolicited work, but you kind of have to sort through there websites to find them.

On the other hand, go to www.agentquery.com to start really searching for an agent that fits you. Also, most authors thank their agent by name in their books... so if you know an author whose work you are like, check their books for that agent name, google it, and start submitting!
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
excellent. thanks!
Dec. 12th, 2008 02:14 am (UTC)
You might track down a few back issues of Locus Magazine and read the acquisition page to see what agents are representing your kind of work.
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
I have to say, as an agent, I rarely if ever will even consider self-published material. There seems to be some sort of thought process on the part of authors that after they self-publish a book they can then go ahead and get the same work published by a traditional publisher. But, aside from the fact that a self-publishing a book means nothing with regards to quality and therefore gets you nowhere in terms of getting a leg up on getting anyone's attention, there's the issue of having the value of the work diluted by the fact that something is already available in a form that isn't going to be as strong as the final product would be once it went through the editorial process at a publishing house.
Dec. 10th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
There's a backwards thought process going through the head of some authors I've met when it comes to

>>There seems to be some sort of thought process on the part of authors that after they self-publish a book they can then go ahead and get the same work published by a traditional publisher.<<

They've heard stories about self-published works being picked up and published by traditional publishers...but don't understand that they've mixed it up. In those rare cases the editor, or someone affiliated with the publisher, happened to find the book somehow outside of the office, not as a submission. But when I've tried to explain this (and mention that I can count on one hand how many times this has happened and the book has been successful) it usually gets lost inthe wind somewhere.
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC)
I disagree slightly, I think self publishing has a place. If you're putting out a book on the history of the 'Bicycle Woggle' that you know will only have a very small,specific, audience then places like Lulu are a godsend. For niche marketing and academic papers self pub is great.

For fiction? Death.

I'm a 'lower rung' writer but I know perfectly well I'll trot off on largely pointless tangents out of indulgence. And not know I'm doing it as I'm far too close to it (it's a work of GENIUS!). An Editor is a must to put the breaks on and help guide the manuscript. Self publishing skips this step (and all the pain, as you've mentioned) and the books often suffer for it. Fatally, I lot of the time.

Give me acceptance or give me obscurity.

Even given acceptance, obscurity is still the most likely outcome for most of us.

Why am I doing this again?
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
Because you like the pain?

Yeah, there's a place for niche marketing. I just like to be all blankety and gloss over... it's my thing.
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
I think I forget the pain every time someone says 'yes'. Then spend my time chasing that same awesomeness.

I wish I had a blanket. It's freezing...


I now have James Brown in my head. Getting up off his thing. Word association.
Dec. 10th, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
This is about what I was going to say. I think self-publishing is great for stuff like Bicycle Woggles, genealogy, or...the one time I considered it, which was a memory book I started compiling for my niece and nephews after I was (mis-)diagnosed with a life-threatening problem.

But I'm just barely egotistical enough to think that my fiction is good enough for some traditional publisher somewhere. :)
Dec. 10th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
Good post. Thank you.

(And instead of me writing nearly the same thing, I can just point folks here.)

Dec. 10th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Self-publishing, to a degree, can work rather well in some cases: For example, if you are a fledgling editor putting together an anthology for beginning writers (and perhaps one or two, seriously published authors, as an audience draw). A lot of short story markets will not consider previously-published work.

Anthologies, and even some small magazines, are gambles. One of the biggest drawbacks is, of course, marketing.

On the other hand, I think electronic publication could be a useful, albeit limited, marketing tool. If you have a collection of previously (and seriously published) short stories, you could collect them into an anthology and offer it up as a sample of your work (including publication credits in notes on when and where the story first appeared). This, of course, assumes that you have the right to re-publish your own previous work.

A good part of it depends on your aims in self-publication. It is a gamble, like everything else in life. You do need to be sure, of course, of the vanity publisher's reputation, in addition to costs and what-not, and if you really want to spend the money to put your work into print in a medium that only a select audience reads.

I actually like Lulu.com, which offers a print as well as an e-pub option for many of the books on its virtual shelves. A lot of people will browse through the selection to see what is available to read there (I have done this). Sometimes, it is more convenient then running out to the store and browsing the shelves.
Dec. 10th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
I remember my first rejection letter. In my Fiction for Teachers class in college, our professor, a published author, said we had to write a short story and workshop it the entire semester, and we HAD to send it out to get it published or we failed the course. He didn't care if we were published or not, but he wanted to give us the experience of trying. So we had to give him all the papers and enevelopes filled out and he sent them so we couldn't chicken out.

It actually... felt kind of good to get the first rejection letter, because it only made me want to try harder. Plus, he said the first is always the hardest. The entire class brought them in when we got them waving them around like "look! I got rejected by such and such!"

It was a great experience.
Dec. 10th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
I was rejected a lot in college too.
I wasn't writing, though.
Dec. 10th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)
If people want to self-publish, I think it's better to open a free LiveJournal account and start posting pages. It's free, it's easy for people to find and you'll get quick feedback.

If they want an actual paper book, lulu.com is a better option. I've been meaning to collect some of my son's comic book drawings (he's six) and "publishing" them that way.
Dec. 10th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC)
Anton, I agree with you. I think self-publishing smacks of both extreme ends of the spectrum. Extreme arrogance or extreme self-doubt. There seems to be either an "I'm so great and nobody recognizes my writing for the genius it is" mentality or a "why bother, no one will want it anyway, but I have to do this somehow so why not" mentality.

I think the gatekeeper is an extremely important step in putting a book out there. Someone who knows the industry and can help you shape/streamline/generally improve your writing and your book so that it is the best it can be so that it stands out amongst the millions upon millions of other books that are available. As a writer who someday hopes to be published, and as an editor, I would honestly never want to skip that step.
Dec. 10th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
I am surprised to still see questions concerning self-publishing come up. I've seen similiar threads arise recently in blogs from other authors and literary agents that I follow -- All of which pretty much make the business case for how self-publishing is generally a bad idea.

I get how paying to have so many hundred books printed yourself with no arrangements to get them into book stores so that they'll actually sell is not the greatest financial decision..

I do wonder what, if anything, people think about self-publishing via the web? Granted, this format seems to have worked out better for say comics than literary works I believe -- but the concept is still the same.
Dec. 11th, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
I self published a book. For a long time, whenever someone asked about it, I immediately found myself apologizing or making excuses about it - like putting this body of work together and publishing it myself was somehow shameful or less valuable. Here's why I did it: I used it as a tool to aid in my professional speaking engagements. It's a narrative non-fiction and addresses specific topics. It was shared in a venue similar to Livejournal and thus had significant input from various sources. However, it was never intended for mass audiences - although if I really wanted to draw things out another 2 years (at least) I could have gone the route of traditional publishing - or attempted to. I simply didn't want to wait that long. And I'm OK with that-and not sorry or ashamed. It served a purpose. (Although my future [fiction]work will go through traditional publishing channels).
Dec. 11th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
I bought a copy of your Complete Idiots Guide To Lap Dancing... good stuff.
Dec. 12th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I admit I self-published, using lulu.com. It is a collection of previously sold short fiction, so I felt it had been through the vetting process with editors.

I did try to take it to traditional publishers, mostly small press, but, as one publisher told me, the economic realities are that novels sell better than anthologies which sell better than single-author collections. A collection of short fiction by an unknown simply wasn't a good bet.

So I bought nice artwork and self-published the short stories that had revert back to me. I wanted something to sell at conventions and I knew going in I was going to lose money.

Edited at 2008-12-12 02:24 am (UTC)
Dec. 13th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
And it's a nice little book. I think republishing shorts in a format that allows you to hit new readers and keep on reader radar is a very different circumstance from the typical self-pubbbed fiction. It's more akin to what a lot of us do by making already published short stories available on the web for free in an effort to draw in new readers. (Memo to self, put the rest of mine up with the next website redesign.)
Dec. 13th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
I agree that it is a very different circumstance. I would never self-pub an unsold novel, of example. If it isn't good enough to land at a real publishing house (no matter how small), then it should not be out there and available for readers.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )