|Photo courtesy Flickr's Orangeya|
When Maggie invited me to guest blog with the Girlfriends Book Club this month, she mentioned that the theme was transitions. One topic that’s been on my mind lately fit that theme: a transition in belief, from authors seeing traditional publishing as the most attractive option for writers, to believing self-publishing may be as attractive—if not more attractive—an option.
I strongly support options for writers, and self-publishing is definitely one of them. Several author friends have found success through self-publishing new works or re-releasing books on their backlists. And I think self-publishing is a smart option for writers who either aren’t interested in traditional publishing or who have tried the trad-publishing route only to be told their work—while quality—would be difficult to define and/or place on a shelf. Traditional publishing is notoriously blind to books that don’t fill a specific niche, and self-publishing may be an ideal option for square-peg books, which are some of the best reads, in my opinion.
I’m all for self-publishing, but do you sense a but? Here it comes.
Last month, I spent an afternoon browsing titles at a local indie bookstore, positively in my element, because I collect books like some collect recipes. I picked up a beautiful-looking book and thumbed through the first few pages. Then an error leaped out at me. This wasn’t a typo, but a wrongness of speech—one of those I-know-you-meant-the-opposite-of-what-you-just-said type of errors.
I might’ve been on page three.
Disappointment filled me, and I’m not proud to admit that my first thought was, “I wonder if this is a self-published book?” It was.
I know that errors can be found in even traditionally published books—books that have been poured over by an editor and copy-editor; books that have been written by multi-published, NYTs-best-selling-superstar authors. It happens all of the time. So what is my problem? Why did I put that beautiful-looking book down and walk away?
Because the author-reader trust broke in that moment, and my faith shattered.
When you plunk down your money and commit to buying and then reading a book, you are allowing a writer to take your hand and guide you through a story. A tale that’s riddled with the literary equivalent of potholes is going to make for a jarring journey. Maybe it isn’t fair to judge an entire book on one early—if glaringly obvious (to me)—flaw, but life is too short and the TBR pile too teetering for meh reads.
“It wasn’t ‘meh!’ It’s a masterful story!” that author might have argued. “You didn’t give it a fair chance!”
And here’s where I’m going to sound a little bitchy, maybe. I don’t *have* to give any book a chance. It isn’t my responsibility as a reader to give any author a three-strikes read or consume a novel with one blind eye just to be nice.
The responsibility for quality lies with the author.
I know there are many, many writers out there who have self-published books, or who are considering self-publishing, who are doing their utmost to ensure polished prose. To those authors I say, “Thank you,” because here’s some truth, fair or not. Self-published authors have it harder, in some ways, than traditionally published authors—and I don’t mean the fact that they’re in charge of their own publicity and marketing. I mean they are claiming to be a Pro in writing AND in editing; that’s the pact they make with readers when they put a cover on a book and say it’s for sale. It’s done. Perfectly baked. Ready for consumption. They have that much more to live up to when they make that claim—that they’re expert in both writing and editing, that they’ve managed to conquer not just one but two huge mountains all alone and are ready to take readers on a tour. Early or frequent story errors injure that tenuous reader-writer/editor contract, and may be enough to cause someone to close the cover; they reveal a writer who didn’t do his/her due diligence, who didn’t take that contract seriously enough, who assumed maybe it would be just fine to be a decent writer but only a half-mast editor.
Here’s my truth. I don’t ever want to wonder if someone took a manuscript that didn’t work for craft reasons, that wasn’t ready for primetime, and decide to self-publish it to see if it might make money anyway. I don’t want to be slapped with the thought on page three that self-publishing was for that writer an excuse for settling on a lesser standard. I don’t ever want to think that self-publishing became for that writer the equivalent of stuffing an unready manuscript under the bed or in a drawer.
That may seem harsh, but the reality is that a self-published writer represents him/herself in all ways—and his or her story can fail in all of those ways.
Unless they don’t fail, of course. Unless they do their due diligence, and put in the hours, and revise and edit (and hire someone to help if necessary) until all of the splintery bits of their manuscript are memories. Unless they do everything in their power to make the difference between the level of craft in a traditionally published book and their novel insignificant.
Change can be beautiful, but it’s rarely easy, and this era of publishing is anything but easy.
What I’d like to see during this time of transition is for writers who decide to self-publish to become ambassadors for all self-publishing authors. I’d like to see a host of shining examples of how to do it right, with due attention to craft and a high level of respect for readers. That book? I won’t put down. I buy. I read. I love. I add to my keeper shelf.
Write that book.
What are your feelings about self-publishing, both as a reader and a writer, for worse and for better?