Over on Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s blog today, Bryan discusses “Why Quality Still Matters” regardless of how you are publishing. I posted a comment on a Google+ thread to this post that I think is worth reproducing here. It touches on both quality but also on where I think the evolution of both traditional and self-publishing is going. Here is what I wrote:
Quality is one aspect and I completely agree that if you are going to self-publish, you need to have a good editor. An editor is, in my opinion, someone looking for more than just spelling and grammar problems. That is what a copy editor is for. An editor is someone who knows the field, can (more objectively than the author) identify places where the story slows down, where the pacing is off, where there are inconsistencies of character, etc. They also know what tends to sell well and what doesn’t. An editor for someone self-publishing should not be afraid to say, “Hey look, given the market that’s out there, this just isn’t going to sell. Trunk it and try again.” In the long run, that editor may be helping your reputation. But many who self-publish don’t want to hear that or wouldn’t believe it if they did.
The problem is that self-publishing’s image got off on the wrong foot. Many amateur writers that I know see self-publishing as just another Get Rich Quick scheme and there is good reason for them to see it that way. Almost everyone believes they are a good writer. How hard could it be to write a novel, put it up on Amazon and watch the money roll in, right? Self-publishing–what I’ve seen of it so far–does not attempt to establish a career path. It’s more like an open tryout for [pick your major league team]. Maybe one person in a thousand will make the first cut. Most others won’t. Some will even be hurt in the process.
This will be cured over time. Self-publishing and traditional publishing will evolve into something fairly similar. The economics of publishing virtually guarantees this. It is a kind of Duverger’s Law of publishing. Both sides will need to moderate their positions in order to accommodate the changing demand (just as Duverger’s law’s makes a third party difficult to emerge in a 2-party political system because each of the parties moderate enough to make the third party unnecessary.). What each side will concede is something I couldn’t predict. But it will be interesting to see what things look like five years from now when some of this moderation has occurred.
I am not a fan of self-publishing. I have written about why I am not a fan before. But yesterday, a good friend of mine asked me for some advice on self-publishing and you can’t let a pal down. I am biased, of course, so if there’s anyone out there who has corrections or additions to what I said, please feel free to drop in a comment. Here is what I told my friend:
I am not a fan of self-publishing. That said, by definition, self-publishing is a do-it-yourself racket–thus the word SELF. There really aren’t “self-publishers” out there. There are, instead, “vanity” publishers and those are even worse in my opinion. There is a maxim in this business that says “money always flows from the publisher [or agent] to the writer, never the other way around.” But vanity publishers will charge you for publishing your book, which breaks that maxim and is a no-no.
For someone who really wants to self-publish, here are the steps I’d recommend (based on people who have done it successfully).
- Hire a professional freelance editor to edit the book. Poorly edited books are one of the biggest problems self-published books have. Editing is more than just checking spelling and grammar. It is knowing what to cut, what to expand, what to clarify, etc. Having the book professionally edited will go a long way to making it more readable and stand out.
- Create an e-book version of the edited manuscript. These days, this is pretty easy to do and most people with some basic computer experience can create e-books.
- Get an Amazon account and submit the e-book to Amazon so that it will be available there. Consider other e-book venues, like Apple’s iBooks.
- An e-book won’t sell itself. You need to promote your e-book. In the early stages, this promotion can be almost a full-time job. It means getting the word out about your book without annoying people. This can be subtle. If you don’t have the time to spend doing this promotion, hire a publicist to do it. This kind of promotion can be the difference between selling 5-10 copies/month and 1000 copies/month.
There is a lot of discussion about self-publishing on the Intewebs these days, and it is almost always in the context of the the seemingly imminent collapse of the traditional publishing models. There have been a number of recent self-publishing success stories, the most prominent of which is probably that of Amanda Hocking. She is not the only one, of course. I know another writer who has had a similar experience to hers, who has been offered a major deal by a New York publisher, but who remains a strong proponent of the self-publishing model. It is clear that self-publishing is no longer the ugly step-child of the publishing industry, the way it was when most self-publishing centered around vanity publishers. And I think there will come a point in nearly every writer’s career when they will need to take a position on self-publishing. I haven’t said much on this subject here, but since I talked about it at length last night with several other writers, it seems that I should discuss my position on self-publishing.