The Pros And Cons (And Cons) Of Self-Publishing

As I write this, it’s been two weeks since I sent off my Action Figures manuscript, and there is still no word. Not unexpected, this, and I’m trying not to get anxious about it, but still — HURRY UP!

I was asked recently by a friend aware of my recent developments a question I am asked every so often about my writing career: would I ever consider self-publishing, either via e-book or a vanity press?

No. No I wouldn’t. And while I believe one should never say never, I will say that as of right now, I never will self-publish. Honestly, going the self-publishing route would feel like I was giving up.

I admit readily I have a bias, one might even say a prejudice against self-publishing based on what I have personally seen of self-published works. Every so often I’ve come in contact with a novel that has come into the world via a vanity press — a business that allows aspiring authors create and sell printed books, often with no editorial oversight involved — and they’ve been uniformly wretched.

There was the fantasy novel that opened with a grammatical train wreck of a first sentence, setting the pace for the entire first chapter I muddled through. There was the urban fantasy novel written by a friend of a friend who did not have any grasp of basic storytelling. There was the instructional book about performing at renaissance faires written by someone I would not consider an expert in that field any more than I would consider him a competent writer (or layout artist, considering how insanely wide his page margins were). There was the supernatural romance novel given to my wife by a family friend that was weighed down by a clumsy narrative, derivative ideas, and an “it was all a dream” plot twist the author gave away at the very beginning of the story.

I cannot help but think this is the rule for self-published books rather than the exception. For every Amanda Hocking, who tells solid stories and is doing quite well through her chosen alternate medium, e-publishing, there are dozens of Jacqueline Howetts, an e-author who became Internet infamous by responding to a not-entirely-unfavorable review of her novel The Greek Seaman on Big Al’s Books and Pals blog with a staggering lack of professionalism and an abundance of fuck-yous.

Here’s the thought process for my opinion: with traditional publishing, there are a lot of safeguards designed to filter out the crap and let the cream rise to the top, but with e-publishing, there are no filters whatsoever. There are no editors to tell authors where they could improve the pacing or to point out plot holes that need patching or correct grammatical errors or say that one thing some would-be novelists really, really need to hear: “This book is awful.”

I do not for one second deny that the filters inherent in the traditional publishing process can too easily become roadblocks that stop everything from getting by, good, bad, or in-between. I do not refute arguments that the traditional publishing route is deeply flawed, not only because it can prevent great writing from ever seeing the light of day but because it sometimes lets through complete crap that deserved to be circular-filed immediately by whoever was working the slush pile that day.

Self-publishing, however, is the promise of potential success without exceptional effort — or any effort at all, beyond uploading an MS Word file and paying a small fee. The utter lack of quality control within the vanity press industry was revealed by the infamous Atlanta Nights experiment, and from what I can see is still the prevailing business model (even Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, perhaps the most successful e-publisher, doesn’t offer any sort of editorial oversight).

Call me a snob, but this is not the world I want to live in. I don’t want to be a self-published author or an e-author, because the present company is sorely lacking. To borrow a phrase, the great thing about e-publishing is that anyone can be an author; the bad thing is that anyone can be an author. I don’t want to be just anyone.


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