A Few Words On Self-Publishing
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
The rise of the e-book has led to an increase in self-publishing. Never has it been easier to self-publish your book. In fact all you actually need to do is format your manuscript correctly, add a cover image, upload it to Kindle and there it is, available to download to whoever wants it.
This is a pretty controversial subject. A lot of people in the publishing industry are of the opinion that every self-published book is badly written and badly edited, and anyone with any modicum of talent will eventually be picked up by a “proper” publisher.
The self published authors tell a different story. Most of them have been discouraged by years of rejections, convinced that their book is not necessarily bad, but not marketable enough to be picked up. Sometimes there is truth to this belief. Of course there are a lot of delusional people out there as well, but that’s digressing a bit.
When I first started submitting novels to publishers, over 25 years ago, the process was very different. To get a publisher you had to get an agent. That meant sending in the first three chapters, by mail, including a stamped self-addressed return envelope. To get the latter meant standing in line at the post office with your open envelope, having it weighed to find out how much postage would cost, buying that amount twice, then having to remove the SAE to put stamps on it, seal your envelope, and then put stamps on the outer envelope. And then a couple of weeks later you’d get home from work to discover a brown envelope with your handwriting on the doorstep, and your heart would sink because you knew that it was another rejection.
And after all that, the pages would come back having been all creased and curled in the mail, and not in a fit state to send out to anyone else and so as well as having to buy so many stamps you were spending a fortune on paper and ink (I had an Amstrad PCW in those days – it used a dot matrix printer).
Vanity presses we knew to avoid at all costs, and self publishing wasn’t a terribly attractive option, because you had to lay out costs for printing and typesetting, and find somewhere to store the finished product, and anything self-published was perceived to be of insufficent quality to find a publisher
The publishing industry has changed since then. There are a lot more small independent presses around willing to take a chance on new writers, and you don’t need an agent to submit to them, but it seems to be getting harder for new writers to break into the big established publishers – unless they are showing signs of being the next JK Rowlings or Dan Brown. And online e-publishers like Amazon and Smashwords are making it far easier to self-publish e-books.
I have to admit my tune has changed on the self-publishing front. If you get bored of being told what you’re writing isn’t going to sell, then self publishing becomes an attractive option. But it is true that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are badly written and badly edited, and really aren’t helping to dispel this notion that all self-published books are rubbish.
In my opinion, there are three crucial things that a writer should do before they even consider self-publishing. In order of importance, they are:
1. When the manuscript is finished, send it to some beta readers to read and comment. Heed their comments and re-write the manuscript. Criticism can be hard to take, but most writers are too close to their work to be able to judge it obectively. A writing group is really helpful for this. If you can’t find one locally, go to an online writers’ forum like Absolute Write. You’ll pick up valuable advice on the writing process anyway, and you will undoubtedly find a few helpful souls who are willing to give you an email crit.
2. Pay a professional editor to edit your manuscript. This can be expensive, but you need to invest in it, and it will set you apart from the rank amateurs. No matter how good you think you are at spelling and grammar, there’ll always be something you overlook. Just about every self-published book I have ever read contains at least one instance of “it’s” when should be “its” – for the record, the former is a contraction of “it is”; the latter means “belonging to it”. If I come across this in any published book, I’ll be grinding my teeth and probably won’t finish reading it.
3. Ensure your book has a professional looking cover. And this does not mean you playing around with clip art and a graphics programme for half an hour. Pay an artist, or someone with professional experience in creating cover images. If you don’t know anyone, ask around your social network for a recommendation.
There’s nothing wrong with self publishing your own book as long as you’ve done these three things. Yes it means forking out cash, but you are investing in your reputation as a writer, and if readers buy your book and enjoy it, they are likely to recommend it to others – and nothing beats word of mouth when it comes to book sales.
If every self-published author did these things, we would go a long way towards changing the perception of self-published books as all being rubbish. There are some brilliant self-published e-books to be found in the Kindle Store. But sometimes you have to sift through a lot of mud to find the golden nuggets.
Let’s work towards a world where there’s more gold than mud out there to find.