Vanity…Impressed

So, I’m sure many frustrated writers out there exhausted by constant rejection and all the tough aspects of breaking into the business find themselves considering self-publishing.
I admit I have a bias against it. I’m pretty insecure about my writing. And very serious about it. I like editorial feedback. I like feedback from my agent. Before I had either of those, I relied on my beta readers and a freelance editor (who happened to be my first agent). I know I’m a good writer but I’m never sure how good. I like having a structure that sort of lets me know ahead of time. It makes me feel safer.
I feel that if I do the work (agonizing though it often is), then the rewards will follow. Is that very puritan of me? I don’t mean to imply that I am a suffering kind of person, but being published means a great deal to me. My first manuscript was lifted from the slush-pile and I’m not even sure why especially given the months of revision that followed. There was a team involved and that’s what you get if you take the traditional publishing route. Think of it as a system of checks and balances.
I believe that if something is worth achieving it should be hard, and the competition should be fierce. All those strictures (query letters, agents, marketing committees) help to keep the quality of writing high, and even with all of that, lots of mediocre books get released every year.
That being said the caliber of self-published books has risen.
When I worked in the local independent bookstore, we had a little section devoted to self-published poetry books. Most of them were assembled using handmade paper and raffia bindings and included personal touches and flourishes in gold or silver ink. They were lovely things. This is an artsy town with a reputation for local talent and it was nice to be able to support this small cottage industry.
On the other end of the spectrum were the new age, health and way-out historical books which seemed to have all been published by the same company. The covers were lurid and badly colored, with fuzzy images and a similar exclamatory font. They looked cheap. The text was rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes and was clearly untouched by an editor.
And there is a stigma, a snobbery connected with being published by a traditional house or doing it yourself. I am conscious of it as an author with a small independent press rather than one of the NY biggies. It’s as if you’ve arrived, but you haven’t made it yet. The perception of the self-published is that no one wanted them but that might not be true. It might be, instead, that the author just didn’t want to wait any longer or that they are writing in a small niche market where the sales are too low and specialized to appeal to a publisher.
Companies like Author House have raised the bar. The books are individual and unique. The cover artwork is generally pleasing. And they have various services available as part of their package deals which help educate their authors as far as self-marketing and promotion goes.
I think it depends on what you’re looking for or what you’re hoping for. If the answer is being published, seeing your book in print, and sharing it with friends and family then I would say that self-publishing is a way to go. There is the cost to be considered. Definitely beyond my means but not so much in terms of realizing a dream.
I’d like to succeed as a writer. I’d like good critical reviews and good sales and a good publishing deal. I’d like an agent (and I have one) who explores every possible avenue for my work. I’d like to build a career and settle into a steady routine, writing at least one book per year. I’d like to be guided by people who know the business and love books as much as I do and I’d like them to tell me when I mess up and when I need to give up and put something aside so I can work on something new.
I think it comes down to personal choice and what fits in best with your expectations and ambitions. I’d love to hear from writers who are self-published.
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2 Responses to Vanity…Impressed

  1. Simon Kewin says:

    Jo,

    Fascinating post. I share all your caution about self-publishing; it just doesn’t feel right in many ways. It’s not a route I want to go down with novels just now. But I am intersted in the whole area of e-publishing to the iPhone etc. Partly just out of interest. I plan to republish that way some short stories that have been previously been accepted and published by “proper” paying markets. Just to see what happens.

  2. Jo says:

    The new Technology is definitely exciting and I think will open up new avenues for writers to explore and most likely redefine the publishing world as well. I am cautiously optimistic that it will all work out for the best. I certainly don’t believe that paper books will become obsolete though there may be more print-on-demand situations.
    Regarding vanity presses in general I have tried to get down to why I wouldn’t do it myself. Part of my problem is that some of them pretend to be traditional presses. You have to dig pretty deep to find out they are not. And this is probably a mass generalization but of the self-published books I’ve read, all have been in dire need of an editor, a copy editor and a proof-reader.
    Like I said. Getting a book published should not be easy or merely a matter of opening your wallet. (I’m not talking about those gift books which are printed up for family and friends). If everyone can see themselves in print then the experience is diluted and the sheer number of books available makes it harder for the beginning author to get noticed.
    Thanks for commenting, Simon. Good luck with your e-publishing experiment.