Transcending Self-Publishing: Thoughts Upon Reading David Jauss

I’ve been reviewing David Jauss’ On Writing Fiction (Writers Digest Books, 2011) chapter by chapter, but I’m not sure what to say about his final chapter, “Lever of Transcendence” other than ‘read it’.

I was motivated to read On Writing Fiction and to purchase several other works that I will review as I read them in coming months both to help me become a better fiction writer and also to participate in the conversation taking place amongst writers about self-publishing.

The boom in self-publishing has been both good and bad for writers. It has been a good thing in that writers whose works might otherwise never see the light of day can be published and read. That’s also what’s bad about it, because many of those works should never see the light of day.

Self-publishing makes it too easy for writers to get published. It eliminates the hurdles posed by agents and editors who act as gatekeepers to the prize of having one’s work published by a major publishing house. That system helps most writers produce better works than they would have produced on their own. It also at times prevent works from being published that time will later judge worthy. (You can find online the names of respected authors who self-published after numerous rejections.)

Yet, if those who for whatever reason like myself choose to self-publish, there are resources to replace some of the services traditional publishers provide. There are free-lance editors who can be hired, but of course some of those are better than others. There are other resources -– online discussion groups, websites where you can submit your writing to be critiqued randomly, online writing courses, as well as books that range from step-by-step manuals to theoretical discussions, such as David Jauss’ book of essays.

Jauss’ chapter on transcendence helped me appreciate what makes great writing. Of course, great writing doesn’t always sell and what sells is not always great. That gives false hope to those beginning writers who both think that they are talented and doubt that they have any, which drives them to self-publish unedited or poorly edited works and then wonder why their books aren’t selling. Some of those writers then write books about how to write, which ironically sell better than their novels.

To me, writers have an obligation to the reading public to put forth the best they can produce. I may be wrong, but that suggests that writers have an obligation to be self-critical – i.e., to ask for and to consider what others say about their works. It also suggests that in addition to writing, one must read constantly and critically and finally, it suggests that writers should not publish just because they can.

You don’t have to read On Writing Fiction to become a better writer, but it won’t hurt.

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