Self-Publishing is an Opportunity, Not a Solution

Almost every week another news item appears about an author whose early works had been published by a mainstream publishing house (TP) who has now chosen to self-publish. Hard upon that announcement is a “discussion” of self-publishing versus traditional publishing in the blogosphere and discussions groups, with proponents of each side marshalling their arguments with almost religious zeal.

Those in favor of self-publishing argue it’s the solution to all writers’ prayers. The opponents say self-publishers are not real writers. If they were they’d get an agent and make the grade. It’s time to take a step back. Self-publishing needs to be viewed as an opportunity, not a solution.

What do I mean by that? Too many writers view self-publishing primarily as the solution to the problem of how to get published. Maybe they have not been able to find an agent who will shop their manuscript to a TP or they have not tried for fear of rejection or other reasons, and some authors who have been traditionally published in the past, now find no one is interested in their latest offering and they see self-publishing as their only option.

Why isn’t self-publishing the solution? If all you care about is seeing your book in print it is. However, if you’re interested in having other people buy and read your book, self-publishing may not be the answer. And, if you care about the quality of the book, which by the way will have your name on the cover, self-publishing can be a minefield where missteps will damage, not boost, your career.

One mistake many self-publishers make is that their books are not ready to see the light of day.

Not all writers produce worthy content. Even very good writers produce books of varying quality. In the past, what determined whether a manuscript was worthy of appearing in print was the gauntlet of agents and editors it had to survive. Today many self-publishing authors skimp on getting their books ready. They don’t want to pay an editor, so they use friends and family, or they do it themselves. “I’m the best judge of my own writing!” they tell themselves. Wrong.

The end result is often imitative content burdened by over-wrought wording, story lines with gaps, grammatical mistakes and misspellings. Further, digital versions are often replete with formatting issues. In conversing with self-published authors I find that many are so focused on producing one book after another that they pay little attention to editing, appearance or how others view their output. Two self-published writers admitted they never checked to see how the conversions to digital format came out. One admitted she never looked at her novel after it was edited by a vanity publisher’s editor. Too bad. The typos began on the first page.

All some writers care about is getting published, until they find their books aren’t selling. Then they show up in the discussion groups asking for help. They’re like the cook who is so anxious to see how the roast came out that he takes it out of the oven early and wonders why his guests aren’t having seconds.

If you look at self-publishing as an opportunity instead of a solution, you will find yourself addressing an entirely different set of problems. You will understand that your manuscript needs to undergo a process similar to that provided by traditional publishers, and you’ll need to put together a strategy to identify and reach your book’s potential audience.

A major problem for some writers is distance. They identify so closely with their story that they’re afraid to change a word or recognize that they’ve embodied their main character with superman-like qualities — i.e., the ability to change personalities on the fly like Clark Kent in a phone booth.

Many writers also fail to appreciate the skill a professional editor brings to the table. They rely on friends, associates and even some writers who in order to earn money have decided to pass themselves off as editors without the requisite experience.

I consider myself a pretty decent writer, having been a (weekly) newspaper editor and having written a history Ph.D. thesis. However, even after going through my drafts many times before sending them to an editor, I am not surprised to have them come back with multiple comments and corrections on almost every page.

Field of Dreams Writers

Some writers seem to believe that readers will come to them like a pack of coyotes chasing down a wounded deer. They publish their books themselves and then begin to think about how to attract an audience. They should have begun researching that problem months before their book was finished. Then, when they find out that social media does not automatically yield sales, they show up in the discussion groups asking for help.

But all is not lost. The boom in self-publishing is creating online resources for these newbies. Websites are appearing where they can get help from peers, sharing their writings, find agents, etc. Some will navigate this new world and be successful, but many will not. We can’t all be best sellers.

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