Barbara Rogan is correct in her recent In Cold Ink blog post: “Rejection: Good for the Writer’s Soul?” when she states self-publishing writers produce less than excellent work in large part because there are no gatekeepers that prevent them from publishing before their work has achieved the standard of the traditionally published works they compete with. Because self-publishing writers have not forged their works in the fires of pre-publishing turn-downs does not mean, however, that they do not face rejection. Rejection for the self-published comes in terms of anemic or non-existent sales.
Assuming all writers who publish desire robust sales, the question comes down to whether self-publishing writers whose books fail to sell more than a handful of copies will use that as evidence of the need to become better writers or whether they will blame lack of success on other factors, such as the difficulty gaining bookstore shelf-space.
The dozen or so self-published books I’ve read in recent years have ranged in quality from B to F. The worst were published without benefit of beta readers, critique group participation or editors. My guess is that most of these writers will give up when they see their attempts at instant fame are not going to materialize. A few will press on, perhaps getting better slowly, perhaps figuring out that to publish an unedited work is tantamount to trying to kiss someone without having brushed your teeth for a month.
But even the better self-published writers are going to have a problem generating significant sales, and here Rogan’s point that the gatekeeper process helps writers produce their best comes into play. The problem for many is finding the “right” editor––i.e., one whose editing skills and industry knowledge are sufficient to be able to help the writer make an informed decision about when the work is ready for public consumption.
In a market flooded by people offering a variety of editorial services, too many writers may steer away from the kind of editor most of us need––i.e., ones tackle content issues and not just clean up typos and grammar.
In the end, the difference between the traditional gatekeeping system that employs smart, talented people to set the ready or not standard and the new gatekeeper-less universe of self-publishing is that it is the reading public more than ever decides which works make the grade.
Judging from the success of works like Fifty Shades of Grey, the new publishing universe criteria will be different from those that dominated in the past. The reading public regularly rejects works chosen by the professionals, especially those in the literary fiction category, in favor of popular genres, but most readers want what the traditional publishing world cherishes. They they want characters who are unique, but believable; they want smart beginnings, story lines that don’t waver, and endings that satisfy.
Scratch most successful writers’ memory-banks and you’ll find their failure story. As Rogan points out you’ll also find a story of persistence in the face of rejection and failure. Self-publishing writers face learning post-publishing what these other writers learned before their works became public. That may not be ideal, but in the end, doesn’t it amount to the same hurdle?
Just like becoming a successful musician requires hours of practice, finding the right teacher, deciding what musicial genre suits your talent, et al, becoming a successful writer today requires qualities other than the ability to string words together in a pleasing way. Whether writers choose to self-publish or go the traditional route, facing failure overcoming rejection are certainly high on the list of qualities they will need.