This post is long overdue. It was requested last month, but the real world demanded attention. I can only apologise for the delay. You may remember my post a while back on what you can do with a degree in creative writing. If you can’t, you don’t need to read it, but I like the traffic. In it, I mentioned that the general consensus was that you shouldn’t self-publish. I got enough interest from people who thought it would be a good idea to make a full post out of this.
First, a small disclaimer. This is not meant to offend anyone; it is only to highlight the opinion of professionals and academics of the field. I was taught by published authors and poets, and I have had the good fortune to meet and talk with many others. This is the opinion of most, and something I actually agree with for the most part.
Self-publishing goes by another name: vanity press, so-called because it is just an exercise in vanity. When a book is self-published, it is because the author believes their work is good enough, foregoing the expertise of the agents, publishers and editors who would traditionally have a say in it.
It was explained to me like this: getting your work published the traditional way is pulling three years of all-nighters and getting a first. Self-publishing is buying a certificate online and declaring yourself a doctor.
While traditional publishing is proof of talent, self-publishing is proof of wealth. You can publish anything provided you have the money for it. It was once a ridiculously expensive endeavour, but thanks to technology it’s a much more manageable sum to pay. The introduction of the eBook for example means it’s as simple as uploading a file.
With traditional publishing, it is not as simple as handing it to a publisher and turning it in to a book. It’s a process of writing, rewriting, editing, and more revisions and then the piece is sent to advertising, publishing and ultimately back to the agent. There are several steps and plenty of people involved in the process. They’re all more qualified than we are. They know what sells, they know what kind of writing is marketable, and they know when to trust their instincts. If you’ve submitted a piece for traditional publishing and it’s been rejected, then you take that blow with pride. Plenty of people, now the most respected people in their fields, have been knocked back by others. It takes time.
Another big argument is that self-publishing bypasses the markers that the industry sets up for quality control. You can claim that books like Twilight are poorly written if you want, but by the standards of that company, it’s not. They knew with the right interest, it would be a bestseller. They weren’t wrong. Whatever your personal feelings are on it, it’s a successful book series.
You don’t have that guarantee with self-publishing. There’s no promise of flawless writing. I know I’m not perfect in this blog, but I am aware that I am the sole editor, and naturally I miss things when I’m checking things through for typos. The same goes for work that’s been self-published. Nothing is more distracting in a narrative sequence than a sudden typo that takes you out of the world you’re trying to craft. It’s not only editorial markers that must be hit; there may be glaring plot holes to address, or simply no plot at all. That is why a team of people is needed, so as to address every issue as it arises. It is considered especially unprofessional in the realms of academic writing; nothing is published without a severe and sometimes harsh peer review first.
I’m not here to pass personal judgement upon people who choose to self-publish. Personally I wouldn’t, but I’ve been trained in the field. I’ve had work published the traditional way. It’s something small, nothing I brag about, but it is something. I’m aware not many people have the same opportunities as me to study the craft as an academic field. If you do want to, come do a BA at the University of Sunderland. It’s most definitely worthwhile if you’re serious about the study.
I think the one exception to the rule is the niche publishing. Publishers aren’t interested in books that won’t sell in large quantities. And my go-to example of this… there isn’t a large enough demand for erotica featuring shape-shifting creatures. You come across it a lot when you’re looking for werewolf fiction. Stories like the infamous of Someone to Cuttle, a gay erotica story featuring a shapeshifting cuttlefish, are not going to get published by Penguin Books. In these instances… yes. I am all for publishing an eBook of that. Often it’s the only way to read things on the go. It’s the sort of thing that places like Archive of Our Own would host, but the readership is limited there. A free Kindle download of a book like that… I see no harm done.
But if what you’re trying to sell is romance, or literary fiction, or any of the mainstream genres that publishers eat up, you should consider sticking to the traditional route. It’s for the best. Ask yourself why it isn’t published yet, and make the edits. If it is worthwhile, someone will pick it up.
And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post. I hope I’ve cleared up your question.
Let me ask you this: have you read a self-published book you thought was good? Have you ever self-published yourself? Where do you stand in the debate?
Let me know your thoughts.