Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 8 – Self-Pubbed v Non-Self-Pubbed, is that the question?)

Self-pubbed or non-Self-pubbed, in the end what matters is that you keep putting yourself out there, that you keep growing

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? explored the difference between editing and critiquing.
Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts dealt with extracting actionable information from test audiences.
Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions dealt with audiences to avoid.

Here are two sad truths I encountered when doing the author interviews and attending various authors’ and writing conferences:

  • More than one self-pubbed author confided “it means something when a publisher takes on your book.” If not those exact words, something close to.
  • More than one non self-pubbed author confided that their publisher was less than they hoped/expected/wanted.

The latter was across the board – small indies to Big 5/6 – and the heavy end was with small, indie, POD publishers.

The reasons, me thinks, go back to Part 4; Politely, the business demands on a Big 5/6 publisher are different than they are on a small, indie, POD publisher.

Less tactfully, the reasons go back to Part 3, anybody with a mobile can call themselves a publisher these days (and many do!).

Let me share a third sad truth based on my experiences: Many self-pubbed and non-self-pubbed authors create a line at that “non-” part. I’ve seen it repeatedly. Self-pubs find out someone is non-self-pubbed and they pull back, become guarded, distant. Non-self-pubs find out someone is self-pubbed and they become aloof, guarded, distant. A kind of “Couldn’t make it, huh?” or “Didn’t have the right stuff, huh?” attitude emerges.

I interviewed both self- and non-self-pubbed authors specifically because I knew I could learn from both. Let me add some historical perspective: I never saw this line before self-publishing existed as we know it today, back when there were only authors and fans and self-pubs didn’t exist except as described in Part 1. Not even fan-fiction and fanzines fostered such a divide.

Then again, the line between fan and author is so blurred such a change should be expected. When the environment changes, so do the lifeforms living in that environment. Ecosystems always find balance. Perhaps the publishing industry is finding its balance?

So you got a publisher. Great! Maybe
The difference between being self-pubbed and non self-pubbed comes down to one real, concrete, immutable fact: Self-pubbed – you’re putting your own money on the table. Non self-pubbed – somebody else is putting their money on the table. This difference was eloquently exemplified in a recent poll by TillItStopsBeating:


That’s what getting a publisher means; somebody out there likes what you wrote.

More to the point, somebody out there likes what you wrote enough to put their money into giving others the opportunity to read it.

IE, they’re investing in you, and if you’re unknown, what a remarkable gamble they’re taking.

That’s why indie publishers exist, by the way, to take that risk so the Big 5/6 don’t have to (think of them as agents who might
pay you a royalty). Their production methods don’t require as much up front investment. For example, most small, indie publishers require you to either do your own editing, hire an approved editor, or have such lax requirements no editing is required.

Note that: it’s necessary, simply not required. Can you say “accident waiting to happen”?

Let’s provide a moment of truth at this point. Editing at the Big 5/6 isn’t what it use to be. I’ve read several novels published in the past ten years that required editing. Nora Roberts’ books get on the shelves with glaring holes in them. I was a devotee of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books until I read Depth of Winter. I kept wondering if Johnson farmed the book out, it was so poorly done. Dan Brown’s Origin and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity could both use another round of tightening/editing (my opinions, these).

Author as Entrepreneur
There’s a rule in business (I created and ran three different businesses. I have experience in this): Never use your own money. Use somebody else’s money. This means the publisher is your investor, you’re the entrepreneur with the good idea/product looking for funding.

The recognized and often unspoken rule in business is this: if you’re using somebody else’s money, said somebody else is going to want a say in what you do with what they’re investing in.

This rule takes many forms in publishing, everything from a style guide to marketing rights. Be careful!

Keep Growing
I’ve always thought any writing I did would benefit all the writing I did. I started writing for weekly newspapers, moved to dailies, wrote technical material, marketing material, trade technicals, magazine articles and sold some short stories. When onlines arrived, I wrote for several.

Did it help my writing? Don’t honestly know, except that it kept me writing. I think I needed to do all that writing to get the crap out of my system, to convince me that I needed to know more, to learn more, to grow to become the class of writer i’ve always wanted to be.

Are you satisfied with your writing? Good for you. I’m happy for you.

I’m both satisfied and unsatisfied with my level of writing. I like it, I think it’s good and worthwhile reading, and I know I can do better.

I think today’s small, indie, POD and such publishers are the weekly newspapers and such of our time (in addition to giving us some street cred, agenting us and so on). They help you get the crap out of your system, give you some sales credentials and, if you write well and/or your book does well, get you noticed by larger publishers (that’s the agenting part).

But the trick is to stay hungry (there’s a lot to learn about writing in the movie, Stay Hungry, and I use the phrase often), to keep growing. Purely my opinion.

Are you satisfied with your writing and see no need to improve. Wow. I’m impressed. You’ve got chops I can only dream of.

But as for myself, I’ll keep growing.