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Self-Publishing Misconceptions – Part One

September 9, 2010

This was originally a single post, but by the time I was through writing it in OpenOffice, it was 8 pages and over 4,000 words long. That’s an awful lot of information I’m asking you to take in at once, and so I’ve broken the post up into three parts. I’m posting the first part tonight (about self-published authors), second part Friday night (about self-published books), and the third part Saturday night (about the publishing industry). I hope you’ll come back to read those then.

Tomorrow morning will still be my Craft of Writing post, so that won’t be affected by this series of posts.

I am sure most people are tired of self-publishers defending their choice. You know what? We’re pretty tired of feeling we must defend our choice. It’s frustrating, tiring, and very much like banging one’s head against the wall over and over. Still, there is something in my mind that says when posts like this exist with all its comments, I feel I have to say something somewhere. Since I know the futility of entering into those posts and comments defending my publishing methods, I come here where I can put the words out there for the small audience that reads them.

And so, I am going to go through a list of the most commonly spewed reasons to never publish yourself or buy a self-published book and explain—from my self-publishing perspective—why they are nothing more than misconceptions that feed on other misconceptions. While I will draw some generalizations, go into this with the understanding that every author is different, every book is different, and so there is no One True Way to do anything… even publishing a book.

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“You have to pay your dues”
I see this all the time, mostly from traditionally published authors who went through a lot of rejections before their first novel sold. There seems to be this notion that it is a badge of honor to have X-number of publishers reject you until one finally thinks they can make a buck off your manuscript.

Publishing has to be the only field of work where failure is lauded. This is probably because, for most of publishing’s life, every published author failed quite a bit before they were eventually picked up. I mean, seriously. If you apply that sort of thinking to any other profession, it would be laughable. Can you imagine a volunteer firefighter failing to put out fires for years, and then being hired by the fire station because he put in his time and sent in enough applications?

The statement that always accompanies this is that one needs that long string of rejection letters in order to hone one’s craft, as though these were writing instructors. Rejection letters tend to say one thing: it’s not for us, thank you for submitting. If they are going to reject your work, they aren’t going to take the time to tell you how to improve it, so how, exactly, does this hone your craft, especially when you don’t know what’s wrong? It’s quite often the case that there isn’t a thing wrong with it, it’s just that the publisher doesn’t believe they can make money from it.

There are plenty of ways to hone your craft (which is a phrase I’m so tired of hearing anyway): join critique groups, attend writing conferences, read obsessively in your genre of choice. Don’t, for one second, think that someone saying ‘I can’t make money off this’ will make you a better writer.

Self-published authors only get reviewed by other self-published authors.
This is a terrible assumption. I have one novella currently out, but I only know one of the people who reviewed it personally. That person is not a self-published author, they are a fan who followed me from fanfiction into pro-fiction. When we sought reviews for The Keeper, we went the route other publishers do: we contacted review sites that allowed self-published material and submitted it.

We didn’t pay anyone. We didn’t beg other self-published authors to leave reviews in exchange for us reviewing them. We didn’t browbeat anyone for anything. All we did was send some emails with the PDF attached to the sites we felt were a fit for the book we wrote.

Does it happen, though, that self-published authors exchange reviews with each other? Yes. I know it does. However, it also happens in the traditional publishing world. There’s a long tradition of favor-trading among authors, and it does not mean that a positive review must be suspect.

Self-publishers publish everything they write.
No. Now, I speak only from personal experience of my own works and those indie authors I am friends with, but I think that is an idiotic thought to have. I’ve been writing since I can remember. I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was 14, by hand, after reading John Saul’s Hellfire. Guess what? It was complete crap, and I certainly haven’t gone digging through my Mum’s attic to find and publish it. I’ve written a hell of a lot of stuff over the years, but it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve produced anything I’d want people to pay for.

Even now, not every idea that we play around with is published. Some of them become free reads, others just go into a file for fond remembrance. Not every story is worth sharing. Not every story is worth selling. To assume that just because I choose to self-publish that I am publishing every thought that comes into my silly little head is just… well, dumb, to be honest. I don’t, and I don’t know any indie author who does.

All self-published authors are primadonnas.
And all traditionally published authors are the epitome of decorum? Again, every author is different. They are individual people, and they will respond to criticism differently. Every author wants nothing but praise and positive feedback. It’s ego. We have it. We have it in abundance. However, not every work we produce is worthy of praise and positive feedback. At least once—though it will more than likely be many times—we will write and release a work that is simply not up to snuff. We will receive negative reviews.

That does not mean only the authors who self-publish will hop onto the crazy bus and throw a public fit over it. (Nor does it mean that ALL self-published authors will do this.) Some authors have a little more ego than others, and when that ego is bruised, they make stupid decisions.

Since we released The Keeper last month, we’ve received mixed reactions. We have been given two 3-star reviews (the lowest so far), and we accepted those for what they were. We thanked the reviewers for their time. Even if we’d been given a 1-star review, we would have been gracious about it. Why? Because it’s one person’s opinion and not every book will work for them. The reviewers still took time out of their day to read and write up a review for us, and they deserve to be thanked politely for giving our book a chance.

All authors should behave that way. Thank these people for their time and move on. Going apeshit on a reviewer for their opinion is just no way to win an audience for your work, self-published or not. Throwing a public bitch-fit is not restricted to self-published authors, and neither are they more prone to doing so.

All self-published authors are disgruntled rejects.
‘The only reason you would self-publish is because you’ve been turned down by every traditional agent and publishing house and have no other option because they just don’t get your genius.’

No. I have exactly one rejection under my belt, and that was years ago for a short story I submitted to an anthology. Did it make me bitter? Not one bit. Did it make me decide to self-publish? Not at all. Self-publishing is not a retaliatory act against ‘The Man’ for not understanding anything. For some, it’s a desire to just hold their book in their hands. For others, it’s a business decision.

Again, not all authors are created equal, and so not all business paths are the same. From my experience, I didn’t like the look or feel of the books from the publishers I was considering submitting to and wanted better for my own books. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into writing them, and so I wanted just as much time and attention put into their publication. Self-publishing, for me, was the route to go. I had 100% creative control. I spent my own money to invest in the books I release. I receive 100% of the profits from the sales of those books.

It was a business choice, nothing more, nothing less, and I think that’s what it is for all serious self-published authors.

All self-published authors want to be famous millionaires and think this is the fast-track to being so.
Not everyone wants to be a doctor. Not everyone wants to be a lawyer. Not everyone wants to be bank teller. Not everyone wants the same thing as any one other person in the world. We all have our own individual goals and dreams.

The truth is, very few authors are famous. Even fewer are millionaires. Very few authors earn a true living off their work. Most self-published authors I know don’t want to rake in millions of dollars (though I don’t think any of us would mind, but it’s not our primary goal). Most want to have enough income they can just quit their day jobs and work at writing 100% of the time. It’s the same goal as most traditionally published authors.

Fame and money are nice for some. For me? I’d like enough money that my books pay the bills and my husband’s paycheck pays for everything else. That’s my goal. I don’t need to be known all over the world to feel satisfied in my talent. I don’t need a huge bank account to feel I am a great author. I just want to be comfortable in my financial life, and I think most self-published authors think along those same lines. Fame and fortune would not be shunned, but it’s not the primary goal we’re trying to achieve.

Also? There is no fast-track to fame and fortune. Everything takes time, talent, hard work, and money. Nothing—nothing—is easy, and that goes for self-publishing.

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Visit again tomorrow for part two, which covers misconceptions about self-published books themselves.

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