Friday, July 1, 2011

A bit on self-publishing

Yesterday I reviewed a book that was self-published.  I currently have on my Nook several self-published authors.  I have nothing against self-publishing and there are a few of my books that I have toyed with self-publishing.  In today's world there are some great resources for self-publishing that make it truly affordable.  Create Space is one of many print-on-demand services that has very little initial outlay of money to publish your book.  They have paid services as well such as cover and interior design options, editing (from copy editing to full-blown editorial editing) and even marketing tools. There are also several e-publishers including Barnes and Noble's new Pubit! (their exclamation point, not mine) where you can create an account, upload your book and have your book available to Nook owners around the world.

I have wishy-washy feelings about self-publishing.  On one hand self-publishing allows the average person the ability to put their toils and tribulations into a book format.  I actually have a paperback copy of my last NaNoWriMo book (courtesy of being a winner and getting a "free" ARC of my book - It wasn't truly free as I did pay for the expedited shipping.)  It's really cool to hold your own book in your hand.  To see your name printed on the title.  To flip through the pages and smell your words.  It's really really cool.  As a former librarian and current bookseller I get such a giggle out of seeing "my" ISBN  on the back. (Although if I decide to have this traditionally published I know that the number will change, but I have an ISBN!) I have pet my book, stroked its lovely cover and carried it around with me.  It's my first book baby and it makes me feel like one of the Big Kids in the writing world.

On the other hand though, even though I have done copy-editing in the past, I still find my work littered with errors.  I find grammar blunders, misused words and spelling blunders.  You know what those are.  Those are the words that are spelled correctly but aren't the ones you mean.  In one of my books I have a character whose name constantly comes up as Any rather than Andy.  Spell-check doesn't catch those worse because Any is a real word spelled correctly.  It's just not Andy's name.  It won't catch the stupid mistakes like "They're" and "Their" or "moot" and "mute" or "could have cared less" instead of the correct "couldn't have cared less." 

On the other hand (now do you see why I chose Kali for the picture today?), self-publishing can boost your self-esteem, especially if you have been toiling for years trying to get your work published.  You know it is a good story.  You know people will love it.  You are confidant that your work is solid.  You can't find someone who will take a chance on it though.  So you do it yourself.  Market it yourself.  And you love what you have created.  You have a tangible (or digital) book that belongs to you.  It is your book forever.  And people can (and probably do) read it.  You are an Author now because you have a book to prove it.  Ha! Take that publishing world!

Yet on that other hand, there is something about needing the strokes from a Real Publisher to make one feel that they have triumphed.  It's really cool to have Harper Collins or Scholastic or Random House or Penguin or Little Brown (or one of their many smaller houses) printed under your name on the spine.  How fantastic to have that little Penguin flapping its little wings on the spine.  Traditional publishers will generally help you market your book and they can get your book into a lot more hands than you can on your own.  They can send to the mass market book sellers and go to ALA and Book Week and RWA and Comicon and all those really cool book venues.  They make your book look not just like a book but like a Real Book.  It will look very polished and professional.  They will use unique photography that will get people's attention (and hopefully they won't use a similar photo the same year as a different publisher used for a CS Lewis book).

On that (what are we up to now?) fifth hand having a self-published book that does well can help you get your foot in the door to a Traditional Publisher. (We really shouldn't think of self-publishers as not being real.  They are real.  They are really publishing books, but they aren't what we have come to think of as traditional publishers.)  If you show that you have done your market, taken your licks, worked your way through the publishing world on your own and have a book that has done moderately well, that can all make an impression on an agent or editor.  I've even talked to self-published authors who have had an agent or editor contact them after reading one of their books.  That's pretty darn cool. 

Yet (and you knew there was going to be another hand in all this) there are still traditionalist Traditional Publishers who scoff and dismiss those who haven't written the prerequisite nine thousand eight hundred fifty-seven query letters and received six thousand five hundred one rejections (because the other three thousand three hundred fifty-six query letters went unanswered).  They don't care how witty or charming or influential your writing may be.  You didn't go about it the Real Way so therefore you aren't worthy of their time.  OK, so the majority of agents and publishers aren't really that bad, but there is a bit of prejudice in the publishing world against self-published authors.  Go to a writer's workshop and raise your hand when they ask if anyone is published.  When they ask you who your imprint is and you say, "Create Space" eyes will roll.  "Oh, you are one of those writers." They won't even use the word Author associated with you.  It's as if you haven't earned the title. 

Now I'm going to say the part that makes almost everyone groan.  Do your homework.  Whether you are self-publishing or writing your next query letter, do your homework.  Find out who your audience will be.  Find out more about the publisher or agent or editor.  Make sure there aren't any hidden fees or clauses.  Know everything ahead of time.  Don't go blindly blundering into your mistakes.  Take time to really know your craft no matter how you choose to publish.  Make sure your manuscript is as polished and flowing as possible.  Just because you threw up words on a page does not mean you have written a book.  A book tells a story or gives us information in a clear and concise manner.  Make sure you actually have a book before you publish it.  Even if you do it yourself.

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