Friday, December 04, 2009

The Self Publishing Debate

These days it seems like more and more legitimate news sources are pointing to the concept of self-publishing as if it was just invented this year. There is talk of the democratisation of literature, how now with the internet and POD (print on demand) technology, self-publishing is more than ever a viable option for an author. What's more, some have been pointing towards self-publishing as a viable FIRST option for an author.

Two commercial publishing houses: Harlequin (yes, THE Harlequin) and Thomas Nelson (a Christian Publisher), have created self publishing arms. It seems, that the industry has a desire to legitimize this form of publishing. Well . . . at least cash in on it.

So, some of you, I am sure, have been sitting at your computers for weeks now wondering "I wonder what Adrienne thinks about all this?"

And now I'll tell you.

Sort of. Okay. So here's the thing. I think self-publishing has its place. I think if you have a niche market, maybe are on the lecture circuit, self publishing is an excellent venue for you. If, let's say, you want to put together a collection of poems for your family, or print up a story you've written so you can share it with your loved ones, that too is awesome.

However, if you want to know what I feel about self-publishing as a viable means of making a living as a writer of fiction, check out these blogs which articulate my opinion perfectly:

The Great Underground Myth: Why Self Publishing Doesn’t Work - by Max Dunbar

Self Publishing Rant - Agent Rachelle Gardner

(In short, I don't think it works for most people, and though I do think the current system is flawed, it is still much better than the current self-publishing model. Also I have to snicker a little at those articles pointing to the few self publishing successes - which are considered successes because they were picked up by commercial houses. First off the irony is obvious. Second, there are so few exceptions to the rule that it makes it so easy to point them out.)

My issue in this post is about something a little different, which agent Rachelle Gardner touches on in the post I linked to:

Writers had to endure rejection, and be persistent. They had to keep trying harder, improving their writing, to get to the point of being published. And they had to impress a lot of people.

Sure appealing to the gatekeepers sucks (trust me, I know, I really do, I've had my fair share of rejection lately), and sure all the rejection sucks too. But see, what self publishing is taking away is the next step after the rejection. The steps are becoming the following:

Submit MS
MS gets rejected
Try again
Gets rejected again
Self Publish

Not only is this happening more and more, but the two publishers I listed above say that they plan on recommending WITHIN THEIR REJECTION LETTERS that authors use their self publishing arm instead. They are totally pushing this last step in the process.

But see, that last step, as I mentioned earlier, is new. That didn't use to be the step. Quick, let's rip off that step and see what lies beneath:

Submit MS
MS gets rejected
Try again
Gets rejected again

What is this you say? Work? What is this "work" you speak of?

Rejection sucks. Yup. Totally man, like dude, bummer. But it is part of a very important process. Rejection prompts the writer to take a step back and take a hard look at her work. To really coldly analyse why, maybe, it has been rejected. It gives the author the opportunity to think, "You know what, maybe I should go back, re-write this thing. Or maybe I'll set it aside and try something else."

I can't tell you how many authors I know who, with the wisdom of distance, have looked back at their rejections as blessings. Have taken that initial anger and frustration at being rejected, and channeled it into creating another work that is so awesome that no one could possibly turn it down.

Rejection makes us stronger, it makes us hungrier, and it makes us better writers. And this concept, the one of working on your craft, dealing with the gatekeepers, and just keep pushing on, that concept is quickly vanishing. What's more, the idea of putting in the work is getting so foreign to us, that authors are considering self publishing as a FIRST option, before they've even tried to get an agent/publisher interested in their work.

I'm not stupid. I know that there have been works out there that have been rejected and it isn't because they aren't any good. It's because they just don't fit the market, or they're too much of a risk, or any other number of reasons. But again, that is the exception to the rule. That is actually the same exception to the rule as the one with the successfully self published authors. Because those successful authors were probably the ones that had that book that actually was awesome but rejected for other reasons in the first place.


Most people aren't. We just aren't. And now legit publishers are telling new authors that they don't need to go back and take a good hard look at their work, no! Now they can PAY THESE PUBLISHERS to print their books for them, so that the author doesn't learn anything from the experience and can play at Author the Role Playing Game. These publishers, who are extremely well respected in their genres, who are obviously so by the authors submitting to them, are using their position of power to suggest (just suggest, they're not forcing anyone, no, it's just a little suggestion - never mind how much the authors submitting to them respect their opinion) something that will make the publisher money, and deny an author the chance at real improvement.

That's one of my biggest issues with self publishing. The idea that rejection is an insult. That it can't at all be possibly a sign that you need to work a little more.

Why shouldn't books be rejected?

At any rate. That is my added little thought to the debate.

And please don't think I'm closed minded about all this, I've already said self-publishing has a place. I also don't begrudge anyone who does it. But please, for those of you who do choose to go down that path, do it with respect for those who have gone before you and were successful at it. Those people had to work ten times harder than a commercially published author to get to the success they enjoy today, they spent time, energy and money. They were incredibly talented, and I bet they had an outside eye work with them on perfecting their book. It's darn hard to do what they did. Don't just think you can print off a book and voila!

No one can simply print off a book.

It just doesn't work that way.


Jill Edmondson said...

I think it is very slimy for publishers to send a rejection letter that includes a plu or a suggestions for that same publishers own vanity press division.

I have nothing againts self-publishing if that is what one wants. But It's not for everyone and there are certainly a number of disadvantages for it.

If an author is submitting query letters to traditional publishers-agents-editors, then presumably he or she is not (yet?) interested in self-publishing.

Using the rejection letter as an opportunity to scoop up a vanity press client is wrong.

And yes, I agree, the rejection letters should suggest that the author continue to revise the original manuscript.

THanks for a detailed and thought provoking post.

Cheers, Jill Edmondson
"Blood and Groom" (published by Dundurn) s now in stores.

Check out the trailer

Dawn Colclasure said...

I agree that it's outrageous that these respected publishers are making such suggestions in their rejection letters. That is on par with independent presses suggesting in a rejection that the author take advantage of their editing services or doing business with a book doctoring service they are associated with. That is the wrong kind of message to send in a rejection letter and it defeats the purpose of a rejection letter as a whole.

That said, I also agree that self-publishing is not for everyone. First of all, it's expensive. (If you're going to self-publish your book, DO NOT SKIMP on the costs associated with self-publishing. Your book should be in the best condition and have the very best of everything: Editing, formatting, cover design, ISBN, etc.)Second, it's hard work. Not just for putting the book together and working with a printer but for promotion and marketing. Yet I also feel it is fine for a niche book.

You have made some very good, solid points in this blog post. It's sad to hear that many authors are opting to self-publish first, without trying for a publisher or agent. But I suppose that, in many cases, the decision to self-publish is a personal choice.

crow productions said...

I know my manuscript needs work if not continued work. It is not my manuscript that gets rejected, it's my query letter. I was intrigued with the idea of self publishing, but seriously, then what? I have postponed my mailing because I have written the second book to the first. I'm trying to decide if it is 2 books or one.
I have a lot of work to do.

sanjeet said...

have nothing againts self-publishing if that is what one wants. But It's not for everyone and there are certainly a number of disadvantages for it.

Work from home India

sanjeet said...

an author is submitting query letters to traditional publishers-agents-editors, then presumably he or she is not (yet?) interested in self-publishing.

Work from home India

cmartell said...

Not everyone considers self-publishing just because they received a couple rejections and never tried revising their work.

I don't know how many rejections you had before you found an agent.

I'm not going to say how many agents have rejected me. I will only say every agent on that represents YA has rejected me; the majority have never read more than a short query with ten pages attached.

I've been trying to break in for the past four years and I am now beyond frustrated.

I believe people are turning to self-publishing because they are finding the gates into traditional publishing to be shut.

But who knows? Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps there really is something terribly wrong with my query and first ten pages that would make any rational person turn away.

Go ahead and take a look. I'd love to know what about my pitch and first ten pages justifies an immediate "This-sucks-and-isn't-worth-a-partial-request" rejection.

I've had over a hundred beta readers and even if they have criticisms, everyone agrees it is a good read.

I am on the verge of self-publishing not because I've been rejected but because I've done everything in my power to appease the gate keepers and they still won't give me the time of day.

I wish it was as simple as revising the manuscripts. They don't even read the manuscripts. The majority decide whether to ask for a partial based on what amounts to jacket copy, which they dissect in a way no rational human would do (ex. no question hooks, despite the fact I can walk down to Wal-Mart and find numerous books and DVDs with question hooks on their jacket copy).

And when publishers like Harlequin encourage us to pay AuthorHouse a bunch of money to "self-publish", I admit my faith in the publishing industry to ever give my work an honest chance is all but gone.

By doing things like this they are telling me they are longer interested in working with writers to make money-- they are only interested in taking money out of our pockets.