April 22nd, 2006

View from study (sunny)

Self-publiation -- some pitfalls

I just wanted to put this somewhere where it would be easy to find again.

Here is the reply I made to scififanman, who appeared on rec.arts.sf.composition recently apparently promoting self-publication. When challenged that not all self-published novels are successful, he said:

...but the current odds of having a submission accepted and published by a reputable publisher is what? about .05%, or 1 in 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000?

And I replied:

Except those are not really the odds. It's not a lottery; it's more like a horse race. Not all books are equal just as not all horses are equal. My first novel (completed 30 years ago) was a no-hoper, falling at the first fence. My second novel (completed 20 years ago) was an also-ran, probably came in about 5th. I'm hoping the latest one will not only stay the distance but might actually be placed.

Scififanman had also said:

It is very easy to [those] already published to tell people to just wait it out, keep plodding and don't worry about those rejection letters, and to many people this is great advice, but to some, who really desire to see their book in publication, have been rejected numerous times and more than likely will never be published, this is a possible alternative.

And I said:

It depends on what one wants out of publication. If a writer just wants to be able to hold a nicely bound book, which is a complete story, however flawed, and be able to say to friends and relations, "I wrote that!" Then by all means self-publish via an outfit like Lulu, who seem to do a decent job and don't pretend to offer more than a printing and binding service.

If, on the other hand, the writer wants validation of their skills and a wide readership, then self-publication is a very dangerous way to go. By putting an unedited novel out there before the public gaze, it lays the writer open to the heartbreak of having it rejected, not once by a publisher, but time and time again by the bookshops they try to sell it to and, even worse, the danger that it will be ripped to shreds by reviewers. Yes, it's easy to have a self-published book for sale on Amazon; it's also easy for readers and reviewers to hold it up to ridicule. The more one promotes it, the more likely that becomes. See the R*ck**ds thread here some years ago. I have also seen, via LiveJournal, a young woman's not very good novel being savaged. While briefly funny, it soon came to resemble those wildlife documentaries where a poor wildebeest calf has wandered from the herd and is being torn apart by a pack of ravening hyenas. I had to avert my eyes, feeling slightly sickened.

I am a tutor on a fiction writing course run by a British university. I see all these keen students come through my online classes, many of them eager for recognition and success. I don't think any of them would take a few piano lessons and then expect to be able to play with the London Philharmonic, yet they take a class, write a novel and expect it to be as good as a pro who's been at it 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. It just isn't going to happen, and apparent short cuts, like self-publishing, are often a snare and a delusion.