“Not Ready For Publication” Authors

Novelist Karin Gillespie keeps running into a self-published author on the bookselling/hyping circuit and it’s pissing her off

Writing a book doesn’t make someone an author anymore than applying
a Band-Aid to a skinned knee makes someone a doctor. Reviewers of large
newspapers, publishing people and most media outlets can spot these
so-called “authors” fairly readily, but how can the average Joe tell
the difference between a real writer and a dilettante?

I know
I sound petty, but as a writer who went through a great deal of trouble
to learn my craft, I’m annoyed that my efforts and other authors’
efforts are diluted by not-ready-for-publication authors.

all, the public is deluged with plenty of traditionally published
books; it shouldn’t have to sort through the efforts of amateurs as

Yikes.  I hope she owns a Kevlar vest.  My sister-in-law Wendy apparently hasn’t learned anything watching all the trouble her husband and brother-in-law get into expressing their opinions on self-publishing, fanfic, and well, just about everything. She dives head-first into the controversy with:

I can say I agree with the sentiment that self publishing, well, doesn’t count as being published.  Printed yes, published no.

Boo hiss. Tar and feather me. I am not a friend of the artist. I’m elitist; a cog in corporate America’s machine to destroy fresh, young voices. Oh, grow up.

I have this theory: not everyone deserves to be published. It’s not like kindergarten where every kid gets a gold star for showing up. It’s more like high school where not every graduating senior has the academic chops to gain admittance to Harvard. A harsh reality for anyone with a dream, but a reality nonetheless.

They are both echoing the fine advice that Richard Wheeler left on this blog the other day. Even so, I’m sure these posts are bound to create a firestorm of anger among the PublishAmerica an iUniverse customers who call themselves published authors.

14 thoughts on ““Not Ready For Publication” Authors”

  1. I don’t know of any shortcuts to literary success. This story drawn from memory may be apocryphal, and it may involve Thornton Wilder rather than the crusty New York drama critic Alexander Woolcott, but it makes the point, true or not.
    Woolcott was invited to address the Yale Drama Club, which was composed of aspiring playwrights. He stalked out on the stage, peered down at all the young people from behind the lectern, and said, “Why are you here? If you want to be playwrights, then go home and write.” And with that, walked off the stage. He returned a moment later, having made his point, and discussed writing with the aspiring Yale students.
    iUniverse is gifted at printing handsome books, and perhaps it pleasures a writer to see his or her material printed. But it is not true publication. It is not the authentic thing. I can best describe what real publication is about by borrowing a paragraph from Ed Gorman’s fine blog. On that day, some of us were discussing an agent, Ray Puechner, who had a way of helping his struggling clients. Here is what Ed wrote about him. It truly depicts what it is like to sell a book to a real publisher, in this case Houghton Mifflin:
    The day my wife Carol sold her first novel—to Houghton-Mifflin, no less—he called (she was at school, teaching) and said, “Here’s what you do. Buy her flowers and as soon as she comes in the door give ‘em to her along with a big kiss.” I got the flowers all right but when she came in the door, I put up my hand to halt her right there. I had the flowers behind my back. And then I said, “Will anybody who just sold her first novel to Houghton Mifflin please step forward.” Then the flowers came out and then the kissing and hugging and laughing. When she called Ray to thank him—I was on an extension phone—they both got very teary. It wasn’t just a great day for Carol and Ray—it was also a great day for me. And Ray had made it so.
    Ed Gorman has perfectly described a real sale of a first novel.
    I can only urge aspiring writers to write and write and write, and rewrite it again.

  2. I think what she is really complaining about is having self published writers getting local publicity, while publishing house authors aren’t getting the same attention.
    I can see her point. If I bought a book from the Local Author’s table at Barnes & Noble, out of curiosity, and it was error-ridden garbage, I don’t know that I would give another book there a chance.
    Now there is some good self-published stuff, but most of it is memoirs and non-fiction.

  3. My only problem with these self-pub’d or POD “authors” isn’t the attention they get, or others being unable to tell a difference between them and some midlist or better writer.
    My problem is when these folks are looked upon as teachers. I can’t tell you how many panels I go to at conferences where there are “authors” up there spewing advice to aspiring writers who’ve paid God knows how much to attend this con – expecting to learn the secrets of good writing.
    One of the few things I agree with in her post is “Writing a book doesn’t make someone an author anymore than applying a Band-Aid to a skinned knee makes someone a doctor.”
    All it means is that you can finish what you start. Which is an admirable quality, no doubt. But it doesn’t mean you know one thing about HOW to write.
    One thing I do know about writing is that bad advice can hurt you much, much worse than no advice.

  4. I’ve followed your views on self-published/POD authors versus “real publishing”, and find it very interesting. While in general I agree, in particular with Richard Wheeler, I also have to say that getting published by a “big publisher” is not a quarantee of quality of writing. Most bestsellers I find to be unreadable garbage. Also, many big publishing houses are themselves using POD to ensure that no book will go out of print any more, and so they avoid reversion of rights that way. There is a backlach against big publishers by some who have realised that selling 100 copies themselves of a self-published book will make them as much money as selling 2000 with a big publisher, while retaining rights themselves and without the feeling of being taken advantage of.
    While I dislike set-ups like iUniverse, which is a new kind of vanity press, I think a distinction needs to be drawn between that and true self-publishing, where effectively one becomes a publisher oneself, using the services of a POD printer in the way any publisher might. Cutting out the iUniverse middleman, in other words, because you have graphic design and editorial skills yourself, so have no need to pay someone else to do that for you, usually very badly. Then it is a judgment call: is this book best published myself or is it best to sell the rights in the usual way? It really depends what kind of book it is and whether you’re able to sell it yourself effectively enough. Certainly I can sell an obscure treatise just as well as a university press, for instance, but a university press adds something else into the mix: prestige. While your royalties may be miniscule, the name of the press gives your work added value.
    While I have a lot of time for self-publishing in the true sense, I think you are raising an important point in stressing a distinction between “getting printed” and “getting published”. But let’s not lump all self-publishing ventures into the vanity press league, since some self-publishers become the small presses of tomorrow, often publishing much finer stuff than the big publishers, who cater time and time again for lowest-common-denominator tastes.

  5. Well, if there is going to be a firestorm of rage from the self-published, I’m afraid it isn’t going to come from me. It is odd, though, that Ms. Gillespie implies that all those who choose to self-publish are merely seeking a shortcut to the prestige she wishes to reserve for traditionally published (and, I presume, commercially successful) books.
    She notes that her rival wrote his novel in six months, having never written before, while she worked at her craft for fifteen years, went to conferences, read craft books and joined a critique group; this is a good point, because it shows the dedication she has put into her writing.
    But we would all do well to remember that publication and dedication are not necessarily synonymous. Like Ms. Gillespie, I have spent many years writing fiction (more than two decades, in fact), and it took me at least ten years before I wrote anything I felt was good enough to share with the world. I went to writer’s conferences, I read craft books, and I joined a critique group. I studied creative writing in college under some outstanding teachers, and I’ve taught English at the university level and done freelance editing. Outside this pseudonym, I’ve published short stories in traditional markets. And I’ve got my share of rejection letters, just as all writers should.
    And yet I am a self-published, POD author. Would Ms. Gillespie hold me in the same disdain as she does “Bill”? She is almost certainly correct that his book suffers for quality; most self-published books do (I haven’t read it, of course, so I’ll take her word for that). I’ve said it many times and will continue to do so: self-publishing well is a lot harder than most of those who get involved in it believe. It requires skills that many writers, whether they are traditionally published or not, simply haven’t acquired. But it’s also a mistake to lump every self-published writer together with every other. The fact is that some of us know exactly what we’re doing and why.
    To Ms. Gillespie I can only advise this: successful commercial publishing requires that you focus your energies on promoting yourself and your work. Even without self-publishers, the market is awash with books and the competition for the attention of readers is fierce. Your rival’s book will succeed or fail based on its own merits or lack thereof, just as your book will. You can either spend your time worrying about him or tending to yourself and your own success.

  6. “Even so, I’m sure these posts are bound to create a firestorm of anger among the PublishAmerica an iUniverse customers who call themselves published authors.”
    Probably so, but I think some readers (like myself) will be a little upset as well. It is really a turn-off to hear writers talking like this. In my opinion, an established writer should remain above the fray in this debate and let agents, editors, and book reviewers do the dirty work of condemning poor writing and self-published writers who masquerade as something they are not. Is she entitled to her opinion and express when she wishes? Of course. I just think it is not wise and only hurts herself.

  7. I’m with Paul Guyot… I went to a writer’s conference recently where a self-published author was giving aspiring writers advice on how to make it as a writer. The only writing advice this guy could give was how to write a check. The aspiring writers weren’t discerning enough to know his book was self-published and that he actually had no real experience as a professional writer. There’s a reason this guy had to self-publish…his novel, and I use that term lightly, was awful. It read as if English was his second, no make that third, language (to be fair, I couldn’t get past the first chapter). Those unfortunate attendees who were stuck at this guy’s table got ripped off.

  8. I’m with Guyot as well. My books are printed. That’s all they are. Selling memoir travel eco-essays is a tough gig, but it can be done if the work is compelling. The intital reaction from the mainstream is “notes from nobody.” Qualifications matter and the competition is stiff. I’m rewriting and expanding one of them and it’s already under consideration at a NY agency. That’s how it’s done.

  9. Both sides of the story

    I came across this debate today while surfing around the writer’s blogosphere and, I have to say, I can see both sides of it. As annoying as it sometimes is, I can understand why writers whose work is acceptable to…

  10. At the LA Times Book Fest, I signed at the Sisters in Crime booth. I sat between two writers, both of whom had books from PublishAmerica. One author felt she’d been conned into believing her books were with a real publisher. The other still believes PublishAmerica is every bit as legitimate, and prestigious, as Random House. The problem is that aspiring writers are so desperate to be published they *want* to believe in scams like PublishAmerca. I asked the PA defender how often he has seen his book… or any PA book…in a bookstore. He told me I have an out-dated view of publishing…that the future is POD and ebooks…and that I was mired in old definitions. I don’t doubt that POD and ebook technology are changing publishing…but genuine publication involves a lot more than merely making your book available to order in a trade paperback format.

  11. Lee, how they were able sit at the same table as you? I’m not a writer so I’m not sure how this all works. Were you tempted to leave?

  12. Sisters-in-Crime invited all its published authors to sign at their LATFB booth…including those who were self-published and ScamPublished (PublishAmerica). So you had prominent mystery authors like Harley Jane Kozak, Joanne Fluke, Denise Hamilton, Barbara Seranella alongside writers with books from iUniverse, PublishAmerica, and some very, very obscure vanity presses. There was one lady at my table who had two hardcover novels she self-published through some vanity press in San Diego, and another guy who did his through some outfit in Las Vegas.

  13. Wow. I had no idea they were in that booth with you. Do you know if they bought their own books for the signing? That’s the standard MO, and then usually PA flubs the delivery. What an insult. Outdated indeed. Tried and true is more like it. It’s like the blog triumphalists who think they can replace paid journalists. A vanity press is a vanity press.


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