The Self-Deluded, Part II

It’s amazing to me the extent to which vanity press authors  delude themselves into thinking they aren’t vanity press authors. The latest example comes from the current issue of CRIMESPREE magazine, one of my favorite publications. Sandra Tooley wrote a column entitled "Self-Publishing Myths," in which she attempts to debunk "the misconceptions about self-publishing." The astonishing thing is that, rather than debunk the "myths," she manages to substantiate every one of them.  I’m sure Sandra is a very nice lady, but reading her column is a painful and cringe-inducing experience. It’s like watching a fall-down drunk arguing that he’s sober even as he vomits on your shoes.

The first "myth" she targets is that "writers self-publish because no one else will publish them." She says the real reasons  come down to time ("not all writers have the finances or time to devote toward promoting a large print run..and they have home and family obligations"), age ("playing the query-letter two step game for ten or fifteen years just isn’t in some writer’s goals for the future"), patience ("you can have your book out in six months or less"), total control ("Self-publishing allows the writer the creative freedom to publishwhat he wants when he wants") and rights ("A self-published author can keep all the rights").

Let’s tackle her first argument — that self-published authors simply don’t have the time and money to devote to promotion (but they do have the bucks to pay to have their work printed in book form).  If you "publish" (and I use that term loosely)  a POD novel, it’s not going to sell if you don’t promote it. So what’s the point of doing it in the first place…besides printing your manuscript in book form for yourself? She’s arguing that there are authors out there who would would rather pay to print their book POD  than be  paid  by Simon & Schuster for the right to publish and widely distribute their work… just to avoid having to do any promotion. That hypothetical author would have to be a complete moron. 

The other arguments about age, patience and control simply justify what has  always been said about vanity press authors — they have neither the patience nor the perseverance to be professional writers. They just want to see their work printed in something resembling a book as quickly as possible so they can call themselves authors.

That said, Sandra later contradicts herself in many respects.

She says that "print on demand is a printing process NOT a publishing process," and on that point, we agree. So why do vanity press writers consider themselves "published authors" and get pissed off when they aren’t accorded the same respect as authors published by traditional publishers?

Sandra goes on to say that when going the POD route, "marketing is mostly up to the author." Wait a minute…I thought authors went the POD route, not because they can’t sell their book to a publisher, but because they had neither the time nor money to devote to marketing and promotion?

And finally, she concludes her column with:

"…to the determined writer who refuses to believe his book is too similar to THE DAVINCI CODE to be marketable, and to all frustrated writers buried in form rejection letters, take heart knowing giving up is no longer an option."

In other words, if no one else will publish you, you can self-publish.  So what’s her final conclusion? That the "myth" that writers self-publish because no one else will publish them is true! (Did she even read her own column after she wrote it??).

This kind of labored reasoning — no,  self-delusion — is typical among vanity press authors. It’s   truly sad to see…unless you work for iUniverse, PublishAmerica, and xlibris.   

67 thoughts on “The Self-Deluded, Part II”

  1. I read this piece as well, and it’s just as lame as Lee says. Full of fuzzy thinking and non-logic. “Edgar Allen Poe and Ben Franklin self-published, so you should, too!”
    Crimespree is the only one of the mystery magazines that I subscribe to, as I think that John Jordan and company do great work. I’m not sure how this one slipped in there, though.
    It should also be noted that the author of the piece is self-published.

  2. As Lee says, it is a total waste to self-publish fiction. If you’re going to self-publish, you need to
    a. be famous;
    b. have a short, NON-fiction book with as close to a “guaranteed audience” as it is possible to have in the real world; and
    c. be a superb, fanatical salesperson, as good as that guy selling non-stick pots (or whatever) on TV Sunday mornings.
    And it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of money and time to blow, too!

  3. “Self publishing” is definitely not a short cut, it’s a long cut. Think about all the services a “traditional” publisher offers: edit and plot critique, copy editing, cover design, printing, “ins” for blurbs and book reviews, distribution channels and promotion.
    Anyone “self-publishing” correctly now has to find a way to tackle all of those tasks, without shortcuts. The learning curve on each and every one of those tasks is considerable. And unless you’re a pretty gifted person, you’re not going to be able do half of them half as good as the people the traditional publishers use.
    That’s why I continue to say that “self-publishing” is not for everyone. However, for the right person who can learn those tasks, and has a good book on which to build the foundation, “self-publishing” is a viable option.

  4. My personal bone to pick with the self-publishing crowd is that they’re misdirecting so much energy that could be directed instead towards learning to write well. I want to write because I find creating a story to be more entertaining that reading one; I don’t necessarily expect to be published, let alone to make a living at it.
    When I first started seriously making an effort to write, I thought I’d tap into the vast knowledge found on the Internet. What I found instead were endless pitches for print on demand services and aspiring writers asking “When should I get an agent?”. Number of sites that I’ve found that are dedicated to discussing HOW to write a good story: zero. I finally stopped wasting time looking. I started putting words on paper then beating myself up with self-critique, and I started to learn some things.

  5. That’s why they vanity publish slush sprinkled with “alots” and “neverminds.” It’s freedom, so why, as Hemingway said, “Struggle to write one true sentence?”
    Truely sad indeed Lee. I don’t know why they simply can’t learn.

  6. I think that this:
    ‘They just want to see their work printed in something resembling a book as quickly as possible so they can call themselves authors’
    …sums up the impression that I got from the article: it’s all about being a writer, rather than about being read.
    There it is, look, I can hold it in my hand and think ah, I’m an author, I’m a *real* writer. I can put it on my shelf and people can see it and I can say yeah, that’s *my* book.
    There’s no doubting the satisfaction that anyone could get from that. I can understand it. But in getting that, the writer is trading off any likely chance of numbers of *other* people reading the book. That’s what I find a little sad, and that’s what makes me annoyed when some advocate of self-pub implies that you’re likely to get both.
    What bothers me about a lot of the arguments for self-publishing is that they prey on the insecurity and lack of confidence of many writers. The publishing world sucks. The system is flawed. There’s millions of other people trying to break in. You won’t get published anyway. The odds are against you. Even if you do, it will be years before it sees print and might not get any promotion. Face it, you’re never going to make it. So why bother even trying? Do it *this* way and you can have a book in your hand, you’ll be a *writer*…

  7. I’ve banged around these blogs for a few days now. Thanks, Lee for a great site.
    It seems there is a mixture of pros and ‘non-pubs’ (my new word after reading these blogs 🙂 I assume everyone here is a writer of sorts. How good is obviously all over the board. Some of you have clearly had a few big paydays and many some well earned successes with your work.
    Your arguments seem solely based on the fact that becoming a published author is a lot of work and you will be damned if someone is going to stand shoulder to shoulder to you unless they have been published by the powers that be in the traditional publishing world. I think you can all relax. POD is what tossing an unsold manuscript in the bottom drawer was 10 years ago and my guess is most POD writers know that.
    BUT, so what if they don’t? Why is so important to trash people who POD their books or worse yet try so hard to make them feel pathetic. With so many people in this world doing so little with their lives I would think that successful people would applaud the effort and not feel so threatened by folks who just want to succeed at something they enjoy doing. The economics of the POD industry will NEVER allow a creative writer to sell books to anyone other than friends or family at such high prices. Bookstores will never carry books they can’t return. If a POD author ever did gain enough attention to get people to shell out 2x the usual price then I would think it’s one hell of a book and deserving of the praise regardless of how it hit the market. I know you are all convinced that you’re rants are doing a service to authors that are being ‘snagged’ by POD companies claiming to be REAL publishers. I heard the term ‘desperate’ and ‘naïve’ used the most to bolster this claim. I’m not biting, desperate means unsold and wanting a paperback on the shelve instead of a manuscript in a drawer. Naïve means young and stupid and if a writer is young and stupid my guess is if they start sending their manuscript to traditional publishers they will become desperate soon enough.
    It does however seem a little arrogant to suggest a book is not a book until it’s been ‘published’ with an advance check from a reputable publisher and that a writer should not be proud of the work. I would submit that a book is a book whether it’s a box of 8 ½ x 11’s, POD printed or on the NYT top 10 list. You will never take that away from bad novel writers like me, smile.

  8. Speaking only for myself, the reason I post my cautions about vanity presses, either here or elsewhere, is because I have seen a lot of people deluded, taken advantage of, or downright ripped off by these operations.
    There is nothing inherently wrong with paying a company to print copies of your book. As long as you understand the implications of it, what it means and what it doesn’t mean, more power to ya.
    My main problem with vanity publishing is that almost all of these companies promise something that they do not and cannot deliver. (Ultimately, it boils down to: they cannot make you a “published author.”)
    If you’re looking to buy some so-so printed copies of a manuscript you wrote in order to give them to your family and friends, then by all means vanity publishing is the way to go.
    If, on the other hand, you’re looking to become a published author, to have your work bought by readers, sold in stores and reviewed by critics, then vanity publishing will lead you nowhere.
    As long as people understand that, I have no problem with it.

  9. Bona fide publishers have a corps of editors and copyeditors and proofreaders armed with dictionaries who tackle a manuscript. The editors examine the story for plausibility, consistency, slowness, duplication, clarity, and a host of other values, and evaluate it for sheer attractiveness. I usually am asked to cut and rewrite portions of my stories, sometimes lopping out my favorite scenes. Then the copy editors tackle punctuation, sentence structure, syntax, grammar, spelling, as well as clarity. They also query authors about matters that require explanation or elucidation. I often have a dozen queries to deal with when my manuscript comes back, as well as serious rewriting. It is the genius of these highly skilled people that evolves a manuscript into something publishable and marketable. These gifted editors and copyeditors and proofreaders are highly prized by publishers; they have skills that are rare and in great demand. An editor with a real sense of story is pure gold to a publishing house.
    My point is that the vanity press writers and the self-published really should hire these services, worth several thousand dollars, to bring their manuscripts up to the level at which they are marketable and publishable. And one of the most important services a legitimate publisher provides is to tell an author that a manuscript is not workable. That happened to me a couple of years ago, and actually that rejection was one of the most valuable services an editor and publisher provide to an author.

  10. The problem is most of the POD books go out half-baked due to a lack of the process Mr. Wheeeler described. More often than not the proofs come back with errors added on the printer’s e.g. vanity press, end. It’s this reputation for shoddiness and inexperience that blackballs anyone who tries it whether they do it well or not.
    The bottom line: it’s not a publishing credit. The reasons why are all over this blog. It’s the slushpile.

  11. Richard, you are absolutely correct that EVERY book hitting the market must be of a writing level that reflects the in-house editing and copyediting services that traditional publishers provide. I disagree with your conclusion, though, that “self-publishers” are not equipped to perform these tasks themselves and must “hire” third parties. Here are some of the things I have done with Night Laws to meet those goals.
    Regarding pace, structure, story, etc. When I sent the MS out for author blurbs, several people were very happy to provide critiques. Some authors wanted to see a few loose ends tied up, i.e., a few more questions answered. Those were good suggestions and I ended up adding another 10 pages of text, which did in fact improve the book. There are lots of people around who are willing to give you that all-important “look from the outside,” simply because they love writing. I do agree with you that someone from the outside needs to look at the MS, and it needs to be a professional. But I’ve found the writing community to be a very friendly one, overall.
    To address pace, I made a bar chart of all 54 chapters, brutally grading them as stand-alones, on a scale of 1 to 10, for excitability, necessity, pace, etc., Did they have a conflict, a resolution, a hook at the end, crisp intelligent dialogue?. I found a few “5s” and “7s”. I then rewrote about 15% of the MS until every chapter was at least an “8.” I cut out some of my favorite scenes. You have to be merciless with your own work. Of course, this is something you do during the entire writing process, not just at the end. I probably wrote two pages for every one that ended up staying in the book.
    Copyediting, punctuation, tense, etc. is simply a matter of paying attention to detail. All the answers are in the Gregg Reference Manual. Every author should know those rules anyway. You need to read and edit the MS several times just as a professional does, but there finally comes a point when you know that you have looked up and resolved everything that might in any way be the least bit questionable. Numbers are particularly troublesome, but the rules are there.
    Consistency is also a matter of simply paying attention to detail. You don’t want someone wearing pants at the beginning of the scene and a dress at the end, or have blue eyes at the beginning and brown at the end. So you pay attention to those and make mental notes, or even notes in the margins – “pants.” You watch for any inconsistencies later. Again, this is a task, not something that requires a magic powder.
    All the tasks need to be done, on that I agree 100%. But anyone talented enough to write a book can do them and, frankly, have a lot of fun along the way.

  12. Unfortunately it’s the committee of professionals who stamp it at a real publisher that gives a book credibility. Every writer can and should do it, but would an agent or editor agree with the final product? That’s the real test a self-published book must pass and won’t since they’re out of the picture. Most will never even be seen. That’s the tragedy here.

  13. Mr. Hansen’s observations are most astute, and the mark of a man who will succeed. A few years ago a close friend who has been my editor for many years found it necessary to reject my manuscript of a contracted novel. That was the greatest gift a friend could bestow, no doubt painful for him, but absolutely necessary for my sake, for the publisher’s sake, and for the sake of my readers. I owe my success to my editors and copyeditors and proofreaders.

  14. To address pace, I made a bar chart of all 54 chapters, brutally grading them as stand-alones, on a scale of 1 to 10, for excitability, necessity, pace, etc., Did they have a conflict, a resolution, a hook at the end, crisp intelligent dialogue?. I found a few “5s” and “7s”. I then rewrote about 15% of the MS until every chapter was at least an “8.” I cut out some of my favorite scenes. You have to be merciless with your own work. Of course, this is something you do during the entire writing process, not just at the end. I probably wrote two pages for every one that ended up staying in the book.
    That’s all fine and good, but it’s no excuse for an objective EDITOR. You’re the writer, you can’t possibily be as objective as an editor when it comes to judging pacing, dialogue and character. If you didn’t already think your writing was terrific, you wouldn’t be shelling out the cash to self-publish…so what kind of judge does that make you?

  15. About the article- I have to kind of wonder about the whole ‘too old to wait through the publishing process’ thing. Are there really that many people writing novels on their deathbeds? I mean, sure, publication by a major press takes some time, but how about some optimism here?

  16. Jake,
    Don’t you mean “no substitute” for an editor as opposed to “no excuse”?
    In any case, I think you make a valid point. I’ve tried reading quite a few self-published mystery novels and, without exception, they have been awful.
    In fact, I attended a mystery conference not so long ago where the organizers, sadly unaware of the difference between an iUniverse imprint and Random House, invited several self-published authors to speak about writing and to counsel other aspiring authors on how to break in.
    Their self-published books were on sale there so I browsed through them. My God, they were unreadable. Unpublishable garbage. And the more I browsed, the angrier I got that these people were giving advice on how to write and how to break into the business…when they knew absolutely nothing about it. I felt sorry for the attendees who paid for the event to learn from professionals who, instead, got people with no more experience than themselves.
    Someone earlier asked what my beef was with POD/self-published authors. Well, that’s one of them…another is when they clamor for membership as “published authors” in professional organizations like the Mystery Writers of America and don’t understand why they’re rejected.
    Not only do self-publishing scam mislead aspiring writers…the duped authors then believe the empty hype they’ve literally bought into.

  17. Jake: Actually writters can be objective. In fact, that’s how they get the MS in good enough shape to send to an agent in the first place (for those who seek that route). Writing the MS is a continuing series of judgment calls. You train yourself to be objective to be able to make those calls. Taking the book from the MS stage to the next stage is simply a continuation of the same, with a finer point pen.
    That’s not to minimize the benefits of having a professional give an outside look, however. Writers can get too close to their work and people looking in for the first time tend to see things the writer may have missed, etc. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of getting an outside look. Once you get it, and know where you want to go, you (the writer) can objectively get there.
    PS I don’t think my writing is “terriffic.” I think the book is good enough to hang with what’s being put out by the NY publishers, that’s all.
    One more note about the professionals that the traditional publishers provided. Some of them aren’t that good. I was in B&N today just strolling around and looking at book covers. Most of them, in my humble opinion, are pretty mediocre. I cracked open a few books. What I saw was strange font, lines too close together and too close to the inside of the book and the margins, etc. There’s lots of products out there that just aren’t put together that well. And if a publisher hooks you up with mediocre people, now you end up in “discussions.”
    “Self-publishing” can be done and done well. Anyone going into it, though, must realize that there is a tremendous amount of work involved. Anyone who does it, though, will have the benefit of being able to think like an editor, a cover designer, a distributor, etc. These are good skills to have.

  18. Writing the MS is a continuing series of judgment calls. You train yourself to be objective to be able to make those calls.

    Jim, with all due respect, “training yourself” doesn’t cut it. The most you can hope for is judging if the book reflects the best work that you are capable of doing.

    Taking the book from the MS stage to the next stage is simply a continuation of the same, with a finer point pen.

    No, it’s a continuation of the same set of misconceptions. Casting yourself as editor, copyeditor and publisher of your work hardly subjects it to geniune evaluation and editing.

    …I don’t think my writing is “terriffic.” I think the book is good enough to hang with what’s being put out by the NY publishers, that’s all.

    You think so…but do the people who actually make those decisions, the agents and editors and publishers think so? It’s that attitude, that assumption that you’re as talented as those authors published by the NY houses, that belies your ability to be objective about your own work. It’s what makes you a poor choice to edit your manuscript for style, dialogue, plot, etc. It’s one thing to get your manuscript in shape to send out…but it has to be good enough to hook an agent. If it isn’t, no representation. And then, often with the agent’s help, the book has to be massaged so it’s good enough to hook an editor.And then it’s reworked, with the editor’s input, so it’s good enough for publication. Those are all quality-checkpoints your book will never see…and that sift out a lot of unpublishable crap early on. That’s why those systems are in place. Granted, a lot of crap is published by the big houses (I may be writing some of it, for all I know). But the worst of it rarely compares to the awfulness of most vanity press novels…because the authors don’t have the skill, talent or objectivity to evaluate their own work.

  19. Someone mentioned that writers cannot edit themselves objectively at all. I don’t know about that, I mean, good writers do edit themselves in a fashion, it’s called rewriting. I’ve noticed bad writers often do not rewrite, first draft, bang, that’s it. That’s something I’ve seen a lot of bad writers do. Good writers work and work and cut and rewrite and edit it until it’s right, at least the good writers that I know.
    Not to say editors and the like do not do a world of good, it’s absolutely true, a great editor can make a good book better, and any and everyone needs to be proofed, sure.
    But I do think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that writers cannot edit themselves objectively AT ALL – it’s what we do whenever we write, think about it, and then rewrite. And proof. And proof. And then rewrite again. It’s part of the job, right?
    And for the record, before someone gets a burr under their saddle, I’m not taking the side of SP or VP. No, I do not support that scam at all. So please, no one accuse me of siding with SP or VP, because I’m not, I’ve said it twice in a row.
    I’m merely making a point about editing and the rewrite process. Writing is rewriting and, in a fashion, editing. It’s a part of the good writer process, don’t you think?
    Talent wins out, of course, an unproofed script from a great and talented writer will still read well. A proofed to the nines and edited beyond belief book from an untalented crap writer will still be . . . James Patterson.
    Crap is crap, polish it all youi want, all you end up with is a polished turd.
    But I do think that the good writers in the world make self editing an important part of their process.
    Self-editing, not self-publishing, again I say, I take no side with SP or VP.

  20. Hah –
    All that and I still ended up with a typo – proves Lee’s points about the need for outside eyes.
    I should add, that I am in no way trying to dimish the importance of an outside view in the editing process – books are made to be read, after all (and plays to be performed and screenplays to be filmed) and so an author needs to know how the work is landing to the audience, that’s also an important part of the process (again, this is all just my opinion, my two cents, so take it for what it’s worth) in fact, the most important part – knowing if you’ve achieved your goal of reaching your audience in the best way possible. As Lee stated, that’s what the editing process does –
    My point was simply that writers can and should also self-edit and the good ones can do that very well. Not trying to suggest no one needs editors, not at all. Everyone who writes need a reader who can tell you what works and what, if anything, did not, honestly and clearly.

  21. Outsiders add perspective, unquestionably, and are a great reality check. But in additon to getting others to look in and give you their perspective, there’s another way to distance yourself from your own work and become more of an outsider even yourself. You set it on the shelf for a month or two. Then pick it up and give it a quick read. Any low spots will be very obvious.

  22. Jim I’ve done that for three years, still adding material for improvement and scope, but it still doesn’t pass the agent test. At least so far. Many more to go. Yours won’t go down that highly critical road.

  23. Good writers write and bad writers write.
    Good writers revise and bad writers revise.
    Good writers work with as much objectivity as they can, and so do the bad writers.
    Readers want to read the books good writers create (if they’re lucky). Readers cringe at the bad writers’ books.
    Jim, I went to your website and cringed at your novel excerpt. I’m sorry, but that was my reaction. Your work is not compatible with the books New York publishers put on the shelves. That you think it is makes me suspicious of your objectivity.

  24. How can a POD author expect support from the tradional publishing community when they do not get it from the POD community. Ask any POD author how many POD books other than their own they have purchased. I am sure the answer is none in almost all cases.

  25. Harry: Cringe? I was going for Awful, or Bothersome. I had no idea I could ever make it all the way to the Cs. Who knows, maybe I’ll make it all the way to Disastrous one day. One can only dream. I’m going to use it as a blurb, if you don’t mind . . . Cringing!
    When I was a young lawyer, the big mega firms were the place to be, and the place the big clients went for legal services. That’s because, back then, only the big firms could afford the big libraries, pound of the research in a cost effective manner, etc. They had the secretaries who could hammer out the product on their word processors. Technology changed all that. Now you can research online while sipping a Starbucks down the street. A good lawyer with typing skills can sit down at a keyboard and produce a brief of the highest quality. As a result, now the small boutique firm can be as hard-hitting and as competitive as the big one. Small firms are thriving. The big firms are still there and always will be but they’re no longer the only game in town.
    For the future I see the same type of thing happening in the publishing industry. Software is now available to let a relative novice design the interior and the cover of the book. Books can be printed on demand. The steps are getting easier. The end result is that more and more people are able to, and will be, entering the market in non-traditional ways, such as self-publishing. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of those efforts will be pure crap that will deservedly shrivel. Not everyone will succeed and the odds are still against it. But some of these people will have incredible skills. More and more people will be knocking on the door from “down below.” As good works begin to emerge from that level, the stigma will begin to soften.
    We’re entering a new era, like it or not. Authors with the traditional houses can and apparently will snob those “below.” They played the game, won, and don’t want to see any new and different kinds of games. The fact is that there is a wealth of talent out there that isn’t represented by the traditional publishers. That talent, in my opinion, will continue to break out and challenge the existing structure in very non-traditional ways

  26. I read the first chapter of Hansen’s book, “Night Laws.” It’s okay, I suppose, although I wasn’t interested enough to read any further. An opening chapter has to grab me, either with the story or the writing, in order for me to want to keep reading and this didn’t do that.
    One thing to note, and this is a serious problem, is that the opening few pages are painfully bad and desperately need to be rewritten. Fortunately, it seems to settle down after that, at least for the rest of this excerpt. But I can’t imagine any agent or editor accepting the book as it currently stands. They’d read those first couple of pages and toss it in the garbage. There is so much hammy description and purple prose in the beginning that it reads like a parody.
    The good news is that the rest of it isn’t terrible. I’ve certainly seen worse in the self-published slush pile. I do think it could use more work, though. I would also submit that the story opens in the wrong place. Where Hansen has chosen to begin is not particularly compelling. This seems more like Chapter 3 than Chapter 1.

  27. I’m happy to agree with David on the ham entree. And what he says is rock-solid true: if those first few pages are crap it’s a dead duck. Also the law firm analogy is an irrelevant conclusion fallacy. Law, no matter how small the firm, is governed by standards, degrees for preparations and licenses. Not so with publishing.
    Rewrite the chapter Jim.

  28. But Jim, I didn’t think it was awful, overall. There were parts that made me cringe, but other parts that seemed perfectly serviceable. I wouldn’t have read further, but I wouldn’t say it’s universally bad.
    Can you tell I’m trying to get on your blurb page? j/k 🙂
    I also think your law firm analogy is flawed. Self-publishers are not in need of reference materials. They need skills.
    A better analogy would be graphic design software. In recent years, it became cheap and easy to load graphic design software onto your home computer. It’s the same program professional designers use.
    But the ads created by these unskilled non-professionals are generally garish and ugly. Small newspapers are full of them. Home designers don’t have the skills, talent or taste to create a successful product.
    And neither do self-publishers. There are ways around the services of a professional editor, I guess. Ann Rice refuses to be edited, and look at her recent work. (Actually, don’t.)
    The technology is making it possible for people to produce their own books. Sure. But distribution is still the choke point. Bookstores do not want buyers to walk out with impulse purchases that stink on ice. The buyers would simply stop coming back through the doors.
    To protect their businesses, the bookstores are refusing to carry self-published novels. You need to be with a small press, and the small press needs to have a trusted brand.
    The agents and editors aren’t in place for the benefit of writers, or to make writers feel like some kind of elite class, soon to be overthrown by surging masses of peasants with billhooks and scythes. They’re in place to keep the reader from spending hard-earned cash on raw slush. Like it or not, readers still use that system, and that’s why writers who want readers should use the system, too.
    ‘Scuse me. My kitchen ceiling is still leaking.

  29. We’re entering a new era, like it or not.
    Not really. There’s nothing new about printing and binding lousy writing at the author’s expense.
    Authors with the traditional houses can and apparently will snob those “below.” They played the game, won, and don’t want to see any new and different kinds of games.
    The word is “snub,” the outlook is paranoid, and the truth is much simpler: We do want others to win, because it’s not a zero-sum game. Your win is not my loss. Your success takes nothing away from mine.
    With only a few statistically insignificant exceptions, vanity publication takes you out of the game. All the warnings about it are trying to prevent you from doing that. It’s not a clever end run: It’s leaving the stadium.
    Before anyone warns you, you’re simply ignorant, which is no sin. If you persist in denial after the warning, you’re willfully ignorant, which is one of the worst things I can call anyone.

  30. One of the problems with this discussion is that everyone is talking about different types of “self-publishing” and one person is comparing his apples to another person’s oranges. For clarity, I offer the following categories for discussion.
    1. POD or Vanity Press. Primarily a printing service that transforms a MS into a book for a fee.
    2. A small publishing company owned by the author that publishes the author’s work.
    3. A small publishing company that publishes the work of third parties. The press offers some level of editing, copyediting, cover design, distribution and promotion by persons other than the author.
    4. The NY publishing house.
    As to Level 1 (POD), if these services are misleading customers into thinking that they now have a book that bookstores will buy (and I have no idea if that’s true or not), then I applaud the message that many of you are sending to “not be fooled.”
    As to Level 4 (NY), you got to love them. They get great authors, publish incredible books and are a genuine asset to the literary world and to readers all over. Without them I would never have met people like John Steinbeck, Anne Rand, John Sandford, and a host of others.
    As to Level 3 (Small Press), here we have another great asset. My understanding is that they typically don’t give the author much of an advance, if any, but they do take the book, firm it up and get it on the shelves of some booksellers, at least in limited numbers. Good for them.
    My point relates to Level 2 (Author Owned Small Press). In my opinion, a Level 2 operation can rise to a Level 3 in terms of quality, and offer an author a viable opinion into the market, provided certain foundations are in place, namely: (1) the book must be competitive to what is currently on the shelves of booksellers (this is the key); (2) the many complicated tasks associated with publishing (editing, copyediting, cover design, obtaining book reviews, setting up distribution channels, presenting the book to booksellers, fulfillment, etc.) must be done and done professionally. There are no shortcuts and fulfilling these tasks takes a considerable amount of work and talent. But, for those authors who have the ability, time, energy and inclination to do these tasks, either themselves and/or with the assistance of others, they have a viable entry into the marketplace. The tasks are not insurmountable for the right person. Nor does it cost that much money.

  31. I too recognize these categoroes and have argued the difference between the POD vanity presses and self-publishing using offset and all the rest repeatedly. I used Andy Kessler as an example. For nonfiction that is. The professionals here still dub it vanity because there’s no filter. On that test alone they’re right.
    No agent no editor=vanity press.

  32. I missed this the first time through:

    Authors with the traditional houses can and apparently will snob those “below.” They played the game, won, and don’t want to see any new and different kinds of games.

    Typical self-publisher misinformation.
    There is no game. Write a book people want to read, put it in the hands of someone likely to publish it. That’s not a game.
    And I’ve never met a writer who was the least bit concerned about other writers trying to break in. On the contrary, they want to read good books the same as any other reader. If you write a very good book, they’ll want to read it.

    The fact is that there is a wealth of talent out there that isn’t represented by the traditional publishers.

    No, there isn’t. I’ve looked at a bunch of self-published books, and there was very little talent there.
    *The fact is* that the vast majority of self-published work is crap and the authors don’t have a sense of smell. The vast, vast majority.

  33. Jim,
    I read your first chapter online. The first four paragraphs are cringe-inducing, the rest is simply flat. Nothing happens. No character is revealed. No action occurs. The dialogue is rudimentary. It’s a poor way to start a novel and any competent agent or editor would have told you that. It’s great that you finished a book — you should be applauded for that. It’s an important first step and a great learning experience (most writers I know have a couple of unpublishable early novels in their drawers. I certainly do!). But is the actual writing of your book comparable to what’s coming out of NY publishing houses? No, I’m afraid not. It’s typical of what’s coming out of PA and iUniverse.
    If you weren’t self-publishing it, my advice to you would have been to set it aside and start working on something else. I’d suggest you take a writing course and focus on learning how to reveal character through dialogue and action. You also need to work on developing a consistent voice…which, in my experience, only comes from practice.

  34. It would help the self-published and vanity press-published a great deal if they grasped what editors are about. I recommend A. Scott Berg’s brilliant National Book Award-winning biography, Max Perkins, as a primer about editing. Perkins was the great Scribners editor who discovered Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and many others. You will discover that even pure literary genuis must be well edited by other gifted people.The Perkins biography is absorbing and rewarding, and will help any novelist manque to see how publishing works.
    These people earn and deserve a great deal of money. One of my gifted editors, who edits for a NYC publisher, works at home and receives three thousand for a normal-sized novel and more for a larger one. Copyeditors earn large but lesser amounts; proofreaders earn plenty too. This is a measure of their true worth. My instinct is that anyone who self-publishes should first spend five grand to receive the level of editing needed to reach New York publishing standards. Printing an unedited or poorly edited manuscript simply embarrasses the author. Most of those people published with POD presses or their own small press have simply embarrassed themselves.

  35. What I wonder is, would hiring your own editor really be such a good investment? Not that I don’t think a freelancer could do a good job, but the difference would be that he or she would be working for the writer, not the publisher, which seems like it might lead to fewer hard truths and more attempts to please the client. Combine that with the fact that the writer would have the final word on everything (and the editor would have no leverage) and I don’t think you could really call it a true edit. (Plus, it’s hard to imagine self-published fiction making enough money to even come close to justifying the expense.)

  36. Perkins’ granddaughter is involved in the restoration of Finca Vigia in Cuba where Hemingway wrote for over 22 years and left everything sitting in the house. It still is as he left it. It was her name that got Castro to allow her in. That’s how important a recognized editor is. Mary copyedited most of Ernest’s manuscripts as well. The last ones anyway.

  37. I can’t imagine why a professional would recommend a writer to just put aside a project and start something else. Telling someone to go take a class is also useless.
    I’m not sure when it became fashionable for knowledgeable folks to use this approach to helping others. I’m sure it makes them feel superior but it is of no help to the person who receives this advice and commentary, at all. It is already clear, crystal clear, to anyone writing a book that they can and should continue to study, take courses and work on their craft. Giving up on a project prior to completion is not the way to become a better writer and in my humble opinion a really bad solution to allow yourself. You may never make a weak storyline your best work but finishing one before the next seems to be a much better approach than just throwing the one’s that need a lot of work in the slush heap. Of course I guess it comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish.

  38. Who said to do that? To those writing slush books riddled with mistakes, study and objectivity about the work are indeed not clear at all. That’s the problem we’re grappling with here.

  39. Jim Hansen was bantering about the possibility of an owner owned press turning out a decent book. Several posters first worked to debunk his arguments and they made fine points. Then they all went to his web site, read his first chapter and ripped apart his work. Not constructively, rather they proceeded to trash his work to the point of telling him that he should simply trash the book and go take some classes on writing. Since he didn’t ask for the reviews one would assume a constructive review was never the objective. To his credit he stayed with you for a while but they managed to put him in his place and I’m sure he moved on. Subtle points can be made without such harshness if in fact the point is to get a writer to pay closer attention to his/her craft. If the point of this thread is to debate POD publishing why the personal attack to his work?

  40. I noticed Mr. Wheeler (I am assuming the most seasoned professional that posted) did not feel a need to trash Mr. Hansens work. Nor did you.
    I personally wish Mr. Hansen nothing but success with his work. He joined in the thread to banter his opinions against the consensus and was personally attacked for his trouble. I happen to agree with the consensus that POD is not really an option for serious work due to the simple economics. The resulting book simply has no legs. Can a POD book be properly edited and be on par with mainstream publishing? Although it may be unlikely, it is certainly possible. Again the economics of POD printing does not allow for anything to be done that cost any $ so it is only going to be up to the writers abilities and objectivity. Having said that, I simply do not understand why a writer would not wish another writer success with his or her work…

  41. I told Mr. Hansen that his book made me cringe. It was the truth. If he had spinach in his teeth, I would have told him that, too.
    Mr. Hansen also said that there was a lot of talented writers out there that NY was ignoring. I told him he was wrong about that, too. What NY is ignoring, along with the rest of the reading public, are people who self-publish because they have an over-inflated opinion of their own work.
    That does not mean I don’t wish him success. I do. If I wanted him to fail, I would have lied to him and told him his work was perfect.
    Anyway, Mr. Hansen posted his work on the internet. If he doesn’t want to people to say they don’t think much of his work, he shouldn’t publish it. Bad reviews are one of the risks.

  42. Bad reviews, when based on the content, not the person, are inevitable and a writer has to buck it up and take the criticism. What in hell do you think the agents would have told him if Hansen wasn’t so afraid to test himself? The same thing I’m afraid.
    A wish and a dime won’t get you a cup of coffee in America White. Faux well-wishes are a detriment to success. Here, right this way. Never mind the cliff.

  43. Against my better judgment, I offer a few responses to the many comments posted on a number of strings over the last week or two:
    1. First, I have gone the literary agent route. I wrote a MS several years back called Perfect Shadows, which was my right-out-of-the-box attempt at writing—just a keyboard and me. I sent out a query letter to a half-dozen agents with the first three chapters attached. One of the agents called me immediately and requested the entire MS. I sent it. She called the same day she received it and said she would love to represent me. She is a well-known and well-respected literary agent who has been in the business a long time and makes big sales. I notified the other agents that the MS was taken. My agent sent the MS to the big NY houses. It went to a second reading at Bantam and received much praise from the other houses. In the end it didn’t get picked up but I did learn how the agency/publishing business works. I wasn’t particularly enchanted with the process, not because of the people—the people were great, but because I like to keep my destiny in my own hands. That’s just my nature. I didn’t view NY then or now as the only game in town or the only people who could figure out how to pick a good book or take it to market. Not to slight them, of course. My point only being that they are not exclusive.
    2. Some of you have reported that you read Chapter 1 of Night Laws on line and didn’t particularly like it. After reading 10 pages of 382, you have concluded that the book is not for you. I have no problem with that. Not every book or every writing style is for every person. However, your comments are tempered by the fact that almost everyone who has read the entire book has liked it very much. Over forty avid readers, mostly authors and book reviews, have read the book and went on record to praise it. These are all people who I don’t know and who owe me nothing. Also, I went back to check the first four paragraphs on my website and learned that I had a much earlier excerpt posted there. My site has since been updated with the Chapter 1 as actually sent to the printer.
    3. An author who is thinking about setting up his/her own small press will more likely succeed, in my opinion, if they have the following qualities:
    A. You must be a “can do” person.
    B. You must have a good book. That doesn’t mean it has to be the blockbuster of the century. Get brutally honest feedback and rewrite it until it is up to standards. But don’t expect universal praise, because no one gets that. Even authors who finally get a NY house to sign them up have usually been rejected by several others. The rejections don’t mean their book is bad, but only that it didn’t strike the necessary personal or financial cord of the persons making the decisions at the time, for whatever reason.
    C. You must do, or find a way to do, the many tasks that publishing requires (editing, copyediting, cover design, printing, blurbs, book reviews, distribution, marketing, etc.). These tasks must be done well.
    If you can do these things, then go for it and have fun doing it. After all, you life belongs to you and the bottom line is you’re entitled to make your own decisions. Worse case scenario, you flop.
    One final thought: I really don’t understand all the personal attacks that people fling against one another on blogs. There are ways to disagree without being disagreeable. I must say that if some people were trying to earn my respect in any way shape or form, they have failed miserably.

  44. “Worse case scenario, you flop” This is the most likely outcome based on the data. No one is insulting anyone here, they’re stating realities. Jim you don’t want to hear these realities. If one book won’t sell, you shelve it and write one that will, or rewrite it until it becomes salable. The odds of this working are slim being professional writers here have told you the opening chapter is flawed.
    You won’t listen. And when it does fail you’ll say what most vanity press authors say. “At least I had fun.” And learned nothing required to succeed.

  45. I agree with Mark. It won’t work economically. To sell a book to the market it has to be returnable and discount at 50+% AND be picked up by a main distributor. I’ll defend the work but to think that POD or self publishing is going to actually work to the point of a financial return and/or pick up wide spread readership is wishful thinking in my opinion.
    There are thousands of Indy’s but they have to conform to the same financial realities of the Industry as everyone else. Folks will only pay so much for a book and $15-$20 for a paperback is out of that range.
    To publish books for a profit requires a minimum investment and a certain volume to make it pencil out.
    Now if you truly want to go for it and pump some serious dough into an Indy start up it’s doable-
    ….But I thought you were a writer?

  46. Wanna know when POD is going to be a mature technology?
    When I can walk into a Barnes and Noble, pick up three or four little flats that have a cover image, a title and the author’s name on one side with a RIFD on the other and take it to the counter. The clerk slips the flats into a reader, and I pay.
    Then I move from the order window to the pick up window. The books are printed right then and I walk out with (literally) brand new books of comparable quality to what I can buy now.
    Until then….

  47. Stephen: Actually, the economics of a small press, whether operated by the author or someone else, are extremely viable. For example, the initial printing of Night Laws is 3300 and the total cost invested is less than $7,000 including shiping. That’s a little over $2/book. They sell for $14. My press is a vendor with Baker & Taylor. Virtually every bookstore in the country has an account with B&T. They ARE returnable. Any bookstore can order my books at wholesale cost with returnable options the exact same way they can order books by any other author or from any other publisher. Amazon is another great way to sell books. In fact, Night Laws is already listed there.
    Actually, an author-owned press is potentially more economically viable than a large press because there are no author royalties to pay, and much of the work is done by the author. A NY press will easily spend $50-75K to bring a book to market. A well run small press that doesn’t pay royalites can do it for less than $10K.
    So the economics are not an issue, provided the author has some money to front the project.
    By the way, are you the Stephen White from Boulder?

  48. Everything is listed on Amazon, very few sell because of that alone. The rest od what Jim says is true. he can make returns in ways the vanities won’t, and he;s not a POD. Those are plusses. Problem is without bigtime advertising and listing in catalogs no one will know about Jim’s book.
    If they do find one it will be too late for that falty opening chapter. Of course Amazon and BN could help that out by posting the chapter online there as well.

  49. No not CO, I live in Seattle. I think there are a few of us everywhere though 🙂
    You know I’m not going to argue that it can’t be done. You’ve run a business for a couple of decades and my guess is this is something that has been tugging at you. I spent 12 years running a small company as well.
    Since your doing it offset you have put yourself in the position of being able to fill the orders under normal press terms, but as Mark says, that alone will not sell several thousand books and when everything’s said and done you might end up with a garage full of unsold/returned books. I suspect you know this and have decided it’s worth the risk for the excitement of checking out the publishing/business side.
    I assume that when all is said and done you will have about $5 a book tied up and need to therefore sell about a thousand books to break even.
    Indy’s have the same problem but they are able to spread the risk between a couple of dozen titles a year and your doing it with one.
    I know you are at the beginning stages and naturally pumped up but you have to admit that for most writers this is a stretch and they are almost all going to fail and lose the bulk of the money they have put in. My guess is few will have much fun doing it.
    I’m sorry but I just do not see the wisdom of self-publishing for the average writer. I think your unusual in the sense of being self employed, money and time on your hands and an entrepreneurial streak pushing you forward.
    I think most writers should write, edit (re-edit) and send the end result off to the professionals that do what they do. I don’t see any thing wrong at all with popping for a few $20 POD books to pop on the shelf if an MS doesn’t sell, but that’s not publishing- it’s printing 😉
    On a personal note, I’ve just finished my second edit and now have started back through for a third time. I see more than ever what everyone here has been saying. I think in the end I might need to pop for at least an objective read through and light edit. After having read this MS so many times it seems a little more crappy with each pass. How do you folks keep from hating your work in the end simply because your sick of reading it?

  50. I hear you Stephen. I’m three years into rewriting my last book, while writing two more in fits and starts. Each time it gets bigger and better. Since an agent is reading three chapters it behooves me to work the bugs out farther down the line when they want the rest of it. I had to increase the scope to make it more acceptible for the general audience. That was the complaint so I agreed and did it.
    You must question every sentence: toss the very’s and that’s and a number of other tricks that tighten and improve readability. Vanity press offerings do none of this.

  51. I’ve seen POD authors on a couple of lists pushing their publisher onto newbies as a viable market for their work, encouraging them to submit novels there. (Do these places have affiliates programs now?) Everything goes into these posts except the fact that it’s pay-to-publish … The distribution (‘Available’ from thousands of bookstores worldwide), the rapid turnaround, the fact their books will never go out of print, etc, etc.
    I chose self-pub for my niche SF/Humour books and found a market (followed by an offer from a respectable publisher, an advance and a three book contract), however, I would be the last person to recommend POD or self-pub to other fiction authors. My feelings on this are strong enough that I wrote & posted articles on my site warning about the pitfalls of POD and self-pub.
    If you know what you’re getting into, fine. But don’t be misled by tales of famous authors self-publishing, or POD being a revolutionary new process which old-fashioned publishers have yet to catch onto, or expect bookstores to welcome you and your box full of self-pub books with open arms.

  52. Not much. FACP is a literary publishing house based in Western Australia, which is my home state. They publish a lot of local interest books – biographies, poetry and childrens’ books, which traditionally have low advances.
    This is how they describe themselves on their website:
    “Fremantle Arts Centre Press began publishing in 1976 with the aim of developing the widest possible audience for outstanding Western Australian writers and writing. Since then it has grown into one of Australia’s most successful independent publishers.
    The Press publishes works of fiction, literary prose and poetry, social history, autobiography, biography, trade books in areas such as food and photography, children’s picture books and fiction for young readers.”
    SF/Humour is a new area for them. They’re hoping to publish a few titles with wider appeal, in order to fund books with smaller print runs. Sounds like a risky deal for the author – first SF book with a literary publisher – but one of the main reasons I went for it is that all FACP books are distributed by Penguin Australia outside of WA. My book is in the Penguin bookstore catalogue, and 200+ Penguin reps are out there flogging it to stores.
    On the publishing side, my editor is a wonderful lady – dedicated, very perceptive and best of all, a closet Red Dwarf fan. We had a ball editing the first two books, and I’m really looking forward to working with her on the third. The publisher has been great to work with.
    Finally, my book was selected as a group purchase by one of Australia’s largest bookselling chains. They stuck it in their September catalogue and put multiple copies into every store. It hit the SF/Fantasy bestseller list in the week of release, and remained in the list for two more weeks, peaking at #3
    Book two will be out in March, with book three to follow in September next year. So, I’m bloody happy right now.


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