It’s strange to me that people have an aversion to self-publishing — not to actually doing it, but in the process as a whole, including the content it produces.
Earlier today, I was reading an article on io9 about a recent spat between the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Random House Publishing. In the comments section, a self-described “aspiring writer” brought up self-publishing and asked a few questions:
How do we the readers know that a self-published novel is any good? How rigorous an editing process does a self-published book get and how does the author assure he/she is putting out publisher-level work and not just work they think is good? Not to say publishers don’t put out some junk, but they at least give a work the veneer of vetting. Also, once you have a work self-published, how do you get people to pay attention to it?
As far as I can tell from some general internet traipsing, this commentator’s questions are not unique. There are a lot of readers out there who seem to think they need some sort of filter for writing. As someone who just recently self-published a novel (I’m obligated to leave this here) and just an avid reader in general, I find this kind of thinking bizarre. “Stinkin’ thinkin’,” you might say…you know, if you’re the kind of person who says things like that.
Although I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form, I will say the process of self-publishing is extremely liberating and just a bit terrifying. Knowing that absolutely everything is under your control is definitely power trip, although it comes with a lot of caveats. How the book reads, what it looks like, how it’s marketed and whether or not it’s professionally edited are all decisions you have to make as the author and self-publisher. If you’re planning on making a living writing and self-publishing your work, it’s certainly do-able; there have plenty of folks out there who have paid their dues and done just that. But it takes a lot of hard work and investment of both time and money.
The great thing about self-publishing is if you just want to write and share your work with others, hopefully making a little extra money in the process, you can do that too. That’s wonderful.
But with so many self-published works coming down the pipeline, how will a reader ever know what’s good and what’s garbage? Good question. The answer is pretty simple, though: By forming his or her own opinion. Amazon and B&N both provide lengthy samples of the novels they sell. If there’s a self-published book that looks interesting, I read the sample; if I like what I’ve read, I buy the book to support the author. It’s just the same as any other novel on the store shelf. Like you said, publishers are just as likely to publish junk…albeit junk they think other people will buy. I’m looking at you, Twilight saga. Oh shit, it sees me staring! Look away, look away, look away!
I think the most exciting thing about the new wave of self-publishing is the lowered barrier for entry. People knock it because it means anyone can publish just about anything, but there’s all kinds of cool, weird stuff out there that simply wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise because it doesn’t fit into a traditional publisher’s narrow view of what’s marketable. And I’m in now way knocking big publishing houses wanting to make money, but there’s also nothing wrong with having options beyond what they choose to offer.
My novel is not some brilliant piece of work that no one would publish because it’s just too deep or some bullshit like that. No, no…believe me, it’s not. I just wanted to write a novel about some emotionally-troubled giant monsters and their dealings with emotionally-troubled small town people without worrying about whether or not a traditional publisher would find it interesting. I wrote it for myself. But, if someone picks up a copy and enjoys it — regardless of how it was published — then I’ve succeeded as a writer.
Here’s the cool thing: These days, anybody else can do the same.
That’s right, you can be just like me. Isn’t that a thrilling proposition?