Even a lot of brave men dare not wade into this subject, so I guess that just makes me a fool for doing it.Â ButÂ the topic of self-publishingÂ flared up in the comments section for my last blog entry, and I still have things to say about it.Â I know the brickbats are going to come flying, as they always do when it comes to this subject.Â Still, here goes.Â Aspiring writers can either accept my wisdom, or they can cover their eyes and stop reading right here and now.Â And please, save the nasty emails.Â
First, a few preliminary comments:
1.Â Â If you have to pay to see your novel in print, thenÂ it’s self-published.Â End of definition.
2. My remarks below are restricted to NOVELS.Â I do agree that there’s sometimes a legitimate role for self-publishing if you’ve written a non-fiction or advice book.
Whenever this subject gets addressed on any traditionally publishedÂ author’s blog, the self-published novelists come storming in with their charges that the “system” is rigged against them, that everyone wants to see them fail because they’re bravely beating at the doors of traditional publishing.Â And they’re partly right.Â The system is rigged against them.Â Reviewers won’t review their books.Â Authors will seldom blurb their books. Worst of all, most bookstores won’t sell their books.Â You’ll probably never see your self-published novel in Barnes and Noble or Borders because those chain stores will stock only returnable books.Â If the copies don’t sell, B&N wants to be able to returnÂ them to the publisher for credit.Â If they can’t get credit back, they won’t stock the book.Â Self-published books, for the most part, don’t come with guaranteed returnability.Â So for the bookstores, it’s a simple business decision, and it has nothing to do with suppressing free speech orÂ being nasty to self-publishedÂ novelists.
So yes, I agree that the system isn’t your friend if you’re self-published.Â But the system isn’t particularly friendly to traditionally published authors either.Â Most books don’t get reviewed.Â Many books, even from major publishers, aren’t carried in chain bookstores.Â There’s limited shelf space and we’re all competing for it, so don’t assume that just because you get aÂ book deal from Random House or Simon & Schuster that you’re going to be in every bookstore in America.Â But at least you’ll have a fighting chance, and that’s the best a new author can hope for.
Self-published authors don’t getÂ that fighting chance.Â Most of them can’t even get theirÂ books in the door.Â They have signed up for a lesson in frustration and of course they feel rejected and angry, so they want to blame the “system”.Â They should really be blaming those self-publishing companies who prey on their hopes and dreams, companies that lure them in with promises of fame and success and thenÂ take their money.
But are these authors angry at the self-publishing companies who’ve victimized them?Â No.Â Instead, they’re angry at whoever points out the truth.
Years ago, whenever I’d visit my mom in California, I noticed that her house was filling up with magazines she never read andÂ vitamins she never took and various products that she never even unpacked from their boxes.Â When I asked her about them, she’d turn evasive and say she might need them someday.Â Then one day I picked up her mail and was shocked by the deluge of sweepstakes entries.Â Â “Win $100,000!Â Enter today!”Â They all promised her a chance at a big jackpot, if only she’d enter their contests.Â And it might help her chances to winÂ if she subscribed to their magazine or ordered their useless product.Â So over the years, my mom had been spending thousands of dollars every year to enter those contests.Â Soon every scam company in the world knew my mom was a sucker, and the contest mailingsÂ poured into her mailbox in ever greater numbers.Â She kept entering.Â She kept sending money — I have no idea how much she eventually was cheated out of, but it had to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
I told her she was being conned, that she had to stop sending those thieves any more money.Â I told her the chances of her actually winning anything was infinitesimal, and she’d be better off investing that cash.Â Do you think sheÂ was grateful for my advice?Â Hell no, she was pissed at me.Â She told me I was trying to stop her from winning her dream jackpot. I was trying to destroy her hopes of getting rich.Â She didn’t want to hear my advice,Â and I couldn’t convince her to stop sending in those checks.Â In every other way, she was perfectly competent to manage her affairs, so there was nothing I could do except watch, helplessly, as my mom spent a fortune so that she could become rich.
It wasn’t until years later, after I’d sent her news article after news article about elder scams, that she finally came to agree thatÂ I was right.Â Now she no longer enters sweepstakes contests.Â Â ButÂ because ofÂ her dreams of easy riches, she frittered away a lot of money.Â Instead, if she’dÂ been patient and saved that money and taken the time to understand how to invest it, she’d now have as much as those contests promised her.Â ButÂ that was too much trouble.Â That took too much planning, too much effort.Â She wantedÂ to do it the easy way, and she got burned for it.
And when I tried toÂ save her from herself, sheÂ directed her anger at me.Â
The point of this story is thatÂ the bearers of truth seldom get any credit.Â And those who could benefit from the truth are seldom grateful.Â
Yes, the system is rigged against the self-published. So why would you choose to seek out the precise path that will throw up the most obstacles your way?
Here’s my advice.Â If your novel doesn’t sell the traditional way,Â maybe there’s a good reason, a reason you just can’t see because you’re too close to the project.Â Â You need to let it go and move on to another story.Â Write another book.Â And another one.Â If you’re really a writer, you’ll doÂ that anyway, because you can’t help yourself from telling stories.Â Don’t get sucked into thinking there’s a short cut to publication.Â There really isn’t.Â Sometimes it takes years, sometimes decades.Â Sometimes it never happens at all.
AÂ traditional publishing contract is what the industry understands and values.Â You can earn success the hard way, by writing a publishable book and walking in the front door.Â Or you can do it the even harder way, by trying to pry your way in through the back door.Â
The difference is all in how you’ll be greeted.