Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A few comments on self-publishing

This blog is about traditional publishing. I don't know how to self-publish and I'm not really interested. I think in general, writers would do better to improve their craft, get and give critiques, and approach traditional publishers. That said, there are probably a few instances where self-publishing is warranted, for example, if you want to publish a family history. I think print on demand (POD) services like are probably the best way to go for that--you only pay for what you actually print, I believe, which would negate spending money for books you don't end up selling. But if you want to know more about self-publishing, you're going to have to look somewhere other than here.

What I DO want to say about it, however, is this: there are places where it's appropriate to advertise, and places where it's not. Places that are NOT:

1. Traditional editors. Publishers publish unpublished books. (Uh...say that ten times fast.) If it is already published, the job is done and there is nothing left for them to do. Got it? (And lest you bring up Paolini, let me dispell any misconceptions--if you have sold 10,000 copies on your own--that's TEN THOUSAND--then a traditional publisher might be interested. But twenty or even a hundred to your closest friends and relatives? Nope.) If you still doubt, read this:

2. Agents. Agents sell unpublished books to traditional publishers. If you send them your self-published book, there is nothing they can do with it. Of course, if you write a new book, then by all means query them. Just because you've had one self-published book (or ten) certainly doesn't bar you from traditionally publishing a new one. Just be aware that your self-published books won't count the way traditionally published books will. An agent can see that you can finish a book, sure, but the point of listing publications is to prove that an unbiased judge found merit in your writing. You publishing your own writing is NOT an example of an unbiased anything. (Ditto endorsements from your mother, your children's teacher, or a classful of children. Of course they are going to say nice things. They don't want to hurt your feelings.) If you don't have any publishing credentials other than that, it's okay. The main point is, can you write? Not, how impressive of a resume can you invent. To cite the late Miss Snark (may she rest in peace!), the writing is what counts.

3. Writer groups devoted to discussing and improving craft with the goal of traditional publishing. Um...I've seen self-published authors blitz a board with their wares, never to return again. That is not an effective use of networking. More likely, your post will be viewed as spam. Yep. s-p-a-m. If you go the self-publishing route and still want to join a writing group, great. Stick around. Participate in discussions. Make a meaningful contribution. Maybe even...learn something about craft. People are much more likely to take interest in your book if you refrain from shoving it down their throats. Especially if they are committed to the long way around in hopes of traditional publishing.

So--if you are equally committed to self-publishing, please do yourself a favor and find out where it IS appropriate to advertise (maybe a site devoted to reading, not writing? Reading groups? Places where people are looking to buy self-published books? Groups devoted to the specific topic your book is about?) And good luck!

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