A Friday’s Thoughts on Self Publishing

3 comments Written on March 25th, 2011 by
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I posted the following as a comment over on Amy Sundberg’s blog, and I encourage you to head over there to take a look at the context and other voices in the discussion. My own two cents seemed coherent enough that I wanted to include it here as well:


My concern with self-publishing, as with small press publishing and big press publishing is the issue of the signal to noise ratio.

It’s useful to remember Sturgeon’s Law, that 95% of anything is crap. Ideally, gatekeepers exist to address this point, to weed out the good from the sea of bad, and present only the worthwhile (accepting for the moment that you agree with a given gatekeeper’s operational definition for what is worthwhile).

At a large press, a good editor or editorial team takes on this role, and for those portions of “worthwhile” defined as “profitable” there’s a marketing team involved as well. As a small press (for example, the one I operate) there may only be one or two editors working on a project and the question of “how much money will this book make” may not even come up at all (though the question of “how much do we stand to lose” usually does).

In self-publishing, there may not be a professional editor and the author has to shoulder the responsibility of both creative artist and gatekeeper. And more often than not, objectivity goes out the window. Most of the authors I know (and I’m including myself) are rarely the best judge of whether their own work.

I run a small press and from day one made the decision never to publish my own work. Why? For the same reason I don’t expect people submitting novellas to me to include rave reviews from their mothers. There’s no objectivity there. At best there’s an attempt, but c’mon, writing is a very subjective, in-your-own-head kind of thing.

If you’re going to self publish, that’s fine, but unless you bring in an outside editor (and while you’re at it, let’s go with a proof reader and copy editor as well), my best guess is you’re going to land in the wrong portion of that 95% / 5% divide.

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3 comments “A Friday’s Thoughts on Self Publishing”

Excellent post. Well stated. But it needs to be said that the involvement of the marketing team at a major house tends to be substantive only for the top titles on a publisher’s list. Midlist authors are typically (though not always) left out in the cold.

Marco, thanks for the correction. You would certainly know much better than me.

I think you’re spot-on about first timers who believe they don’t need an editor landing in the 95% category. Anyone that thinks that bypassing New York means the work will be easier is fooling themselves. Self-publishing lets you get the work out there, but now all the responsibility for the quality is on your head.

Fortunately, there are many many services for hire, with more appearing every day. In fact, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler, and Joe Konrath had a discussion on the costs and work involved in self-publishing just recently: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3707

They’re discussion a new business model for agents, which has been tentatively called an e-stributor. (I dislike the name, but they didn’t ask me. 😉 It’s an interesting read, and discusses many of the maintenance tasks a self-publisher needs to undertake to keep the sales moving.

Fortunately, for those at the professional level, some editing can be done in trade with your peers. I don’t mean copyediting, as that’s always best done by hire. But the high level commentary, suggestions, and edits can be done by other writers. We’re talking about flow, pacing, description, and so on. We all have to learn these things as part of our tradecraft, and your peers can give you that much needed objectivity.


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