Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Speak Out About Self-Publishing

Last week I read a column by Clarence Page about religious prejudice and politics in which he pointed out that the roots of ethnic and religious prejudice often go back to people's tendency to be frightened by that which they know little about. I was struck by how this assessment also fits prejudice against self-publishing. In my reading of many online discussions, as well as in my live conversations with both aspiring and traditionally-published authors, I have seen a surprising level of ignorance of what self-publishing is all about. Mostly they seem to think it involves dashing off an ill-conceived poorly-written manuscript, and then paying a company to publish it. This may describe the process for some who use subsidy publishers. But for those of us who actually self-publish, publishing is a business which we have had to learn, and at which we work hard.

Inanna Arthen said it well in her response to my Nov 30 post. She commented:
"It’s most unfortunate that so many writers are just incredibly ignorant of what is really involved in publishing a book. Printing the physical book is just one step in a long, long process. … being the publisher means you have to know about business laws in your state, accounting, ISBN numbers, copyright law, Library of Congress numbers, book design, layout and typesetting, getting cover blurbs, meeting deadlines and protocols for pre-publication reviews, setting up sales parameters from price to shipping to distribution to the Amazon detail page, designing and producing promotional materials, targeting and querying post-publication reviewers, marketing, and paying all your taxes…and that’s just for starters." 

I've learned all this stuff and more over the 20+ years I've been writing and publishing. And I've shared my knowledge with other writers when they've asked. I've also noticed that self-publishers who participate in online discussion groups are very generous in sharing what they have learned. But we don't have so many opportunities to educate the old guard about what we do. Most of them don't ask, don't want to hear. And it's hard to break through their prejudices.

Last month I was part of a group of Colorado mystery writers doing a bookstore signing, which also included talks by a couple of the writers about their writing and publishing experiences. Not surprisingly, the speakers were not self-published authors. When an audience member asked a question about self-publishing, the speaker responded by saying it's not a good idea to pay someone to publish your book. Although I was reluctant to identify myself as self-published in an environment where I felt it would reflect poorly on my novel, I couldn't let that comment go by. So I jumped in and explained briefly the self-publishing process and the difference between self-publishing and subsidy publishing (see my 9/20/07 post). A brief discussion followed, in which we all agreed that editing is an essential part of the publishing process, and that self-publishers must have their books edited.

I have no idea what impact my comments had on the people there, or whether they now think differently about self-publishing. I do know it's not an easy conversation to have. When I'm talking with traditionally-published authors who don't know I'm self-published, it's tempting to try to "pass" for one of them. That way I don't have to justify my choices or deal with them seeing me as someone who couldn't make it the way they did. But I know I need to speak up for self-publishing to try to help others understand it. So I plan to push past my fears and continue to confront the old guard with the facts.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lynn & Inanna,Sadly, the MWA statement Inanna referenced has been the same from day one. The real standards are under Criteria which hasn't changed and still outlaws all POD (via print run requirement), self-/subsidy publishers, any publisher not in business at least 2 years, any publisher that doesn't pay an advance of at least $1000, and on and on.The statement that the list will be updated really refers to the fact that publishers must apply to MWA and if they meet all of the criteria, then they will be added.One positive change MWA made is the publication of their meeting agenda and minutes, though the minutes are so sketchy they have little value and do not indicate the vote tally for issues or who voted for what. I believe that is critical information so members can make informed judgments on their votes for Directors. They also indicate that they will publish an archive of past meetings.