A signing at a book store (that's me on the left): Even if one is ligitimately published, selling your books can be as painful as selling snake oil.
"Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. . . if you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous -- which is very different."- Jane Yolen
I got a comment from a reader of this blog out in Ohio (thanks much "Seriously Though" and thanks, Claudia) when I vented about self-publishing. I said self-publishing is the kiss of death for those of us who take writing seriously and I'd like to do some more thinking aloud about that now.
I'm a member of a local writers' group and most of them are people who are just starting the dream of becoming a "published" writer. At our last meeting, they asked me what I thought about self-publishing and I tried to take it kind of easy because there are self-published writers in our group and they were all sitting around the table waiting for words of wisdom from this litgitimately published writer.
The bottom line is this and it's hard to be gentle about it: Anyone can self-publish. An illiterate can self-publish, a three-year old can self-publish if his mother is willing to take the time to go to CreateSpace.com and click on the right places. You don't have to have any writing skills at all to self-publish and my jaundiced opinion about self-publishing is based on this fact. If you really want to be a writer--a good writer--you have to pay your dues, you have to learn the craft, you have to suffer the agony of rejection and most of all, you have to write, write, write and never, ever quit.
Writing is a skill like, say, building houses. You don't one day decide to advertise yourself as house builder if you've never built one before. No one in their right mind would hire you to build a house for them if they knew you didn't know the difference between a joist and a window jam. And so it is with writing. Ligitimate publishers are flooded with manuscripts--some handwritten on yellow legal pads!--by people who have no idea what they're doing and that's the reason for this huge boom in self-publishing. It would be impossible for me to call myself a writer and to tell other people that I'm a writer and that I have a book out if it was self-published. It's meaningless and embarrassing.
Yeah, yeah, I know-- there are exceptions but those exceptions prove the rule. Case in point is that famous series of books about a boy and his dragon. The author was just a teenager when he wrote the first book and, as his good fortune would have it, he met someone in the publishing biz who was willing to read it, loved it, and pushed it. It was picked up by a big publishing house, became a best seller, and suddenly this kid was wallowing in fame and cash. It was like winning the lottery and anyone who knows anything about statistics and probablity will understand how vanishingly small his chances were of doing what he did.
But, of course, the person unfamiliar with statistics and probabilty thinks, That could be me! Why not! And out comes the yellow legal pad (now days its a word processor) and the scribbling begins. There are hundreds of advertisements out there for self-publishing firms who are willing to take your money and get your book published! In fact, if you look at the advertisements on the margins of this blog, you'll see lots of them (I have nothing to do with what get advertised here. That's done by computers somewhere in the murky bowels of the great Google machine).
Okay, that was not all that gentle. I'm sorry. In my next blog, I'm going to think about when it is appropriate to self-publish. Meanwhile, I'm back in Washington D.C. for ten days and it's spring and I'm going to walk and explore and think about this brave new world of writing and publishing and yes, self-publishing.