I’m a big fan of self-publishing. So today I want to add a few thoughts to my previous post about an article that condemns self-publishing and the people who do it: Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word.
The writer, Laurie Gough, makes two serious errors. First, she believes that commercial publishing is a process that ensures quality, while self-publishing does not.
I can speak from experience here because I’ve published books both ways, and I’m also an avid reader. Most commercial books no longer go through a quality-control process. Editors – the unsung heroes who turn imperfect manuscripts into excellent books – are disappearing. Fast. If you do get to work with a professional editor, it will frequently be for one chapter only. (Want an example? Read my comments about a memoir written by Dylan Thomas’s daughter.) Simon & Schuster still hooks up its writers with superb editors – but it is an exceptional company.
Gough’s second error is believing that you can’t be a writer unless you’re a very special person. In fact Gough is offended by people who self-publish instead of taking the commercial route. That’s insulting.
I’ve read some marvelous self-published books – and it’s very likely that you have too. The best career guide I’ve ever read is What Color Is Your Parachute? It’s a self-published book that keeps selling in updated editions year after year.
Some self-published books are later acquired by commercial publishers. That happens much more often than you might think. (It happened to my own book Police Talk, which was picked up by Pearson in 2001).
I’ll give Gough credit for some good points. Here’s one: “Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship.” She’s right – but there are many ways to complete that apprenticeship besides working with a commercial publisher (who probably won’t want to spend its limited resources on a new author like you). A writing group can help you. You can hire your own editor. You can learn your craft by writing for magazines and newspapers. You can read, read, read, and then read some more.
I know many people who’ve been writing since childhood (something I’ve done myself). Doesn’t that constitute an apprenticeship?
Here’s an anecdote from Laurie Gough that shocked me:
Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, “Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Margaret Atwood said, “Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!”
Laurie, I’m going to set you straight about a couple of things. First, not all self-published books are “dashed off.” I spent years (that’s not a typo) writing my reflective book Gretel’s Story, and I’ve received some wonderful feedback about it. (Yes, it’s a self-published book.)
And here’s something else I want to say to you, Laurie. You’re a…snob. That’s not very nice, and it pains me to say it, but it’s true.
Many people (perhaps most people) have something in their hearts and souls that is worth committing to paper, even though it may reach only a small audience. I’ve already talked about my never-to-be-fulfilled yearning to read about my Grandmother Knapp’s childhood and early years in the US after she left Finland.
Think of a child’s thrill on Christmas morning when he unwraps a book that contains the poems or stories he has shyly been sharing with you for the last two years. Or the smile on a little girl’s face when she reads a picture book you’ve written with her as the central character.
Do you think those children will carry those memories with them for life? And that perhaps their future children will one day enjoy reading those books?
Perhaps you’re wondering whether a self-published book can ever match the quality of a commercial book. The answer is yes – if you know what to do. You can find some tips in a post I wrote about a biography of Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset. The book was wonderful – and would have been even better if the author had followed a few simple tips.
Enough ranting. Please, please write your book. Self-publishing is inexpensive and accessible to everyone.
You’ll get a huge feeling of accomplishment when you hold your book in your hands for the first time. And oh, the places you’ll go if it catches on with a wider audience! (Yes, some self-published books do.)
(You can find free advice about self-publishing by clicking here.)