Self-Publishing: Boon or Boondoggle?

GalleyCat just posted more news from the publishing world: Simon & Schuster is opening a new self-publishing service, Archway Publications. This is hot on the heels of its acquisition of self-publishing company Author Solutions in July. I think it’s a good omen that traditional publishing houses are seeing the value of self-publishing.

However, self-publishing is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, nothing is more democratic than having an avenue where anyone can publish anything. It’s like the Internet, but for real books. Previously marginalized voices, stories that might not have blockbuster appeal, and experimental storytelling can all see the light of day, if the writer can scrape together a few hundred dollars.

On the other hand, after spending the last several months reviewing self-published books for Kirkus Indie, I can agree that there is merit in having some form of gatekeeper. To put it bluntly: most of the self-published books I read are crap, just utter crap. They are poorly thought out and even more poorly written. It astounds me that an author would pay almost $500 for a review, when it’s painfully apparent he or she didn’t spend one dime on manuscript coaching or editing. I honestly wonder what on earth gave these people the idea that they can write, that their stories “deserve” to be immortalized in paperback. As an environmentalist, I’m deeply saddened that so many trees were cut down in order to print these books (one more reason to switch to hemp).

I wish I didn’t have to be so harsh. I want to be encouraging and helpful; the problem is, I’m reading the final product. There is no helping or encouraging a writer once the book is printed and bound. I can only be honest.

Logically, I know not every self-published book is trash (see GalleyCat’s Self-Published Bestsellers). I am sincerely attempting not to stereotype, but when you’ve read dozens of these kinds of books, and not one of them is any good, you can’t help but begin to form an assumption. So, rather than being harsh, let me be encouraging:

Authors, if you are considering self-publishing, good for you. Just don’t think of it as a short-cut. Hone your craft. Hire a professional manuscript coach. Polish your novel (or memoir or whatever) to perfection, just as if you were sending it off to a big publishing house. Make it something you can be proud of.

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One thought on “Self-Publishing: Boon or Boondoggle?

  1. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of self-published books I’ve read, but I tend to buy only the ones where I liked the sample chapter and/or saw a positive review. There are certainly some crappy self-published books out there, but is it really a waste of many trees? My guess is that most of those novels sell as ebooks only, even if a paperback copy is available for on demand printing. The sad part is how many pages are wasted on printing out double-spaced manuscripts to submit to agents, who seem to just reject everyone anyway. Joking aside, I get your point and generally agree with you.

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