Rant,  Writing

Welcome to the Self Publishing Rookery

(Only) historical note: The Rookeries were the notorious, filthy, crime-ridden slums of London, cleared by the Victorians, whose notorious, filthy, crime-ridden slums were cleared by the Blitz and mid-late 20th century city planners.

rookeryKeep a careful eye on your billfold. You will be assaulted by various crooks and villains intent on getting your money.

  • Hundreds of brilliant reviews? Certainly, follow me into this dark alley.
  • Make the amazon/NYT/USAToday lists? Absolutely, just let me look after your cash for a moment, be right back.
  • Copyedit your book? I’m fully-qualified, but what does it have to do with Chicago?

But here is some real advice I have received from experts who shall remain nameless (and who’ve sold much better than I have)**:

  • Write a series with at least three books every year. What they’re about doesn’t really matter, but for heaven’s sake, don’t try to be original or complicated or funny.
  • So long as one or more of the words duke, Navy Seal, alpha male spring to mind, you’re fine.
  • You don’t need to have your book copy edited or line edited or have a professionally-designed cover. You have spellcheck and photoshop, you’re ready to go.

I take the view that readers deserve better. Have we really been brainwashed to that extent by the big however-many-are-left NY publishers that that’s all we’re worth? It seems that there are writers (notoriously EL James) who have somehow tapped into the zeitgeist and who sell and sell and sell. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the storytelling (or notoriously, the editing or lack thereof).

[**Yes, my sales suck. But I’m also very disappointed as a reader too, and I don’t think I’m the only one.]

I’m ending this rant with a word from the great Ursula K. LeGuin, who was honored recently at the National Book Awards.  (You can read a whole transcript of her speech here):

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.


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Elena Greene
8 years ago

Do feel your pain, Janet. It’s a time of great flux in the industry and from what I see, quality is all over the place in both traditional and self-published books. I’m seeing themes done to death, poor copy editing in both types of books. Also, as one who is getting more and more into ebooks, I am also seeing many traditionally published ebooks that are formatted worse than my DIY efforts, which are at least clean and simple. Some of the most beautifully formatted ebooks are by savvy self pubs (I’m working on learning how to do that myself, but that’s because I’m mad enough to enjoy it).

I do see some light in all of this. As an indie, I haven’t hit any major bestseller lists, but I’ve had some good runs as well as some periods of doldrum. Mostly, I enjoy the creative freedom to pursue the stories that draw me rather than have an agent or editor push me to chase trends (which has happened).

My food analogy about readers is that some really like burgers–nothing too different, just reasonably tasty and familiar–and that’s why some books do very well despite not having anything particularly original about them. And there are readers who want a gourmet meal–something entirely different in each book. And readers of all sorts in between, for instance, some who may want a non-challenging comfort read or something more edgy based on their mood.

The challenge now, for the writer like me who is not prolific and wants to write stories that don’t always hit down the middle, is how to find the niche of readers who enjoy what I like to write. I’ve found some of them but I still spend more time on promotion versus writing than I would like.

Gail Eastwood
8 years ago

Janet, I sympathize!! I don’t sell very well, either, now that I am “doing my own thing”. I like to think it will get better once I put some new things out there and am not just reissuing my old Signet books, but there’s no guarantee of that. The ebook market has mushroomed into such a huge melee, it’s amazing anyone can find a good book anymore!! Like you, as a reader I have been disappointed several times by books with enticing covers and a promising plot, which were close to unreadable. For all the flaws in the old publishing system, the agents and editors did (at least frequently) serve as gatekeepers for quality. Now the gates are wide open, for both good and bad. Hm, before this gets really long, I think I am going to take the rest of the rant I have in mind and turn it into a blogpost when it’s my turn again –I’m curious to know what people think about some other aspects of this. Great post to get us thinking, Janet!!!

Louisa Cornell
8 years ago

I couldn’t agree more, Janet! My very first published work just went up for pre-order on Amazon. I was so fortunate to be invited by three other authors who have experience in both traditional publishing and indie publishing. More fortunate that these three ladies are fanatics concerning editing and producing a well-written, well-edited, well-formatted worthwhile story (or in this case, four stories) I’ve learned a great deal from them.

I’ve tried to sample indie published works from authors I know and love and authors I’ve never read. It has been hit or miss. Unfortunately more miss than hit. The standard procedure seems to be to get as many works out there as possible as quickly as possible and story quality, plot and artistry be damned.

Which may very well be why I haven’t published before now – traditionally or indie. I tend to obsess about putting out the very best product possible. It was ingrained in me from my earliest days performing – People showed up. They paid. You owe them your best effort every single time. You owe it to them to be better next time. And the next. And the next. I don’t believe writing should be any different.

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