As I work on my current book project for UK publisher The History Press and prepare for Constable & Robinson’s British release of Human Game in March, my thoughts have been turning—with increasing frequency—to self-publishing. My first book, On the House, was released by Penguin in 2005 and went out of print a couple of years ago. Since the rights have reverted back to me, I have toyed with the idea of publishing the book myself in Amazon’s Kindle Store to give it a second chance at life.
While researching the benefits and pitfalls of releasing a book without a traditional publisher’s backing, I stumbled across a Forbes article in which a couple of mega-selling authors trash self-published writers (the article was published in August, so I’m a bit late coming to it). Here is what Sue Grafton, author of numerous mysteries–such as A is for Alibi and C is for Corpse–had to say on the subject. Judging from the following quote, I assume “B is for Bitchy”:
To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.
Maybe “S is for Snotty.” This quote astounds me. Why would Ms. Grafton assume a self-published author is a “wannabe” who thinks writing and publishing are easy? Anyone who has the discipline to sit down, write every day, and complete a manuscript knows there’s nothing easy about it. People can read, study, and do research into traditional publishing, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to get published. Think of how many great writers there must be out there who have been unable to land a traditional writing contract. Maybe someone did do their research and decided traditional publishing wasn’t for them. What’s wrong if they want to share their work with others? Ms. Grafton says self-publishing is a short cut—and that there should be no short cuts in art. James Joyce self-published Ulysses. Does that make Joyce a “wannabe”? Self-published authors have to hire graphic designers to do the book covers, editors to go over the manuscript, and they have to try and market and promote the book themselves–there’s nothing easy about any of that.
This brings me to the next quote—this one from thriller writer Brad Thor, author of Black List and Full Black, among others:
The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.
If traditional publishers “separate the wheat from the chaff,” how does one explain Fifty Shades of Gray or Twilight (my apologies to fans of James and Meyer)? What about books supposedly written by Snooki or Paris Hilton? If you’re a good writer, you hope you’ll land a publishing contract. What Mr. Thor seems to ignore, however, is that a publishing contract in no way guarantees success. You could have your book released by a major publishing house, only to face the frustration of seeing said publisher do nothing to promote or market the work. I spent three years working on one book only to see it come out in a blaze of obscurity: zero publicity and miserable distribution. It was a shattering experience. Yes, it was released in hardcover by a major publisher. And while I did everything I could to get the word out, one can only do so much.
Thor and Grafton must be oblivious to the fact that they’re the exception—not the rule. They’ve achieved a level of success most struggling authors will never attain. It seems contemptuous to verbally smack around authors who are simply trying to get their work into the hands of readers. Now, yes, I agree there’s a lot of crap that’s self-published. But there’s a lot of crap that’s been released through traditional publishing houses, too. In the end, it should be for readers to decide what’s good or bad. One reader’s James Patterson is another’s Raymond Chandler.
I’ve had six non-fiction books released thus far by major publishers in the United States and Britain, and am considering self-publishing. I don’t believe that makes me a “wannabe.” I don’t believe talented authors who’ve been unable to land publishing contracts and decide to self-publish are “wannabes,” either. They’re just as passionate about what they do as Grafton or Thor. I’ll even venture to say some are just as—if not more—talented.