Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Five Top Reasons Why Aspiring Novelists Should Not Self-Publish
My word to the aspiring novelist who's thinking of self-publishing--"Don't."
These days self-publishing is easier than ever. Now even traditional publishers are starting to tout self-publishing arms. But that doesn't make SP the best choice for those who want to pursue a career in fiction.
Just to be clear before I continue--I'm not talking about self-publishing nonfiction. Nor am I talking about an established novelist choosing to use POD (print on demand) to reissue a novel that's fallen out of print. I'm talking only about the new novelist.
Five Top Reasons why aspiring novelists should not self-publish:
5. Self-publishing is Plan B. Let's be honest--what aspiring novelist would choose shelling out dollars to self-publish over being paid for a novel by a traditional publisher? If you want a career in fiction, Plan A is worth striving--and waiting--for.
4. Distribution. It's one thing to print a book. It's quite another to sell the printed copies to stores. First you must convince the bookstores to stock your product--and book shelf space is particularly tight these days. Stores are stocking less books even by novelists who've already made a name for themselves. Don't expect stores to readily stock your self-published book, regardless of the promises SP companies may make.
3. Marketing. It's bad enough now with traditional publishers. They all want to know how you will help market your novel. But at least you're part of a team. Going the SP route, it's just you. What's your platform? If you're not getting distribution to stores, you need to sell directly to readers. Are you willing to merely cover your costs? Even lose money? Are you prepared to see the novel you worked so hard to write sell only a few hundred copies, if that?
2. Editing. Yes, I know the SP companies may promise editing, based on how much you're willing to pay. In most cases the level of "editing" is far under what you'd receive from a traditional publisher. Sometimes it's nothing more than copy editing. The substantive "macro" edits for fiction--dealing with characterization, foundational story structure, dialogue, etc.--are likely to be lacking. Not good. Every novelist needs a good, hard edit. After writing 21 books, I sure wouldn't want to be without one. Even if you're promised a macro edit--how skilled is that editor in fiction? (All fiction editors are not created equal.)
And the #1 reason:
There's no shortcut to craft. This one's the hard truth, folks. If your novel has been rejected by numerous traditional publishers, most likely your craft hasn't yet reached the publishable level. I know this from firsthand experience. It took me ten frustrating, heart-wrenching years to learn my craft to the publishable level. If I had succumbed to the temptation of self-publishing anywhere along the way, I would have shortcut the learning of my craft. Instead I rewrote and rewrote my novels until they were ready. I became skilled in story structure, dialogue, multi-level characterization, symbolism, foreshadow and red herrings--all the aspects that make up my craft. I had to. It was either that or quit and abandon my dream. Learning to write fiction is hard work. It takes diligence and time. Self-publishing is a quick fix to the problem of multiple rejections. But it does not take the long-term view of building one's craft for a lasting career as a novelist.
Yes, I've heard of The Shack. To most rules you'll find a few exceptions. But for every The Shack, there are thousands of SP novels that sold little and did nothing for the writer's career. And yes, I've heard the arguments that a first novel may be ready in craft--but no publisher will touch it because of content. That's rarely true. If it's craft-ready, someone will eventually pick it up. Again, I speak from experience.
I could so easily have self-published Eyes of Elisha, my first suspense. Even when it was craft-ready--enough to garner the attention of multiple pub boards--the door was slammed on it again and again because of its content. That was only in 2000, but CBA (Christian market) fiction has vastly changed since then. Now CBA publishers wouldn't even blink at such a story. But I kept trying through my agent--and finally a door opened through Zondervan (a division of HarperCollins). Eyes of Elisha was published in 2001 and went straight to the CBA bestseller's list. Eight years later it's still in print and selling. I have two folders overstuffed with hundreds of e-mails and letters from readers who love Eyes of Elisha, and I now need to start a third.
I'm well aware of the controversy on the subject of self-publishing for a new novelist. I'm well aware that emotions tend to run high on the issue. I do not write this post to cast aspersions on those who have done so. I write it to encourage aspiring novelists to stay the course, keep learning, and earn your way into a traditional house. Those of you who have self-published your fiction--I encourage you also to keep learning your craft (as all we novelists must do) and work to see your next novel bought by a traditional house.