A self-publishing diatribe

If I were to tell you that I have a doctorate in psychology would you believe me?

Yes or No?

If I were to go on to say that I have written – and self-published – a book on the psychology of pain, would you believe me?

Yes or No?

Regardless of your answer, my next question is a simple one — WHY DID YOU ANSWER THE WAY YOU DID?

What is there in anything you know about me that would give you reason to answer either positively or negatively about my being a doctor, or the chance that I have written a book on pain?

Your answer would be based on the little you know from my profile, what you have read of my blogs, and what others have said about me.

Would you buy a self-published book from me based on that knowledge?

Yes or No?

I think the answer to that question is something that anyone considering self-publishing should ask themselves. If you desire to sell a self-published book, what reason would a potential reader have for buying it?

As I was thinking about the situation with book publishing today, I began to ask the question of why anyone would read a self-published book. In the past the clout behind a potential reader’s willingness to walk into a store, pick up a book, pay for it, take it home, and read it, was based on the fact that the publishers had deemed the author an authority, a success, or someone with the ability to write in such a way that the reader’s time was worth the reading.

You could make the argument that there were plenty of books that weren’t worth the paper they were written on, but at least an “authority” had made the claim that the writing would be of a certain quality or level.

Today, anyone can write anything about anybody or anything – download it to Amazon, and have their work accessible to anyone or anything capable of reading it – whether they are dependable, qualified, authoritative, or not. We have little in the way of determining their capacity to write on any given subject.

I could – literally – write a book on the psychology of pain, make the claim that I know what I’m talking about, and publish the work – without cost – on Amazon.

Is there any possibility that someone would buy it; that someone would read it?

Yes or No? I really don’t know!

I’m pretty sure that the purchaser would never buy anything I wrote again, because I really have little authority to write on the subject to begin with; but there’s a chance that someone would say, “I’ve never heard of this author, but the title – “Pain is Temporary, Death is Forever” – sounds pretty good.” If I could come up with a good enough blurb, a good enough cover, and a good enough description, someone may buy my “book”.

Now, on the other hand, it seems to be getting clearer that the big publishers are willing to publish anything that they can be sure will make a profit. It’s all about the money! Because of this it seems that anyone with a reasonably good chance of selling a couple thousand books can probably publish traditionally. Whether the writing is any good or not, if you can sell the books, you can publish the books. At least that sure appears to be the case.

You might say that fiction is not as critical as non-fiction, and you would probably be right. The potential of someone not getting a painful condition looked at professionally because I made the assertion that “pain is only in the brain, tough it out”, is much more serious than the “heart-broken lover” from my amazing piece of science fiction. But how are we to know that something available on Amazon is going to be worth my time regardless?

What about those of us that haven’t gotten a look by a traditional publisher? What if you really do have a work of staggering genius, but no audience?

As I thought about all this over the course of the afternoon, the advice that many have given, about pursuing traditional publishers even as you continue to improve your skills, seems to make a lot of sense.

There was a day in the not-too-distant past when I would have said my writing was about as good as anyone I have read in the genres I like. Now I know that my POV, my dialogue, my plot creation, and so forth and so on – all need to continue to improve. And I think I’m a better writer for the truth I’ve learned about myself.

I realize today that my writing is better now than it was a few years ago – all I have to do is go back and look at some of my earlier stuff. But on a daily basis I just keep writing, studying what others are doing, and trying to include those things in my next piece.

Is there a case for me self-publishing?

I’m sure there is, but I need to make my work as authoritative and professional as possible. I need to have people – other than my family and friends – tell me that the work is publishable. And I need to find a way to better my work, rather than believe that I may be one of the unique and unusual people who came out of the womb with the God-given ability to write fantastic pieces. I need to take criticism in the spirit of its ability to improve my work, and I need to find a way to truly evaluate my work against others.

So, regardless of how good your piece may be, continue to try to get a traditional publisher to look at it. Whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, your writing will be better for the critiques, the denials, the comments, and so forth you get through the process.

And, by the way, my work is available through Amazon! Ha



12 thoughts on “A self-publishing diatribe

  1. Here’s my mixed feeling on the matter:
    First of all, I have great news for you. There’s a university in PA (we won’t mention names) that will give you a degree in psychology if you want one. That should help you to become an expert in whatever. You send them the money; they send you the books. It’s up to you what you learn; they send you the degree regardless. Nice, eh?
    Alas, knowing this has made a skeptic of me! I wouldn’t buy a book to help me unless I know the writer is qualified and has years of practical research behind him. Even then I’m cautious; experts go off on wacky tangents sometimes.
    Big publishers publish people with big names. It IS about the money. I’m told it’s very difficult for a newbie to get published; writers’ guides say you need a well-developed platform of speaking and/or blogging (like10,000 followers) before an editor will look at your work.
    In some cases publishers have a certain direction and your book won’t get far swimming against the “what’s selling now” stream. When I got enthused about writing for children and took an ICL course, I found this to be very true. No parents allowed nowadays; children must solve all their own problems. Editor Jan Fields writes, “Parents should be seen and not heard.”
    Hence we have a “niche market” composed of people who want to read “Leave it to Beaver” type families where Mom and Dad advise kids — something forbidden, I’m told, by most of today’s editors. I believe poetry is another niche market; only a few well-known writers will make big sales. This leads some folks to self-publish.
    People self-publish to circumvent the years of sending manuscripts and getting rejection slips. Depending on the quality of their writing, they will succeed or fail. One writer I read about self-published her book because she was hearing, “Yes, it’s a good story but so few people will be interested; we won’t take the chance on it.” Once she’d sold 40,000 copies of her book she approached a traditional publisher again to take over distribution.
    But you are right: these days anyone and everyone can say anything and everything. If they are somewhat charismatic and can get the media behind them they can misguide a whole generation, then publicly lament about it when they see the results, like Dr. Spock.
    Sorry for this horribly long comment!

    • Thanks for the feed-back; and no worries about the length.

      We live in a world where our level of technology could easily destroy us. Whether it’s military things, business type things, or personal things – we have the opportunity to do things that are probably not in our own best interest (such as self-publish stuff that isn’t ready).

      On the other hand the potential and opportunities are beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

      I guess the biggest issue is in the fact that we need to see things from outside ourselves and write for the benefit of our readers and let the money side of it take care of itself.

      Thanks again for your comment.

    • Thanks. I needed that last line. On Friday I sat down and did the math on my book: my cost & retailer’s markup versus highest selling price I could ask, etc. At last I calculated that I’d barely break even and was ready to abandon the project.
      I’m thankful there are a few positive voices around me right now. 🙂

    • You’re most welcome.

      “Doing the math” when it comes to our writing is always a scary thing.

      If you have a story to tell, something that people need to hear, the cost must be balanced by the intangible things that the story or idea might help the reader with.


  2. Wow, what an interesting question. I’d never thought about that before! Self-publishing is great, but I guess some people could misuse it and turn it into a bad thing.
    Thank you for posting this question!

  3. I’m with you on this, CD. I had seriously considered self publishing and was in talks with a reputable group, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll keep pushing to improve my writing. Publishers may not be the only authorities on books, and they may have dollar signs to contend be concerned about, but they know what they’re doing and what people want. It will only make me better.

  4. Interesting post and I agree, no matter what route one takes toward publishing, they should try and seek the advice/critique of a professional. As for your questions, I had a hard time answering yes or no. Part of me (the side that spent 20 years living in the US) wanted to say ‘Yes, until you prove to me that you’re a fraud.’ But the other part of me (the one that has been living in France for ten years now) wanted to say ‘No, not until you prove to me that you are what you say you are.’ The difference in culture and the way people approach the world will have a strong bearing on how they feel/answer your questions. Of course this is just my opinion.

    • Thanks for the comment. We live in a world where there are truly two amazing facts – in my opinion: Anyone can publish something if they so desire, and the publishing industry is in turmoil. It will be interesting to see if people become more and more skeptical as time goes on.

  5. Interesting read, Im in the processing of writing as well and these same thoughts crossed my mind but you articulated it in way that I couldn’t. I hope that to some degree my experience and profession qualifies me as an authority to some degree on my topic but who knows how far that will carry.

    • I hope my “diatribe” was not too much of a downer because I really am an optimist. The past five years or so have severely tested that, because publishing is so hard, but I truly believe that if one perseveres, keeps learning, and pushes forward they will eventually reach their goal. It’s not an impossible goal – just a very lofty one. And what better goal is there than a great one?

      Just keep writing,

  6. Thought provoking post. I’ll have to give this more thought. My initial response to your questions was really, honestly, no opinion. No belief or disbelief. All kinds of pros and cons to self-pub, aren’t there.

    • Thanks for the comment and following my blog. I’ve been over to see yours, and like what I see. As far as your response, I’m trying to figure out if no initial feeling is good or bad! Is it better to create some opinion in the mind of a potential reader – even if it’s disbelief? The reason I say that is that then they are at least reacting! Is no emotion a good thing when we are trying to attract followers? I sure haven’t figured that one out yet.

      And, yeah, there seems to be a myriad different considerations in deciding how to release our “babies” in this current publishing situation!

      Thanks again, and good luck with your work.

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