The One Approach for Self-Publishing Authors

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I thought I would attract you attention with this subject heading. Although I truly believe it. It is cheating a bit, though.

Write like you are following the traditional publishing path.

This is an overloaded statement, but I believe it to be true. As an owner of a few micro-publishing companies, I get a lot of submissions, and no small number are writers who are self-published in one form or another. I can tell by their writing, their submissions, well before I read their bios or carry out a bit of research. I should add before I dig deeper into this topic that beginner writers who aren’t self-published, or who are not motivated to self-publish, are often in a similar mode.

In the old days when traditional publishing was the only course a writer could take, with the exception of very expensive vanity publishing, the approach to writing was pretty much as follows:

  1. Write a lot
  2. Start humbly – local magazines (Roneo days), local papers, small presses
  3. Get a reading group organised, with beta readers if possible. Give as much as you take.
  4. Read a lot
  5. Take any writing job you can find, it will ultimately help your career
  6. Learn to write effective submissions, learn to sell oneself

publishing

AND WHEN LANDING A PUBLISHING CONTRACT

  1. The publisher edits the manuscript professionally, effectively
  2. Quality proofing follows
  3. Appropriate professional cover is designed
  4. Appropriate pro block design is carried out
  5. Good printing/distribution channels are opened
  6. Decent marketing takes place
  7. The Author must participate through all of these points except point 1.

This is all obvious and implies a long-term planning regime with strict discipline on the part of the author, and the publisher must also do the right thing, investing in the right way.

When I stated that a self-publisher must write like a traditional writer, I am basically saying that the writer must follow all the steps above, whether particular tasks are handled by the same person, or payment is made for services rendered by other professionals. You can’t take short cuts and you can’t start out with the skill sets to become an overnight success. That is the mental template one must follow.

In past articles I have made fairly strong negative statements about large tracts of the self-publishing community, and I stand by them. However, I have always been aware that there are self- publishers out there who are deserved of success, and who are disciplined professionals. Unfortunately there are those who are in a subset who have the talent, but are running their careers in a way that does not self-improve, nor set in place strong disciplines. What’s worse is that many of these folk are so isolated from the writing community (in one form or another) or self-deluded to think they are already equipped with the necessary skill sets and resources, that unwittingly they have stagnated.

In the traditional model of old the theory was that the cream rose to the surface. Even back then there was an understanding that some of the cream doesn’t rise, but the powers to be felt the system was good enough to accept collateral damage. Today cream still rises, but a lot more junk does as well. But cream is still cream. Readers crave it. They can’t get enough. But it doesn’t happen by magic – it requires a massive amount of effort to achieve and whether it is the traditional or self-publishing mode that one wants to follow (or a hybrid), a high degree of devotion, discipline and time, is still required.

12 Comments
  1. Jack Eason says

    Good article Gerry.

    These days, the one thing we all have to be aware of is whether or not a subject and its genre is in vogue. Public tastes, especially that of readers in their teens and twenties constantly changes. This usually happens when you are halfway through writing your latest effort.

    Meantime, I write the books I want to read. If others enjoy them, that is a welcome bonus. 😉

  2. Paula Boer says

    I agree, Gerry. Also, one of the best tools in writing is to let it stew. In other words, don’t look at your words for weeks or months. Too may self-published people omit this vital step, thinking that because they have edited ad nauseum, polished, reviewed etc that their manuscript is ready. Only with distance can we see the glaring errors.

  3. Jack Eason says

    While you say that editors do a professional job of work. These days a lot of books written by well know authors are full of editorial errors.

    To give you an example, I’ve just finished reading Robert Bauval’s book ‘Imhotep, the African: Architect of the Cosmos’.

    Apart from misspelling the names of various sources used in the book, like Chrishan Jacq, instead of Christian Jacq, even basic page layout by the professional publisher he handed his work over to left much to be desired. A few of the sub headings within chapters were left justified, while the majority were center justified. Indents at the beginning of some paragraphs were missing.

    Robert and I are good friends. Both of us lamented the shabby end product.

    Not all people who class themselves as ‘professional editors’ Gerry can be considered so by any stretch of the imagination.

    Since the curse of all writers, the internet trolls have increased their attacks via the use of one star so-called reviews,In the end its down to the writer to ensure that the book is as fault free as is humanly possible.

    Any writer these days who totally relies on others to iron out the errors, merely to get a book out by a certain date, is asking for trouble…

  4. gerryhuntman says

    I’m not interested in the exception to the rule. Most professional editors have gone through years of training, practice, and often certification. I am sad that some people you know have had the unfortunate exceptional circumstance occur.

    If you have the good fortune to discuss the topic of professional editing to seasoned, professional writers, you will find they will laud their editors, to the say the least. Editing and proofreading, to meticulous degrees of intensity, is at the core of quality publishing. My essay is, in part, stating that ALL authors must strive to get this degree of editing apply to their own work.

  5. Jack Eason says

    I’m sorry to say that its far from being the ‘exception’ to the rule as you put it Gerry. These days many US based publishing houses are guilty of below quality products.

    As for seasoned professional writers, both Robert Bauval and my other friend Graham Hancock are no mere amateurs by any stretch of the imagination.

  6. Derek Haines says

    I think the point you are making here is very old news and totally misdirected, Gerry. Why? Because so many self published authors have understood for a long while now that they need to do exactly as you have stated in your article, and do. Quality, hard work and a professional approach always wins.

    But the problem is that so many people are now claiming to be editors, that it’s very difficult to find a real one in the haystack of pretenders. Just recently, a lady contacted me regarding professional editing she had paid for as part of a package she bought with Author House. (Yes, those mongrels, who now supply their ‘services’ to the big 5 as self publishing arms.) She paid thousands, and it was, to put it mildly, absolute crap editing. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and the MS was riddled with ‘it’s, its, then, than, there, their and they’re errors. In my view, her MS had merely been run through Word spell checking. If that! This is only one horror story, but I know of many many more writers who have been ripped off by charlatan editors.

    Then there is the new ‘rush to publish’ by traditional publishers, who are publishing poorly edited books. In one case, an author who has been contracted with Simon & Schuster for many years, (and I know well) was appalled at the number of errors in her two most recent books. This is not unusual now. After reading Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris recently, I was astounded at the number of typos and errors.

    I think your point about dedication is sound, but writers are not deluded. A good majority on either side of the publishing fence understand that it is book publishing that is in need of improving. Self published authors at least ply their trade honestly.

    In my opinion, it is the ever-growing swamp of unqualified editors, from Author House, Author Solutions and down to the thousands of ‘kitchen table’ editors advertising their services on Twitter and Facebook, and who are charging exorbitant fees, that are a far bigger problem.

    My last point I would make is that while self published authors have been working very hard to improve their product in the last couple of years, traditional publishing is lowering its standards in the rush to publish. Hardly an example to follow.

  7. Sandra Black says

    Great article, Gerry.

    Unfortunately, I do not know enough about the business to evaluate Jack’s and Derek’s comments.
    Is it really so hard to find a good editor nowadays?

  8. gerryhuntman says

    Can’t disagree more, Derek and Jack, at least on the dimension of what I am talking about.

    Yes, there are plenty of shonky editors in the industry now, as well as in many facets of the publishing lifecycle. I am talking about professional editors. I have sympathy for those who are burned by poor editors, but frankly, a little bit of research, asking the right questions, and you end up with good one. A bit like used cars, heh? I have hired sub-editors and not one has been poor – just did the research.

    I have no doubt that the ‘rush to publish’ effect has degraded traditional publishing houses – at least among those who choose to go that way. What gets me is that often these discussions ignore the quality small to middling houses, and I find that the cream of these hold to time honoured standards. Ticonderoga Publishing, Cemetery Dance, Chizine, Subterranean, and so forth. Award-winning editors among them, mind you. Pulling examples, even if they are personal, doesn’t provide strong arguments, but then again, I haven’t hit you with stats either (the irony, of course, is that the reason why publishing is such a contentious topic is because of lack of hard statistics on subjects that matter. Ironically, my discussion is focused on quality and talented writers following a path, that in my view, runs in parallel with traditional publishing, and hasn’t really changed much at all – if one strives for quality).

    Your last point, Derek, seems nonsensical to me. I am not stating that writers should follow a path that is unique to a current, so-called trend in lowering standards among traditional publishers (I try to avoid unsubstantiated generalisations). I am proposing that early career development and discipline by authors is the best approach regardless of flavour of publishing (ie nothing different really) and using professional and specialised skills (whether home grown or purchased – but of a high standard), is still the way forward.

    A postscript. I have seen some very poor editing among notable publishers, just like you, but it is my observation and experience that the on the whole self publishers have by far the greater lack of polish, sometimes to a degree of complete unreadability. This is in some cases because the authors simply can’t write. In other cases it is because they have chosen a path of publishing that minimises the opportunities to improve and polish (sorry Derek, there are many who are deluded). My article’s motivation, in the main, was to encourage the good writers to improve, and not to stagnate. Readers who are self publishers who feel they aren’t, should view my comments as not being directed to them.

  9. Derek Haines says

    I have to say, Gerry, that one line from your article shows your bias and perhaps your snobbery.

    ‘In past articles I have made fairly strong negative statements about large tracts of the self-publishing community, and I stand by them.’

    This doesn’t allow much wriggle room for you. You clearly have a problem with self publishing and seem unwilling to accept it in any form.

    Self publishing is here to stay, and will evolve, and I dare say, prosper. However, by continuing to attack self published authors, you can only offend more than you will convince.

  10. gerryhuntman says

    Derek

    On close inspection of my past articles I say a lot of things, but I never have said self publishing is bad, wrong, defunct, dying or whatever. The strongest views I have (with no elaboration here) is:

    1. For good or ill, permanently with us or not, there are significant negative side-effects of having a proliferation of work hitting the markets.
    2. The majority of self-publishers can’t write to any reasonable reader’s standard.

    My points do not in any way knock those self publishers who are good, excellent, or world-winning.

    I’ll turn your point around – since most of your comments in this thread didn’t address the whole point of my article – that writers who don’t get it, should seriously look at the writer and publisher lifecycles (described in detail for decades in traditional publishing) to discipline up, avoid stagnation (non-growth) etc etc, then I am suggesting that you are the one who is biased.

    Anyone who is close to me will know how much I support and have befriended self-publishers, and interestingly enough, many such acquaintances, are successful BOTH in trad and self-publishing. This is a blurred field and frankly, the debate of ‘one side or the other’ is now naff, outdated. Hence my wish to provide some advice to a section of the self-publishing writers (and non-self-publishing).

  11. Derek Haines says

    In some ways, I think we are arguing the same point, Gerry. I agree with you entirely about the process, and your bullet point list of advice to writers is well worth heeding by new new writers.

    My gripe is that your articles always mention self-publishing in a derogatory tone. Granted, you do mention that there are some ‘professional’ self publishers that do a fine job, but why ‘divide’ your argument and advice? And isn’t there also a subset of writers, who are traditionally published that pump out rubbish?

    In my mind, writing advice is one matter, and publishing another.

    With ‘hybrid’ authors now becoming more common, the line between publish methods is merging.

    As I said, your writing advice is well worth heeding, but why continue to make this self published/traditionally published divide? As I recall you mentioning in one of your articles last year, if a book sells 5,000 copies, it’s successful. Does it matter how it’s published?

  12. gerryhuntman says

    Derek, I believe that the degree of depth that you have invested into self publishing, including your excellent support of self publishers through Whizbuzz, places you in a position where you are very sensitive on the topic (and may I add, you may be sensitive to how you think other self publishers may react to my articles).

    I write it as I personally see it, and I certainly do not see my observations of the high percentage of poor titles as being derogatory to those who don’t. The set of self publishers in the world today are, let’s be honest, an abstract grouping for discussion purposes – they are not personal to any one author. Having said this, the trends concern me on some levels, and on others have no tilting in any particular direction – they just *are*.

    I strongly disagree on the suggestion that poorly written traditional work is materially comparable or exceeding self published ‘trash’. I use the term ‘materially’ very carefully and purposefully. Yes, there are poor work in the trad pub world, particularly due to ‘rush publishing’ and also when certain poorly skilled entrepreneurs create micro-publishing companies. However, I just can’t see those cases as competing with the literal hundreds of thousands of self published work and the varying skills and application to professionalism among them. I should also add that I will not personally include certain types of fiction that are considered ‘poor’ by some critics, not on the quality of writing and production, but on the genre and subject matter. There are many critics who would label all romance novels as rubbish, which seems odd to me, as it is a subjective statement. I mentioned this dynamic because it has often been used as a cumulative factor in the ‘decline’ of traditional publishing. Erroneously.

    My article spent (guessing here) less than 5% of its word count on referring to earlier articles where I am critical about *aspects* of self publishing. This is hardly drawing readers to a divide. I find it important in my public discourses to call a spade a spade. It isn’t personal.

    I look forward to posting some more articles soon on my professional editing experience reading submitted manuscripts, hoping that some writers might benefit from it. As per my previous articles, it will be directed to the superset of writers who read Angie’s Diaries. As a writer, I will be sensitive to how I write my articles, but I will not be ‘politically correct’ when it comes to self publishing (or trad publishing for that matter).

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