Five reasons why self-publishing a novel is a bad idea
There are a lot of articles on Alltop‘s Books section advising aspiring novelists on how to self-publish and earn money.
Here are five reasons why you should never self-publish:
1) If a literary agent says no, the book is not ready
Kid-lit has written a persuasive blog post about why self-publishing is going to be terrible for the industry. Kid-lit is a literary agent, but he’s coming with a fair point:
Most of the time, when you get a rejection, it is really saying, “This isn’t ready for publication yet.”
If it was a good enough novel to sell, the agent would snap it up. The problem creeps in when the aspiring writer starts to think that agents can’t see a winning novel when it’s in front of them.
2) Books need literary agents and publishers to sell them
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter is often cited as an example of a book that agents and publishers rejected, but it’s a bad example. It sat on slush piles for months, and received many rejection letters.
But if Rowling had self-published, would it have received the promotion and marketing support it got from her publisher? No, it would be sat on a database on Amazon, and worse, she would have given up sending it to agents.
The truth is that Rowling’s Harry Potter script was complete, and it was eventually picked up by a publisher. With the publisher’s help it went on to sell millions. There’s no lesson for self-publishers in JK Rowling’s story, other than to stay determined, and have faith.
3) The self-published book will never reach the mass market
Last year The Salon estimates that there were 764,448 self-published books released into the market.
Walk into a book store today. There are thousands of good books in there.
Check a second hand book site. There are millions of good books listed.
A printed book has been written by an author who has then found an agent and had it professionally edited. It has then been accepted by a publisher and marketed, and a company has paid for the book to be printed. In short, a lot of people have invested time and money into the book because it has mass-market appeal, and will sell.
A self-published book will not have that professional reach.
The self-publishing market has no quality control. These are books that would prompt a swift rejection letter from an agent. Here’s a quote from The Salon on publisher’s slush piles (unread stacks of manuscripts sent in by aspiring writers):
It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters — not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés — for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that’s almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue.
Imagine the worst print book you’ve ever read. Perhaps it’s one by Jodi Picoult. Now imagine the hundreds of books that didn’t get published. Think how bad they must have been.
4) Books are hard work, self-publishing isn’t
Are self-publishers really putting the effort in to give a paying reader something worthy of their time?
I’m not sure I like the idea of a writer reading through the second draft of his 200,000 word novel about a secret agent working for the postal service and saying, ‘Ah, it’s done. Let’s get it up on Amazon and sell it for two dollars.”
I’ve written in an earlier blog post that Stephen King insists new writers practice writing for four to six hours a day. He advises aspiring writers to spend a minimum of 1000 words a day writing.
Writing takes a lot of hard work. If it didn’t, we’d all be successful writers.
Self-publishing attracts the lazy writer, and lazy writers aren’t going to be good writers. Don’t see a rejection letter as anything more than a challenge. Keep practicing, keep refining the work, and keep trying.
5) Self-publishing is stuck in digital
Self-publishing is strictly for the ebook market. It’s far too expensive and risky for a self-publisher to pay for print copy to be produced.
All self-published books will be posted as digital copies on ebook sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, because it’s free and easy for the aspiring novelist.
The Amazon site is going to become a repository for badly-written, poorly-worded first novels about fat vampires in Oregon and IT managers with telekinetic powers. Gradually, people will learn to stay away.
The positive result of this is that the printed book market will become more sacred, because no aspiring novelist with a bad novel is going to get past the wall of literary agents and publishers.
The second-hand printed book market is going to be even more special, as most of the books will come from the time before digital copies.
This isn’t a rally against ebooks, it’s a rally against aspiring writers who think readers of ebooks will be willing to accept trash, because it’s an easier purchase and they can always delete it. Readers of ebooks will be just as critical of poor writing as printed book readers.
If you are an aspiring novelist, resist the urge to take the easy road. Keep working hard, and when the book is ready, the agent will take it and sell it. Sit back and imagine that feeling. It will be worth it.
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