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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Best Liars: Self-publishing and My New Dilemma

I've become tainted against self-publishing. That is probably clear to those of you who read this blog, since I've written a number of posts about self-publishers (see this label for others), but it has now become clear to me on a different level. I've said numerous times in the past that there are good self-publishers out there who produce good books, have honest production practices, and are friendly. But they are an astronomically small minority when set against all of the rest who are effectively some of the best liars and manipulators of any stripe (they give FOX News a run for their money in the spin department); the good folks are like the Maldives in a global warming world--the more the sea keeps rising, the more likely those tiny little islands are going to get buried under water. (Bear with me on this. I'll get to my fully-developed point towards the end; I need context first.)

For me, this is a huge problem, because I want to be able to trust that self-publishers can all be honest people. My experiences, however, have shown that the opposite is true. I've been approached too many times to count by people claiming to be traditionally published,
who, upon further inspection, are anything but; I've met people who try to tell me and others things about traditional publishing that are patently false (or not representative of anything but a severe minority), who then shrug off reality as if everyone else is ignorant and needs to learn the valuable lessons of Mr. Hoity Toity; and I've read dozens and dozens of blog posts and (about) books on self-publishing that make glorious claims about self-publishing, deface traditional publishing by showing only the darkest sides of the worst of them, and generally offer lists of lies, half-truths, or misdirections, which creates a vacuum that makes it very difficult to know where to look to find honesty about your options as a writer.

For every one good self-publisher I have met (honest people who don't lie about their publishing status, who are dead honest about what it takes to self-publish, who say that self-publishing is not for everyone, etc.), there are hundreds of bad ones. The fact that the second group is actively fighting to make changes go in their favor is disconcerting, because what they are ushering in isn't a world of quality-variety, but just any-old-variety. They want a world where readers become the filter; considering that these are the same people who claim that traditional publishers publish crap, it's somewhat self-defeating--turning literature into a game of "who has the most resources" or "who can play popularity bingo the best" is not necessarily going to produce quality literature.

And all of this creates a lot of problems for me, because there is nothing within self-publishing, with the exception of the chosen few, that I feel I can trust. It's mired in a sea of lies and misinformation that nobody seems interested in dealing with or is actually equipped to do anything about. Everywhere I look, the same things appear. It makes sense to me why so many people have come out of the woodworks with an anti-traditional view of things: when all you have to look at are half-truths or flat-out lies, you start to adopt those views too.

People like me take all of this and become even less friendly to the entire industry. Maybe we shouldn't, but it can't be helped. I personally don't appreciate being lied to or deceived; I want to know what I'm getting into before I actually get into it, to a certain extent (obviously I don't want to know the whole plot of a novel before I read it). For self-publishers, this might pose a problem, particularly ones that mean well and probably are quite good at what they do (in terms of the writing). I have no doubt that I'm missing out on a great number of good books by self-published authors, but the problem for me as a consumer is that finding these gems is not an easy task; I either have to do a lot of work to find the stuff worth buying, or I have to take an unnecessary risk. Most importantly, though, is that even with this one huge flaw in the self-publishing model, there is the greater flaw of the body of unofficial representatives who have done a fine job tarnishing the self-publishing name in the eyes of people like me (and there are a lot of us).

The question is: what can be done to bring people like me back into the fold? I used to read self-published novels, but after too many bad experiences, I stopped. What ways can self-publishers change the way their game is played so that people like me can feel some sense of trust in the whole "indie" thing?

I have ideas, but I don't think those ideas are favored among self-publishing types. Some folks have rejected the idea of creating a filtering system of some sort for self-published books, and others have thought me crazy for suggesting that creating your own press and not making it clear that you're self-published is deceptive. Plus, defacing traditionally publishing is not a good strategy; it might be an effective one, but it's also an intellectually dishonest one, since it does more to suggest that there is less "right" with the side that wants to be "right" than it does to suggest that the other side is "wrong." Are there campaigns for self-published authors that aren't in some way centered on or a part of the anti-traditional camp?

Lastly, what can self-publishers do to make me think there's value in what they do? I realize that writing is important to most self-publishers, but that is a reason for most writes in general, regardless of publishing status. What really makes what self-publishers do valuable to consumers?

I'd also really like to know what strategies are being done to make self-publishing look different, to give it a new face that reflects what it is actually supposed to be. Right now, I'm just not seeing it. But maybe I'm crazy and someone can point me to the magic places where things are right as rain.

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  1. So, I'm not even entirely sure where to start with my comment, although reading through your post I did think of many things to say. Let's just hope I remember it all!

    You don't like that you feel deceived by people who self publish, especially when they create their own press when making their book. From what I understand that isn't, entirely, a deceptive act. When you're self publishing, you are becoming a publisher. Why not have a press, a brand name for your personal publishing house? Also, I think a good self published author should try to lie about what they did. I'd rather like to self publish my novels for various reasons, and I'd never lie about it. If I actually became a moderate success, or you know, just had a handful of friends purchase the book, I'd like them to know what I did to actually get it done. I didn't go the traditional route - but it worked for me, and here's why.

    For me, I may not be a huge fan of traditional publishing, but I don't bash it. It kind of gives me creepies, but only in certain instances. I also know it works really well for a lot of other people - and that's how everything is. Traditional publishing might be perfect for you, but I like the idea of owning my work 100% and being, more or less, the only person working on it. Self publishing is attractive to me, not because traditional publishing isn't, but because the "pros" of self publishing appeal to me.

    I don't think I'm going to get rich and be super famous off of self publishing. But I don't think that's going to happen as a traditional publisher either. I know I, perhaps, would have less of a chance doing so in self publishing, but I'd still be happier about what I did because I did it a way that I enjoy. I don't even write, and consider publication, for the fame and the best seller lists. It's just what I love, and I'd like to share it with people through publication. Even if, like I said above, I'm only sharing it with a handful of my friends. I don't consider writing to be my career; I don't think it ever will be. I have other things I'm going to be doing to make money, and I love them too. Writing is my hobby, my passion - but I'm not going to live off of it. So I don't mind the idea of lessening my chances to be read by the general public who shop in brick and mortar stores. Self publishing looks cool to me. Okay... Sorry THAT was so rambly.

    (Going to post the rest in a second comment)

  2. Suzanne: So I'm a liar. I said I'd respond the day after, but it's now more than a day past that. Oh well. I assume you won't sue me over it :P

    Here we go, then.

    Lying, to me, is an ethical and moral no-no. If you are not upfront about the fact that you are not traditionally published and instead try to pretend that you are, you are lying to me and to consumers. That's not right. That's akin to saying "this car you're buying is a Toyota," only to find out that it's actually a Chevy. It might still be a good car, but that's not what you thought you were buying. And what of it wasn't a good car? What if it turned out to be the worst car you ever owned, and you found out that you could have avoided it if they had just told you it was a Chevy from the start? (I'm implying that Chevy cars aren't as good as Toyota cars, which may or may not be true, but you get the idea).

    As a consumer, I do not like to be lied to. If a book was published with Tor, it better have been published with Tor. If it wasn't, then don't tell me it was. If the author is a ninja from a secret ninja academy, it better be true, unless they're playing it like a silly gimmick, in which case it would be pretty obvious anyway, and I could have fun playing with the silliness of it all. When you lie to consumers, you potentially break their trust. Think of all those folks who wrote books about their lives, but then it turned out that it wasn't all that truthful. We buy into it, and to be deceived like that is not a happy experience.

    Now for the other stuff:

    --With traditional publishing you still own your work 100%. Unless you sign a contract that says otherwise, which you'd have to be really stupid to do. Publishers pay you for "rights." They have to, because legally the work is yours and not theirs, and in order for them to get you to let them use it to make you and them money using the things they have, they have to purchase the "right" to do that. The work remains yours otherwise, and you're not obligated to sign any contract that has clauses you don't agree with.

    Any publisher that says it owns your work is a scam and should be avoided like the plague. Publishers own "rights," which is not the same as owning the work.

    Now where's the second comment of yours? I don't have anything else to argue against :(.

    I understand all of your points. I've considered self-publishing in the past. But that was before a lot of the bad stuff started to hit me. It's entirely possible I'll reconsider...