Query Upside-Down for the Trades
Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed John Borchardt’s Query Upside-Down For The Trades article. It’s certainly a unique idea, and one that seems to make sense. I’m anxious to give it a try when (or if) my world slows down . Thanks for all the useful material you share, and the fun stuff we all enjoy. I always look forward to Wednesdays and a new issue of WritersWeekly.com.
From the Teacher’s Desk
SideStepping Traditional Publishers: Why So Many Authors Choose to Self-Publish
I think one of the biggest stigmas to self-publishing is the bad name it has acquired through such publishers as PublishAmerica or the now defunct Commonwealth Publications of Canada. I know I almost fell for the Commonwealth Publications line – the only thing that saved me was the lack of money. So I have a real sour taste in my mouth about anyone who wants money up front from me. I much prefer the comfort of being paid by someone for my work but I recently read a self published book by Josh Lanyon, The Hell You Say, that I love and do everything I can to promote because it’s better than a lot of books I’ve seen from commericial publishers.
Another problem with many self publishing entities is the total lack of vetting. I know Booklocker.com only accepts a small percentage of manuscripts sent to it, but others have no such qualms. They take everything and publish it as is. When it comes to finding a good book among all that stuff it’s a real crap shoot.
Many readers, myself included, simply don’t have the money to gamble too many times. Once burned by a non-edited, plotless book and I am definitely twice shy.
Thanks for the article Why so Many Authors Choose to Self-Publish. For me, it was both enlightening and timely.
To learn the likes of Tom Peters, James Redfield and John Grisham (as pointed out in the link to Books That Were Originally Self-Published by Dan Poynter) were all self-published buoys my confidence.
I have been struggling for several years with projects that I want published but am very uncomfortable taking through the traditional publishing machine.
As a regular on the WritersWeekly.com freelance forum, I have had my eyes opened to the rip offs and disappointments that many have had to endure when it comes to the publishing world. I have read extensively the trials and tribulations that many authors have faced when dealing with publishers such as Publish America. All those stories have made me wary.
At the same time, I’ve found myself in a quandary when it comes to getting my own work published. I have written thousands of articles (for newspapers and magazines) yet feel, based largely on what I’ve read on websites and blogs, that if I were to self-publish, the book would not be taken seriously and it somehow wouldn’t count as a valid book.
There is evidence to suggest my feelings may be at least somewhat correct. Years ago, there was but one true way to get a book published and that was through what we call a traditional publisher today. The writing had to be good, well researched and fit the publisher’s editorial standards. A manuscript would be scrupulously read, reviewed and edited. The end result, for the most part, was a decent product.
Today we have publishers that make it incredibly easy for someone to get a book published. That is both a good thing and a troublesome one. No one today would look down on John Grisham for self-publishing A Time to Kill but these days, any Tom, Dick or Harry can slap together some words and become a ‘published author’.
Regardless that there are reputable P.O.D. publishers out there (and I do believe Booklocker is one), I’ve always had the feeling that my future self-published book would be looked at in the same dim light as some self-published books out there that are truly awful examples of writing.
I’ve felt for several years that the projects I’m thinking of would work well as self-published works. I’ve also felt, right or wrong, that doing so would see me sinking to a level I wasn’t comfortable with. Your article has started me thinking otherwise.
To know What Color is Your Parachute, The One-Minute Manager and The Joy of Cooking were all first self-published shows me there is honor among the self-publishing thieves. I’ll be thinking about all those words I’ve pained over, written and squirreled away in a new light. Perhaps, one day soon, I too will be a published author.
Writer, Journalist, Photographer
Traditionally-Published Author Weighs In
Dear Angela —
I read your self-publishing article with some dismay. As an author with 22 books who “made it” with the traditional publishing houses, I’ve considered some self-publishing with some reservations. Here they are, for what it’s worth:
1. First of all, there’s a lot of crap out there. Really. Self-publishing means that anyone with the cash for a POD can hold forth — whether it’s good or bad. Many don’t pay for an editor and bad writing is further compounded with sloppy mistakes that would’ve been caught by proofreaders/copyeditors.
I’ve looked at a lot of self-published/POD stuff. Some are good; most are bad. Those that are done by pros tend to be the best, but they’ve been through fire to get where they are.
2. Distribution. Depending on your POD house, they may do something; they may do nothing. Even if one manages to get Ingrams or B&T distribution, it doesn’t guarantee that your book will be carried by Barnes and Noble or any of the brick and mortar stores. In fact, if it’s POD, it’s unlikely to be there at all, except through special order. Marketing isn’t easy. It’s a pain in the butt and time consuming. If it’s something you like, well, then go for it.
3. Lack of respect. With the exception of some writers who have already established themselves, most self-published books are looked at as being junk. Even if your book is a diamond — how are people going to find it in a wasteland of bad books?
4. Self-published books and the POD publishers are still held liable for defamatory content. A recent ruling against Authorhouse proves this. POD publishers are going to have to be more careful when publishing potentially libelous works.
What a traditional publisher does for you:
1. It first says you’ve met a certain level of quality. Yes, there are crap books out there by traditional publishers, but most books at least have a certain level of quality.
2. Distribution and marketing. Don’t think you’re on easy street here, but most traditional publishers can at least get distribution to bookstores. There’s no guarantee, of course. There are plenty of books published by the NYC publishing houses that don’t make it to the big chains — but many of them do.
Small press can have a harder time than the big guys, but generally you’re better off than if you went this alone.
3. People understand that your book is at least a certain amount of quality.
4. You still have to market, but it’s nowhere near as difficult.
The basic thing a POD/self publisher has over a NYC publisher is the control over the product from inception to sales. The DIYers understand this quite well — I do two podcasts and know how much time and effort it takes to DIY. But a lot of writers DON’T understand this and don’t understand the sheer volume of work necessary to “make it” in this industry. It’s fine if you want to publish something for your friends and family to read — it’s quite something else to try to make it a viable book.
That’s all I have time to write. I have to get back to work on my books.
A Journalist Weighs In
I just read your article on SideStepping Traditional Publishers, and I wanted to tell you that it has been my experience, and the experience of 99 percent of the other journalists that I know at newspapers large and small, that most of the self-published books we have been given to read (or, in my case, forced to read because I had to interview the author) were truly awful books. I mean bad prose, flimsy characters, plots full of holes, tons of typos, laughable dialog, etc. Out of all the self published works I had to read in 8 years at the Mercer Island Reporter (the community paper for a wealthy community between Seattle and Bellevue, Washington) I would say that three of the books were actually worth reading, while the rest were horrible, laughable books that would never be read by anyone other than the author’s friends and relations, and the unfortunate journalist who had to complete an interview with the author.
I am not being “holier than thou” in saying this, as I don’t write fiction, nor do I aspire to write a book in the future. I write non fiction articles for a living, and I enjoy reading a wide variety of books and reviewing them on my blog. And while I understand that traditional publishing is difficult, especially for the new writer, I think that traditional publishers used to be fairly good at weeding out the people who just can’t write and sparing the public their turgid prose. Writing is a craft that requires skill and talent, and I don’t think everyone who sits down in front of the computer or grabs a pencil and a legal pad has the ability to write, or write well. Self publishing, especially via some of the outlets that seem to be there only as a way to separate desperate people from their money, has a well-deserved bad reputation for having no real editors to discern quality prose from total crap. Most of these self-pub houses will publish anything, and they won’t bother to proofread the manuscript or edit the ramblings of the author, resulting in a book that usually has a cheap-looking cover and almost unreadable prose inside. I don’t include Booklocker in this group, however, because I believe that you and your husband actually turn down some writers with terrible manuscripts, resulting in books that are not sub-standard. But, I believe Booklocker is the exception to the rule in the field of self-publishing, which is littered with very unhappy authors who have boxes of books that are full of errors and terrible prose that they paid huge prices to see published. I spent most of my interview hour with self-published authors listening to them complain about the thousands of dollars they paid to have their book edited, proofed and graced with a quality cover, only to get a book that had none of the above arrive in the mail. And as you mentioned, many of those seeking a publisher are seniors. It always made me feel terrible to see elderly folks ripped off by self publishers who were only interesting in how much money they could get from the senior author before leaving them with a shoddy product.
I believe that those seeking to publish a book should first be certain that they have writing talent, or at least skill, before they publish. There are numerous classes out there that help fledgling authors learn to write. Learning to craft solid, quality prose should be the writers first step in getting published.
Thanks for your time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I agree with you that there are a LOT of really bad books on the market. However, there have always been bad books on shelves and many of those were traditionally published. There are also lots of very good self-published books on the market, sitting alongside the cruddy ones. I would never suggest to an author of a good book that they not self-publish simply because there are bad self-published books on the market. I would, however, encourage them to avoid the self-publishing meat markets out there. Likewise, I would never encourage the author of a bad book to get published at all.
You’re right in that Booklocker does not publish every manuscript. In fact, we accept less than 5% of incoming submissions. It’s disheartening to reject a manuscript that is riddled with errors and then see it published several months later by one of our competitors, knowing it hasn’t been edited. We also suggest all authors, regardless of who they’re publishing through, have their manuscript professionally edited. And, be very careful when doing that! There are many so-called editors touting their services online who are NOT real editors. I’ve heard stories from dozens of authors who hired an editor, paid them hundreds or thousands, and then published a book that still contained numerous errors and some that even had more than the original manuscript!
We have a very short list of editors we recommend here.
Unfortunately, as long as most POD (Booklocker, which we own, is the only POD company I know of that doesn’t accept almost every manuscript coming over the e-transom) and other self-publishing companies continue to hurt their own reputations by publishing garbage, the only way to avoid being a victim is to avoid buying books published by those companies. Another way to protect yourself is to not believe every review you read, both good and bad. A well-known industry authority was recently promoting a program that asked people to review books, but to only post the reviews if they were positive. That’s dishonest and does a disservice to readers.
Another way to protect yourself is to read an excerpt from the book before buying. If a free excerpt isn’t available, don’t buy it.
If you’re a journalist, don’t commit to writing a review for a book until you’ve been able to read it. You really don’t want to waste your or tour readers’ time publishing information on a book that is so bad it’s not even worth publishing a bad review about.
Another Self-Published Booklocker.com Author Lands Traditional Contract
You can add me to the your list of self-published Booklocker.com authors who have landed traditional contracts. The first book in my signature below is being published this month by Traveler’s Tales–a traditional publisher.
I am just about to sign another contract for a co-written book to be put out by a different traditional publisher.
The advance on the first was paltry, but an advance nevertheless. The advance on the contract I’m about to sign is 2.5 times higher, mostly because I showed I could market and sell a decent quantity of books.
But, of course, my royalties are much higher with the Booklocker title (35%), which is why that’s where The World’s Cheapest Destinations will stay unless somebody offers me crazy money to pick it up on the 3rd edition.
author, Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune
author, The World’s Cheapest Destinations
co-author, Hip-Hop, Inc.
editor, Perceptive Travel – http://www.perceptivetravel.com/