Whew. Well, my first novel manuscript has survived it's first major professional revision, re-work and has been sent back to the editor. I already like it a lot more than when I first sent it off. I also have a friend looking into doing a cover for me. Gotta say, pretty happy with the progress so far.
So, my first book is going to be self-published. All that really means is I don't have an agent. I'm hiring out to an editor, I have a friend working on cover possibilities, and I'm going through other companies to get my manuscript into the public's hands, be it in physical or ebook form.
(Soooo not using one of these.)
I do have my concerns about self-publishing though, which are things most new writers are probably worrying about at the moment. I've been doing some studying, so I think I can address some of these and I'll do my best to not be too pessimistic.
1. Self-publishing means you probably just weren't good enough to get an agent.
Good: This couldn't be further from the truth. Let's be honest, there are more people trying to get into the business of writing every day. Thousands of people a month are scanning the internet, conventions and similar gatherings to meet literary agents and submit their first full manuscript hoping to make it and wear the badge of "Published Author". There really just aren't that many agents. New work from previously unpublished writers has to be truly outstanding to catch their attention and while many of them are probably easily good books, they just don't have that special glitter that leads to a deal. This doesn't mean they aren't good enough to get an agent, but that, like most professions, they need a better resume`. With the market for short stories dwindling every year, self-publishing is not only a way to become a published writer without dealing with an agent, it becomes an important way to build up that resume`. I've read of a lot of writers currently, who self-published a few books, made some decent money, and then had agents find THEM. Where they good enough in the first place? More than likely, but they had to show it first.
Bad: In some circles, this is really just a way to categorize newer writers as "Not in our league." The major publishing companies and some agents and writers probably use this as an excuse to label self-published authors as "Hacks" or similar terms. It's a way for them to advertise that they and the way they do business is just plain better. At the moment, a lot of the big companies are still resistant to the change that is coming through self-publishing and the ebook revolution and until they accept the new ways of doing things, this is a stigma we're probably going to waste a lot of time and energy fighting against.
2. Self-published books are lower quality than more traditionally printed ones.
Bad: I'm starting here because this one has more truth to it. Self-publishing greatly lowers the bar for those seeking to become authors. There are some safeguards in place on most gateway sites (sites on which you can go through to make your work available to the masses.) but it means a lot of work isn't getting checked over like it should. Let's be Frank. Frank loves to write. He's not particularly good at it though. He wants to be a writer and over the course of working on it for several years, he finishes his first manuscript. Now, Frank doesn't have a lot of money to hire an editor and he doesn't know he's not a very good writer. He edits his manuscript himself a few times, decides it's good and uploads it online. Some gateway sites will look at his work, might decide it's not the best they can offer, but allow it to be published somewhere around the bottom of the barrel. Frank is happy, he's a published author now and he gets to brag to all his friends. Ok, let's stop being Frank. Is his badly written story going to make a lot of money or sit high up on the book rankings? Probably not. The fact though, is that his work is out there, along with hundred or thousands of books like it, dragging down the expectations of the people who do manage to snag one of these Carp and open the first page.
Good: While this line is actually true to an extent, it's only half the story. Like there are going to be books and stories which are much worse than those traditionally printed and which would never see the light of day otherwise, there are also going to be real gems as well. If we draw a line to show where traditional publishing sits as opposed to the worst self-published books, we have to recognize that there will be space above that line too. Books which might not have been published through no fault or flaw in the story or writing itself but simply because the author didn't have any connections by which to work through will be available for people to rave about. Some authors who may have otherwise been stuck trudging away, seeding someone's yard for most of their life can actually have a chance at taking advantage of a gift they might otherwise never have used.
At least those are two of the things I worried about the most before jumping in and reading up on it. There are others, like the details of Trademarks, Copyrights and ISBN numbers. What all is actually needed legally on an imprint page. There's also the details of advertising, paying out for that, the details of covers and finding a good editor. It really seems like before, when all books went through an agent and a publishing company, being a writer was just another job. These days, particularly for those who choose self-publishing, you are running your own business. If you're considering that route, just be prepared.
(No Carp were harmed in the making of this blog post.)