Chuck Wendig recently did a nice rebuttal to Hugh Howey’s Salon piece (worth a read, even though I don’t like Salon because THEY HAVE NEVER GIVEN ME A DECENT HAIRCUT NOT EVEN ONCE) waving the pom-poms once again regarding self-publishing.
Chuck’s point is well taken. Self-publishing, crowdfunding (kickstarter) are all totally legit means to get work to market, as is going the traditional route.
Self-publishing is such an incredibly hot topic lately that it really dominates the conversation. People are constantly talking about how it’s the future, the new “disruptive” technology/process. People talk about self-publishing successes and failures, Kickstarter rags to riches tales, and on and on and on.
You know what people don’t talk about a lot? Quality.
Recently, I tweeted that I’d completed a novelette in the SHADOW OPS universe. I later tweeted that I was revising rules/play testing a SHADOW OPS table top game. In both cases, the entire Internet instantly reverberated: KICKSTART THAT MOTHERF*!KER SELF-PUBLISH IT YOU’LL BE RICH DO IT DO IT DO IT YESTERDAY WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR.
I’m not dismissing that idea out of hand. It’s definitely on the table for both projects, if we get to that point. But here’s the thing: there are a ton of pieces floating around the Internet discussing how to self-publish. There aren’t nearly enough pieces discussing how to self-publish RIGHT.
In the arts, your reputation is all you have. That reputation is built on the back of your work. 1-star reviews over the price of an eBook drive home a critical point: Whether it’s your fault or not, the author is held responsible for EVERYTHING about a book, from the cover art, to the proofing, to the sale price. This is why it’s so critical for an author to ride herd over everything their publisher does, balancing on that tightrope of not-being-a-pesky-annoying-dick with it’s-your-name-on-the-book-and-your-career-at-stake-so-make-damn-sure-these-people-don’t-screw-it-up (see my last post on why you need an agent to help you with this).
A friend of mine recently did an intensely successful kickstarter for an awesome project. When we talked about my trying to get a publisher for my game, she emphatically said “I would only go with a publisher if I completely failed to kickstart it.” But her project is over a year behind on delivery. Her backers are owed long overdue pledge gifts. Her shipping costs have ballooned to the point where she is asking for additional funding from people who’ve ALREADY PAID to back the project.
And from this she concludes that kickstarting is great? That going with a publisher is a bad idea?
This is what people don’t talk about much. There’s this general sense that self-publishing is easy-peasy. Step 1.) Write a book. Step 2.) Press the book against your computer monitor. Step 3.) Your book is magically self-published! It’s available on the entire Internet with perfect layout, editing, design, cover art, proofing, ISBN! 4.) Collect money.
But it doesn’t work like that. Kickstarting and self-publishing both do the same thing: put you in the publishing business. And like any business, doing it RIGHT is hard.
Author Michael J. Sullivan is a good example of a guy with a diversified approach, self-publishing, kickstarting projects and publishing with major New York houses. He is currently kickstarting his latest novel, HOLLOW WORLD. Last I checked, it was already funded at over 10 times the original goal.
But, scroll down on the page and note a few things:
– He has hired Betsy Mitchell, a major New York editor who has recently gone freelance, to edit the book.
– He has commissioned cover art from Marc Simonetti, a heavy hitting artist who had done covers for George R. R. Martin among other luminaries.
– He specifically states he is laying out the money to hire copyeditors and proofers (emphasis on the plural there) to make sure the book is error checked and up to standard before publication.
And while he doesn’t specifically mention it, I know Mike, so I am confident he is also engaging layout and design pros to make sure the book looks smart.
Because Mike understands the key element here: quality. He knows that, rightly or wrongly, his readers will hold the author responsible for any/all problems with the final product. He understands that, as a self-publisher, he isn’t just the writer, he’s the PUBLISHER which means that being a great artist isn’t enough. You’ve also got to be great at everything else.
Now, Mike is crowdsourcing this, but had he just self-published, he’d need to put up THOUSANDS of dollars of his own money and HUNDREDS of hours of his time, all in advance. Heck, by pre-commissioning the Simonetti painting, he’d already put money on the table before even launching the kickstarter.
This is what I wish those who boost self-publishing/kickstarting would talk about more. When people suggest that you self-publish, they are suggesting that you take on a huge range of additional tasks to just the art, all of which are complex enough and expensive enough to warrant a life’s work. This is the part that we don’t hear enough about.
Because the truth is that self-publishing is like everything else in life: doing it is really only the first step, the easy part.
It’s doing it RIGHT that’s hard.