Are you good enough to even self-publish?

I know some very happily self-published authors. No agent, editor or publisher telling them what they can or can’t do, what needs to be cut, what needs to be changed or how many pages they can or can’t have for acknowledgments. All the money from sales is theirs to have and the success or failure of a book rests squarely upon their shoulders (and, more importantly, defining what they would call a success or failure).
With the rise in self-pubbed works, the future of publishing is changing and where it will land is anyone’s guess.
But what I really want to know is:  what possesses an author to self-publish?
Oh, I know there are plenty of valid reasons to do so. There are those that have queried and queried with nary a bite and there those that never got past partials and fulls and I know of some that were published, dropped and decided to self-publish said dropped book. There are those that are just happy to write and hope others might enjoy reading unknown authors enough to buy it and like it, too.  But what about the (I hate to say it because we all start somewhere) bad writer? I suppose if you knew you were a bad writer you wouldn’t self-publish but it’s amazing how many still manage to do it, presumably because they simply don’t know they are bad.
And please don’t confuse the issue, I’m not saying that all self-pubbed books are badly written. Not by a long shot. I’m only saying that with the rise in self-publishing, anyone is able to do it. Like the guy/gal who decided that their New Year’s resolution should be to start, finish and publish a book in one year.  Sure, some succeed beautifully, but the majority don’t. That same guy/gal poured lots of love, time and energy into getting it done. Love, time and energy, I might add, that may have been better served learning how to write. Yanno, like basic grammar and punctuation, never mind the craft as an art form. 
I’ve perused the self-published titles and while some of them look like they are well written, a large portion could have used the benefit of research on how to write, a critique or two or twenty, and an editor. Do they simply not know? How can they not know?  
There are many fine authors that go undiscovered and rejected yearly. I suppose knowing if you are one of those fine authors isn’t easy, what with all the rejections. But wouldn’t you know if you weren’t at least passable if you were going to self-publish?
I certainly don’t think that anyone should be denied the right to self-publish, but I definitely reserve the right to not read it and I can’t help feeling bad for the author every time I see one of these books floating around.  Readers are just as harsh critics as agents and editors. If they think ridicule in an agency is bad, ridicule from the entire known web-verse isn’t likely to be any better.  Is it bravery to put yourself out there like that or is it just (as Miss Snark used to say) nitwittery?


Jay Hudson
January 6, 2011 12:18 am

Cheryl,Thanks for posting this on your blog.Self-publishing has been bashed repeatedly on the larger writing groups,and yet, brave souls still do it every day. Some succeed beyond their wildest dreams.I have a very long list of famous authors who first self-published.I have not published a book yet,but I plan to if my health allows it.My reason is that (1)I want complete artistic control,and (2)if I publish I don't want to send out queries for several years hoping lightning strikes.Jay Hudson

January 6, 2011 6:14 pm

I'm not bashing self-pubbing at all. I'm only questioning why anyone would publish a poorly written book.While I understand the inclination to give up on traditional publishing before you even start, how do you know it will take years? It certainly might but there are plenty of people that land an agent on their first or second round of queries. Sure, there are many more that don't but how do you know which you will be unless you try? I'm not saying that it's right for everyone to go the traditional route, I'm only saying that the assumption that you won't get any offers shouldn't be a reason, there are many other valid reasons to self-publish – like your reason #1.

Mark Lawrence
January 7, 2011 1:13 pm

I'm sure many self-published books are very good. What percentage of self-published books are very good I couldn't say.As to the business of not knowing if what you've written is good or not, that's easy, look at American Idol etc and see how many people think they can sing but can't. When reading your own writing there's a strong tendency (stronger in some than in others) to fill in subconciously what you intended to the writing to convey, even if that information/image/emotion is not resident in the words on page.The key is unbiased feedback. Currently I can't share much of what I write with others and I miss the criticism – even though I know I can write the good stuff, without constant feedback I soon lose faith that I'm still doing so 🙂

January 8, 2011 1:15 am

I totally hear what you're saying here. I just read (what I assume to be) a self-pubbed eBook. It had an interesting premise, but that was it. As I read the book, I noted more and more simplistic mistakes the writer did that no editor obviously saw, and major problems that consisted throughout. Add on top of that a lack of description (which seems like a bad idea in a completely made-up fantasy world) and a tendency to repeat the same words and phrases….it just wasn't good. And I actually paid for it!

January 9, 2011 12:26 am

Speaking of someone who queried only for 1 day, Mark Lawrence (comment #3) has a book coming out!'ll be available far and wide in stores on Aug. 2, 2011 in the US.Congratulations, Mark and I hope it does very well. Best of luck! And as far as missing the crits, you never needed them anyway. You're awesome. If you start to lose faith, come back here and read this comment. Screw that, read your reviews, they'll have more impact!

January 11, 2011 3:26 am

I would say if you are serious about self publishing then spend the money and hire an editor. Develop a platform and be ready to market your work. We need to remember writing is an art form. Meaning one persons work will not appeal to everyone. There are many books published by the big houses that are not good. The beauty of it is no one can make you buy it. If you do and don't like it you don't read that author again. The reality of it is, the publishing world has changed. The big publishers play it safe and will continue to do so. The medium to small presses are now overwhelmed with submissions, so the odds there have shifted against an aspiring writer.What's left? Yes, beat your head against the establishment and we all will do that. Otherwise, self publish. Work your craft, get a great crit partner, find an editor, and build a marketing platform. Let the public decide if your any good.

January 11, 2011 3:36 am

*Let the public decide if your any good.*And I imagine they will.

January 11, 2011 3:42 am

@notebookmuse: Don't you hate that? I can't stand to get a book and find out it's a mess. The sad thing is that I don't buy many self-pubbed titles, these are usually traditionally pubbed. I don't buy many self-pubbed mostly because I just don't have the time to sift through it all. I haven't sifted in a long time, though. I should check some more out and see how I fare.

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Cheryl Murphy is Asian with brown hair in a single braid and a smirk.

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