Sunday, January 31, 2010

Self-publishing symposium: Elizabeth K. Burton

How does self-publishing differ from traditional publishing?

First, one needs to distinguish between true self-publishing, in which the author literally sets up as a sole-proprietor publishing business, and what is currently passing for "self-publishing" but is, in reality, subsidy publishing. Those who choose to subsidy publish true mightily to pretend that's not what they're doing, but the final product that usually emerges is its own proof otherwise.

A true self-publisher learns the business of publishing, and accepts that they are not themselves capable of handling all aspects of that business. They understand money will be required to purchase a unique identifying ISBN, pay professionals to handle editing and/or design and/or cover art, and that offering the excuse such things aren't necessary is the mark of a rank amateur.

In other words, true self-publishing operates exactly the same as traditional publishing. The only difference is that the publisher is also the author. I'm fully aware that's anathema these days, but I've been reading the other kind of "self-published" books for the last decade and the fact of the matter is, most of them are dreadful. The sad thing is, some could have been excellent had the author not fallen for fallacious idea that professionals in the publishing industry don't know what they're talking about and/or that anyone can do it.

In addition to being a publisher and a professional editor of many years' experience, I'm also a published author. Technically, it could be said I am self-published. I would never allow any of my own work to go to print until it had been thoroughly edited and copyedited, nor would I attempt to design my own covers. I am not now and never have been an artist, although I have acquired adequate skills to be able to design interiors. And worked to learn how to do it right.

In my experience, very few of those who "self-publish" take the time to do that. Or learn enough to know when they've being taken in by some clever subsidy-press sales pitch. Ignorance of how a business operates doesn't work in any other field, and it doesn't in publishing, either.

Do self-published book review blogs help to raise the reader awareness of self-published books?

They do if they're marketing their blog. Review blogs are like any other form of advertising—only as good as the level of traffic they generate. And the quality of the reviews they produce. The book blogger who never met a book he or she didn't like, or whose reviews consist of a synopsis of the plot and a single sentence that boils down to "I really liked this book" are all but useless.

How do you respond to the following statement?--Self-publishing is not a serious way to get one's work into print now and never will be.

True self-publishing has always been a viable means of getting one's work into print. What passes for it at the present time isn't. Readers and booksellers have expectations of quality, and it's precisely the fact those expectations aren't met that has made it all but impossible for those who do provide quality work to break through the barriers. As a result, the process—on-demand printing—had come to be considered synonymous with badly written, poorly edited books with unprofessional covers and interior design.

Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?

I'm always suspicious of phrases like "golden age." It implies there's some kind of revolution involved, which in turn fosters an "us vs. them" mindset that's self-destructive to those who seriously undertake self-publication. While mainstream publishing has its flaws, and they may well be legion, simply adopting a model that is based almost solely on doing everything contrary to the standard method isn't a revolution.

What about the challenges posed to the self-published writer by having to promote and edit his or her own book?

Given he or she starts with a book of the quality necessary in a professionally produced work, the main challenges a self-published author faces differ very little from those faced by a new or midlist traditionally published writer. The number of books being printed, the vast majority of which are "self-published," means there are fewer and fewer readers available for each book. The only cure is to know one's market and promote to it in the most effective manner possible.

And anyone who self-edits has already made a major error. Those seeking to self-publish need to get past the amateur notion that a professional editor will somehow destroy their deathless prose—that's not what a professional editor does. That said, there are many, many people advertising themselves as professional editors whose level of competence doesn't bear close scrutiny. I'm not saying they're deliberately scamming writers; the majority of them sincerely believe they have the knowledge and skills to do what they're doing. Unfortunately, they are often little more than writers who, believing they do have said skills and knowledge, decide to supplement their income by editing other writers.

One should select one's editor the same way one would a doctor or a lawyer. Ask around. Check qualifications. Ask for references. If a writer is truly fearful of an editor's wrecking their manuscript, it seems only common sense to do the research necessary to prevent that from happening.

And be prepared to pay for it.

Why is it that a self-published author has yet to emerge into national recognition as a self-published author? (As opposed to being given a mainstream publishing contract after a self-published book attracts attention.)

See above, to which I will add: true writers want to write. They want to be able to have time to do that. Being one's own publisher means adding all the aspects of the business a publisher does, which means that much less time available for writing. For novelists in particular, being able to hand all that over to someone else and thus have the much-desired time to write trumps the extra money they might make publishing themselves.

Has the experience of self-publishing changed the way you write? (If you have self-published.)

Being only technically self-published, this question really isn't applicable. How one is published, however, has nothing to do with a writer's talent, skill and voice. Those are what make him or her unique, and would be there even if their only access to readers was sitting on a street corner telling their stories aloud.

Elizabeth K. Burton, Executive Editor
Zumaya Publications LLC
Opening Doors to the Creative Mind

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