Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Self-Publishing for E-Book Formats

Okay, Uncanny Valley blog, it's been some time, I know. Over the weekend I saw some horse cops and some people sleeping outside a church. The ground opened under a lot of people at my office, employment-wise, and I've been rushing around to grab their things before they tumble into oblivion. Everyone in the world was at AWP (I've seen some of the pictures) and it looks like it was a time of exuberant reading and greeting.

I've been thinking lately about self-publishing. I'm not so interested in publishing my own stuff as I am in checking out stuff other people have self-published, and in checking out stuff people have written about self-publishing. My interest here probably started when Adam Robinson posted Keyhole Press's sub guidelines on HTMLGiant:

We are not accepting book submissions. Really, we can’t do much for you that you can’t already do for yourself. We encourage authors to release books independently.

This was sort of disheartening news: a publisher basically saying, You may as well do that stigmatized thing, publish yourself, because your resources and ours are pretty similar. (In the comments, there's a probably accurate discussion about how a press like Keyhole, even with limited promo budgets and influence and whatever still brings editing, distribution, goodwill, etc. to a project.)

Then yesterday Tracy Lucas retweeted this blog post which, I think, has some pretty good advice for writers looking to self-publish, specifically in e-book formats. E-book formats are so easy to work with, and with Amazon offering 70% royalty rates, the electronic option seems pretty attractive. Phill English points out that the simplicity of release can be so seductive that writers may be tempted to put out work that is . . . not their best, and advises:

If you are going to self-publish, make it your best work . . . If you release a piece of writing that isn’t up to standard, don’t be surprised when no-one wants to buy it.

(English cites and links to a writer's complaints about poor sales of a self-published e-book that is, as stated in its description, composed of unfinished or otherwise unpolished work.)

There's danger here to readers--nobody wants to buy a shoddy product--but also to writers, who may alienate the few readers who give them a chance. Someone who buys a book for even 99 cents will probably not buy another by the same author if it is terribly constructed, torn with typos, missing sections, or just sloppily written.

I decided yesterday to sample the self-published world, and picked up a self-published e-book by a writer whose published writing I've enjoyed. By the second page I was stumbling over typos, and soon I was tripping over them. Verb endings and tense shifts are small concerns in literature, but with too many a story becomes ungainly. I know this writer can write, and well, but it seems here that the best stuff may be what's made it through the traditional channels, and what's been funneled directly into my phone are the scraps left behind. Even if this story is wonderful, its best parts will be obscured by construction errors.

How do you feel about self-publishing? Do you have any recommendations? I want to be excited about tech enabling us to put out our own stuff, in our own formats, with our own marketing, but I'm a little turned off by my own experimentation as a reader.


  1. Sorry I posted my dumb thing just minutes after this good thing. I didn't see you were working on it!

    I feel like self-publishing is nice in theory, but the people who post sloppy work will probably ruin its reputation to an extent that won't be repaired until new resources develop to help people sift through the crap. If I were going to self-publish I would recruit Tracy as my editor and we would fix the work together. We don't all have excellent editors for wives but we ought to have half-decent ones for friends, at least, in general.

  2. I'm really excited about it, honestly. Of course everyone wants the brass ring that is the big press contract, but with a lot of the stuff I write--perhaps the majority of it--I'd be fine with it simply being widely and inexpensively available on the intertubes, for whoever to check out whenever they like. I think it creates a unique opportunity for niche/specialized writing.