Everyone’s favorite writing shaman, Chuck Wendig, has written a post at terribleminds called, “Slushy glut slog: why the self-publishing shit volcano is a problem.” If it sounds a tad harsh, be prepared: it is harsh. But it’s also completely accurate, and we aren’t doing one another any favors if we deny the simple fact that the self-publishing ocean is polluted.
Wendig goes at the problem from several angles, but the one I’m most interested in is the reader’s angle. Read the piece for all the fine points, but the gist for consumers is that it doesn’t take long to realize that buying indie books is risky behavior. Even if the price is 99 cents, you feel cheated when a writer has failed to do all the things he is supposed to do to be taken seriously. Including, obviously, having the goddamn book proofread. And if it becomes common knowledge that indie books are full of errors (and it has), then even those gems that don’t have one error get smeared with, as Chuck might put it, someone else’s feces.
He also looks at some signifiers of crap that readers are now picking up on, from less-than-adequate cover art to publisher name. One of these is price, and this is terrible news for a fledgling indie like me because one of the few tools I have at my disposal is affordability. Even though I’ve recently raised the price of Yesterday Road to $3.99, that’s still in the shit-window and the book is therefore being judged by potential readers who have it in their minds that anything less than $8.99 must be self-published and therefore — say it with me — crap.
No, it isn’t fair, and yet, largely, it is. It just doesn’t seem fair.
The truth is, as Chuck outlines, most self-publishers publish too soon; they put stuff out that means a lot to them, stuff they’ve poured their hearts into, stuff that sounds fantastic to them every time they read through it, but ultimately stuff that simply does not compare to professionally published books. I’ve read a great many of these books this year. I’m saddened by the reality of the situation, that they have a lot of problems, and not just because of their genres (which is my problem, not theirs). The greatest mistake these writers have made — and I won’t ever name names or post bad reviews — is to have failed to study writing. Good writing. Or, if they have, they have failed to translate it into their own work.
So much emphasis seems to get placed on merely finishing a book, going from notion to The End, particularly with the conventional wisdom that, to succeed as a self-publisher, you need lots of books out there. There’s no sense that a manuscript — let’s not even call it a book yet — ought to sit for a spell and age, like a nice moldy cheese, to see if it has some real flavor. Indie writers are in such a rush. Plus, everyone’s working on a series now because readers love series. If you don’t pump out eight books a year you’re falling behind. This doesn’t smell like quality to me.
Forgive me for riffing a little too adamantly on Wendig’s theme. It’s just that I’ve been noticing what he has so eloquently expressed, and I’m hoping that his message gets appropriately spread around.
We do need to do better. We’re all representatives — willing or not. Our work helps or harms everyone else’s, so we have to make damn sure we’re putting out only the best.
Just as they say about lemons and lemonade, though, when life gives you a shit volcano, you have a nice supply of fertilizer on hand.