Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Yet another self-publishing wake-up call: Chuck Wendig edition

This is a longer, but invaluable read. Read it, self-publishers. And, yes — weep.

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.


18 comments on “Yet another self-publishing wake-up call: Chuck Wendig edition

  1. J. S. Collyer
    February 6, 2014

    You’re exactly right though, Kevin. As is Chuck. We can do everything right, strive our very best to hold ourselves to professional standards, but whether we manage it or not matters very little if others aren’t doing the same. And it’s *readers* we want to connect with, and if they get stung three times in a row with badly finished books, they’re just not going to bother in the future.

    I’m not saying indie publishing and or self publishing is the easy option, because it’s simply not if you’ve done everything right: drafted, redrafted, sought feedback, beta read, edited, perhaps comissioned external editing, comissioned decent cover art (and I do appreciate your point on affordability but in my experience there are lots of up-and-coming graphic artists that are talented and charge peanuts as they’re gaining experience and reputation), done the right amount of marketing, blah blah blah. But it is what you make of it and people can just click a button on amazon and be published these days.

    I used to be more positive about this: I used to think well, hey, bully for them if they’ve published sub-standard prose. One fewer books to compete against. But if the majority of self-published or indi fiction is in this kind of state, no matter how professional I manage to get my final product, it’s not going to be sought out if readers are getting turned off by the marketplace.

    I think my plan is just going to be to get as much experience and notice as I can in this market place, build my skills and connections, then see about getting an agent and going to heart-breaking but dream-like traditional route

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 6, 2014

      There is something slightly dangerous about the idea that you can publish “for free” these days. Chuck may be on to something when he talks about the possibility of fees down the line, or some level of quality control at Amazon et al. Yet, again, that’s just another kind of gatekeeping, and if you want gatekeepers, well, the traditional system is already very good at it.

      By the way, I always think a talented young writer (like yourself) should attempt to get an agent. You can always fall back on indie if you get frustrated with the process, but there’s no better way to break in than with a bona fide publisher.

      You go, girl!

      • J. S. Collyer
        February 6, 2014

        Absolutely right about gatekeepers. You’ve got to wonder if there market is sustainable as it is: if amazon is stocking all these ebooks that no one’s buying something’s gotta give. I guess we just play the game we’re presented with the best way we can and make sure we keep learning.

        Aw jeepers, how kind!! ^_^ agent is definitely my plan for the future. I’m hoping a couple if books under my belt, indie or not, might give me an edge. We shall see!! It’s all about moving forward and being open to hard work and learning 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 6, 2014

        You definitely have the right outlook!

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  3. sknicholls
    February 6, 2014

    I sooo agree with Chuck on most points, and I don’t mind confessing that I am one of those who published too early. I didn’t have a blog, and had not studied a thing about publishing or marketing. I have learned tons this year. My author friends have been most helpful. Reading and studying writing more has been helpful. I am not going to un-publish. RC&R is an example of my earliest work. It is what it is. I just received a two star review, It was my first critical review and it was constructive, though most opinionated. I didn’t write traditional genre fiction and that is what it was compared to. It is still a good book. It’s all good 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 6, 2014

      It’s good that you have a sense that you might have jumped the gun. No one would expect you to un-publish, I imagine, but instead to think of it as a learning experience, which you clearly do.

      Again, that we can publish at relatively low cost is quite an issue. Twenty years ago it would have run a few hundred bucks minimum to self-publish, and that probably inhibited a lot of writers.

      • sknicholls
        February 6, 2014

        Any review that’s not a restraining order is probably a good review. There ARE going to be changes on the horizon I am afraid. I don’t think Amazon is going to stand for being the bargain basement for too long and there are already some authors forming collectives. I am working with Brantome Press right now on developing something like that, and Awesome Indies already has a good start.

      • sknicholls
        February 6, 2014

        Also, I did resubmit a revision and have a professional edit done after publishing. Still not my best and I know it. But I will get there. 🙂

  4. 1WriteWay
    February 6, 2014

    But, Kevin, how do you *really* feel?

  5. denizb33
    February 6, 2014

    On the other hand, I find it frustrating to note the number of people who *don’t* care about proofing and continuity errors and head hopping and so on. They’ll read anything with nary a critical eye in their heads. So frustrating!

  6. ericjbaker
    February 6, 2014

    The thing is, how do I know if what I’ve written is any good? I’m going to self-pub a short story collection one of these days, because there’s no way in a million years an industry publisher will touch that. How do I know if it belongs in the small pile of good things or the big pile of shit (zoinks)? I’m sure lots of bad writers think they are good. You can only pass it among beta readers for so long before you have to pull the trigger. If I toss it in the waste bin because it might suck… well, I’ll never get anything out there. On the other hand. what you said above.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 6, 2014

      Well, first you have your gut. It’ll give you a pretty good idea whether you’re for real or BS’ing yourself. But you could also take your best stories and submit them to good magazines, ones you respect in whatever the appropriate genre, and see what the reaction is. If there’s a bit of interest, even an offer, then you’re doin’ all right. If there’s uproarious laughter, keep revising.

      Even if you publish a story or two, you can still include them in a collection; you only sell first serial rights to mags.

      So. Don’t toss. Submit. Trial by fire. 🔥

      • ericjbaker
        February 7, 2014

        I am self-publishing for a number of practical reasons, but one of them is I’m no longer interested in the grinding wheel of short-story submission. 6-8 months to find out that the story is too long, too not what they publish, too this too that. I’m simply adding to the conversation above regarding quality. Am I one of those people who will be dragged down by all the shit that pollutes the self-pub scene, or am I one of the draggers? I’ve run across quite a few mediocre writers who think they are brilliant, so I’m not sure how to separate self-reflection form delusion.

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 7, 2014

        We’re probably all deluded. The trick is to get others to believe our delusions.

  7. Dylan Hearn
    February 9, 2014

    I read the original Chuck Wendig post a few days ago and agree with his analysis but not necessarily his solution. Yes, there are a lot of books out there that have been published without attempting to get the basics of the craft right and yes, it does reflect badly on all self-published authors.
    At the same time Wendig states that publishing is a business and us indies should treat it as such. Again, I can’t argue with his point but at the same time he is exposing why many of us revert to self-publsihing in the first place. The major publishers are risk averse. They are looking for books that sell and sell big. If you writing meets a niche that is either not commercial or too hard to market, you will not be taken on no matter how well written and compelling your story, because there are too many compelling, well written stories that meet this criteria.
    Love them or loathe them, a combination of customer reviews and Amazon’s sub-genre charts does help provide some sort of filter for readers.
    To say that writers should think before publishing is a good ideal but it is rare for a self-publsihed author to think of themselves as a poor writer. And if you don’t believe people are blind to their talent level, you just need to watch the auditions for American Idol to realise this is not true. I also don’t agree that putting a fee on publishing is necessarily the answer either. You will still have poorly written books from wealthy writers and you will potentially lose gems from those who cannot afford it. It could become just another form of vanity publishing.
    The hardest part for a self-published author is to be visible in the large “shitpool” as Wendig puts it. The only way this can happen is organically, through word of mouth via bloggers, reviewers, reader groups and so on. You cannot game this system and poor writing will get found out very quickly.
    Anyway, great post on what’s clearly an important subject. I just don’t know what the answer is.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 9, 2014

      Excellent points, and thanks for stopping by to comment, Dylan.

      Though I agree with you that some of Wendig’s solutions aren’t really going to work, I think it’s valuable to raise these issues if only to get into writers’ heads that they need to raise the bar. If self-publishing is going to be a viable alternative to the sales-driven traditional system, it has to offer a product of equal professional quality. That’s just not the case right now.

      I’m with you, though. Not sure what the answer is.

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2014 by in Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , .
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