I generally avoid discussing divisive issues. I feel more comfortable sticking to lightweight topics, like movies, music, books, Kirk vs. Picard. But I’ve decided to step outside of my comfort zone and write a blog post about a certain topic that has caused many debates in the literary world. Any guess as to what it may be? I’ll go ahead and tell you.
Yes, I’m actually going to share my opinion on self-publishing. And some of you won’t like what I have to say.
This is a bit scary. Okay. I guess I won’t dance around the issue. I’ll be blunt. Here I go. . .
Self-publishers are, in a sense, defecating on literature. Maybe it’s more like they’re scooping up dog feces, sticking it in a paper bag, lighting the bag on fire and throwing it on Literature’s doorstep while yelling, “Screw you, you old bastard.”
That analogy is pretty harsh—it’s a joke, sort of. If I angered anyone, I’m sorry. But before people call me names or literally throw a bag of flaming dog poop on my doorstep, let me explain my position.
I love books. I love reading books. I think anyone who writes loves to read. If you don’t, then you’ll never be a successful author—in my opinion, at least. It’s books that teach us how to write.
In The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham it reads, “You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you.”
I’ve read bits and pieces of self-published young adult books, and the majority of them are pretty terrible. One lady didn’t know how to spell the word “see.” She repeatedly spelled it “sea”—no, she wasn’t talking about the ocean. Many of these books include bad punctuation, clumsy sentences, and lousy plots—I’m in no way saying my writing’s perfect.
Teenagers are reading these books. They’re learning from them, soaking in the bad grammar and poor storytelling—if it’s in a book, it must be correct, right? And as more and more writers self-publish, more and more young people—future writers—are learning from inexperienced teachers.
Don’t kids deserve to be guided by experienced teachers?
Of course there are exceptions. Not all self-published material is horrid, and occasionally writers make a lot of money going that route. And I do say occasionally.
I think I just heard someone scream, “Look at Amanda Hocking!” Yeah, well, a guy named Jack Whittaker won the lottery in ’02. The chances of making millions from self-publishing are very slim; I’m more likely to die from a pit bull attack—I’m guessing.
Now someone else is shouting, “But Stephen King’s doing it!” Fine. But are you Stephen King? Are you a wildly successful author who’s published numerous bestsellers and can pay a professional to edit your novel? If you are, then how the hell did you find my insignificant blog? This is awesome! Do you think maybe you could take a look at my writing?
I may seem unsympathetic. Really I’m not. I’m not published yet. I understand the desire to find an audience. I also know what it’s like to write for hours and not see a single penny for that work.
Last year, I wrote a 90,000 word YA novel called MORE THAN HUMAN. It took me about five months and many late nights to write—I averaged about four hours of sleep a night. When I finished, I sent out a few queries and got a request for a full. The agent rejected it. I sent out a few more queries, and another agent read my manuscript. While this was all going on, I had the nagging feeling that my book wasn’t good. The feeling wasn’t self-doubt; it was I’m-not-proud-of-this-book-and-I-don’t-think-I-want-my-name-on-the-cover. But I’d grown attached to the characters. And I’d sacrificed so much time and mental energy writing it. If I stopped trying to get it published, that would mean I’d wasted nine months of my life—that’s writing, editing and querying time combined—on a manuscript that no one would read. I almost couldn’t bring myself to set aside the mediocre novel. But I did. And now I’m working on a manuscript that I’m proud of. I want my name on the cover of this one. But if this book doesn’t get published, then I’ll try again with another. I guess what I’m trying to say is, everything we write doesn’t need to be read. Human eyes shouldn’t even see some of it. In fact, I’m embarrassed two agents read my 90,000 word assault on the English language. When I think back to the first draft, I dry heave—it was that bad.
Sometimes, we’re too wrapped up in our work to see it for what it is. Garbage. That’s why agents were put on this earth—those cold, so-called human beings who destroy dreams. They look at manuscripts in a way that our mothers, best friends and gynecologists can’t. Objectively. And then there are editors who correct those idiotic mistakes that are guaranteed to sneak into our books.
I know traditional publishing isn’t perfect. Does crap still get published? Definitely. I hope one day my crap gets published. But agents and editors keep a lot of crap out of bookstores. And without a system in place, poor spelling, terrible punctuation and horrible sentence structure would sit on shelves across the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I like sticking it to The Man from time to time. But can’t we rebel against the system in another way? I have an idea. How about we all make a pact that, from this point on, when writing our queries, we type each letter of the alphabet in a different neon color. It will make reading through the slush pile that much worse for agents. Who knows, we may give a few of them grand mal seizures. That would be pretty funny, right? But let’s leave traditional publishing alone. I like it how it is.