As always there is a lot of discussion about self-published books in the media – social and otherwise. The discussion seems to swing widely between two quite distant poles. There are those who are for it, generally self-publishers, and those who are against it, generally conventional self-publishers. Both sides are exchanging a great deal of (digital) lashes – from their various platforms.
The risk of stepping into this fray is that you may yourself receive a digital lash, or two, and from what I am reading, some of these lashes are just as cutting as the rope variety, as well as being deeply personal.
When both sides begin to correct each other’s grammar and argue over the correct use of the comma, then the danger is that some very valid points are sacrificed on the altar of pedantry.
A COLOURFUL SPEECH
A recent article by Alison Flood, writing in The Guardian newspaper referenced a colourful speech by Andrew Franklin of Profile books, “The overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible – unutterable rubbish,” said Franklin. “They don’t enhance anything in the world.”
Unsurprisingly, this in particular has attracted venom by the bucket load on the forums.
So is it true? Are self-published books full of unutterable rubbish? Worse, are they lowering the standard by daring to stand beside ‘real’ books and therefore bringing about the digital downfall of conventionally published books?
Actually I do agree with a lot of this. It is undeniable that there is a huge amount of rubbish shining brightly alongside the ‘real’ stars in the digital stratosphere and it can be very difficult to tell the rubbish from the good.
I have fallen for the great covers and reviews myself and literally bought myself a book that revealed itself to have only one chapter and thousands of addresses that brought the page quota to the seemingly respectable 200 – matching the 200 or so five-star reviews.
THE DECEIT IS COMPLETE
The truth is that badly written, confusing and confused tomes are easily hidden behind great covers and when they are garnished more than liberally with hundreds of five-star reviews and thousands of ‘likes’ the deceit is complete.
It is also true that the social networks are drowning in ‘buy my book’ posts with no reason given why you should take this action other than that the author wants you to.
Yet, I think there is a place for self-publishing but I also think a writer has to earn that place by building a decent record. I have recently self-published, however, my self-published stories have already been conventionally published and broadcast on national radio. In fact, I have been conventionally published, many, many times. I have also had my work broadcast on radio, television and screened at film festivals and I have won various awards as well. This is not idle boasting – this is my writing CV.
I am not rushing and throwing up the first book I wrote to see if it will ‘stick.’ I have spent many years writing, rewriting and learning as much as I can about the ‘work’ of writing and I have a small forest worth of stories in my reject drawer as well as a lot of successes. I am still writing simply because I love to write and I have to write.
A MILLION LITTLE LIKES
So my advice to beginner writers is to keep writing and don’t try self-publishing until you have been conventionally published. Do the work and build a writing CV. I know there are successful exceptions but they are few and far between – how many ‘million shades of something similar’ have been throw up by writers hoping to share in its success?
However, I don’t agree that self-published books will bring about the downfall of the rest. The rise of the eBook is too powerful to reverse. Neither should we underestimate readers. Most are very discerning, and as they become more familiar with digital books they will become even more so. Once a reader has been bitten by a ‘bad book’ they will find ways to distinguish them from the good.
One of the obvious ways is to check out the record or CV of the author. Benchmarks will evolve. A book where the writer states with confidence that they have been already conventionally published will soon be shining a lot brighter than the ‘bad books’ with the million ‘likes.’