Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
One of the complaints the self-publishing community often hit traditional publishers with is that they license authors’ work and then hold onto it for 1-2 years before publishing it. I would agree the time taken to get books into the market is too long and traditional publishers can often be out of touch when it comes to reacting to what the customer wants right now, in a quickly changing market.
I also often hear from the more promotion-savvy self-published authors that writers should be getting their work out there, that the marketplace is the perfect place to test writing out. And not only in one genre, but writers should be trying multiple genres and seeing what or how many work for them.
While I appreciate the dynamism, particularly in contrast to traditional publishers’ more glacial pace, which is only now showing signs of change, this approach is of great concern. It moves away from the hard work, the perfectionism and striving for improvement that should be essential and provides an easy escape route at the moment the hardest work should begin.
One example is when I started my first publishing business Legend Press in 2005 (a traditional publisher). In some ways self-published authors are beginning their own micro publishing company when they launch their first book. I could have said I would try a few companies out first, test the market, maybe in a couple of different areas, see what worked and what didn’t etc. The result would be a certainty – I would currently be working for someone else to pay off the large debts from my non-starter business failures.
I had to start one business, put absolutely everything I had into it and learn from that incredibly challenging upward and winding road towards improvement. And nearly ten years on I am still somewhere just after the start of the same road still trying to improve.
Writing for publication is a business and it is positive that this is starting to be more openly realised, in part driven by dynamic entrepreneurial authors. But it is also an art. Can you imagine if Michelangelo had decided rather than spending four painstaking years on the timeless Sistine Chapel roof he would slap on it a quick fresco and move onto a new project. And you don’t often hear Beethoven’s Quick Playalong Symphony.
Before writers comment that this sounds elitist and before the cries of ‘genre fiction is different’ etc, it’s not. I’ve given advice to a number of self-published authors writing crime thrillers, fantasy and so on to be told ‘oh, I know there are flaws but I am just going to get this one published and I’m already working on a new book…’ My initial thought is that you may increase your number of works published, but you are never going to be a better writer than you are now.
I get obsessed over the minute detail in our businesses and I can’t fully comprehend how anyone can produce something so personal and important as their own work and be indifferent to perfecting it. It just sets them up for making no impact on the customer. And the wider point is the threat this attitude poses to the whole market. I don’t want readers seeing any work that an author (and publisher if traditionally published) hasn’t perfected, or they may well stop being a reader.
I say this not only for commercial reasons. Firstly, authors should show some pride. Anyone can put words in a sequence, but only a great writer can change the reader’s world very slightly by having written them. It is the existence of that ability that motivated me to start a publishing business.
It could be said in response that it depends on what a self-published author considers success for themselves. It is true that there is achievement in just completing a novel, but there is no reason why any ambitious writer should stop so far short of striving to meet their full potential. If all you provide to the reader is an ISBN number, you may as well give up being a writer and become a bingo caller.
In conclusion, the message is writers don’t need to be tied to lengthy waits for publication. However, more importantly, they shouldn’t confuse action with progress or shirk the hardest work of all. No one remembers who has published the most books or has written in the most genres. But when a reader finds a fantastic book it stays with them for a lifetime.