Self-publishing or self-satisfaction?

5 Oct

As I grapple with the idea of self-publishing my fiction due to the apparent impossibility of getting anywhere near a traditional publisher, I’m reminded of the misdeeds perpetrated by some members of the virtual writing community that bring the whole enterprise into disrepute. It’s sufficient to make me hold back for the time being. This post may not make me popular with some of my friends in the virtual world, but some things need saying. Here’s a little advice for the worst offenders.

Reviewing your own books on Goodreads and Amazon – what the feck?, as they say – and then having the temerity to award yourself five stars out of five… it takes some nerve! If you were really serious about the business of writing, you couldn’t possibly be so satisfied with your own work. The ability to be self-critical is an essential skill for the serious writer. Without it, you can’t move your work forward.

And then, it turns out that all of those other readers supplying your five-star ratings are self-published authors themselves. You scratch my back… If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t be dishonest with your potential readers. My traditionally published non-fiction work scores a mere 3.60 on Goodreads, reviewed as it is by people who don’t know me. Clearly, it doesn’t cut the mustard, then, despite the print run selling out at £40 per copy.

Some of these authors are churning out three or four books a year! I suspect that this is made possible by compromising the teensiest bit on quality… And that’s to say nothing of the relentless self-promotion that seems to go with the territory, the endless tweets, Facebook and Goodreads statuses bleating on about this or that five-star review of an author’s work that render social media almost unreadable. A key part of this strategy is to follow thousands of other writers and readers on Twitter so that they follow you back then ‘unfollow’ them, creating the illusion that you have hordes of fans and admirers (to borrow a phrase from the late Vivian Stanshall). And what is it with self-published authors and genre definition? Young adult romantic urban dark fantasy… Really? And why isn’t anyone writing books for grown-ups any more? The commodification and infantilisation of culture go hand in hand, it would seem.

This picture of my garden in spring has nothing whatsoever to do with the post, but it lightens the tone, doesn't it?

This picture of my garden in spring has nothing whatsoever to do with the post, but it lightens the tone, don’t you think?

You are not an ‘indie’ writer. You are self-published. At least let’s be honest about it. Let’s make the term respectable by cutting out all of the above instead of hiding behind euphemisms. Euphemisms are employed to cover up truths. What is there to hide? Independent publishers are small ones not owned by the big multinationals, not individuals who publish their own work.

Ah, I hear the counsel for the defence counter, but most of these misdemeanours occur in traditional publishing too. That charlatanism happens elsewhere constitutes no defence. I’m as critical of traditional publishing as I am of self-publishing. Indie music labels genuinely sought to cut out much of the corporate malpractice in which the big labels indulged. If self-publishers are to have any moral authority, they must do the same.

‘Lies that tell the truth’, someone said of fiction. Or at least, I think they did. And if not, I’m claiming it. Novelists make things up but they do so to tell us truths about what it means to be human. A good writer is honest in his intent. Pretending that your work has been impartially reviewed and evading the fact that you’ve published it yourself is dishonest. It doesn’t bode well for what may lie between the covers (pun intended).

There are honourable exceptions. My friend Mari Biella’s self-published works are genuinely good and she doesn’t endlessly trumpet their existence. J D Hughes’s infrequent self-promotion is witty, at least. The problem is that the claims of self-published works of quality are drowned out by the proclamations of self-aggrandising pulp merchants.

All text and images © PSR 2014

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9 Responses to “Self-publishing or self-satisfaction?”

  1. craftyrenee October 5, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    Thank you for the information on self publishing. I had no idea what a mess that is. I agree with you on the fact of adults. Seems the world is waiting for the new batch of newbies. It goes hand in hand with the TV world 18-25 year old, the problem there is that they over all don’t read.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves October 6, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

      Hi there and thanks for commenting, Crafty Renee. We have to keep encouraging people to read. I fear that the publishing of large quantities of tripe may put people off!

  2. Jeff Peters October 6, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    I’ve never self-published, but imagine I will one day. I don’t begrudge anyone promoting their own book. What I hate are those, some here on WordPress, where every other post is some kind of begging-for-money type post. I used to read one blog, then it got ridiculous due the constant “fundraiser.”

    • Paul Sutton Reeves October 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      Hi Jeff and thanks for your comments. Well, we can’t all agree on everything! I find unrelenting self-promotion irritating, and there it is. I wish you all the best with your writing.

  3. Mari Biella October 6, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    I can hardly disagree with you, Paul, though my reflex instinct is to defend self-publishers! There are an awful lot of charlatans out there who seem to prefer instant gratification to the long, thankless slog of actually being a writer, with all that that entails. Reviewing your own work or pumping out three or four books a year are practices that make me wince.

    To be fair, sometimes the only way to get any reviews of your book at all are to ask acquantainces – often self-publishers themselves – to write them. I don’t think that’s a problem as long as all parties understand that honest reviews are expected. (I grant that there’s a residual problem, too, as self-publishers are often inclined to be generous with one another.) I don’t have an issue with the use of the term “indie”, either, as to me it’s just short for “independent” (which self-publishers most certainly are), not a deliberate attempt to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

    I agree that the only way for self-publishing’s somewhat tarnished image to recover is for self-publishers themselves behave honestly and professionally. I think, however, that this is genuinely beginning to happen, as more and more good and serious writers also become self-publishers (often, as you say, due to the near-impossibility of getting anywhere within the traditional industry). We’ve a long way to go, of course, but I’m generally pretty optimistic. And thank you for making me one of your honourable exceptions. That has made me happier than any number of sales or 5-star reviews! 🙂

    • Paul Sutton Reeves October 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

      Hi Mari and thanks for your thoughtful contribution. I can see where you are coming from.

      The problem with self-publishing a book and then calling one’s self an independent publisher is that the term already means something else, by long-standing precedent. It means a publishing house such as Faber and Faber or my publisher, Helter Skelter. Its co-option by the self-publishing world strikes me as disingenuous. What is wrong with just using the long accepted term, self-publisher? It is what it is. Otherwise, matters come uncomfortably close to the practices of the discredited vanity publishing industry, whereby vanity presses would pretend to be traditional publishing houses and their authors would collude in the fiction.

      I hope that you’re right about the self-publishing world and wish that other self-publishers would follow your example.

  4. samulraney October 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    I can’t argue against any of your claims of poor behavior. In fact, I was definitely guilty of over-communicating the sale of my books on social media before I learned how to be a good indie author.

    And that’s where I will toss in a mild argument. You said: “You are not an ‘indie’ writer. You are self-published. At least let’s be honest about it. Let’s make the term respectable by cutting out all of the above instead of hiding behind euphemisms. Euphemisms are employed to cover up truths. What is there to hide? Independent publishers are small ones not owned by the big multinationals, not individuals who publish their own work.

    To me, the term “indie author” shows the independent nature of the work being done. Yes, I wrote the book, but after that, I sought out and paid for an editor, cover artist, and formatter. It might be arguing semantics, but there it is. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves October 7, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

      Hi Scott. Thanks for dropping by and contributing to the discussion. I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with everything I’ve said. My objection to the use of the word independent is that it already means something else. Being a ‘self-publisher’ is nothing to be ashamed of if the writer has gone about the business properly.

      • samulraney October 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

        That I can agree with. 🙂

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