Happy Friday! Well, it’s a holiday weekend, so I figured we’d have some fun. I posted this argument at the beginning of the year and it generated a lot of cool discussion. There have been a lot of changes in publishing, so I figured it would be entertaining to revisit the debate. About what?
After two #1 best-selling books (published through a small, yet awesome indie press) I feel I can safely offer my opinion, then you guys can add $2.50 to my advice and get a venti coffee from Starbucks.
In my opinion, self-publishing is the American Idol of the publishing world. Thousands and thousands of hopefuls and a small handful of real chart-topping talent–talent that, in the traditional format, might never have been discovered. That’s the upside. The downside? There are no gatekeepers to keep the talentless hacks from assaulting the unsuspecting public with their “art.”
In the beginning, American Idol caught a lot of flack. There was a genuine concern about removing traditional gatekeepers from the music industry and–GASP–leaving it to the fans. Um, who did they think bought the records?
But I digress…
There was a genuine worry that American Idol could devolve into a popularity contest and that real talent might get overlooked due to a stampeding hoard of tone-deaf fans. I mean,the insanity! Let the FANS vote for their favorite artist? What’s next? Democracy?
I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think the guy in fat guy in spandex with the pink boa who sounds like a cat got caught in a screen door has yet to make it past the first round of eliminations. And maybe some less-than-talented people make it past the initial auditions, but, overall, I would have to say that the general music-loving public has, so far, picked some amazing artists.
Back to self-publishing. If we are willing to gut through the initial American Idol stand in line for three days, then we get our shot. What is the literary equivalent? If we are willing to fork out the cash, time, or effort to self-publish, we get our shot to be heard. Period. That is all self-publishing is. After that, it boils down to the story and prior preparation. The readers will judge the talent.
In American Idol, you have the raging hacks, the undiscovered diamonds…and then everyone in between. Same with self-publishing.
The Deluded Divas
American Idol is flypaper for people with far more ego than talent. They believe they have a “natural gift,” which is code for, “I’m too talented (self-deluded) to take singing lessons or be bothered by things like voice classes or learning to read music.”
They belt off some bad Whitney Houston song in a voice that makes every dog in a 10 mile radius start bleeding from the ears. And, when one of the judges suggests voice coaching, they go nuts, flouncing out to their entourage (closest loser friends) waiting outside the door.
“Because all their friends say they have a great voice, and that Simon just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Yeah. You’ll show him…or not.
Writing has the same Deluded Divas. Critique groups always have at least one. This is the guy who reads every week–EVERY WEEK–no matter what. Why? Because short of taking hostages, this is the only way anyone is going to listen to his novel.
Rather than learning the craft, this type of writer frequently talks non-stop about the junk NY is putting out there, so he is going to just bust past all the gatekeepers who don’t know a real best-seller when they see one. That and he gets 100% royalty rate that he can reinvest into producing the crappy film based off his crappy book…which he is also writing and producing with his cousin who’s attending film school at the local junior college. Things like correct punctuation, consistent POV and Aristotelian structure interfere too much with his “art.”
The Undiscovered Diamond
What is the whole point of shows like American Idol? Finding real talent. The vocalist who might not have ever been noticed if she’d gone the traditional route to landing a record deal.
The Susan Boyle. The Fantasia. THAT one, the one with the voice of an angel.
If you have watched more than a handful of episodes of American Idol, then you have likely seen this happen. The shy kid with the guitar who starts singing and you just know this kid is going to go all the way…and you rooted for him when he was a nobody.
Same in self-published writing. But, like the shy kid with the guitar? This chart-topping (best-selling) writer is equally rare….like most undiscovered diamonds. Duh. If they were as common as brown puppies, they wouldn’t be diamonds.
It is not a regular thing for a self-published author to suddenly shoot up the best-seller lists. Not saying it won’t happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as frequently as the Deluded Divas would like to believe.
Even when traditionally published, a writer’s odds of hitting the NY Times best-seller list is about the same as being hit by lightning. As the market stands, the odds of our self-published book with no prior platform hitting the NYT best-seller list is about the same is being hit by lightning and mauled by a polar bear and brown bear at the same time. Not saying it can’t happen, but, um…yeah.
Good books with no platform stand a slim chance. Bad books? Well, no amount of social media can help a bad book.
Everyone In Between
Between the Deluded Divas and the Undiscovered Diamonds, there rests everyone else. Maybe they are new, need more time to grow, develop, learn, train, mature. On American Idol, I have seen vocalists audition, and it was clear to see they had the makings of a great singer…but they needed more time, a mentor, a coach.
I have also seen many writers who fall into this category. Are they bad writers? No. Are they green? Maybe in need of refining? Yes.
Do all of us have the talent to make be the next Cormac McCarthy? No. But there are a lot of successful authors out there who do very well, even if they aren’t a household name. They sell enough books to live comfortably and do what they love every day. For many of us, that would be enough. Would we like to be the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts? Sure. But we wouldn’t consider our lives as failures if we simply could sell enough books to write full-time.
Some of us might even make it through all three tiers.
I know I began as a Deluded Diva. I thought my first novel was perfect and that those agents didn’t know what they were talking about. Part of me is thankful that self-publishing was not as accessible back then. This book I though was perfect is the same book I joke about being banned by the Geneva Convention as torture.
I’ll tell you where the bomb is, just not another chapter of that booook!
I was new and unskilled and had more ego than sense. After the gatekeepers popped me on the snoot a few times, I started realizing maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I joined a critique group, took a job as a line-editor, and read every craft book I could find.
Right now, I’m idling in the Everyone In Between, hoping I am that Undiscovered Diamond. But you know what? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I am a nice opal or an emerald. Maybe I am a diamond. Time and hard work will tell.
So what about self-publishing? Basically, it boils down to Deluded Divas, Undiscovered Diamonds…and then Everyone In Between. Self-publishing is our audition. It’s our shot to show the reader what we’ve got.
Maybe you are a deluded hack who should be banned from accessing Microsoft Word. That will become clear eventually when you sell 10 copies of your novel and one is to your dog, who ran in front of a car the next day after he “bought” your book. If your writing sucks, it will become painfully clear in the sales numbers soon enough. Live and learn. Keep writing.
We should always be writing the next book. We should never stop and never ever bank our future on one book. That’s a bad business plan.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Maybe sales figures will be enough to sober you up and help you understand that your craft needs work. Write, write again. It ain’t over until we give up. You might have to work extra hard to clean up your reputation, but that’s why there are gatekeepers in traditional publishing. They are there to warn us that our vampire-mystery-chik-lit-historical-memoir is not a winner. Agents and editors aren’t out to get us…really. They are there to help keep us from making fools of ourselves.
If our book
makes people claw out their own eyes is not so great…
The kinda good news is there are so many self-published books that, if the first book we upload is a stinker, it’s pretty unlikely so many people will notice that we must change our names and go live in a cave. This isn’t to offer permission to put out garbage, but I do feel writers have a bit more leeway here than they did even three years ago. If the book flops, just move on. Shake it off and learn and do better next time.
Write more books and keep growing. Once your writing is strong enough to really start selling, you will probably have the skills to go back and fix the problems in the earlier books. Then, you will have more books for sale for fans. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just like the participants of American Idol. They DO have the option to check their egos at the door, go get voice lessons and try again.
If our book is actually a gem…
Agents and editors aren’t God. Maybe you have an excellent book that is professional and not riddled with typos. Maybe you are the Susan Boyle or Fantasia or LeeDeWyze…the Undiscovered Diamond. Maybe you aren’t yet a diamond, but are clearly one in the making. Again, the sales figures don’t lie. Building a solid platform ahead of time will help make this clearer sooner.
Likely, you are like the rest of us who are Everyone In Between and hoping to one day be discovered. Any way you go, best of luck and I hope my blogs help you reach your dreams faster than you dreamed possible.
So what do you guys think? Are you a fan of self-publishing or do you think it is a sign of the coming apocalypse? And the angel opened the fifth seal, and out of the cup of wrath poured many bad vampire books to torment the unfaithful. Are you in between? Undecided? I love hearing from you.
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of September I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: GRAND PRIZE WILL BE PICKED THIS MONTH. I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced at the end of September) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.