Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Current Values/Stigma of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing during the 70s, 80s and early 90s had a terrible stigma attached to it. You often heard things like, "Oh, so you self-published. Guess you weren't good enough to get a regular publisher." To some extent this was true.

Now here we are in the 21st century and there are still many--and I mean millions--of fiction writers who think their work is "the best thing ever written". I've personally heard this from several "authors" and, upon looking at their work, it was quite evident they had little to no grasp of plot, character development or several other vital aspects of the art (which included spelling, grammar and syntax).

Occasionally I encountered those would-be writers who had a degree in English from Harvard. Their work tended to be flawless when it came to the nuts and bolts of writing (spelling, etc.), but lacked depth, character development and/or a sustainable prose.

Thus these authors would rush toward the self-publishing option with gusto, knowing in their heart of hearts that, again, this was "the best thing ever written".

But then you have the writer who actually has a decent product: good prose, sizeable knowledge-base of basic English, and fully rounded characters. How in the world can he/she stand out in the polluted world of the self-published heap? The truth is they can't. Or, if they did, they got very lucky somehow (see the story of how ERAGON got published). Not getting picked up by a major publishing house (Simon & Schuster, etc.), these writers and their good books easily get overlooked--there is, after all, only so much time in each day for readers at these huge conglomerates to pick and choose manuscripts from, while the rest end up in the infamous slush-piles. So the only option open to these writers is the self-publishing method or, if you're John Kennedy Toole, to kill yourself during a fit of depression (Note: see A Confederacy of Dunces, winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize).

And to add insult to injury, there are these vanity presses that come off as "publishing houses" who pounce on authors and tell them they can get their book published for a certain amount of money. These businesses--I hesitate to even call them that--are the lowest of the low, feeding off an author's desperation to see their work get put into print. These "publishers" offer editing services (for an additional price), cover art design (also extra $$), but usually no critique of the novel. PublishAmerica is just one of these but there are many, many others.

So the horrible truth about finding a readable self-published book is often to scrounge through the delusional many in order to find the excellent few.

Being an avid reader, author interviewer, book/film reviewer and (gulp!) writer, I've had the opportunity to read some of the worst self-published junk the human mind has to offer. But I've also on rare occasions come across little gems, diamonds in the rough (if you'll excuse the cliche).

One book that surprised me quite a bit was The King of Vinland's Saga by Stuart Mirsky. Although not the end-all of self published books, it has good writing, excellent editing, and an engaging story with multifaceted characters.

Another great read from self-publishers was Monterey Shorts and Monterey Shorts 2 by FWOMP (Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula). A collection of short stories, these two anthologies have a lot going for them. First, they've been edited extremely well. Second, the stories are engaging and short enough to make you move onto the next. Third, there's a map, author bios and some great little pieces of art that accompany the beginning of each story.

There are other readable tomes out there, too. But finding them might be a challenge. My advice: don't give up on the self-published author. Some have the delusions of grandeur I mentioned earlier and need medicating, while others could easily stand on their own as sources of excellent literature.

Seek and you may find...


At 9:43 PM, Blogger Stuart W. Mirsky said...

I just ran across your kind mention of my novel, The King of Vinland's Saga, on your blog. As you noted, it was self-published . . . after two years of writing it and two more of struggling to place it with a traditional publisher. Rather than see it moulder for the rest of time in manuscript form (or as long as manuscripts last in the world) I just decided to bite the bullet and publish it myself. It helped that modern digital technology has made this more feasible than ever before.

Although I was very much aware of the stigma attached to this kind of publishing, I figured it was worth it just to give the novel a shot at finding an audience. Fortunately it has found one, however small in the grander scheme of things, and I'm grateful for that . . . as I am for your very kind words.

Stuart W. Mirsky

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