Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unicorns, Self-Publishing, and Honesty

We lie as a hobby--or for some of us, a business. We're writers. We make stuff up. It's beautiful. It's heart-wrenching. It's exciting. It's all a lie.

But that's not what this post is about.

I want to talk about the real lies writers tell themselves and each other. I hope they're not as pervasive as they seem to be, and maybe it's just a fringe division (hee hee. Fringe Division) of the writing world who are engaged in this puffed-up-ness. I sure hope so.

There's a post over on the QueryTracker forum about self-publishing. Actually, it's about a harsh editor's response to an author's question about self-publishing. Whoo! Mouthful. The author signed on unwittingly with a vanity publisher who he thought was legitimate. Now, because he wants to find an agent, he's asking what he should include in his query about previously published books. This editor's advice was not to mention it since vanity publishing or self-publishing is as imaginary as unicorns. (I paraphrased the crap out of this. He was much meaner.)

My reactions:

First, I want to say that I think he was unnecessarily harsh and kind of wrong, since plenty of agents have expressed an interest in knowing if you're previously self-published. Also, this person obviously felt swindled, and was humble about his mistake. That deserves something more than a "Tough luck, kiddo. You just took a ride on a unicorn."

Read what he actually said HERE.

Second, I want to stand up for self-published authors who really know what they're doing. They edit their books, or have them professionally edited. They hire cover artists and marketing teams. They basically do everything a publisher and agent would do, but all by themselves. They're like super-authors because they're also entrepreneurs! I admire these people. I will never be one. (Stints with both Mary Kay cosmetics and Avon have proved my lack of mettle as a salesperson and self-employee.)

Third, I want to agree with Mean Unicorn Guy about some self-published authors being as legitimate as unicorns. Hear me out.

I was lied to.

One day, I was minding my own business on twitter, retweeting other people's cleverness (not quite minding my own biz), when somebody sought me out to help them spread the word about their book. Through the course of tweeting, instant messaging, and blogging, I came to think of this person as a published author. Naturally, as an aspiring author, I look up to published authors because of what I assume they went through to get that status. I'm going through it now:
  • writing
  • editing
  • receiving criticism from partners
  • editing
  • querying agents
  • submitting work to agents
  • getting rejected
  • hoping, hoping, hoping
  • finally getting that offer of representation
  • more criticism
  • more editing
  • submitting to agents
  • more rejection
  • acceptance
  • criticism
  • editing
  • editing
  • editing
  • waiting
  • waiting
  • waiting
BAM! Published.

Looks like fun, huh? 

It's not. Well, some of it is. But a lot of it is not. It's easy to see why people might want to circumvent the whole deal and just publish their book alone, especially when lulu.com holds promotions, letting you publish practically for free. 

The problem is that they don't provide the intensive editing service you get from a traditional publishing house who has a vested interest in your book being the best it can be. 

This is your story

This is your story with professional editing

Any questions?

So I end up buying the aforementioned twitterer's book for $20 (it cost less to buy two of Ally Carter's awesome spy novels at TJMaxx, btw). I don't mind the extra cost for a really great read, but I can't even get past the first three chapters before the writing makes me feel sick. The MC is as likable as a cockroach, and the supporting cast is a mixture of cliche and bad-original. What do you do when you're reading a horrible book? I flip it back over to look at the cover. Ah, there it is...

The publisher who thought this was worth the paper its printed on.

Vanity Publisher X.

A quick google search clinches it for me. The author was either swindled, or he knowingly swindled me. Point-blank, I had asked this person about how he found his agent (curious aspiring authors love these stories, if you published authors are looking for something to blog about). He lied. There's no way this person has an agent. There's no way he has an editor. The book is just too bad. 

If you look at this person's twitter or facebook profiles, you'll see post after post about awards he's won, new books he's working on, library workshops, book signings, etc. He acts, talks, and walks like a published author, but his work is derivative, stale, and unpolished. 

Normally, I wouldn't knock another writer's efforts like this, but I'm feeling justifiably angry. It's not just that I bought the book. It's that I bought the person he pretended to be. 

If you want to self-publish, more power to you. Don't lie. Don't say you have an agent and a traditional publisher and editors who are bugging you to get a blog up and running. Poseurs in any industry are at best laughable, and at worst, con artists.

Just be honest. We are all trying to do the best we can. As a fellow writer, that's all I expect of my peers. You don't have to be a pita. It's okay if you're just a tortilla. Really.


  1. Awesome post! I haven't had the chance to read many self-published author blogs, but I know they're out there fighting the good fight.

    Publishing isn't a business for the impatient and uncooperative. If you can't take criticism, don't even think about going into it. Otherwise, learn as much as you can and always remain respectful to those who're trying to help your dream come true. And NEVER self-publish because you think you're too hot for TV.

    Thanks for this, Katrina!

  2. Love that "NEVER self-publish because you think you're too hot for TV." Awesome!

    Like I said, nothing against self-publishing. My brother did it for his non-fic on wellness, and I think he put together a great book even if it's a tough sell in such a saturated market.

    But he wouldn't go around claiming to have an agent and editors and stuff, either. Wear your own clothes is my motto. ;-) Not really. I just made that up, but maybe it should be.

  3. There are wonderful self-published novels out there, but I agree that, as a reader, I'd like the author to be up front about it. Saying that you do have an agent and/or an editor (when you don't) crosses the line of fraudulence.


Speak up! You will be heard...or read.