Rushing to self-publish? A cautionary tale.


Image: Pixabay

Now, I love some aspects of self-publishing as much as the next author.

It’s great that some woefully neglected talents are able to produce a book without those traditional gatekeepers of style and taste – agents and big publishers – dictating if a book will sell or not.

We all know they’re human, they make mistakes and let some gems slip through the net.

I often imagine skeletal Gollum-like creatures  (submissions readers) chained in a cellar, surrounded by teetering towers of unsolicited manuscripts – that legendary slushpile – yearning for a glimmer of gold and amidst the iron pyrite.

Where is the precioussssss? Are them nasty Hobbitses hiding it?

Okay, maybe publishing houses don’t chain their readers in the basement. And to be fair, they have to read A LOT of manuscripts. It’s not surprising if they sometimes fail to recognise potential.

This is why self-publishing is so inspiring for writers.

Take The Martian as an example. Andy Weir had published chapters of his novel on his blog, when readers began asking for an e-reader copy. When some had problems downloading it, he decided to publish on Amazon instead. The book soon topped the sci-fi chart, Random House came calling and a movie deal popped up a few days after that.

So far, so fairytale.

But such self-pub stories delude us all into thinking that if we meander along the same path, success is guaranteed – because we’re all brimming with undiscovered genius, right?

Allow me to share with you what prompted me to write this post.

I regularly read a particular writing magazine and one of the things I enjoy most is the subscribers’ stories section, where fellow budding authors share their publishing successes. In my last copy was a letter relating one man’s foray into self-publishing. It didn’t sound as if he’d been writing for long, and being the nosy baggage I am, I thought I’d pop along to read a few sample pages of his short story collection on Amazon.

What I found was a a well designed cover and inside … a poorly formatted, unengaging, badly written short story, with a weak opening a so-so middle and no ending to speak of.

And I thought what a terrible shame that was.

Because with time, that man could be a good writer in the future. He could learn to sharpen his prose, avoid cliches – actually develop a plot instead of a drawn out anecdote you might tell your mates in the pub.

Instead, he’s rushed at publication like a bull charging at a man in a tomato costume. And unless he decides to withdraw the files, that book is up there for all to see, colouring people’s opinions about his capabilities.

Just because we can self-publish doesn’t mean we should.


What do you think? Should we have to gain a Writers’ Licence before we self-publish or does that defeat the entire point?


10 thoughts on “Rushing to self-publish? A cautionary tale.

  1. I don’t know if we shouldbe required to have a license to self-publish, but we should take your advice seriously. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD (for example Donald Trump runing for president of the US).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha! Yes, Mr Trump … How likely is he to be president, do you think? Slightly scary prospect?
      I know there are plenty of examples I could have chosen from of writers who published too quickly and I just think it’s a shame. I know it must be a thrilling prospect, but the chap I mentioned just wasn’t ready. I think you need to serve your ‘apprenticeship’ first 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I agree 100%. When everyone can publish anything, a lot stuff that shouldn’t be, is. Kind of like with democracy. When everyone can vote, a lot of people who maybe shouldn’t, do. And now I’ve outed myself as a terrible elitist, but it’s true. The prospect of the populace choosing Trump is upsetting. Like some some of the self-pubbed ebooks I’ve read.

    And wouldn’t writers be better writers if they could just focus on writing, instead of cover design, blurb writing, marketing, etc. All those other things are distractions, and no one can be good at all of them. But the times, have’a changed, I guess.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, I know a few people I wouldn’t like to trust a vote to – all the people who voted in our current government to start with! Yes, it would be better if we could focus on writing – I can’t imagine how I’d struggle to self publish, with all the uploading and formatting nightmares I’ve heard from others. But the marketing side is unavoidable even if you’re published traditionally these days, which seems odd to me – if you’re a publisher who’s bothered to spend money producing a product, why wouldn’t you be prepared to help promote it to? Marketing budgets are very low now, apparently.
      I just wish some writers would slow down – this writing lark is a marathon, not a sprint.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It used to be called — rather cruelly but frequently with justification — vanity publishing, though these days it seems to be financially easier than in the past (too easy, perhaps?). The problem with authors self-publishing is that it can prove the adage ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’: not only does the poor author have to create but also edit, format, choose a font, design a cover, pay up front, market the novel, keep promoting it, balance the books and be their own tax accountant. There may be a reason why the myth of fame and fortune is a myth, the sheer demands it makes on the artist to be a polymath.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Have just posted on this very issue. Even traditional publishers expect authors to do a lot of their own promotion these days.Though at least they do the formatting, design, proofing etc. Self-pub seems a bit of a nightmare to me unless you can devote full time hours to it and who wants to do that, when most writers just want to write? Despite having to hand over a cut of the profits, I’ll try the conventional route for now – if I’m still unpublished in a few years time, still knocking on agents’ doors, screaming ‘read me’ … I may have to rethink :).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Andy Weir. Jenny Lawson. The exceptions to the rule. But you hang your hopes on those stories. It’s our inherent human optimism. Part of our DNA.

    I heard Kurt Vonnegut speak at a university once. He said that writing programs hurt more writers than they help. He said they strip writers of their unique voice in an attempt to make them grammatically correct and adhere to a set of rules. Charles Bukowski wrote a few poems about the same subject. So I’m not certain a ‘license’ is such a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are these odd glimmers in the writing morass that make us all hopeful of six figure advances and movie deals – the reality for most of us, is of course a lot poorer! Even knowing this and blogging advice to others about the realities of writer’s earnings, there’s still a part of me that thinks I’ll be more successful than that – ah, the self delusion 🙂
      Yes, of course you and Kurt are right – writing in an ‘approved style’ is not really the way to go – though many of us would not aim for the style or unconventionality of Bukowski or Vonnegut. I just wish some writers would take more time to think, appraise their own work before self-publishing. KDP will still be there in six months or a year – there’s no hurry


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