The Road to Self-Publishing (series, 2)

I have a really fantastic artist, who we’ll affectionately refer to as Mr. Universally Talented (or maybe just Mr. UT), working on my book cover. Here’s the first sketch he busted out, just a quick and rough (I’m referring to the sketch here). Can you guess the theme of the book?

Yesterday I began a discussion of opinions surrounding the idea of self-publishing and outlined three points that are often given by those in the industry for not doing it. These were: A) there’s an endemic belief that if your book was not successful enough to get offered representation by an agent, it just wasn’t that good, B) if you self-publish, publishing houses won’t take you seriously later on, and C) you won’t make as much money self-pubbing as going the traditional route.

To quote one of my favorite movie characters, allow me to retort.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that any literary agent you talk to will freely admit that they pass on representation of a lot of good projects because the market audience is too nebulous, too niche, or just not there at the present time to make the book lucrative. In terms of making money, creative writing is so much more complicated than simply pouring all the shiny and dark bits of your soul onto paper and blowing others’ minds away with how brilliant and twisted one is. When it comes to being a “successful”, i.e., money-making author, you gotta have someone willing to pay you to bare your complicated soul. And literary agents are much like weathermen when it comes to finding those people; sometimes there just aren’t enough people who like tornadoes and rain. OK, am I trying to hard with this metaphor? Yeah, probably, let me get back on track.

The point is, the first argument against self-publishing, that agents will think your books aren’t that good if you self-publish, is a fallacy. It may be a magnificent book, they just couldn’t think of a way to market it. And agents will tell you that.

Let’s think about what that means for a second. Who is this elusive market? What do they want? Why would they prefer a book by Stephen King or Neil Gaiman over yours (or whoever your own work most closely resembles)? The answer may be a little bit creepier than you thought.

It’s the publishing industry itself which decides what the public will read. They decide what to sell and how to sell it to make it seem like just what you want. The actual words on the page are really only half the reason you buy a book. The other reasons are simple things like, the cover looked interesting, you’ve read other stuff by that author that you liked, you saw the movie and it seemed pretty good, it was right there at the grocery checkout so you figured you’d pick it up, etc.

The cover: created by the publisher to do exactly what it did, make you look twice, maybe buy the book.

You like the author: and the publishers know it, hence paying that author to write more books (Note: I’m not slighting authors here, they’ve worked damn hard to write a good book and deserve the credit).

The movies seemed good: like books, the movie industry funnels a ton of money into making a movie a success so they follow the model of “what’s worked before will work again” (which is why so few movies seem new and fresh; they’re frequently just the same storyline with new characters, new costumes, and different locations).


Are you seeing a theme here? Whatever the publishers put the most money into is what sells the most. It’s what people think about when they think of a good book (or movie) because those books are what have had the most backing and exposure. But the simple truth is, there are gads of wonderful writers in the world whose books would be loved by many, but there simply isn’t enough money in the publishing world to support them all. If you think about it, if publishers put equal attention and equal money behind every project, they’d actually be competing with themselves. Nothing would get the hyper-exposure that big name authors do and…well…and what? Would sales go down? I bet no one really knows.

The gist of this is all to say that the publishing houses spoon feed us what we will read and self-publishing is very much the DIY punk mentality of saying, “f**k that, I’ll make it on my own and not sell out to your narrow-minded, conformist, soul-crushing demands.”

That’s a thought, anyway. Viva La Revolution, right? But don’t just take my word for it. Read Jim Munroe’s thoughts, he’s been in the business for awhile.

Tune it later this week and I’ll address point B. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the media monopoly?

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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2008-2013 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided proper attribution is given.