You might loathe me at the end of this post. You might lob a well considered retort or two, noting my officious attitude and undeserved position on this soapbox. You might hate me out loud with a snort but silently nod your head in acquiescence. You might wonder how to turn around the situation to face a better outcome. But if you are writing a book, as I am, you need to read to the end.
This is a rant and a plea and a question, based on the probable certitude I’ll end up like the writers whose recently read books I didn’t like. That is, work that was self published. The category of books bulled through by hard working but unrepresented writers. No agent. No editor. No professional artist or photographer. No publicist. No well regarded publishing company. No New York Times book review. No order sheets from a brick and mortar emporium. Nope, just a paperback book with an ISBN to make the product officially registered. Not in the same category as merchandise rolled out from traditional publishers.
A book is a book is a book, but we all whistle admiration at the genuine cachet blazing from the catalogs of Random House, Simon & Schuster, Little Brown. Don’t know about you, but I drool. The names on the spines of self-published books are catchy and clever but forgettable. Name one, go ahead, just one. Yeah, me either.
It’s not even that all the self published books I’ve recently read, a half dozen in the past two years or so, are undeserving of traditional publication, it’s just that the lack of a full house behind the cover is obvious. Rampant grammatical and mechanical errors proving the obvious lack of oversight and guidance afforded by professional book shepherds. Underdeveloped characters, predictable plots, misplaced scenes, boring dialogue, cardboard antagonists, incorrect details – they’ve shown up in every self published book I read. Frustrated and irritated me, and I’m just the reader.
I wonder how the authors feel, their work exposed by its amateur slipcover. Because I’m certain that every author had better in mind – better printing format, correct spelling, more challenging story arc, accurate historical and cultural details. A better, more worthy presentation.
None of us set out to write a sloppy book. We work like nutcases, recalling and applying the gems from every workshop, college class, seminar, and how-to book, then toss every common adage off the dock on our way to iconoclastic literary glory with our story babies, the offspring of our guts.
I always thought I’d be a writer. All the other stuff I did was just a sideshow on the way to the important career of my life. Thing is, I started the serious part of my writing late in life. To get started on time, I’d have to be in my early twenties, fresh out of an esteemed writing program. I missed my chance, had I ever really had one, with the distractions of marriage, jobs, and children, then with pursuit of a career that actually paid bills. I dealt with family issues like the aging of parents, my health, and investment in the lives of our adult children. Nothing extraordinary, not the stuff of dreams, (well, my dreams, some of it) but the baggage of an ordinary life. Yet behind my ordinary life looms a mind, my mind, teeming with observations and wit, crawling with scenarios and confrontations, occupied by folks like you and me and no one you’ve ever met.
All over the Internet and lodged in every book and magazine dedicated to the craft of writing are articles about why we should choose the self publication route. The money is better. The control is our own. Agents are full of themselves. Writers have to do most of their own promotion anyway. The traditional route is arduous, unpredictable, without guarantees.
But the evidence, if what I’ve read these past two years is any indication, is that self published work is sloppy and poorly written, especially in the fiction field. Though I know that’s not entirely true, some self published work is exceptionally well done, plenty point in the direction heading to the compost pile. Don’t know about you, but I don’t aim to go there willingly.
Over the last 16 years I’ve written three complete novels, stories I tore from my heart and soul. This summer I edited each of them for a final round, and am now writing queries. At least two more story ideas nag my waking and sleeping hours: start writing me. I am an old dog but I’m vigorous and driven. I won’t give up till I’ve been rejected by every possible agent because I want to be a writer published by a traditional house, because I believe in my work, and because I won’t let myself down with lazy printing companies who make sloppy errors unless and until there are no other options.
I hope you believe in your work enough to motivate yourself to try the traditional route, try again harder, and give it as much effort as you’ve given to writing the book itself. It’s time agents took a look at my stories – I worked like a madwoman to write them, now I intend to work like a maniac to get an agent to take note of my stories. You will like what you read.
Wishing all of us success.