Obviously, traditional publishing does not insure excellent quality. Nor does self-publishing suggest inferior quality. Such a simplistic representation belies the gray area in between. Since anyone can become self-published, regardless of aptitude, it is logical to assume that there are more poor quality self-published books, because there is no doorkeeper to screen out inadequate talent. Taking this a step further, since anyone can self-publish; poor writers receive no independent feedback. All authors require feedback in order to discover and remedy areas in need of improvement. Thus, a self-published author may continue to crank out poor quality writing, unaware that their skills require honing.
Some new authors believe that trade publishers are inaccessible. This concept lacks a logical foundation. The popularity of self-publishing says almost nothing about “the inaccessibility of trade publishers.” Rather, it is an artifact of the transitional state of the industry. I have had two books traditionally published and I did not find publishers “inaccessible.” In fact, although I was an unknown author, I received an advance on my first book. More recently, through message boards and social networking sites, I have discovered many authors who gave up after contacting a few dozen publishers. They, no doubt, could have had the impression that publishers were inaccessible. However, had they learned how to write a descriptive and succinct publishing proposal, and had the dedication to contact hundreds of publishers, they might have been successful.
The publishing industry, along with its distribution, marketing and sales channels is undergoing vast transformation. Competition is fierce, profit margins are diminishing and Internet sales are changing the face of the industry. With current profit margins cut to draconian levels, publishers can take few chances on unknown writers, particularly with fiction. Instead, publishers must insure the quality and marketability of the writing. While it has always been difficult for an unknown author to obtain a contract with trade publishers, it is even more difficult today. And, because of contemporary industry flux, publishers are less interested in the quality of your writing than in its marketability. They lack the financial security to take chances on books with a marginal opportunity for profitability. Thus, many more authors today must rely upon self-publishing, not necessarily because it’s the best way to publish, but rather it’s the only way.
Of course there are many high quality self-published books and some poor quality trade published books. But such a statement cannot be used to boost the reputation of self-published books. This perception runs short on logic. Trade publishers are the gatekeepers of quality, while no talent is required at all to self-publish. Still, many perceptive non-fiction writers who have the time and talent to market and sell their books are heavily influenced by self-publishing’s financial rewards. But, this author must be willing to conduct what amounts to almost a full time job in preparing their book for self-publishing sales.
The self-published author must not only possess excellent writing skills to be successful, he or she must also have excellent graphic art talent for cover design. Although it should not matter, a book’s cover is an important sales criterion. The self-published author must have deep connections with distributors and retailers. Most new authors do not. The book must quickly appear on the Internet sites of Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, etc. The self-published author must also successfully engage distributors globally, since widespread distribution is a key element of sales success.
Most self-publishing organizations will offer little in the way of marketing, beyond placing the cover and a description in their web site. In reality, books will not sell unless they are distributed internationally, available with all major retail Internet sites and on the shelves of bookstores.
The self-published author must also have the talent and time to create and administer a successful viral marketing campaign. The author must create and maintain Internet web sites, promote their book through dozens of social networking sites and maintain the book at retailers. They must write articles about their book (or a related topic) and have them published on popular Internet sites and Blogs. They must research, collect and use appropriate key words, so that search engines will find the book and related articles. They must Blog and write on others’ Blogs, promoting the book. All of this demands a great deal of time and effort.
Additionally, the self-published author must arrange for book tours, book signings, bookstore visits and create radio and television media exposure. The author must also obtain reviews from pertinent sources and promote the book through organizations, newspapers and magazines. In most cases, the traditional publisher, who already possesses the talent, connections and experience, will accomplish these critical tasks; and they will be accomplished faster than a self-published author can complete the tasks. If a self-published author lacks the time, connections and talent to accomplish all of these critical tasks, they should continue to promote their writing to traditional publishers. Unless, of course, the author only wants a nice book with his or her name on it for their coffee table. If the author desires that people read the book, or they wish to earn revenue from it, then a trade publisher is best.
It is not my intent to condemn self-publishing. For experienced, recognized and talented authors who write non-fiction, and who have the time and ability to accomplish all of the tasks mentioned above, self-publishing might be the best opportunity. However, for an inexperienced writer who works elsewhere full time and who writes fiction, it can be the wrong way to publish. Instead, the author should hone and refine their skills through writing courses and by engaging professional feedback about their skills.
Finally, many new authors give up on trade publishing far too soon. They disregard submission guidelines posted on the publishers’ web site. They send publishers a manuscript instead of a proposal. Or, they send a poor proposal. At a minimum, publishing proposals must include a market study, competitive analysis, biography, synopsis, marketing analysis and sales attributes.
Trade publishers are the industry gatekeeper for a very good reason. It insures that the author under contract will possess marketable skills. Authors who use rejection to their advantage, by refinement and honing of their skills, will be rewarded in the future with a traditional publishing contract and reap the rewards that trade publishers offer.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, “Jacob’s Courage”