A few months ago I ventured back to the Midwest. During my visit, a teacher friend invited me to sit in on a NaNoWriMo group she’d started. It was their first meeting, so we went around and introduced ourselves, and I admitted that I’d never been published.
“Oh I have,” said one particularly precocious teenager.
“That’s great,” I said, “Congratulations.”
But really she hadn’t been. My friend did some digging and it turns out that she, too, had been self-published.
Am I trying to say that teenagers are dirty, filthy liars who like to inflate their ego by bragging about things that aren’t true? A little. But I’m also saying that being self-published is not the same as being published. If it were, we wouldn’t add the prefix “self” to it.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a self-published author shamelessly states that they are published. Being published happens after someone in the know sees merit in your work and thinks it’s so good that they want to distribute it for you. Being self-published happens anytime anyone has a few spare hours, some cheap artwork, and an Amazon account.
Since the digitization of books, self-publishing has become ridiculously easy. It’s creating a Youtube effect–when there is an endless sea of content that must be sifted through to discover the gems. Most often these gems are easily digestible material that can make a quick buck à la Fifty Shades of Gray. But is this good for literature? Books aren’t like videos. You have to invest in the reading of a book, but a video takes just a couple of mindless minutes of watching the screen. Further, the market is going to begin catering to those who can hit it big, and the faster the better. The Youtube effect, I fear, is going to degrade the quality of what we read.
Overall, I’m against self-publishing. I think if your work is good, it will, eventually, get published. I believe J.K. Rowling was rejected something like twelve times before finally getting a book deal, so rejection is all a part of the game. But there are certain circumstances that I think self-publishing is permissible. They are as follows:
- You put time and effort into your work to ensure that there are no typographical or grammatical errors.
- You pay for quality art.
- You release your work for free.
- You do not call yourself “published”.
I think those are all pretty self-explanatory save for number 3. The reason why I think self-published work should be released for free is because it has not been vetted. Maybe all your friends and your mom think what you created is great, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will. Putting a price tag on your work should be done only if your writing has shown that it’s good enough to warrant one. So, if you write a series, release the first one or two for free, and if people like it, put the next one out there for 99 cents. I’m fine with that. But whatever you do, for the sake of all things holy, do not claim that you are published until you sign a book deal.