Please Stop

Note: this is the first article I wrote for the Huffington Post to receive widespread attention.  It’s a tiny bit dated—my perspective on Amazon has evolved somewhat, and the Hachette dispute is over—but I’m re-posting it so it has a home on my new site.  I do believe the widespread attention I originally received is due to the estimable Anne Rice.

To: Everyone writing about Amazon vs. Hachette
From: An indie and self-published author
Subject: Please stop

Dear everyone,

If you are an author who happens to be published by one of the “big 5” houses, I offer you my congratulations. You are truly fortunate, and hopefully also a good writer, although one does not guarantee the other. I would be happy to hear your perspective on Amazon and Hachette, which I’m sure is interesting.Screenshot 2014-08-24 18.24.31

However: if the subject of self-publishing comes up in the course of this expression of opinion, you probably need to shut up. It is very likely you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Likewise, if you’re an opinion columnist, book reviewer or someone who for one reason or another thinks you are writing a slant-free news article (I’m looking at you, Laura Miller), you also probably need to stop.

Here is the problem. You all seem to think self-published authors are bad writers, because bad writers are self-published. The thing is, bad writers are everywhere. I agree, it’s easy to find examples of self-published authors who are very, very bad, but if you think the traditional publishing industry isn’t also full of hacks and terrible writers, you’re either delusional, or you’ve never spent more than ten minutes in a bookstore.

Good authors do not always get the big publishing contracts. Good novels do not always find a way to major market success. Most importantly, being published by one of the big 5 says more about the marketability of a novel than the quality of it. The system has cracks, and they are large cracks.

Here’s a story. In 2004, I completed my novel Immortal, spent a year getting an agent and then spent another year waiting as that agent sent the manuscript to all of the major publishers. It wasn’t picked up, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is: after it was rejected, I had no other options. I was advised to write a new novel and try and get that published instead. Under no circumstances was I to either self-publish or even indie publish Immortal because if I did it would have to be a runaway success or no major publisher would even talk to me again.

It wasn’t enough that the big 5 (I think there were 6 then) decided not to publish it. If I wanted to play the game I had to make sure nobody published it.

I ultimately decided not to play the game, and Immortal has been indie published since 2012, and while this is also not my point, if you’re thinking it should not have been published because I myself might be a poor writer, I urge you to visit the review page and decide for yourself.

Back in 2006, self-publishing was in truth only barely a viable option. That isn’t the case any more, and this is something else you’re going to have to understand, because the writers you seem to be complaining about—this vast legion of unedited, probably unwashed, no doubt delusional—are making a sound economic choice.

I currently have four novels out with a small market publisher, and the fifth is due out in October. Unless something dramatic happens, my next novel will be self-published. I say this because in the past six months I’ve written and published four short stories through Amazon’s KDP, and I make more per unit sold from those four shorts than I do from the four novels even though they’re being sold for less. Sales have not been a problem. I fail to see the downside to doing this.

But, you might say, it’s not edited! Yes, you are correct. I am my own editor. Some people can do this, and some can’t. The ones who can’t hire—or should hire—an editor, for the same reason I hire someone else to do my covers: cover design is not part of my skill set. And if you don’t think it’s possible to be a good writer without an editor, you are A: wrong, and B: trying my patience. There certainly are people who think they don’t need an editor and are incorrect, but some of us can actually get along fine without one.

In conclusion, let me reiterate: there are plenty of quality authors who aren’t contracted with one of the big 5; self-publishing is a real economic option, and a much better one than the old “don’t publish it at all, ever” option; you folks on the big market side of the publishing world have plenty of crappy writers too.

So the next time you sit down to write something about Amazon vs. Hachette, or the state of publishing or whatever you’ve got going on that might in some way cover self-publishing, please stop. The assumptions you’ve been making aren’t reality-based, and your condescension and/or  profound naïvete is just making it worse.

Thank you for your time.

Gene Doucette

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  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on March 28, 2016 at 9:01 am

    I agree with you on the self-editing: it’s a learnable skill. And having someone edit your work because you can’t is always going to be expensive.

    This doesn’t mean I think you can write something and throw it out there – my editing took FOREVER; I think I had put 3 million words through AutoCrit (my software helper) by the time I finished my debut novel. And proofreading was slow and painful at times.

    You will be in much better shape in general if the first thing you do when setting up to write fiction is to turn every single ‘auto’ anything function OFF. Do not even let a bunch of bits turn your ‘i’ at the beginning of sentences into ‘I’. Give them an inch, they take lightyears. And you will be undoing the results for years.

    One of the best inventions has been the red squiggly or dotted line under misspellings; even that can be turned off until you finish writing, if necessary, but spell-checking is necessary to catch many problems and nip them in the bud (also, catch cliches like this one).

    Other than that, if you take some time to learn to edit (from developmental editing to the final proofreading), your writing will improve – and your future work will need less and less editing.

    If you can’t self-edit – and there are those who can’t – KNOW that about yourself and hire or trade with someone because it’s your name on the cover.

    • Gene Doucette on March 28, 2016 at 9:48 am

      I think “edit” is a big word meaning multiple things here, too. An editor who can tell you that you need to trim the plot and cut a character and that a sub-plot really isn’t working is one kind of edit, while a spelling and grammar review is a different kind. I have had the former in the past, and quite literally never received a recommendation to change the content of a novel in any substantive way. The latter I can always use, but am relying upon spellcheck services in Word for a lot of it.

  2. Marvin Waschke on March 28, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Sensible. I was lead here from TPV. I am disturbed by the strident voice of the Indie world. My non-fiction is published by a traditional publisher. I am on my third book with them and I quite satisfied. My books get three editing passes before they go out: developmental, line, and proof reading. I am glad they do it. From the dev pass I get suggestions like: “Can you include an example from Europe?” or “You left out smartphones.” Basically, suggestions that the dev editor thinks will meet some marketing need. I have always been glad to comply. Line editing is where I have the most issues. The line editor catches unclear language, bad constructions, and mistakes, which is great, but I have distinct opinions about grammar and word usage that sometimes clash with his. They always get resolved, but we have our tiffs. At least I respect his opinion, even when he is dead wrong, and I get the final decision. Proof reading is not a big deal. It is mostly things like incorrect illustration caption numbers and finger slip misspellings that a spell checker can’t catch. “From” for “form” is a favorite.
    For my fiction, I don’t have the patience to find an agent and publisher. (For my non-fiction, my publisher came to me– sheer luck.) I think I can do it all myself, but I am not sure yet. I’ve written one mystery novel that I published on KDP, then withdrew because I decided it needed a bunch more developmental editing, which I am doing myself. We will see if I meet my standards.

    • Gene Doucette on March 28, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      writers with high personal standards tend to do well in self-publishing…

      My next article, scheduled to post in about a week from now, actually discusses what I think trad pub still does really well and why I worry about what we might lose if the industry burns itself to the ground. Non-fiction, basically, is my worry, and I read more of it than fiction.

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