JM Williams

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The Danger with Self-Publishing, or Why Collaboration is Essential for new Writers


I’m a traditionalist. I’m a military vet and a historian for gods’ sakes, so my head is very much stuck on the tried and true. As an author, I have been putting all my focus on traditional routes for publishing–getting my short stories in mags and ezines, and finding a proper agent for my book. But in this modern world of ours, self-publishing has become a real thing. Done right, an author can be incredibly successful. Done wrong, as seems to more often be the case, it can ruin you.

I recently heard some good advice for new writers regarding the risks of jumping into self-publishing too fast. This advice was part of a convention panel that was talking about the fate of the short story. It was featured on the Antipodean SF Radio Show, but was so long ago that I forget the specific words offered, or even the episode it appeared in.

The gist of the advice was this: new authors need to be broken in. They need to be shown how their writing is bad before they can ever hope to be good. This is done through collaboration –working with other writers, with editors, and publishers. Having your stuff rejected gives you the honest truth that your work just might not be good enough yet. Take it from me, I am no stranger to rejection! Having editors and peers review your work shows you where your style is weak at expression or readability, or where your assumptions about clarity are flawed. You need this sort of feedback to get better at writing, since more than half of the process is getting the reader to receive the meaning you intend. You cannot do this without knowing what your readers think on a detailed level. Amazon review comments cannot provide this. Feedback is also necessary to teach you how to build a compelling narrative.

Which brings us back to the idea of self-publishing. Too many authors jump to publish their work before the piece in question, or the author himself, have been properly vetted. Some authors do send their work to an editor and get professional covers made–these are the ones who have a better chance at success–but it seems most do not.

There is more danger in such behavior than just having your book fail. Anything you publish adds to your reputation as a writer, for good or bad. If the self-published book is not well-written, its author will gain a reputation as a poor writer. That can ruin a career from the get go.

It may seem appealing to go straight to self-publishing. It is incredibly easy to put your book on Amazon now. And there is no risk of rejection from an editor or agent or publisher. But I would advise patience and restraint. I would suggest bearing through the initial lickings the established market will invariably give you. Once you find yourself being more successful with collaborative publishing, you can be sure that your writing is up to a level where self-publishing will help more than hurt.

Only after you have proven yourself, can you be sure you’re ready to take matters into your own hands.

6 Responses to The Danger with Self-Publishing, or Why Collaboration is Essential for new Writers

  1. A.S. Akkalon

    I like your advice, though I don’t imagine it will sit well with the impatient among us. Another risk self-published authors face is that not all “editors” are editors. Some are writers themselves who, innocently or maliciously, offer a service they’re not trained to provide. So “an editor has seen my writing and thinks it’s good” is meaningful only to the extent the editor knows what he or she is talking about.

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