Call It “Direct Publishing”

Oddly, when rock musicians offered their music on the Net, no one called what they were doing “self-publishing.”

Everyone saw it as a harbinger of the future. They were engaging in disintermediation. The Man was being cut out of the equation. Artists would reap the reward of their art.

But when it comes to writers of words, it’s called “self-publishing” and there’s a stigma attached to it.

Some of that stigma is justified.

I’ve seen such work and it’s been easy to see why it was rejected by commercial publishers. Too often, people think “anyone” could write a book, so why not try it? I’ve even seen work by people who were brilliant with words in a commercial sense — where they were paid large amounts of money to assemble collections of words to produce specific marketplace ends — produce utter crap when it came to fiction.

On the other hand, there’s the example of writer Philip K. Dick, whose non-SF work was rejected by publisher after publisher and is now being put in print posthumously. One could argue that Dick’s best work was his SF, but could anyone argue that Dick was any less of a writer because the mainstream refused him entry? Confessions of a Crap Artist is as close to mainstream as Dick’s work got during his lifetime. Would anyone argue it was amateurish or outright unpublishable?

There are also tales told in the mainstream publishing world of best-selling authors whose names everyone would immediately recognize handing in manuscripts that are, charitably, described as “a mess,” requiring editors to virtually rewrite them. This is done because the author has become a commercial brand name and the publishing house isn’t about to stop milking that cash cow until sales — or the author — drop dead.

All of these things come into play when “self-publishing” is mentioned.

I propose a new term: direct publishing.

I think that’s the term that will be used as professionals writers who have been published in print find their work no longer being welcomed by their publishers. They are good enough to be published — but their sales are disappointing to international conglomerates who are pimping books as if they were Hollywood hundred-million-dollar-plus blockbuster escapist movies.

Such writers won’t want to be seen as “self-publishers,” so I propose calling them direct publishers.

I bring up all this because of a post over at Teleread called Top ten self-publishing myths.

It’s a very good post overall. I do, however, disagree with:

#6 – Self-publishing is expensive, because you have to pay for professional services.

Since I proof and edit my manuscripts using checklists acquired from various books on grammar and usage, the proofing tools provided in my word processing program, and the usual rounds of peer review, by the time the manuscript landed on the editor’s desk it was pretty clean. The draft came back with so few corrections I decided not to pay for professional editing on any of my subsequent books.

People who have more money than time will still choose to pay for professional services, but for an author with basic computer and Internet skills (in other words, anyone reading this), along with the willingness to learn, it’s optional. If I can do it, how hard could it be?

Emphasis added by me.

Two important points:

1) It could be it came back with so few corrections because it was a poorly-done job. I’m still shocked by the number of typos I find in some books. Within the past two months I had to email a writer about his novel because words were missing from the book. He didn’t know that til my email — because the words had been there in the galleys. There have been some books I’ve read where entire freaking sentences didn’t make any sense. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of competency by one experience. It says nothing.

2) Pay for those professional services! How many typos and poor sentences have been thrown onto the Internet? Even with spellcheckers, typos still get through (hey, just look at this blog!). Poor sentences run riot (you need go no further than this blog for some hideous examples!). I don’t delude myself with this blog that what I am putting here is 1) something anyone would pay for, 2) indicative of my ability to write, and 3) anything even on the fringes of the neighborhood of good writing. This is mostly attack-first-think-later text. This would be an entirely different type of blog if the text first went through the mediation of other people. If you want to write as a profession, you need that professional support. This is non-negotiable for anyone who wants to do fiction.

I’ll keep trotting out this example until it sticks in everyone’s head: Self-Confidence Vs. Self-Delusion.

Now go to that Teleread post.

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3 Comments on “Call It “Direct Publishing””

  1. Mike –
    First, thanks for linking to my article. =’)

    Now, regarding your disagreement with what I wrote about editing…The editor who worked on that first book of mine was a pro whose services were routinely used by my then-agent, who was also the then-agent of such big names as Steven Covey. This editor had over a decade of experience with a major NY publisher, but had elected to go independent as buyouts and mergers substantially altered her job description and job satisfaction. Also, hers was a final edit, after which the ms went out for reproduction and was subsequently sent directly to NY editors at all the major houses. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ms was is excellent shape before the editor laid eyes on it, nor that the editor did a good job, because my agent wouldn’t have sent it out to her contacts at the majors if there were any doubt.

    It may well be that I just happen to have innate skills with spelling, grammar and punctuation that rival those of a professional editor, but I doubt it. I suspect it’s a combination of knowing how to use automated proofing tools, being an avid reader, knowing when to defer to an expert, heavily workshopping drafts, and the general downward trend in correct usage in printed materials most often viewed by the public.

    Proper, consistent use of automated proofing tools in any modern word-processing program will easily catch about 90% of spelling errors and maybe 70% of grammar errors. As for the remaining 10%/30%, being an avid reader gives one a sort of grammar-and-spelling Spidey sense; you can tell when something just doesn’t look or sound right. When something doesn’t look or sound right, but I’m not sure how to correct it, I defer to an expert (i.e., Grammar Girl website, ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ book, etc.). When still in doubt, I cut it out. 95% or more of errors that survive to the stage where I’m workshopping drafts are caught by the readers who offer me revision notes. That leaves just 5% of the original 10%/30% of errors in the published book, which I’d argue is no more than what one typically sees in a mainstream book.

    Moreover, with respect to grammar errors, those that remain probably slipped past workshopping iterations because of changes in common usage, which can sometimes make correct grammar seem incorrect and vice-versa. For example, a pet grammar peeve of mine is this usage: “As a single mother, flowers and chocolates weren’t as important to her as a steady income.” Since the flowers and chocolates are not single mothers, the correct usage is: “As a single mother, she cared much more about a steady income than flowers and chocolates.” However, the incorrect usage is so common in everything from magazine articles and newspapers to TV and radio commercials that most people no longer realize it’s incorrect. There are probably a few examples of technically incorrect usage in my books, but if the usage seems correct to the vast majority (read: non-grammar-teacher) readers, is it really worth paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to ferret them out?

    Finally, you may also be interested in my blog post, Big Chain Bookstore Death Watch:

    Keep on keepin’ on!
    – A

  2. mikecane Says:

    >>>“As a single mother, flowers and chocolates weren’t as important to her as a steady income.” Since the flowers and chocolates are not single mothers, the correct usage is: “As a single mother, she cared much more about a steady income than flowers and chocolates.” However, the incorrect usage is so common in everything from magazine articles and newspapers to TV and radio commercials that most people no longer realize it’s incorrect.

    Oh that stuff gets by me all the time in this blog. I cringe. I’m sure the readers do too.

  3. Zoe Winters Says:

    Actually, Mike, I’ve read one of April’s books, and one area it doesn’t fail on is editing. It AT LEAST meets the current NY standard. And IMO surpasses it. Editing is not a mystical process, with enough people who understand the rules of editing coming on board for a project you really do not NEED to spend thousands of dollars on “professional editing.”

    Now there will come a day when I probably WILL spend that money, but that’s because this part of the process is so irritatingly mundane I’d rather hire out, not because I don’t think I can manage the editing process with enough savvy beta readers.

    It also begs the question…of…how does ANY direct publishing author know who is a truly good editor, that is also affordable? If an author doesn’t understand editing herself she’s not in a position to truly understand if the work she’s getting is average, great, or subpar. Even if someone raves about any given editor, it may be someone who just doesn’t know better, or someone who had a truly craptacular book before the editor got ahold of it, but nevertheless it remains riddled with problems.

    To me, editing is like wedding coordinating. You’re better off finding a cost effective way to get the job done yourself, then you are to pay exhorbitant fees unless you KNOW the work you are getting is excellent.

    Also, I think more people want to call it “independent publishing” nevertheless, for the forseeable future, stigma or not, “self publishing” is going to the the term most people use. When I seek information on this facet of publishing, “direct publishing” and “independent publishing” searches turn up far less information than “self publishing” searches.

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter what one calls it. What matters is that authors have choices. They can create a product as good as what’s out there, many times, better. And they can control their own publishing destiny.

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