My new client, Lysa, is about to start a series of blog posts explaining her decision to opt for self-publishing rather than traditional publishing. This isn’t yet another murky blog that defiantly stamps its foot over the “problems” in traditional publishing, and the sheer audacity of publishing companies to expect an author to help with marketing, all of which usually acts as a thin veil that covers what is, at best, an uninspired book and at worst a flimsy manuscript littered with bad formatting, typos, grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies. Self-publishing has enjoyed a real boom in the last five years or so, which as largely removed the stigma of it being about vanity and books not good enough to get picked up by a publishing house, but it’s an undeniable problem that all manner of awful gets self-published. This is especially true in the digital realm because authors don’t even need to buy a print proof anymore – just click upload and before you know it a new collection of incoherent rambling is unleashed onto the world. Lysa explains:

When I revealed my desire to self-publish, I was met with questioning eyes. The world of independent authorship is filled with plenty of garbage mixed in with real treasures.

So why would anyone want to do it? As with anything, there are benefits, and the indie book market is exploding. Authors like Emlyn Chand (of Novel Publicity) and Chuck Wendig have chosen the self-publishing route, and amongst other things it offers a higher royalty percentage, an immediate route to market and total creative control. So how does one walk the thin tightrope and avoid releasing a book that should really remain out of the public eye? Lysa has the perfect attitude:

If you are willing to work hard to make sure that your eBook isn’t considered garbage by putting in the time and money that it takes to make it a treasure, then self-publishing is for you…. Self-publishing is a business and it should be treated as such. With any business, it’s wise to create a business plan so you’ll know what you need to do before you do it. This is my business plan and I hope that it will give you all ideas on how to formulate your own.

For a young lady at the start of the publishing process, this is tremendous insight and maturity. Visit any writing or publishing blog discussing self-publishing and you can all but guarantee you’ll find comments that the writer can’t afford an editor, or, most frequently, “I don’t need a professional editor because my friend read it for me” – I won’t go into detail on this post, but suffice it to say that if editors’ work were indistinguishable from that of your mates, we’d be out of business pretty quick. So it’s refreshing to read such a statement from Lysa, and if you are interested in publishing or considering pursuing the same path, I highly recommend you head over to her blog and subscribe to read her advice and journey.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that only self-publishing has its problems; a great many traditionally published books are far from exceptional – there are plenty littered with mistakes, with strange formatting and sub-par writing. I try to avoid hopping on any bandwagon, but it’s hard to deny that 50 Shades of Gray, which has now sold in excess of 100 million copies, is a shining example of a traditionally published book with underwhelming writing. (When you write an erotic novel and utter the phrase “down there”, as though you’re talking to a child, it seems there’s confusion over the target market, not to mention the frustrating overuse of phrases throughout.) Still, at least the cover and formatting were good.

In a comprehensive blog post, Ania Ahlborn gives a thorough explanation of the issues plaguing self-publishing, with this piece of sage advice:

maybe sometime in the future I’ll toss out another one of my books and make a 75% commission on that baby, all because I skipped the middle man. But you better believe I’ll be paying an editor to check my stuff, and I sure as hell won’t be photoshopping my own cover out of a stolen Flickr .jpeg. I’ll be polishing that manuscript until it blinds me with its magnificence, and that’s what every author should strive for. Because once you start charging people money for your work, it’s your personal responsibility to provide a product worth paying for. This is your image, and potentially your future as an author. When I self-published my work, I saw it as the end-all be-all of what I would eventually become. If I did a shitty job, people would remember me as a shitty author. If  did a stellar job, people would remember that too, and that meant they’d more than likely buy my next book, and the one after that.

As far as I’m concerned, this nails it. A writer that is willing to skip an editing process or “make do” with an amateur cover is a writer that has scant regard for his or her reputation. Because that’s what published work immediately becomes – your reputation. As hard as it is to stand out amongst the competition, you certainly don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. With so many books published each year, finding an audience is very hard work. It’s nearly impossible to recapture an audience if they consider your work amateur. Don’t take the attitude that because you’re unknown you can get away with it – that work will forever be linked to your name, and the goal is (presumably) to get known, to sell books, to turn this into a career.

Would you trust an author who didn’t value their work or reputation enough to make it shine?

(On a slight side note, Carol Tice over at Make A Living Writing has plenty of other tips on self-publishing ebooks to boost your income.)