But I’ve noticed that quite a few students seem to be far keener to get their work out there than they are to get their work to the highest standard. I followed a discussion once on the topic: why do you write? My favourite reply was a po-faced, ‘Because I have truths to tell’.
So when I read that Penguin have started a self-publishing service, I don’t think it will democratise publishing as so many yet unpublished writers argue, convinced that publishing is some sort of Masonic club. Instead it will persuade many writers to spend less time on making sure their work is of a high enough standard so that a traditional i.e. paying publisher will take a punt on it, and instead fork out to see their work in print. Not published – printed because the whole point of a book being published (traditional publisher) instead of printed (self-publishing) is the editorial input. Self-published writers often say that publishing their own work puts them in control as though having a copy editor fine comb your work to make it as good as it can be, and then marketed to sell as many copies as possible is some sort of artistic insult to the writer.
So in the spirit of
The other serious problem is that if the possibility of your book being read by a HC editor is down to support from your peers, very little feedback is actually honest and constructive so it’s worse than useless. I noticed page after page of glowing reviews for a book of poetry that the author wrote to ‘teach morals’. Unsurprisingly the poems were well intentioned but amateurish. So the writer then understandably thinks he has written a very good book and will be doubly confused and disappointed to meet as he inevitably will, with rejection.
If you go to the excellent Self-Publishing Review, you see book after book where Jane Smith stops reading after a few pages because the book is filled with the kind of errors that the writer should have frankly spent more time working on and ironing out before sending it out in public.
I have nothing against self-publishing but it means taking charge of the entire editorial and marketing process and being objective and clear eyed enough about your own work to ‘see’ it from their point of view. Not many writers can truly do this and see their writing as a product with the eagle eyed harshness it needs. I tell my students (and me too if I’m listening to myself) to go through the work, just like an editor looking for reasons to dump it. Not because editors are horrible people but they know what to look for. Also because that’s what happens in the real world.