When Self-Publishing Advice Should Never Include a MUST

Many TIPM readers will know that I am a great fan of Joel Friedlander and his advice and work as a book cover designer for self-published authors. I rarely disagree with Joel’s advice, but his post this morning on his website left me a little lost for words.
That’s a pretty strong statement, and I noted the reference to ‘writers’ and not self-published writers. The contents of his article left me somewhat dismayed. Why should ALL writers self-publish? Isn’t self-publishing, by it’s own statement of independence, a choice, not a requirement?
Joel begins his article by citing this piece by Gary Gutting over the weekend on the plight of artists and writers. I’m not sure if Joel got too lost in its sentiment.
Even highly gifted and relatively successful writers, artists and musicians generally are not able (to) earn a living from their talents. The very few who become superstars are very well rewarded. But almost all the others—poets, novelists, actors, singers, artists—must either have a partner whose income supports them or a ‘day job’ to pay the bills. Even writers who are regularly published by major houses or win major prizes cannot always live on their earnings.”—New York Times, The Real Humanities Crisis
I can’t disagree with the point and theme Gutting develops, but Joel seems to have taken it to a whole new sphere.
Here is the comment I posted to his article:



Wow, Joel. I don’t often disagree with your advice, but this is a bridge too far. 
I agree with Linton, and I do recall an online conversation I had with him some time back and the subject was about advice given by self-publishing experts. I think this was the article the discussion arose from.
Sure, there are some musts when it comes to self-publishing: 
*Writers ‘must’ have their work professionally edited, whether published through self or traditional channels. 
*And if ‘self’ then writers ‘must’ contract out tasks and services in the areas they have no professional competency in – whether it’s marketing, design, PR repping or proper distribution. 
Sure, ‘authors’ must at some stage in their writing life give self-publishing serious consideration (particularly if changing genres, the work potentially commands a low audience threshold, or the author is concerned their editor at a publishing house will reject the book), but to even suggest in an article that self-publishing is a must is ridiculous. I’m not sure Joel thought this one fully through or really delivered his point well. 
***”At this point, for many authors, self-publishing really is the best alternative for some, if not all, of their books. Smartly managed, with a clear understanding of how to move toward your goals, indie authors are creating their own publishing models.”*** 
Indie authors ARE NOT creating their own publication models! What they ARE doing is using recent digital and print technology, as well as new distribution platforms and print methods, to make the job of independently publishing more affordable and realisable. 
What indie authors are not doing is reinventing the publishing wheel. Publishing is still publishing, and what indie authors are learning is that they must be effective and inventive about how to reach readers and keep costs down, while still working within the set standards of the industry. 
Here is the reality: 
***The majority of self-published authors DON’T use their own ISBNs and imprint and project manage a book right through from conception, writing, production to distribution. The majority use some kind of self-publishing service (company), good or bad, to carry out the job. 
I’m sure Joel and Linton, wish they didn’t – but they do! That’s the hard and fast reality I experience as a publishing consultant. Often, when authors come to me, they’ve already made that particular choice and contractual commitment. (And more often are trying to find a way to extract themselves from it) 
Whatever way you publish – self or trad – you ARE beholden to someone or some company and their policies and terms (LSI/CS/KOBO/SMASHWORDS/YOUR LOCAL PRINTER/BOOKSTOTE ETC). That goes for the authors who publish with Random House , as much as it does to the ones who publish with Amazon Kindle. Unless you own print equipment, do literally everything yourself and hand sell directly to readers – there is a middleman you are beholden to.
I think Bob Mayer summed it up best (I’m paraphrasing) – if someone is between the author and reader relationship, and not adding real end value, get rid of them! 
That’s easier said than done. 
Most books sold today are PHYSICAL books, not e-books, despite what you might hear to the contrary. Even Amazon will concede that fact! 
***”And that’s why today, for many writers, self-publishing and social media marketing really are the change we have been waiting for. And why writers really need to know how to publish their own books.”*** 
Most writers might need to ‘know’ how to publish their books, but most writers also don’t want to publish their own books! They want to write – not to be publishing businesses. And even the most successful self-publishers will concede that what they have taken on significantly eats into their crucial writing time. 
Here is another myth that comes from this article – that marketing through social media for self-published authors is potentially enough. It isn’t! The best social media marketing carried out by an author helps a great deal, but social media works best when combined with traditional marketing methods. Social media marketing is an enhancement, not a replacement for marketing totally. And that’s if an author has the resources and time! 
***”◾you can learn the parts that really appeal to you and do them yourself.”*** 
This is the single biggest sin committed by self-published authors which often leads to poorly designed, formatted and even self-edited books. NO! Unless you are an author and also a professional book cover designer, e-book formatter, marketer etc. No, you can’t do it yourself because you ‘think’ you know enough of the ins and outs. 
Linton alludes to self-publishing experts. I felt the article actually gives ‘us’ so-called self-publishing experts a bad reputation. 
I think it feeds on the misconception that self-publishing – as a path to publication – will ultimately become the primary or sole path to publishing. 
What we need is for traditional publishing to adapt and be flexible enough to adopt what authors like about self-publishing, and likewise, self-publishing to rise to the industry standards of traditional publishing in it’s execution. 
The two can exist with equal relevance, whatever the needs and wishes of authors. 
Just my thoughts…

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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