I am in many writing groups and on a number of listservs, and the debate between self-published and published writers is starting to sound a little bit like the debate between working and stay-at-home moms-hostile and defensive. And perhaps that is because writing a book is a bit like having a baby. And self-publishing could be compared to homeschooling--some people do it very well and for good reasons, and some people not so well. Anyone who has ever taught school has seen the horror of a 'homeschooled' kid merge into the classroom environment woefully behind academically and socially, and it is so heartbreaking, so unnecessary that it strikes a chord, makes an impression. However, there is a huge number of awesome, prepared homeschooled children (more than ever) who merge with great levels of success. And that number grows every day.
Twenty years ago, when I first began teaching (yikes! it was actually MORE than 20 years ago, but we'll leave it at twenty), every single homeschool kid who came to our middle school fell into the 'neglect' category. Truly, these children were sooo behind, and I even taught an 8th grader who had been homeschooled her entire school career, and she had already had two children with the driver of her church van. I mean, yikes. Now that was in my region, in my experience, but I still think it is very different now. Today, the homeschool population is DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT. Here, there and everywhere. Nearly all of the recent homeschooled children I have encountered lately are quite excellent students. As a result, the stereotype of homeschooling is completely different than it used to be, and in the best possible way.
Perhaps, self-publishing will evolve similarly. Perhaps, in twenty years the majority of self-published authors will be quite excellent, as well. If that happens, then the self-publishing stigma, the stereotype, will change, too. We hear a lot of debates and criticisms about self-published books and the quality of them. The fact that anyone can easily download a book that you can purchase for your e-reader has complicated issues even more. People pay for a 'book', and it is often tricky to tell whether it is self-published or not, simply from the downloading feature. I understand that people are upset when they pay good money for a book full of mistakes or horribly written. Of course, there are some exceptions, some very, very good exceptions, but unfortunately not as many. Thus, the stigma.
Many authors are irate that people are selling these e-books in direct competition with books published by a reputable publishing house. Authors spend years with editors perfecting their manuscripts in order to give the very best to the readers. They strive for excellence. They work hard to make the story the best it can be. But I look at it a little differently. It makes me sad.
Twenty years ago, I would be so frustrated with a thirteen-year-old who came to school for the first time and couldn't read, didn't know multiplication tables, and had little concept of libraries, research and classroom discussions. Why? Because it was a waste of great potential. These children hadn't had the chance to be the best student they could be, they had missed great pockets of learning and social development and the joy of discovering knowledge for themselves. Sure, they could catch up, and most of them did, but you couldn't help but wonder...what if?
It's the same way with many self-published books. I have read a number of self-published books that saddened me in just the same way. They were pretty good, surprisingly good, in some circumstances. But I have yet to read one that was the best book it could be. Sadly, many of these books, with editorial input, could have been excellent. They could have given great insight and groundbreaking perspective. They could have been award winners! They could have been on library shelves for years--changing the lives of child after child. Instead, they settled somewhere around mediocrity or worse. Spelling errors, horrible grammar, and ill-placed or unfinished plot points abound. Repetition of the author's 'favorite' words can drive a reader crazy. In short, most of these books look like a writer's first draft or early manuscript. Like a child who never learns to read, these books have little chance in the world.
I see that more and more self-published authors are turning to professional editors and hiring them to edit their work before it goes public. That trend will undoubtedly shift the quality and then the perception of self-published books. Like homeschooling, twenty years will likely give us a MUCH different perspective. At least I hope it will. I see so many middle schoolers with kindles and other e-readers, and I cringe at the knowledge that they could easily download a crappy self-published book (or two or three) and be turned off of reading. Also, an important advantage to reading (especially as a young person) is the brain subconsciously learns a great deal about the mechanics of the English language, spelling and story structure. For goodness sakes, we want these young brains to learn the CORRECT mechanics and spelling.
Now I know I sound like a crotchety old woman here, but this issue is a serious one. Writers, take yourself seriously. Do the work. There are no shortcuts. Take the time to get better, improve your work, learn from editors, strive for excellence. Our common goal should be to create the best possible pieces of literature for our children. Just as publishers and editors have worked in previous generations to turn out the most outstanding work they can find. Behind every excellent, award-winning book is a great author AND a gifted editor. It takes more than one set of eyes to bring a story to its full potential. So take the time to give your book the chance to be great. The children deserve it, don't you think?
My Mission Statement
I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.