On self-publishing (no, it’s not as rosy as you think it is)

Catherynne M. Valente during a book reading
Catherynne M. Valente during a book reading. (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m going to keep this simple, gang: Go read Catherynne M. Valente‘s blog post “The End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”

Go read it



Because it is the best evaluation of self-publishing and e-publishing and traditional publishing and the future of books and everything else we all care about so much (well, you and me, anyway) that I have seen in a long time. It might even be better than Margaret Atwood’s awesome keynote address I linked to about a year ago.

This is The Way Things Are, and no bones about it.

Unless you want to pick bones. In which case, leave me a comment!

(PS: Apparently, this is a week for milestones — this post if my 500th post!)

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

3 thoughts on “On self-publishing (no, it’s not as rosy as you think it is)

  1. It is a long and interesting post, and I agree with a lot of what is said. In the current commercial climate an editor is indeed an advocate for your book, for example, and there is an awful lot of ‘bad’ writing ‘out there’ (Jings! Every day I spend half an hour over breakfast surfing the ‘poetry’ tag at wordpress, hoping to find something worthwhile).

    On the other hand, let’s just translate this to a different art form. These days a kid with a lap top (okay, probably a kid with a hand-held device) and talent can create a Eurotrance hit. The internet and the accessibility of technology has meant that people already do promote themselves. In some forms of art this kind of effort is lauded. In writing it is not. Our medium is perhaps the most conservative (small ‘c’) art form, success and merit being seen purely in terms of patronage – in our case the commercial patronage of a publisher. That alone seems to be the validation of artistic merit.

    My agent tells me that he has never received a manuscript that has been worse than mediocre. Most are good, and a sizeable minority are excellent. When he tells people the commercial realities and that their (excellent) manuscript is very unlikely to see the light of day notwithstanding its literary quality, he tells them three other things: 1) don’t stop writing, 2) don’t stop trying to get published, even if you fail, and 3) never lose that feeling of satisfaction you get when putting that final full stop (period) at the end of a finished novel.

    Publication is the only universally *recognised* validation of the merit of our work – artists can draw on the pavement (sidewalk), musicians can busk, we can all go on YouTube or start our own blog and web site (I did), poets can do ‘open mic’ events and slams. Novelists have only themselves and the dubious samizdat of self-publishing.

    Okay, I’m speaking from a privileged position (not really published this fact, but watch this space for some reasonably good news about a possible publishing deal…) but I have tried to take a step back and look at this metier of ours.


    1. I always love when you reply at length like this! And I’m with you. Though I might nitpick the indie musician analogy a little bit, A) because, as you say later, musicians can get away with that more than we can — a good friend of mine who is both a writer and a musician boggles at the disparity, insisting that what garage bands and club-playing rock’n’rollers do to promote their work ought to be available to “garage writers” and “club-reading poets” as well, and I kind of agree with him — and B) because that kid with a laptop promoting his Eurotrance mix isn’t going to get rich doing so, and doesn’t expect to, but the kinds of self-publishing writers I think Valente is talking about do expect to get rich, or at least to make a living, and they expect to be respected for it. And both are, generally speaking, unrealistic expectations for writers. As you say, publishing is our only avenue, and even now, Publishing, Inc. — at least at first, whatever options we might exercise once we’re established — is our most assured means of being taken seriously and/or making money (the two can be mutually exclusive: witness Stephenie Meyer, who I don’t take seriously at all but could probably buy me, and I’m not cheap).

      All that said, I think Valente is ignoring the quiet but potent small press/indie publisher market, which in my view can offer the best of both worlds: the claim to integrity that comes from having been vetted and edited plus the personal artistic input and self-promotional onus opportunity of getting intimately involved in the publishing process. Also, I have to say, I do love the performance if literature, and I adore attending (and giving) readings. We don’t respect that enough, I think, but I’m glad the open mic and other reading venues are still alive and well. And why don’t we go out busking like musicians? That used to be the function of broadsheets and chapbooks, after all — why not bring that back? And many are the days I’ve thought about standing on a street corner and reading my fiction aloud for a few hours. Some day I might be brave enough to try that. 🙂

      Keep me posted on your potentially good news! I’ll plug the hell out of you here on the website! 🙂

      1. “I think Valente is ignoring the quiet but potent small press/indie publisher market, which in my view can offer the best of both worlds” – I am with you on that. It is an ‘in’, and once a writer has that kind of publication under her belt she can be ‘taken seriously’.

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