I was sitting in a workshop at the Romance Writers of America national conference this morning, listening to a panel of very funny, very successful authors, when one of them said something that came at me out of left field and hit me with a flash of insight. I’m not sure if the author in question was trying to be disparaging or if she just wasn’t aware of how her words sounded, but she strongly implied that self-published authors produce and publish (subpar) books all on their own from beginning to end.
Her words struck me because they made me realize that, in fact, there is very little “self” in self-publishing. The idea that a self-published author writes a book, edits it, formats it, designs the cover, uploads it, and clicks “publish” all by themselves as a solitary operation isn’t just inaccurate, it’s a little baffling. I’m a tad surprised that this author may (or may not) think that that’s how this whole thing works.
Here’s the reality. It takes a village to “self”-publish a book. For those who aren’t super clear on how the process works, I write a book. The first draft usually takes me about a month and a half on average. Then I go back and read through that first draft and take all of the really bad suck out of it. Once that initial suckage is removed, I send it off to at least three beta-readers. (Starts counting: ONE, TWO, THREE)
I personally need to let the book sit for a while before I look at it again. Ideally I don’t look at it for about a month. Sometimes I don’t have time to let it ferment that long. But while it’s cooking, I have my cover designed (FOUR). I know some authors design their own covers, but I don’t have that kind of talent and I find it much easier just to let someone else handle that end of things. Leave the art to the artists.
Once the beta-readers get back to me, I start my hardcore editing. That means another couple of weeks of third and fourth drafting. When I’m satisfied, I send it to my editor (FIVE). My editor is super awesome. She does a thorough developmental edit with a bit of line editing, then sends it back to me. I bow humbly to her skillz, then make the changes she suggests (or not if I can really and truly justify doing things my original way). Then she likes to do a thorough copy edit before I publish it. Some authors hire a separate proofreader (SIX).
Then and only then do I format the book (I do it myself because I’m a nerd and like that sort of thing, but many people hire a formatter, SEVEN) and upload it across all the various sites. Voila! Published!
But that’s not the end. I have a publicist, Badass Marketing – BAM! (EIGHT). Actually, I have my publicist, but she has two assistants who work with my various lines (NINE, TEN) and book blog appearances, reviews, and all sorts of other fun stuff for me. I really couldn’t do what I do without them.
So wait a minute. What’s this self-publishing thing again? Don’t self-published authors do everything on their own? Huh-uh. As you can see, any given self-published author could have as many as ten other people working on their book before it hits the magic land of book retailing. So many people are needed to produce an effective piece of published work! So many! And that’s not even counting the fabulous fans and readers who breathe new life into a work by reading it, loving it, reviewing it, and sharing it.
All of this makes me think that the term “self-publishing” is inaccurate at best and misleading, nay, even insulting at worst. We don’t just blithely take things into our own hands and ours alone to publish books that haven’t been through any sort of vetting process. We work as hard as anyone and involve as many people in the process before a book hits the virtual shelves. We’re all in this together.
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