Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Response to Jerry Jenkins on Self-Publishing

Jerry Jenkins, whom I respect in the publishing business (as if I my opinion mattered on the subject) wrote the following on his website.  I want to respond.

As someone who has published both ways, I'm going to weigh in to get a discussion started, because I think this is very important. It's an excellent article, and he's a reliable source but does not tell every side of it. It's far more complicated.

 The struggles for self-publishers are three-fold. First, finding the right outlet/publisher who is not going to scam you. This is hard for most and takes a lot of self-education to navigate, and a great deal of tech savvy-ness in terms of the Internet and formatting manuscripts. CreateSpace and Smashwords can work for you but you have to know what you are doing. 

Second, guaranteeing quality work; it is true that most of what is self-published is mediocre at best, due to poor writing, editing, or just not good ideas. But most is not all. I have seen some really bad stuff, to be honest.  Most people who want to write a book need lots and lots of help.  Before I published my last, Bringing Abundance Back, I workshopped it through a writers' group of 8-10 people and had a person with a doctorate in English proofread it for me, as well as some other friends with advanced degrees.  It still had a few typos!  But I am pleased with it.  It did not have sans serif font, as he claims.  It looks like any other book, except I don't have blurbs on the back from other writers.  

However, I have the advantage of three graduate degrees; most people do not.  They have the advantage of life experience that could be of value to others.  They want to communicate it.  A blog might be a better way to do so, and monetize the blog.  I've known for a long time that I won't make any real money off my writing, but I do it anyway.  This might be where the difference is for Mr. Jenkins.  He has made millions on his writings, especially about the rapture and second coming.  Some of us just want to get our message out without going into debt.  CreateSpace allows me to do that.  

I have no illusions about writing; many of my friends don't read my books, even when I give them copies.  (Don't do that; it's a waste of money.)

Third, the marketing, which is not really discussed in this article. Many small but traditional publishers want the writer to do all the marketing, which is the same for self-publishing. You might have the best book in the world but it has to be marketed, which means lots of time and self-promotion that most people don't have the means to do. He argues that self-publishing is good for three types of people: writers for small niche audiences, academics who have to publish, and those who don't care if they use a traditional publisher, for whatever reason, such as perhaps they are speakers and need to be able to sell books at events. 

He is wrong about the second; I am an academic and self-publishing is not respected as far as tenure and promotion go; these articles or books have to be peer-review and vetted by certain gatekeepers. He should have done more research on that issue.  I do know some academics try it but it won't work in any reputable college.

I won't get into Mr. Jenkins' motives--he is a prolific, popular writer in the Christian market (very successful) who tries to help aspiring writers through his blog and guild, but he represents the gatekeepers of traditional publishing here as if they are just dying to publish new writers and we know they are not. They are a business and publish what will sell, not what will necessarily extend the kingdom or its truth (although many do; I just think The Shack a good example of what I'm saying about profit motive).  

Full disclosure: I am working on a book I plan to self-publish, and plan to do so with many more, as I have about twenty decent book ideas.  Why?  I am too old to find and work with a publisher, and I just don't think they would want to publish what I want to write.  

I would love to see some thoughts here from those on both sides.

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