Friday, February 18, 2011

More on self publishing: perceived value + quality = credibility?

Hola from beautiful Spain. As I write, I'm traveling up to Avila and Segovia, willing the Internet and BlackBerry to cooperate.

I thought the comments on my last post about perceived value and credibility were great, because they are at the heart of the dilemma facing self published authors: how do we escape the collective stigma currently associated with our work?

In part, it requires good writing. Someone on Twitter who I'll paraphrase said, "Self publish but write like you're aiming for one of the big NY six." Great advice. Self publishing is commonly associated with unedited crap, poor covers and general unintelligible nonsense. That's not my sweeping generalization, by the way, it's a perception I've heard on discussion boards and within my own writing circle, and seen in some self published books. The crap doesn't do any self published author's cause any good. Can we all agree on that?

The question that arises is; what is the mark of good, self published writing that rises to the standard of the NY six? Used to be that an agent or editor would be the gatekeeper to spot this gold standard. Self publishing has circumvented that. Proponents of it are asking our potential readers to make that judgment with their minds and more importantly, wallets.

This in turn leads to perceived value. Since self publishing has gotten such a bad rap, the perceptions of its value are not overwhelmingly in favor. It often feels like those of us who do it have to pass a higher bar to gain approval. Say someone has a quality book, as judged by agents and editors who may have read it but declined to publish for reasons that have nothing to do with the writing, and makes the foray into self publishing. Without an aggressive marketing plan, including building word of mouth advertising, that author's efforts will flounder. How does word of mouth spread when an intended audience won't even consider it?

Again, if we feel a little persecuted and overwhelmed, can you blame us? I can't agree with an earlier comment that we are not targeted and picked on. I speak from personal experience. I know I'm breaking a cardinal rule about ignoring bad reviews but I have to, in order to bring home the point. One of my unfavorable reviews was followed up by the less flattering comment, "Another self publishing dud, huh?" Pissed me off more than the actual review. I've seen similar comments on other self published works. Can we deny the perception is out there? It makes me so angry that as hard as authors work, this collective perception is used to canvas self published works regardless of their quality. It implies that as hard as we work, the perceived value of that work will never rise. How can we change entrenched views when, at times, the very audience we are trying to reach has already dismissed our work without reading it? How do we gain credibilty?

I don't expect to change opinions on either side of these issues but it's useless to pretend they don't exist. I will continue to resent them, point them out where they exist and do my damn best to avoid being mired by them. Something tells me I've got a hard road ahead of me. Good thing for me, I don't mind hard work. Part of why I write historical fiction.


Michelle Gregory said...

kudos on a well-stated post. hoping you have a wonderful and productive time in Spain.

Dawna Randalf said...

Lucky you, Lisa, to be in beautiful Spain! You should feel my waves of envy radiating all the way from here 

Well, you’re right, we may have to agree to disagree (because I don’t think self-published authors are picked on). However I’d like to put forth a couple of suggestions that maybe self-published authors might consider.

When any small businessperson opens up their “doors”, no matter what industry they’re in, they’re automatically competing against other businesses that have more experience, more tenure, greater name recognition,and greater revenues. The new businessperson knows this, and for them it’s an uphill battle against their competitions’ numerous advantages to prove their value, gain customers, create name recognition, and turn a profit. Some of these businesses succeed – most don’t.

I’d like to suggest that self-published authors are EXACTLY the same as these small business owners (after all, they have the exact same goals) but there is one major exception.

Most small business owners realize that they can’t expect their industries (or their potential customers) to step up and “give” them respect or in any way put them on equal footing with established businesses. They realize that the battle for respect, for customers, for name recognition, and for money, is THEIRS and theirs alone.

I think THIS is at the crux of the issue. I don’t think self-published authors have reconciled themselves to this reality.

Why do I say this? I’ve recently read a couple of blog posts by two self-published authors. In one, a self-published author said she “never writes a bad review” when reviewing a self-published book. Another self-published author said that she never read bad reviews of her book, or (more accurately) that she read them once and then never again.

Oh, and wow! There are sites for “awards” for self-published books, only to find out that some of these can be practically purchased.

How can that mindset possibly exist and foster quality? I mean, what if restaurant critics never wrote bad reviews? How would customers find out about really great new restaurants, and how could they avoid the mediocre? Would the customer instead learn to DISREGARD that particular criticc, knowing that their reviews were meaningless? Or what if a restaurant received a bad review (or customer complaint) and said “Oh well, I’ll look at it once, and then never again”? Would that restaurant ever address issues that could really be harming their business?

These are the questions I ask about self-published authors, and I think they go to the heart of perceived value and credibility. For me, a voracious reader, it seems that self-published authors are generally more focused on convincing people of their legitimacy rather than taking the often difficult steps to ENSURE it. Every time I read another glowing, 5-star review of a self-published author (added to the 11 that are already there – with NO negative ones ) I think of what a disservice these authors are doing themselves.

Have someone hand your books to a bunch of librarians, or English teachers, or university professors. Give them out for free. Have your distributor ask for reviews – ask to interview the person on a blog about what they loved about the book – and what they hated.

And not on sites that are already LOADED with self-published authors 

Bring some outside, well-respected perspectives to the conversation. And review each other with the goal of bringing some HONESTY to the conversation as well. Every other industry engages in some kind of self-policing to help ensure quality, to help their industries thrive.

If self-published authors want respect, they should expect to do the same.

Anyhoos – there’s my latest ramble. Enjoy Spain – and upload some pictures for us!

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