Should Everyone Publish a Book?

April 18, 2015 | By | 31 Replies More

AuthorPhoto_LorraineDevonWilke1I was chatting with an acquaintance recently when we got onto what I’d been up to lately. “Just finished my second novel,” I chirped, certain he’d be mightily impressed. Instead, I got a judgmental pause followed by: “You and everyone else on the planet!”

Umbrage was taken, but the comment did strike me… as sort of true. Well, maybe not the second novel part, but certainly it does seem as if everyone is putting out a book these days. In fact, the virtual bins of self-published titles have literally exploded, with the latest from Bowker’s touting the increase:

October 8, 2014 – A new analysis of U.S. ISBN data by ProQuest affiliate Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles in 2013 increased to more than 458,564, up 17 percent over 2012 and 437 percent over 2008.

That’s a LOT of books. Yet all you have to do is Google “self-publishing” to be regaled with articles decrying this cultural phenomenon, most seething about amateur covers, sloppy editing, inexpert narrative, and the fact that, had industry gatekeepers been involved, most of these books would never have seen the light of day.

BookCover_HystericalLoveTrue? Yes…. regarding some books, some writers. But if you kept Googling, you’d also find pieces defending the trend (I’ve written a few myself), or at least admonishing the media against tarnishing all independents with the same brush. There are many exceptions to the stigmas.

But still, the question remains: should everyone who wishes to publish a book do so simply because they can? Depends on whom you ask.

Putting aside the aforementioned naysayers, there is a reading public thrilled to have easy access to cheaply-priced ebooks of any quality; to some extent, their demand keeps the supply side churning. On the other end are the many writers who’ve dreamed of being published with no way in via traditional methods. One could argue that these two demographics are amply served by new self-publishing paradigms.

Or, one could suggest the whole thing is “the death knell of quality literature,” as a dispirited blogger commented.

I sit somewhere in the middle. As one who’s chosen to self-publish for a variety of reasons, I believe the ability of quality writers to get their work out, despite exclusionary practices, has been a boon. I’ve read several self-published books that are so excellent it’s impossible to understand why they’re not being hawked by one of the Big 5 (particularly considering some of what is being hawked!). But I’m also someone who’s bemoaned the unwise and oddly entitled attitudes of far too many self-pubbers who eschew certain standards of professionalism. When you hear writers commenting that they can’t afford or don’t wish to budget for professional editors, formatters, or cover designers, you know there’s a conversation to be had.

“Because we can” is not a good enough reason to publish. That notion, parsed from George Mallory’s rationale for climbing Mt. Everest (“Because it’s there.”), becomes even more misguided when you consider that even Mallory, despite being deeply experienced, didn’t survive that notorious peak! And while publishing is certainly less treacherous than mountain climbing, cultural expectations about the quality of what makes its way onto our bookshelves is demanding in its own right.

If you’re compelled to publish, while at the same time pondering: “What if I don’t know what to write?” or “Do readers care about cover design?” or “What do a few typos matter?” or, most concerning, “Am I a real writer if I’ve never had anything published?” a simple checklist may be in order.

Before you hit Publish:

  1. Read LOTS of great literature and highly regarded books that interest you. Make note of how those authors convey ideas and plot lines. Feel the rhythm and flow of their narrative and vocabulary. Notice what appeals to you as a reader.
  2. Study writing; really learn the craft from qualified teachers and mentors. Write as many essays, articles, short stories, etc., as you can, then listen to and utilize productive feedback and critique.
  3. Use that experience to clarify your “voice” as a writer. Be humble and open, but never lose that voice in the urge to implement the perspective of others.
  4. Define what you’re compelled to write about. Spend time musing stories, plots, narratives, ideas that drive you to the page.
  5. Write. Write. It doesn’t have to be every day (that old trope is meaningless; I sometimes go days without writing, then stay up for nights on end!), but it does have to be dedicated.
  6. Don’t start your publishing career with a book on Amazon; start with a blog; get articles published online, in your local newspaper, literary magazines, etc.
  7. Wait to write your novel until you’ve got a story that is truly worthy of the format.
  8. Once you’ve written that story, choose trusted readers and get their feedback (remembering #3)
  9. Be clear that self-publishing is a BUSINESS and certain “costs of doing business” are non-negotiable. Don’t even consider publishing until you’re able to pay for professional editing, copy-editing/proof-reading, formatting, and cover design. NON-NEGOTIABLE!
  10. Before you click “publish” print out your book and make sure it meets all standards in terms of quality, look, and professionalism.

Then, and only then, should you become a published author.

After that? Well, there’s a marketing checklist we could discuss….

Lorraine Devon Wilke started early as a creative hyphenate. First, music and theater, next, rock & roll, then a leap into film when a feature she co-wrote was produced. From there she developed her photography, recorded her original CD, started her blog, and began writing for The Huffington Post and other top sites.

Her latest adventure: indie publishing. Her debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, and short story, “She Tumbled Down,” were 2014 successes; 2015 brings the launch of her second novel, Hysterical Love (available at Amazon and Smashwords). Visit her site for all links and info.



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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, How To and Tips

Comments (31)

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  1. Dear Lorraine,

    Should everyone publish a book? No, of course not. But having the tools and the energy and the patience to write a book will go a long way. Also,
    there are so many people who tell you what they think about EVERYBODY in the world. And not everyone is out there writing.

    You are a writer if your best work is writing; if you love the feeling of creating and seeing to completion your book. Read lots of books. Write every day. You are your very own critic… don’t allow anyone else to make decisions about how you spend your golden coins.

    Thanks for the clear advice. Best wishes, Mary Latela

  2. Very useful article with practical advices. Thanks.

  3. Saw this article shared on FB.
    A great read and I could not agree more – especially with your check list.
    Like you I can go days without writing, but when I do write it can be for hours on end.
    I never intended to be a published writer and enjoyed writing for myself, but that one story felt special and I wanted to share it with people.
    Got it professionally edited/typeset and cover design. I fully agree that you need to be 100% happy with the finished result before allowing other people to see it…having high standards for your work shows you care about it. I would never want to see something of mine published if I wasn’t 100% about every detail.

    • Thanks, Chris, glad it resonated with you. I think the whole process is so personal, so specific to each of our experiences and proclivities, I generally dismiss any of those “THIS is how you should do it” mandates!

      Except for approaching the “business” of publishing with a non-negotiable standard of excellence and a willingness to take all the necessary steps to get it there. Sounds like you’ve got a handle on that one!

      Best of luck to you in your publishing journey…it IS quite the adventure, isn’t it?

  4. You’ve really hit the nail on the head, Lorraine, re: the possibilities that publishing presents and the questions writers need to ask themselves before deciding to self-publish. The statistics are scary, and, yes, even traditional publishers, not to mention that new paradigm of vetted self-publishing, produces less than wonderful books. It’s a gamble all the way around. Being the language person I am, I can’t but here the nuanced difference between, “I want to be a published writer,” vs. “I wake each day to write.’

    • Thank you, Deborah, for sharing the piece and taking time to leave a comment. I love your concluding sentence and so share the sentiment.

      Personally, I think it’s great for so many to have the dream of publishing, but feel, as you do, that the creative urge to WRITE, to express thoughts and feelings, put plots, narratives, and inspirations into words, should be the true impelling force. I would never dissuade anyone from pursuing a dream, but even dreams have to be built on solid foundation.

      I’m sometimes reminded of when my son was six and I introduced him to a friend who happened to be a black-belt karate master. My son shook this man’s hand and said, after having taken one beginners karate class, “I’m a black-belt too.” My friend smiled and very gently said, “Well, you may be one day, but the only way you get there is to study hard, practice a lot, and take your hits along the way until you really understand what it takes to be a master.” Somehow that advice seems transferrable, doesn’t it? 🙂

  5. Lyn Farrell says:

    This resonated with me and made me feel reassured with the path I’ve chosen: first draft, mentorship, editing, beta readers…. I’m also busy studying creative writing with the OU and from September, the UEA. The fact that an agent has asked to see my complete MS actually encouraged me into further study.
    I think your advice is spot on. Never stop learning, don’t rush anything – you could regret it later.
    Great article, thanks.

    • Thanks, Lyn. Your comments are pretty spot on, too! I think the philosophy of “never stop learning” is so critical, and I agree about not rushing anything. I do understand the “dream” aspect of self-publishing, but the profession aspect of it is equally as important. We owe it to each other to create a demographic—independent publishing—that honors the hard work, high standards, and professional perspective of all of us involved.

  6. Excellent article which I’ve shared on Facebook and Twitter. Some of us make the choice to self publish professionally for a variety of reasons. It is no easy route but it can be a rewarding one, especially when working with other writers to do the same. It is not a new phenomenon, as many writers have pointed out – just returning to the time when writers did not have to fight to be noticed by the big five (in the case of the UK) I read as much indie work as trad and feel enriched by the books – challenging boundaries and rules set by the few. It sets creativity free.(sometimes it is appalling though – you have to be careful what you choose.) It is interesting that my latest novel received an (unpaid for) five star review from ‘Readers’ Favorite’ (American site) but a three star review from a traditional editor. Is there a hidden agenda there? I’ve bought two trad books recently which I could not finish for various reasons. They sit on my shelf as a sad reminder that I wasted my money, so it is not always as clear cut as many might like to believe. all the best Diana

    • Thanks for the comment AND for sharing the article, Diana! I appreciate it. I’m probably being redundant at this point, but I really believe we each have our own “personal best” to live up to, regardless of what else is happening in the traditional publishing industry, or even our own…the self-publishing world. There’s good and bad in both, but without the gatekeepers writers rely on in the traditional world, we indies are each responsible for producing and delivering the very best work we can. I’m happy to see more and more writers not only discussing this, but living up to it!

  7. E.L. Wicker says:

    An interesting article full of great advice. There is nothing that annoys me more than buying a book only to find that it lacks any semblance of a good story. Just because one has an idea, does not make them a writer. It is a craft that must be learned. I often wonder whether it’s a talent or if enough hard research and trial and error can shape a person into a good writer. I know it’s a subject often debated, quite contentiously at times, but I remain unsure. It is a sad fact that people who fail to hone the craft publish books probably every day. I have run across a fair few of these, but as you point out – there are so many wonderful self-published books to be enjoyed. Books where the author has taken the time to create and publish the best possible work they can deliver. Such a shame that not everyone has that same respect for the beauty of literature.

    • Thanks for weighing in on the conversation, E.L. I share a certain belief that the “beauty of literature,” as you so eloquently put it, IS something to be respected by a publishing author. Obviously there are different styles and sensibilities, but it IS a craft and, once someone choses to publicly publish, it IS a profession that comes with a certain expectation of excellence.

      My hope that as more and more top-line authors self-publish excellent work, the bar will be set so high that all authors will understand the goals to be met.

      • Btw, forgive my repeated overemphasis in that response! I just re-read this comment and I sound like I’m stamping my foot. I don’t mean to (it was late!), but I guess your point elicited some enthusiasm! 🙂

        • E.L. Wicker says:

          There is nothing to forgive! I believe we should be stamping our feet over it. I would love to see Amazon and other retailers filter books prior to allowing them to be sold. The problem is so wide, so deep rooted now, that weeding out the bad ones would be so time consuming, plus–as long as these books are making those companies money, I’m sure they’d be reluctant to do anything about them. It’s such a shame, because it really seems to me that some of the books are by people more interested in turning a quick buck (let’s all have a laugh at that and wish them good luck!)than delivering quality literature.

          • Thanks, E.L….I appreciate that. I hate people that overdo the CAPS thing and I kinda went a little overboard there! 🙂

            Someone asked me the other day if the indie industry could set up their own filtering system in hopes of raising the quality and production standards of the market, but, like you, I think the entrenchment of less stringent attitudes IS deep. I’ve had people bristle at my insistence that it takes more than just dreaming, wishing, and hoping to be a quality writer. And it wouldn’t matter if just any level of work got published, except that the glut of lesser work has created stigmas, stereotypes, and negative branding that impacts us all. I’d like to see that change, and that can only happen if the quality of the work, overall, demands it. I hope that happens.

            Thanks again for being part of the conversation!

    • I so agree with this. Well put 🙂

  8. I’m currently reading a novel which was published through a publishing house. The cover is tasteless, typos are abundant and the narrative is disappointing. Looks like I won’t finish reading it. Publishing houses are not what it used be, especially with respect to new names in writing. Eventhough some truly odd and poorly edited stories get published independently, I definately have a soft spot for Indie authors. They’re not afraid to chase dreams and try. Wonderful.

    • There’s no doubt there’s marginal work to be found even within traditional publishing… which is strange, considering how many gatekeepers work in that arena! Frankly, whether indie or traditional, every author should be their own gatekeeper, so to speak, to make sure the work is professionally and artfully written and produced, and of the highest quality. HOW we get published is less important than the quality of what we publish.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Tatjana!

  9. Karen Gordon says:

    I would encourage anyone who has the desire to write something to take advantage of the revolution that is self-publishing. We are in the chaos that is a revolution. Removing the gatekeepers does open the flood gates to absolute amateurs but no on has to purchase their work if they don’t want to.
    I love the idea of someone pursuing a dream, like publishing a book, just to reach that goal and feel the sense of accomplishment. They may not want or be able to pursue a career in writing, but self-publishing allows them to fulfill one dream.
    Markets are already starting the process of sifting out the wheat from the chaff on their own. The open review process is also new and wonky but it will develop and I have faith that the result will be new ways for readers to find quality self-published work.
    Thanks for the article and food for thought.

    • Thank you, Karen. I appreciate your perspective. To the extent that the unfiltered self-pubbing industry has opened doors for writers to dream, I think we all applaud! I know I do.

      And I hope you’re right that the sifting process will ultimately make it easier to for readers to to find the “wheat”! Raising that bar will go a long way toward inspiring wider acceptance and greater respect for independent authors and their work.

  10. Great article Lorraine. Your list of things to do before publishing is so important. I point to #9 in particular. If you believe in your work, invest in it!

    It’s the wild, wild west out in the publishing world right now. And we writers must navigate a complicated and constantly changing landscape. I love that writers have control over their work and are able to put it out there on their own. But it is frustrating that the freedom to publish anything has lead to a massive amount of bad writing and low quality products. Excellent, high quality books fighting to rise to the top must slug their way through a very thick layer of mud.

    • Thanks, Julie, and I agree about #9! There is quite a tug and pull, I think, between the hobbyists who see self-publishing as a fun way to create books for their family and friends, and the professionals who are approaching it like skilled business people. I wouldn’t mind the spectrum but, like you, find it frustrating to slog through the glut, trying to differentiate good work from the rest, both as a reader and a writer. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.

      All the best to you in your journey with this!

  11. Meg Gurney says:

    Met a young girl who described herself as “an international author,” because she had sold books on Amazon to people in America. Her work was unreadable due to a complete lack of punctuation – except for paragraphs. When people explained the importance of grammar etc. to the understanding of your work she merely replied that her teachers always told her that in school. Customers deserve to know that the book they purchase is at least readable !

    • Wow! 🙂 I guess that would mean there are a whole lotta “international authors” out there !

      As Terry Tyler mentions in the comment below, there are some parallels here to the sadly hilarious, somewhat heartbreaking, delusions of certain American Idol contestants. That disconnect between what is real and what is “wishful thinking.” I really do think the self-publishing industry will, at some point, come up with their own version of gatekeepers, because i’s one thing to be democratic, another to have absolutely no quality controls! Let the market decide is fine, as long as the market can actually find the good stuff amongst the drek!

  12. Terry Tyler says:

    Then there’s that thing that so few ever seem to consider – have they actually got any talent? I get so fed up with seeing all this ‘novel writing by numbers’ stuff. You know all those people who can’t sing, who enter American Idol because it is their dream to be a pop star? Well….

    • Yep, your AI comparison is spot-on! And, again, we can wish everyone well and think “to each his own,” but the issue is that the glut of unprofessional work makes it harder for readers to find the excellent work. That doesn’t seem fair for anyone!

  13. Thanks, Women Writers, for asking the question and inviting me to share my thoughts on the answers.

    Great site and I look forward to connecting to the other women writers (and even men writers!:) who stop by to visit.

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