Let's face it. We all have those topics that force us to pronounce the familiar disclaimer--"Don't get me started"--when they come up. Me, I actually have more than my fair share of these subjects, that when I get going on one of them, people must look at each other with woeful expressions that say, "Why did I bring this up, exactly?" I've taken to calling these tirade-inducing topics Can o' Worms Concepts.
So what opens up a Can o' Worms for me? Weird passions, as you can imagine, if you know me. For one: music education. I have no formal training in the area, but boy can I get on a streak if somebody has a substandard program in their schools with teachers who are burnt out, don't care, or are incompetent. If you bring up marching band in this context, prepare for an all out, hands trembling inundation of information you never wanted. Institutional education is another one of these subjects for me, though somehow I stay more level headed about that discussion.
The Can o' Worms I want to bring up here, though, is self publishing. On a writing forum I frequent, it seems like there's a new thread every few days established where people get into verbal fisticuffs as to whether self publishing is good, bad, vain, pointless, the new model, or any other number of assessments in-between. I'm not here to make a judgment call on the value of self publishing or peer into any crystal ball to predict whether it will bring traditional publishing to its knees. What I do feel hugely passionate about, however is this: if you're going to do it, do it right.
Self publishing is not new...it's just gotten easier to do with the way technology has shifted in the past decade or so. With print on demand technology widely available from any number of vendors, and ebooks looking as though they are now here to stay, anybody who has cobbled together a few words can offer them up for public consumption. (Case in point, here I am blathering on this blog, at no expense aside from the time it takes to draft the post. Though I, perhaps erroneously, consider blogging to be on a slightly different level than self publishing entire books.)
Anyway, back in the old days, when an author decided he was going to self publish a book, the endeavor required a large monetary investment. A print run of books isn't cheap, no matter how you try to cut corners. But now, with the financial risk being a non-issue, it seems to me more and more writers are offering up books that aren't really ready for public consumption in the name of "getting their story out there."
I've been tempted to do so myself...not with my novel, but with a novella I've got rumbling around here. But I just can't get past that niggling fear in the back of my head that says, "Sure, this has been through a couple rounds of peer critique, but does that make it good enough to call 'ready?'" The last thing I want to do is totally embarrass and discredit myself as an aspiring novelist by wheeling out an ugly baby for the world to see. And yet these ugly babies exist all over the internet, and people scratch their heads about why their books have only sold twenty-eight copies.
The point at the bottom of this Can o' Worms is this. I really don't think anybody should self publish unless they've put their manuscript through the rigors of being edited by somebody who has no personal stake in liking the work. A professional whose paid job it is to say whether the thing is a mess and doesn't have to worry about how awkward it will be when he has to shake your hand in the time of greeting in church the next Sunday morning. I know it's hard to trust the opinion of a stranger, but I feel very strongly that its absolutely necessary in this self publishing world. Your mom isn't going to tell you what you've written is painful to read. Neither will most of your friends. Even if they do, most of them will word it gently enough that you might not actually catch the full drift of how bad the writing really is. (Now, granted, not every person who endeavors to self publish has a crummy novel in their hands, I acknowledge that. But even the best writing will benefit from an objective opinion before it makes it foray out into the cold, cruel world.)
So if you're thinking of going the self publishing route for whatever reason, don't go it alone. All great things are worth the extra headaches of doing them well. And if you do decide to self publish that story, for the love of all that's good and just, get a professional quality cover done by a credentialed artist.
But that's a whole 'nuther can of worms right there.