Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Quality Trap of Self-Publishing by Noah Murphy

We live in the best and worst time to be an author. Right now, thanks to the self-publishing revolution, the publishers and agents who used to be the gate keepers have been overthrown and replaced with the readers themselves as the arbiters of who gets read and who does not. Novellas and short fiction are finally finding large audiences because there are no minimum word counts anymore. New voices with new ideas are finally getting heard because no longer can authors and manuscripts be rejected because a publisher is afraid to take risks. Now, self-published authors can get respect and have careers never touching publishing houses and literary agents.

I am one such author who is benefiting from the self-publishing revolution. My first published work, A Clear and Feathered Danger, the first K23 Detectives novella, would have never been published by a legacy publisher in a million years, much less its two sequels and compilation: What Lies Within, The Impending Darkness and the K23 Detectives Three Pack with Bonus Novels(I’ll explain those bonus novels, don’t worry). For one thing, A Clear and Feathered Dangeris 33,000 words, far less than the usual 50,000 most publishers require. Second, the plot is about gangster parrots stealing an orbital weapons satellite and holding a city hostage so they can get citizenship, an idea that sounds completely and utterly crazy. But yet, you can buy the K23 Detectives books on many sites, they get decent reviews, and I’ve gained a small following which grows by the day.

 My new novella, Barbarian Girl, is also a creative risk. It’s about a teenage girl who looks like super-muscular female body builder, an archetype almost never seen in popular culture. Thanks to self-publishing, you can now read it too.

But there’s a downside to the self-publishing revolution. Now everyone can publish whatever they want and sell it. The ebook stores are getting deluged in garbage, works that should never have seen the light of day. Despite how annoying the old gatekeepers were, they helped sift out much of the garbage.Those who got filtered out had to go back and improve before they’d be accepted. Now, writers no longer have to improve to get published.

Sure terrible books have always been published, but never in such large quantities as right now. People today can publish first drafts of their first manuscript and market it the same as any author of merit.  Worse yet, if you tell them how bad they are, they act like you simply don’t get their work, and maybe even get hostile when confronted with the possibility they are, in fact, terrible authors. When their book fails to sell a single copy, they’ll blame it on the economy, and not the work itself.

I used to be a terrible author. When I started writing long fiction in 2004-2005, my early work was so bloated, so pretentious, when I goback and read it now, I can’t get past the first paragraph. But I improved, developing my unique writing style over the course of years. My first self-published work wasn’t my first finished manuscript;it was my eighth, the seventh being finished in early 2007. Not a single one of those first seven ever stood a chance of getting legacy published.

Think about that. Between late 2007, when Kindle self-publishing began, and June 2011, which I finally published, I held back despite having seven novella-length or bigger works along with multiple short stories. I had the chance to publish long before I ever did. It wasn’t until I finished A Clear and Feathered Danger that I had something I could be proud of and sell for money.

To be fair, two of my previous manuscripts are now available on Kindle as the bonus novels in the Three Pack: The Cybernetic Dragon and The Hidden Chasm. They are precursors to K23 Detectives that contain the same world and characters despite being completely different stories. They were tacked onto the compilationto justify charging 2.99 for a pack of three books which cost .99 apiece. I don’t promote them outside of the Three Pack or like that all that much. However, of the seven manuscripts, they had the most merit and were the closest to being publishable, which is why they were the first to get rewritten and self-published. None of my other old manuscripts will ever be sold in any form. Although, some of my better short stories are available for free on my own blog.

I’m of the opinion that just because everyone can publish now, doesn’t mean everyone should. An author still has to write quality books that can find an audience; that has not changed. What has changed is one doesn’t have to fit in a specific mold with stories of a certain length, written in a certain way, with certain stock settings and characters to get published.  I certainly don’t fit in the typical mold. And while I might never sell a million ebooks in five months like John Locke or make millions like Amanda Hockings, but I’m well on my way to carving out a small niche for myself in the fantasy thrillers market because my work has merit. I wouldn’t even be guesting on the blog if I wasn’t a decent writer.
In conclusion, waiting to debut my work until I was ready to do so, has benefited me immensely. Every other author looking to succeed should do the same. Writers like Stephanie Myers, who succeeded with her very first manuscript (despite it being awful) are extremely rare. Chances are 99.9% of writers won’t be the next Stephanie Myers and will fail miserably if they publish the first thing they write.
You've been warned.  

Noah Murphy's Biography
Noah Murphy started writing fiction when he was five. Then when he was twelve, he had a vision, a vision of high fantasy and cyberpunk coming together in glorious harmony. That vision, after several rough starts, is K23 Detectives, a fantasy thriller series set in an original universe that combines high fantasy and cyberpunk as well as steampunk and a healthy does of realism.

He also sci-fi and fantasy in other universes he's dreamed up, like Barbarian Girl, a unique YA superhero novella feature a hulking female protagonist.

In addition to writing fiction, Noah runs his own small pet sitting service, writes an Xbox Indies game review blog, and volunteers at a parrot rescue.

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