With regard to self-publishing, things haven’t changed much since I first presented this post in 2014.

Richard Curtis

Quite a few years ago, when self-publishing, e-publishing, POD and such were in their embryonic stages, literary super-agent Richard Curtis (who at one time represented me) wrote an op-ed piece in Publishers Weekly titled, “Who’s Guarding the Gates?” The article detailed his concern over books that were going to be published without any professional screening from literary agents, or editors at mainstream publishing houses. Given the proliferation of self-publishing right up to the present day, Curtis’s concerns have proven quite visionary. While many authors today have found success via self-publishing, the reason for that success may not be because they have written well-structured, riveting stories. Rather, these individuals are great at marketing, PR, and the use of social media.

Bottom line: hype tops quality.

The following true story took place not long after Richard Curtis published his op-ed piece. I taught a basic novel-writing course for a community college adult education program in San Diego, which included a read & critique segment. One woman—let’s call her Millie—read her work enthusiastically but, sorry to say, her story came up short in all areas. I did appreciate her eagerness to learn and improve, so I suggested she take a longer, more comprehensive class that I facilitated at the University of California, San Diego Extension. She did, and when it was done she told me that she’d learned a great deal and was ready to apply it to her novel.

Afterward, I did not hear from Millie for quite a while. When I finally did, she happily announced that she’d done a number of revisions and that her manuscript was ready for publication, but would I review it just to make sure? I took the project on…

…and could barely get through a few pages of some of the least skillful writing I’d ever seen.

I met with Millie and patiently explained what she needed to do in order for her project to begin approaching what I call “professional grade.” She still seemed eager to learn and professed the four words I’d hoped to hear: “I can do that!” So, telling her to SLOW DOWN and take her time, I sent her back to the drawing board.

Not expecting to hear from Millie for many months, I was surprised when she contacted me shortly after and said that this time she felt certain her story was ready for publication. And so I read it again…

…and could barely get through a few pages of some of the least skillful writing I’d ever seen.

At this point I came to the conclusion that Millie just could not GET IT, and I begged off the project. She thanked me and promised that she would keep at it.

Flash forward about nine months. I received a postcard announcing the coming publication of Millie’s book, which would be available on Amazon and the other usual outlets. I could only roll my eyes at the thought of this book being published, and I realized right then just how spot on Richard Curtis had been.

But the story doesn’t end there. Some months later I was doing my annual gig facilitating classes at the Southern California Writers’ Conference. A woman approached me and said that she had been in a read & critique group with Millie. She also told me something I did not know: in her acknowledgements, Millie had thanked ME for helping her achieve her goal. I could only think (not say), “Oh crap!”

Then, the woman bluntly asked me what I thought of the book. Answering as diplomatically as I could, I told her, “That book should never have been published,” and that I had given up on the project long ago. The woman, less diplomatic, said that she and her group thought the book was “awful.” She also said that she’d heard about me from other writers and had thought about seeking my help with her own writing, but if Millie’s book was an indication of what I did for writers, she wanted no part of me. Though relieved to learn otherwise, she had already committed to another writing coach.

Thanks, Millie.

Self-publishing continued to snowball after that, and I adopted a carte blanche policy of turning down any writer who came to me for help in publishing their own books. This changed when a woman with a fascinating autobiography asked for my help. She had gotten a commitment from a major publisher to do the book, but they’d jacked her around for over a year, until finally her editor there left. At that time, disillusioned with mainstream publishing, she took the project back and decided to self-publish it. But she knew it needed work (it did), and she wanted it to be the best it could be—her reason for seeking my help.

That kind of conscientious attitude led me to take the project on, and since its publication a few years ago it has done exceptionally well. Needless to say, I’ve taken on many more writers with self-publishing goals since then. If they care enough to make their books the absolute best they can be, why not?

These days, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who HASN’T written a book. I still encounter many folks who have the attitude that the 75,000 to 100,000 words they managed to crank out constitute a book, so therefore it’s finished, and they’ll slap a cover on it and put it out there as is. Who needs to spend the money on an editor or a coach?

One old adage still has chops: “Cream always rises to the top.”

The watchman is, for the most part, no longer guarding the gates. If you care about your writing, get yourself a professional pair of eyes to help you make your work shine.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!

%d bloggers like this: