The advent of digital publishing has brought about a major paradigm shift. Back in the day becoming a published author entailed a compact between three entities; the author, his or her agent and the publishing house. Each of these had a vested interest in achieving maximum sales volumes for the published work. In addition, each had a specific role to play in moving the work from the idea stage to the finished product. The author generated the original idea, developed the plot lines and moved the characters through the action and exposition to the final resolution. The agent reviewed the material and offered advice, based on his or her experience, designed to polish the work and insure that it was reasonably within accepted publishing guidelines. The publishing house edited the work and, generally speaking, selected the title, wrote the jacket blurbs and commissioned the cover art. After a final approval of the finished product, the publishing house then took on the task of distribution and sales accounting. The author and the agent collected royalties and everyone lived happily ever after.
Under the old scheme it was exceeding difficult to become a published author. The classic catch 22 was that an agent wouldn’t talk to you unless you were published and a publisher would automatically reject anything that came over the transom. The digital age has changed all that. Being self-published is an amazingly simple process that eliminates the need for an agent and bypasses the scrutiny of the publishing house. It also removes from the equation all those services that were provided by the agent and the publisher as their part in creating the finished work. Those activities now fall upon the author.
There is a great deal of information online that purports to help the fledgling writer craft and polish his or her work to the point of perfection. Much, if not most of this information is extremely valid. The downside is that many of these services are expensive, beyond the reach of many newly minted writers and the service providers are paid up front. They have no vested interest in whether or not your work succeeds.
Though the examples are many, I offer one case in point. A dear friend aspired to be a published author. She had created a very strong female character, somewhat of a feminine Indiana Jones. She spent two years on the initial book of what was to be an action-adventure series. She hired a highly recommended editing service, contracted for cover art to be created, joined several professional distribution networks and even leased a billboard on a major local thoroughfare. The Reader’s Digest version is that a year and a half later, after investing several thousands of dollars, she has managed to sell fewer than a dozen copies of the book and is discouraged to the point of no longer writing.
I opted for nearly the opposite approach. In the past year I have self-published five novels and am in the process of wrapping up a sixth. I published through Lulu.com although many of the other digital publishers would have offered the same services. I did my own proofing and editing, wrote the cover blurbs and designed the cover art. The cost for publishing was zero, except for the mandatory purchase of a proof copy of each. While nowhere near the realm of ‘best seller’, I have managed to sell an average of a dozen of each title with absolutely no advertising. While hopefully entertaining, I can’t say that my stories are any better than those written by my friend. That is a subjective judgment only the reader can make. But I can say that I don’t have to apologize to Visa and Master Card each month for having made the attempt.
My point is that you should avoid allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Write from the heart. Do the best job that you can in getting it polished, design a cover that pleases you and then publish it. I don’t think that a single reader has ever said, “that was a great book, well crafted. It was a real page turner that held my interest all the way through but I can’t recommend it because it contained several typos and the right margins were not justified.” If you feel that you lack the skills and can afford to hire the services, then by all means do so. But be mindful that they have no skin in the game. Unlike the agent and the publishing house of old, they have no vested interest in seeing that you succeed. Once you have authorized payment, their major goal has been achieved.
While attention to proper form is important, keep in mind Timothy Dexter. In 1798 he wrote “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress”. The book contained 8,847 words, 33,864 characters and absolutely no punctuation. In a second edition he added a extra page which consisted of 13 lines of punctuation marks and instructed readers to “peper and solt as they plese”.
Strive for something somewhere between perfection and Timothy Dexter and publish that book.