I had something wonderful happen this weekend. I was at a party talking to someone, and I told her that I had a children's book coming out next year.
She said, "Is it ... did you ... um, did you do it yourself, or, you know ...?"
"It's being published by Viking," I replied. Then she hugged me and said congratulations. And, I was pretty much over the moon because that NEVER happens.
Here are the usual responses that I get when I tell people I have a children's book coming out:
"Oh, my best friend/sister/coworker's aunt/ masseuse's three-year-old son wrote a book!" And, it's always something that person has self-published. Always.
"Oh, I have a great idea for a children's book. It's a cute story about my cat/my grandmother/a preachy morality lesson ..." Then they stand there and wait for me to react. I'll talk about this comment more next week, but for now, all I can say is "ideas are cheap".
Back to the self-publishing issue.
I know that there are many, many arguments for going that route. It IS hard to get traditionally published. They DO take a huge chunk of your money. You STILL have to self-promote. And, these days you can create a pretty slick-looking book and hire your own editors and PR people.
But, here's the thing.
I have never personally read a self-published book that's any good (with one exception--Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT--a compilation of her conference talks on writing). That's not to say that those books aren't out there (yes, I've read all about Amanda Hocking), but I've never happened across one. Normally, people self-publish because they've gotten a few rejections and see an easier and quicker way to get into print. It's ego driven, and people who are ego driven are usually people who don't like to take editorial advice (or they often seek advice from friends who don't have the dagger-in-the-heart ruthlessness needed to whip a manuscript into shape).
And, what is most shocking to me is how much of the general public has NO IDEA that there's a difference between a self-published and traditionally published book. They don't know that there's a difference between beating yourself against the shore for years, reworking and reworking your manuscript, submitting and submitting--until finally you get THE CALL saying that someone believe in your work enough to pay you for it; and in writing a book, getting some people to read it and give you feedback, and sending in a large check.
My wonderful literary book club just finished reading two exceptional books written by local traditionally published authors, Curtis Wilkie and Tom Franklin, and the authors came and spoke to us. Next month, my book club is reading a book by another local author--a self-published one--and most of the group didn't even realize there was a difference. I, of course, enlightened them.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure that there are some really great self-published books out there that didn't make it in New York because of the market or fickle editors. But, as it gets increasingly easier to flood the market with self-published books, I think a big yellow warning label on the cover makes sense. Just kind of a "read at your own risk" label indicating that this book hasn't been through any kind of jury process and it may or may not have been professionally edited.
So, okay. I'm pretty sure I've offended some of you. What say ye, bloggers?