Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hocking Books

Several news outlets, including the Huffington Post, are singing the praises of Amanda Hocking. Hocking is a 26 year-old Minnesota woman who's made a very impressive chunk of change by selling her YA fantasy novels as ebooks and circumventing the New York publishing system.

The HuffPo article goes out of its way to paint Hocking as a triumphant figure. And in some ways she is--she gets to live out her dream. I'm happy for her, and I get that Hocking's narrative plays into a very American mythology: charge your own path and mountains of monies will rain down upon your head.

But I think these kind of articles are missing an important part of the story. Yes, Hocking's story is impressive but a) Stories like hers are extremely rare and b) it ignores one of the most important aspect of releasing a book: publishing something that doesn't suck. And many of the posts I've read mentioned that Hocking's books are in desperate need of an editor. And that's no slam against her--the first and second drafts of my stories probably read worse than hers. Which is why I write third and fourth drafts, and have the stories edited ruthlessly by people I trust.

Now don't get me wrong-- I can see the benefit of some self-publishing. Wil Wheaton is the literary equivalent of Radiohead, in the sense that he started his writing career with a publisher before selling his books directly to his fans. The thing is, most of us writers aren't Wheaton or Warren Ellis. And we're not releasing music or comic books, which were practically made for self-publishing (in fact, most comics pros I've talked with look at self publishing as a badge of honor.)

I can also see how writing can have fun and get new fans by supplementing their published work with self-published material. Heck, that's what I did with "Mural". I knew I had the attention of a few readers, and decided to share with them a short story that I'd had trouble publishing elsewhere.

One of the most insightful arguments made against self-publishing come from novelist and current "Superman" writer Chris Roberson. He said that he had been a huge advocate for self publishing novels. Roberson hired a well known artist to draw the cover and gathered some impressive blurbs...and ended up selling less than 40 copies. His dreams of self publishing were dampened by reality, and he eventually found fame by publishing with a smallish press that could edit, promote, and sell his book.

Assuming that thousands of people are dying to read your self-edited, self-published book seems unrealistic. Feel free to share a few stories via the Kindle. Just don't try to build a writing career out of it.