Friday, June 22, 2012
Taking Self-Publishing Too Far
By OFW Member: Renee Miller
Published: April 09, 2012


The New York Times ran an article on April, 1st, 2012 about a 14 year old who had published two novels. According to the Times, the television news station that ran it said, “At 14 years old, he has accomplished something many adults can’t achieve. Ben is a twice-published author.”
 
It went on to show the boy saying you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Sure you can, but this kid only put his mind as far as writing the book (which is fantastic). His parents did the rest and had the books self-published.
 
Parents who pay to publish their kids have good intentions. I can’t knock the motivation behind this. They want to encourage something positive, which is great. But the thing is, this teaches them nothing about hard work, perseverance, or reality. The kids don’t realize that this is a craft, one that many people spend their entire lives learning. The Times article introduces several other kids, ranging in age from 10 to 17, whose parents have footed some hefty bills to publish their work as well.
 
Well folks, I’m one of those critics that says this is sending kids the wrong message. If it’s okay to buy your kid’s way into one profession, why not do it in others? Johnny doesn’t want to learn math? Pfft. Pay for that accounting diploma. He’ll learn with hands-on experience. He wants to be a doctor? Surely you can read all of his textbooks, write his papers, and take his exams for him. Yes, I’m exaggerating. But writing fiction is no less demanding or specialized than any other career. Writing good, publishable literature requires experience in both writing and life. And I’m sorry, but what have you got to write about when you haven’t yet experienced life?
 
It’s not bad to publish your kid’s writing, as long as you’re giving them a dose of reality with it. This is a great motivator and perhaps will inspire the next King or Rowling to keep at it. But, part of writing is exploring the world, learning new things, and understanding the many different perspectives out there. It’s not about writing a simple beginning, middle and end.
 
I agree with the publishing industry veteran in the Times article who said that it is better to work with your child, tear the manuscript apart, and help to make it publishable, than it is to simply publish it via CreateSpace or Lulu. Why? Because they learn that writing shouldn’t be about throwing enough money at the right people. They learn they have work to do and will always need improving. That’s what fiction writing is about. Writers are constantly learning, evolving, and (hopefully) improving with each novel they write. If the work is too hard, and your child gives up, then he wasn’t meant to write, or he’s too young to publish right now. No big deal. However, if he keeps at it and manages to produce something publishable, that’s fantastic.
 
I encourage kids to write. My daughter writes all the time and she’s definitely got some raw ability. But it’s raw. She has a ton of work to do before she’ll be at the point where she should charge people to read her work. I tear her writing apart, while keeping in mind she’s only 13, and adding positive encouragement by pointing out what she’s done right to counteract my criticism. I don’t do that when I read for adults, by the way. Kids should be writing, creating, whatever makes them happy. Would I publish her novels? (Yes, she’s written full novels.) No.
 
I think many parents go crazy encouraging impossible dreams, but I’m guilty of it to some extent as well. If my girls were into dance, I’d fork the cash over to let them participate. If they liked baseball, hockey or football, I’d be burning the midnight oil to earn enough money to ensure they got to play. But here’s the difference between self-publishing and these other things: You have to work for the rest. Self-publishing doesn’t require that your child learn the necessary skills, but if she wants to be a professional dancer, you can’t just buy her a show. A NFL, NBA, or NHL player must prove he can play before he gets that big fat contract. Self-publishing requires nothing but money. That doesn’t sit well with me.
 
Go ahead and publish your kids’ writing. Encourage them all you want. But don’t say they’re authors. You’ve paid to publish a book. It might be a kickass book, but it is still a product you bought. Your child is not a published author. She is a kid whose parents loved her and supported her, and felt paying to have her writing printed was a worthwhile expense. You’ve taught them that you believe in them, and that they can do anything as long as you have enough money to pay for it.
 
Writing isn’t easy. If it is, you’re doing it all wrong. It takes time and practice, and effort. You must learn to take and use criticism to improve your writing, and you must learn to cope with rejection. Self-publishing a child’s work throws them into the world of reviewers who don’t give a rat’s ass who wrote the book. You think you’re protecting your child from negative feedback (which would happen if he or she followed the traditional route to publishing) but instead you’re opening them up to some pretty nasty characters. Go on over to Amazon and choose almost any bestseller or even a self-published Kindle book. People are not nice over there. You’ve protected your child from negativity by publishing his work yourself, so how will he know how to cope with all of that?

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Maril Swan  
Monday, 23 Apr 2012 06:50 PM  

I have to agree with all of your sentiments and I'll add one more - marketing. Getting that book published is only a small part of writing a book. The real reward comes when people buy it, comment on it, ask you to sign it, etc. You don't get that from self-publishing unless you're also prepared to do a lot of self-promotion and just plain hard sales. After the euphoria of having 100 copies of her/his self-published book comes the let-down of having 100 copies sitting in a box somewhere. Maybe that's also part of the lesson about true literary craft.

 

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Renee Miller  
Sunday, 15 Apr 2012 05:03 PM  

Oh, I'm sure there'll be something new to piss me off soon. Stay tuned...

 

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Anonymous Guest  
Sunday, 15 Apr 2012 04:39 PM  

There's strength in this article of yours; moral and ethical, and so persuasive you can almost disguise your anger. I'm impressed at the ever-increasing power of your pen. What's next?

 

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