In The Guardian, Anthony Hayward explains why, after writing 20 books for traditional publishers, he has decided to self-publish his most recent book as an e-book. He marshals all the usual (and good) reasons to consider self-publishing: It’s quicker, authors retain more of the profit, and they have more control over the book’s content, release date, marketing, and so forth. The disadvantages—the extra time editing and marketing and designing, and, most importantly, the lack of editorial guidance—are ignored.
As Rod noted last year in a post on self-publishing e-books, the lack of the latter is the biggest disadvantage when it comes to self-publishing. Most writers think their ideas are always wonderful and their prose, beautiful. They aren’t, or at least not always.
Editors junk bad ideas and fix sloppy prose, and while this can be painful for writers, it is ultimately for their own good (as well as the good of readers and books themselves). After all, deep-down, who wants to spend two years on a book that is little more than a pet project or vanity publication? I’ve seen academics and writers pursue such projects in self-publishing and the results are not particularly flattering.
Of course, editors can be wrong, but the need to pitch and defend ideas to editors helps to make evident whether those ideas are interesting or valuable. It also helps to remind writers that a book is not ultimately about them, but about the ideas, the material, the prose.
This is not to say that self-publishing an e-book is always a bad idea. But I think it is usually much worse than writers of self-published e-books realize. Hayward’s use of the e-book to update an earlier scholarly book may be an example of how self-publishing can be helpful. Though even here I wonder if his editor (who suggested that it has “been done”) has a point.