truth in advertising

last night I saw a commercial that made me mad, and so it’s stuck in my head. Is that a successful marketing ploy? Not in this case, because I’m not going to mention the company that produces this product. Which is, in a word: false hope.

Imagine a classroom filled with a crowd of twenty-something students. The professor, about fifty, in stereotypical Ivy-league tweed, careworn, is lecturing them on why most of them will never be published. Close up on disappointed, disbelieving faces as he tells them the reason: money. Publishers have to invest too much money and hence they are more likely to reject a new writer.

Now a young man jumps in with an interruption. That’s not true! He tells the class. It’s not a matter of money anymore! Not with on-demand publishing, no siree. One book at a time, if need be — no big storage problems for the publishers. It’s all digital these days, sez he. It’s all changed. The professor looks slightly dazed, and offers no counterargument.

Got snake oil? How about real estate in Florida? Haven’t found a publisher interested in that novel? You’ve invested two years of your life, now invest your money– publish it yourself.

There’s so much more to the business than the printing end of it: editing, book design, distribution, advertising, marketing, the review process, all of those awful details. Forking over a thousand bucks to have a hundred copies of your novel printed is akin to renting studio time to record your own sitcom premiere — unless you do your homework ahead of time and you’re willing to take on all those jobs the publisher would have done for you.

I’d like to say also, very clearly, that hundreds of books that deserve publication, really good novels, never make it and the authors of those novels have every right to be put out about it. A few of them will decide to self-publish, and if the fates are kind and their timing is good, they might have some success with it. Unfortunately, the odds are against them.

Now in the spirit of disclosure, I’ll point out that I actually wrote a blurb for a self-published book. I hate writing blurbs and almost never do it, but in this case, I made an exception. Because I liked the novel a lot and thought it deserved to be read. This is what I wrote in my blurb about David Karraker’s Running in Place (1stBooks Library; April 2003 ISBN: 1410716880):

“As a nation addicted to nostalgia, we like to think we remember and understand the sixties… Karraker…gives us a multilayered story set at the dawning of those times. It is the tale of a young married couple on a middle American college campus, told with a clear eye and beautiful but deceptively accessible prose…This is a compelling and deeply felt story, and one that deserves a wide readership.”