Ever wonder what the The Postman Always Rings Twice means? It has nothing to do with character or plot within the classic crime novel. James Cain worked out a system with his mailman. If he rang once, this means the envelope was thick, probably full of a contract and advance from a publisher. If the envelope was thin, it was a rejection letter and the mailman rang twice. James Cain was rejected many many times before receiving a contract and payment for his written words. He kept at it, wrote more, wrote better, was finally considered fine enough to be worth money and publication.
There are people who want to skip the entire work process, the honing your skills part of writing, and jump right into the publication part. Without the contract or payment, and often the reverse, the writer pays someone to publish. They have no interest in hearing bells. They find someone to print out their words via print on demand, deciding that’s all they need to be considered a published writer. No editing, no proofreading, virtually nothing except the raw unread manuscript. Printed. Or virtually printed.
Bookstores should *not* stock self published books. Bookshops owe it to their customers.Plain and simple, just because someone put words together, does not make them a GOOD writer–good enough to be published. It MAY. Hopefully eventually it does. The thing is, the person may actually BE an excellent writer, but choosing to go via self publishing will stymie them from finding that out. Self publishing is the latest way of saying Vanity Press. Vanity press was a perfect description–vain enough to pay many dollars to have what the author believes to be important or good enough for the world to read–or the 10 relatives that will purchase the work out of politeness.
I for one, out of many many others, cannot fathom why people can’t understand this. People in life are paid by others for their product, and their product, whatever it may be, must be up to a standard worth paying for. Paying someone else to print writing is not how this works. Work is SUBMITTED to people who will look at it, judge it, decide if it is what they are looking for, if the quality is there. Usually an agent, less likely an actual publisher decides. The agent has read enough words to fill the earth ten times round, probably, they understand good from bad. If an agent doesn’t like the work, the answer is not pay someone to e-book it anyway, the answer is to go back writing, keep at it. The agent is the door keeper, their job is to filter out what will not stand up as literature for the public to lay down 30 bucks.
OK, I can hear people protesting, ‘but my publisher is legitimate, he publishes several authors, and I am paid royalties. If you were given an advance, in other words, paid by the publisher, and as the work sells, you are also paid royalties, then you are a published writer. If the ‘publisher’ takes your manuscript says, “I’ll print this on demand, as soon as some one wants one”, and you then get family, neighbors, friends to order the book, you are not published. Even if that publisher claims to have edited it–editing being a crucial part of what it means to be published, the likelihood is the editing was not done by a professional who knows how.
For example. I decide, I want to be a publisher. I’ll troll the internet, find people who want to be published. I won’t make them pay me for the privilege, but I will only print on demand, and the price will include cost of printing and much more. And sure, I’ll pay the pittance likely to be earned by the amount of books sold because not needing to actually PAY for the MANUSCRIPT I’ve cut out most of the cost. Do I have a professional editor, of course not–that adds cost. But I’ll look it over and fix whatever typos I see, missed grammar, etc. I’ll find 5 or 6 writers and it’ll be a nice side income.
No no no a thousand times no! Every bookstore owner should be aware of who is a POD person, and who has been actually published. I won’t use legitimately published because this term shouldn’t exist. There is no form of accepted published works other than those manuscripts vetted, submitted, paid an advance for, edited, and then printed–on paper, or if we must go there, e-pub.
And believe me, I know it’s tough to distinguish in this era of any thing goes. But do the homework! If an author asks for a signing in your store for their book, that’s the first clue. Yes, publishers are making authors do their own promotion more and more, but still, they are the ones who send out feelers to stores about signings. Or, as a bookshop, you check the authors you would be interested in having through publishers catalogs, Publisher’s Weekly etc. The BOOKSHOP sets up the signing, not an author calling or stopping in. Still there are times when an author who has a book being released from a major pub may ask for a signing–true. So, the next hint–what is the name of the publisher? If you, the book buyer, doesn’t recognize the publisher’s name, that should signal bells. But, that publisher may have slipped past you, so check on the internet. See how many books are published by them, find their requirements for publication, do they have an editor, have they a reputation, and in the case of a crime novel-check the MWA guidelines for published works, they are clearly stated. Most POD books and self pubs are pretty obvious. Bad artwork, quality is lacking in the product. And if the bookstore still can’t tell-ASK the author. If they are POD people or self pubs, it will be quick to decipher. Usually these groups are defensive when asked about the publishing credentials, and start to explain why their work is different from all the other PODs out there.
Why shouldn’t bookshops carry self pubs and PODSs? Because your customers depend on you to provide well vetted, edited works for their reading pleasure. They shouldn’t need to worry if they pay 15 bucks for a softcover is it going to have a billion typos, bad grammar and no plot. But even if the bookstore isn’t looking out for the customer, they should consider their bottom line. If PODs and self pubs are intermingled with all others, and patrons are buying them and finding their inadequacies, why would they come back for more? Why trust you the bookseller to make sure their money is well spent?
Of course, we all know there are books that are crap that have been vetted, edited, published. The difference still is, they’ve been vetted, edited and published. And contrary to beliefs, the majority are not crap. And the reverse is true. There will always be the exception that proves the rule when it comes to PODs and self pubs. But booksellers can not risk the relationship with customers by allowing ‘works’ that 20 years ago would not have left the vanity press convention to infiltrate their shelves just because technology has made it easier for vanity to exist.
If a writer is good enough, and then lucky enough, the postman will ring once. And the bookstore, customer, and the entire book industry is better for the process.