Everyone Wants to be a Writer in the 21st Century

With computer access and self-publishing it seems everyone wants to be a writer now. Even worse yet, everyone thinks they have what it takes, and if they can’t find a publisher or agent, they resort to self-publishing. The problem is not everyone has the ability to be a good writer, and self-publishing makes good writing skills unimportant to many new writers.

Where Does the Problem Begin?

What is it that makes everyone today want to be a writer? One of the biggest problems seems to be money, and this is where the self-publishing industry is partly to blame. Writers in the 21st century do not feel there is any need to have a traditional publisher–in fact many are not even attempting to obtain an agent or publisher. What is this happening? Some of the reasons you may hear include but are not limited to the following:

  • They are afraid of rejection–a common reason is “I know no one will publish my book.” Maybe that should be a clue that either you aren’t good enough to be a published writer or need to polish your book some more first.
  • They want complete control of their manuscript. In other words they don’t want a publisher deciding on what the book will be titled, what kind of design will be on the cover, the typeface of the inside or the price of the book. Apparently the days of the publisher knowing what sells is lost to the self-publishing industry that lets writers make their own decisions, ones that are seldom based on research and marketability.
  • Self-publishing offers a higher “return on investment” according to many self-published writers, but this is a fallacy in my opinion. There are many other things to consider such as the number of books you are likely to sell compared to traditional publishing. There is also the loss of one sales outlet: the brick and mortar book store since very few book stores carry self-published books. Those that do make it into bookstores are there only because the writers make some kind of agreement with the bookstore, quite often meaning the store accepts the books on consignment. This means the author must literally purchase their books and provide them to the bookstore and hope they sell. Some small stores might be willing to take a chance on a local author, but this is not the normal process.
  • Writers tend to think they know more about the publishing industry than agents and publishers or they develop a mindset where they don’t care what sells as long as they can publish their manuscripts and receive “royalties,” which are really not royalties but rather the difference between what the author paid for the book and the sales price.
  • They fall for self-publishing companies that say they is “no cost” to publish thinking that means they don’t even have to proofread or edit their work. This makes the author look bad and gives self-publishing the stigma it still retains.
  • They think being traditionally published eliminates any type of marketing and are disillusioned when they find out differently. They figure if they have to market their own material they might as well self-publish. the reality is traditional publishers are doing less marketing than they used to do, but this should not discourage writers from choosing the traditional route if that is what they really want to do.

Everyone Wants to Write a Personal Memoir

Another problem that has developed with the advent of self-publishing is that everyone thinks they have a unique story that will be interesting to the reading public. I am amazed at the increase in the number of people who want to write personal memoirs thinking everyone will be interested. For those who wish to self-publish memoirs so they can give copies to friends and family members, I say go for it, but the problem is there are too many writers–or writer wannabes–who think they have a special story that the public will find interesting. Even if you think your story is unique chances are someone else already told the same story and/or went through the exact same trials and tribulations.

Self-Published Authors Are Another Problem

I also see self-published writers as being a problem because they encourage new writers to self-publish without knowing whether the writer has writing ability. They also do so without telling both the advantages and disadvantages or know if the manuscript is ready for publication. We have to reach a point where all writers have enough pride in their work to make sure it is polished before they put it into the public’s hands. In addition, potential writers need to understand not everyone has what it takes to be a writer, and just because you have a computer doesn’t mean you should be a writer.

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24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CW64
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 19:55:57

    Brenda,

    As usual, great points. You know I am in your corner on this issue, but, as I said before, your ongoing argument is falling on deaf ears. Those who resort to or are considering self-publishing will either get defensive, tell you you don’t know what you are saying, or completely ignore you altogether. What else can you do? Something else needs to be done to dissuade these wannabe writers and either destroy that stigma or cast away the institution of self-publishing altogether.

    Talking is old. Do you have any other ideas?

    Reply

  2. Brenda Coxe
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 20:22:22

    I wish there was an answer, but until all writers take pride in their work the problem is going to exist. Perhaps self-publishing companies should begin reviewing what they publish, but then, that would defeat the purpose. I’m not even talking about the vanity presses but the actual self-publishing outfits like Smash Words, Create Space, Lightning Source, etc. However, they offer editing services (most do anyway) but it’s up to the author to agree to pay for those services which they often don’t.

    I have nothing against self-publishing really–what I have a problem with is the stigma it has because of so many poorly written fiction books. Please note I said FICTION books. I have received many self-published non-fiction books that are well written, but the fiction is another story entirely.

    Reply

  3. The Gray Monk
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:23:42

    As someone published in the traditional sense, though as a ‘Technical’ author and self-published (Which I note is labelled ‘Vanity’) for my fiction, I’d like to add my ha’penny worth to this discussion.

    The traditional publishing industry has to take some of the blame for this state of affairs, firstly because it has developed a form of incestuousness in the selection process. Often it isn’t the quality of the story or even the genre that determine it, ‘marketing’ and ex-drug addict or football star who can barely utter a complete sentence is deemed to be easier than some unknown who has a good story to tell. I am reliably informed that at least two ‘big name’ authors on the fiction lists are actually ‘ghost written,’ but that is, in itself, another story.

    The computer has made it possible for idiots like myself to amuse ourselves writing the stories we’d like to be able to read these days, but can’t because they aren’t the sort of work that the Harper Collins and Random House brands want to publish or feel they can market. I confess that every time I have had to travel long haul in recent years I have ended up leaving some “Best Seller” or another – selected because its a genre I enjoy reading – in the pocket of the seat having read probably no more than four or five chapters.

    I have an extensive library of my own, fairly wide ranging as I do believe that writing anything, fiction or fact, requires a lot of research and references. All of these books are published by mainstream publishers and I am often appalled at the really poor editing, mislabelling of pictures and erroneous ‘facts’ I find as I read some of them. No point in submitting a list of corrections to the publisher either, it is simply ignored.

    So, what led me to use AuthorHouse and Xlibiris? Firstly Author House offered a straightforward no frills deal. I knew what I was buying and I bought it. For my second book I tried to use a “Joint Venture” publisher – a very costly mistake. For the same money with AuthorHouse I would have got a full ‘marketing package’ and shelf space in some bookstores! I’ve since republished that book through Xlibris, as an experiment and I haven’t been disappointed either.

    Yes, there are any number of very poorly edited and written books published by these and other companies. Createspace is mentioned here as are others. You get what you pay for and though, as a writer, I do my best to edit carefully and thoroughly, I can still find errors even after a professional editor has been through my work. An example being one technical treatise I wrote, where the editor, having no knowledge of the subject matter, set about rewriting passages so that it ended up not making any sense at all technically. Again, I can point to books written by ‘Big’ names – I have a Pratchett on my shelf at present – where I am finding typographical errors and I won’t even go to the reference book sitting in my wastebasket at the moment where several photographs are mis-labelled and wrongly, and frankly anyone with any knowledge of the subject could see this, misidentify the ships named in them. They’re not even in the same class of ship!

    Somewhere in the 1990s the publishing industry ceased to be about good literature or even to supply stories and books that had a wider appeal than the current crop of anti-church, anti-western society, politically correct or horror and fantasy that it currently churns out. Fact or Fiction, a book must be a true reflection of fact if it revolves around facts. That is where I threw away Dan Brown’s writing, because his abuse of fact and his ‘re-interpretation’ of fact was so palpably twisted I couldn’t abide it. I did the same with Stephen Lawhead’s version of St Patrick, presenting him as some sort of semi-criminal super-druid with magical powers. Truth, especially historically based truth is often difficult to present accurately, but it is also often far more interesting than this sort of abusive fiction.

    No, I’m not bitter about it, I’m being realistic. I don’t expect my books to appeal to everyone and I certainly don’t expect to make millions from them. I’m not happy about being stigmatised by the general dismissal of ‘all self-published books are rubbish’ because it simply isn’t the truth. As one agent had the grace to tell me face to face, I write stories which are excellent, but they won’t sell in the UK because the publishing industry doesn’t want stories with a military background that is positive and heroes who are male. They also won’t sell to a US publisher because they are based in Europe and European services …

    I am currently exploring e-Books because I think that has a wider readership than the traditional book at the moment, though I’m not sure where it will ultimately go.

    OK, I said a ha’penny worth and this looks more like the full shilling. Just my thoughts on a tricky subject in which there are a lot of badly applied labels at present.

    Reply

    • Brenda Coxe
      Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:42:54

      Yes, the publishing industry has changed immensely, and the post is not intended to insinuate that ALL self-published writing is trash, but enough of it is so poorly written to give the entire industry a stigma–so much so that even editors of publications are not willing to take on writers whose only credits are self-published work. The problem lies not with the industry but with the writers who fail to take pride in their work, and this is the result of the Internet making it too easy for anyone to publish.

      Regarding Author House: they have been on the Preditors & Editors Site as a vanity press to avoid for at least 5 years, probably closer to 10. Xlibris is one of the worst spammers around–it took me ages to get rid of their weekly emails after I went to their site just to obtain some information before I knew who they were. For myself I will be looking toward royalty-paying e-publishers, not Smash Words or Create Space–I have no desire or talent for creating and designing book covers.

      Reply

  4. The Gray Monk
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 12:04:36

    Interestingly, Xlibris and AuthorHouse advertise on the Authonomy and YouWriteOn websites – that is where I picked up Xlibris which now operates out of the same building as AuthorHouse and both are owned by the same company.

    I had a very bad and expensive experience with a UK based “Publisher” who offered a Joint Venture – I put up the money, the book was edited professionally and published. The “marketing” the company was supposed to do failed to materialise and after three years of no sales at all I pulled the plug and walked away, £5k the poorer. Considering that I was pointed to this firm by an agent, I tend now to be very wary.

    AH and Xlibris have done reasonable jobs in producing my books, they are available through Waterstones and Smiths (though not on the shelves at the latter) and on Amazon. I get small “Royalty” cheques every so often and the books sell in small quantities mainly through my advertising them on blogs, through websites and so on.

    I want to make them available on e-publishing, but have not yet found one I’m entirely comfortable with. Any suggestions?

    Reply

  5. CW64
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 12:26:35

    Gray Monk,

    I’m just curious: Did you inform your agent about the “marketing” issue you had? What was that agent’s response, if any?

    Reply

  6. Brenda Coxe
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 12:35:29

    Xlibris has been under Author House for quite some time both of which have very bad reputations according to Preditors & Editors.

    If you own your copyright you might try Magellan Books. I am familiar with the owner–Rob Parnell. He started Magellan some years ago as a low-cost small press but it is now a royalty-paying e-publisher. Someone did tell me that the books don’t go on Amazon or B&N, but you can probably arrange to do that yourself. There are many more if you just do a search under “royalty-paying e-publishers.” I once came up with over 10 pages of search results.

    Reply

  7. skarrlette
    May 10, 2011 @ 13:11:15

    I think realistically if you want to be writer you need to get your book published by a real agent. Its needs to be edited by a professional period. Most writers are not good editors, I agree with this post. Sorry to rain on everyones parade but the self publishing thing is just stupid. No one reads self published books, I know I know their are exceptions but I know I don’t. How many people go to Barnes and Nobles and the Times bestseller list? EVERYONE!

    Keep sending out your book I read a story about a author who’s book was REJECTED 65 TIMES and was excepted on the 65th. But now she can say she was published by a real publishing house which opens more doors for her when she goes to submit her next book.

    What credibility does self publishing give you to a a possible publisher ??? what editing skills does a author have? Editing is an artform.

    Reply

    • Brenda Coxe
      May 10, 2011 @ 13:18:33

      There are a few exceptions such as when your book fits into a niche market or after you’ve been rejected several hundred times and it’s not because your book is no good. The stigma may one day change but not until authors learn to perfect the work they put out there first which begins with hiring a professional editor or swapping edits with a friend in the industry.

      Reply

  8. CW64
    May 10, 2011 @ 19:00:25

    Skarrlette,

    As an editor, I know how important self-editing can be. Writers are not automatically bad editors, but I do realize that they tend to lose their sense of objectivity due to their closeness to their own pieces. That’s why a work’s initial proofreading and copyediting should be conducted by someone else, someone who is professional. Writers need not have to agree with all the feedback offered, but that imparted insight from others can “objectivize” a writer’s own perspective when it comes to conducting revisions.

    In the end, editing is so important and should never be ignored for any reason. Success and failure depend on it.

    Reply

  9. Darrell Laurant
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:41:14

    Hi, Brenda:

    I completely agree with you on the dearth of competent editing. As someone who writes a book-related newspaper column, I’m often sent local books in which the story (even a good one) is choked and obscured by the crabgrass of misspellings and bad grammar.

    On the other hand, with local history books and memoirs, I would invoke what I call (in Lynchburg, VA) the Omaha Rule. Is someone in Omaha likely to pick your book off the shelf? If not, then perhaps self-publishing or a small publisher is the way to go. That also enables a hard-working self-promoter to carve out a doable schedule of book signings in areas where people might care.

    Just a thought.

    Reply

    • Brenda Coxe
      Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:06:54

      Darrell, that’s one of my biggest problems with self-publishing. There are so many writers today who think it is okay to publish their first drafts or to publish without the benefit of a professional editor. I hear so many times from authors preparing to self-publish “I don’t need an editor, I am an excellent self-editor.” The reality is there is no such thing! Authors are too close to their work to be able to effectively and efficiently self-edit. That doesn’t mean they SHOULDN’T self-edit by any means, but they should definitely not rely on their self-editing to determine if their manuscript is ready for publication.

      Reply

  10. CW64
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:37:18

    Amen, Brenda. Believe it or not, when self-editing work, a writer will ALWAYS miss something. This is why an objective reader can add insight from outside the box.

    Darrel, I am not against self-publishing–as long as the writer utilizes the services of a professional editor first. More editors would be better (I heard that three is an appropriate count), but at least one editor who knows what to look for and can offer realistic feedback regarding genre requirements, marketing, formatting, reader preferences and other aspects not taken into account. No writer will consider everything. This is also why said writers should do research on all of these first before considering self-publishing, and even THEN I would still suggest the services of a professional editor. This is a MUST for success, and it is why publishing companies have editors to read/edit manuscripts. I am one, so I know.

    Reply

  11. Brenda Coxe
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 16:26:57

    Mark, I am fully aware of that fact and have expressed it many times in various writing groups. There is no possible way anyone can self-edit efficiently no matter what a writer thinks. The problem is many of them think they can self-edit and miss things. Those who think they can efficiently self-edit also bring up that professional editors miss things which may be true but is not as prevalent as self-editing if the editor is a decent one.

    Reply

  12. CW64
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:18:37

    Brenda,

    I wasn’t directing my comment to you, but to Darrel and the readership in general. Although I have stated my attitude and stance on self-publishing many times on this board, I wanted to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with it, as long as professional editors are involved. I also concur on how many publishers are liable to be skeptical with writers who are solely self-published, which is why those who self-publish should do so only under extenuating circumstances or as a final resort to receiving an ongoing barrage of rejections. In any case, my latest comment above was in support of yours, not challenging it in any way. Sorry.

    Reply

  13. CW64
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 11:25:28

    >>Those who think they can efficiently self-edit also bring up that professional editors miss things which may be true but is not as prevalent as self-editing if the editor is a decent one.<<

    By the way, have you actually encountered self-published authors who insisted they have or can do a perfect job in self-editing without missing anything? Talk about arrogant and delusional (the authors)! No editor gets absolutely everything, even professionals. This is why (as I have heard) having more than one editor conduct reviews on a manuscript is the preferred way to go.

    Reply

  14. Brenda Coxe
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 20:39:50

    Yes, Mark, I actually have come across writers who claim they can efficiently self-edit their own work. That probably explains why we see so much self-published crap out there.

    Reply

  15. CW64
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 11:09:46

    Brenda,

    First, no need to get sarcastic (why are you?). I said I acquiesce with your points and am not posing a challenge to you–that much is apparent.

    Secondly, my specific query was whether or not you have encountered SP writers who actually SAID they had not or would not make any mistakes when performing self-edits, not inferred that, say, through their actions. It’s one thing to assume an attitude by observing others’ behavior; it’s quite another to actually hear them admit flawlessness regarding their capabilities. My response above was more out of incredulity than anything else (i.e.as if to say, “My God, they actually had the gall and audacity to say THAT?”). I personally have never encountered others who have actually ADMITTED such a thing, but I can tell by the numbers that many so-called writers who believe they are flawlessness editors do, in fact, exist. The proliferation of manuscripts bearing questionable quality attests to this.

    Take care and have a good day. :-)

    Reply

  16. Brenda Coxe
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 14:36:48

    Where did you see sarcasm? You asked a question and I answered it. You really need to learn how to recognize things for what they are and stop trying to read between the lines.It doesn’t make for professionalism.

    Reply

  17. CW64
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 11:45:57

    Now I’ll answer your question:

    >>Yes, Mark, I actually have come across writers who claim they can efficiently self-edit their own work. <<

    The above line, beginning with "yes, Mark" read with a sarcastic tone. Whether or not it was meant that way is something different. The comment "Mark, I am fully aware of that fact . . ." in your previous post comes off a bit the same way, and you assumed I was directing my comments to you. I wasn't. Why would I? You already know where I stand, as it's plastered earlier in this thread, and I am aware of what you know. I was backing up your comment to Darrel, that's all.

    That's what happens when one corresponds online. "Reading between the lines" occurs with everyone who cannot hear a voice speaking.

    In any case, no harm done. I misconstrued your intent, and I am sorry. Let's move on. Thanks.

    Take care.

    Reply

  18. Francisca
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 20:48:05

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    Reply

  19. Kyle Mullan
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 18:51:03

    Don’t worry about it. Writers who are, as you say, not great, will be determined as such by the process that comes with this new era of self-publishing: they will be either shunned by the public, given bad reviews, or told that it’s just not for them.

    Leave it be; that’s how a lot of creative industries work. I can understand why you posted this article, but ranting about it won’t help to do what you are promoting here, i.e. changing the process; I doubt the people you are referring to will ever stumble across this page.

    In any case, there is a certain personal process that every writer must go through: writing, as you surely know, is one of the most lonesome endeavours a human can attempt; many writers I know have undergone a personal battle, of sorts, that may see them come out victorious.

    Time, patience, motivation and life choices will decide whether these writers proceed to self-publication. I must admit to holding a certain empathy for such victorious writers, as I have experienced the process myself, and it was not at all pleasant.

    If the writer has written something that they feel the public needs to see, they will make sure that they see it, by any means and by any date; if not, it will be read by the people who need to see it and nobody further afield.

    Please understand that my intent is not to point out error in your accusation, for I believe it is true-to-heart and well-founded, and for those reasons I can wholly respect your presentation of opinion; nor do I want to express my opinion as a crude aside; rather I want to inform that yes, I have self-published, and yes, I believe there is too much irrelevant, useless crap out there, but I am confident that this wave of self-publishing availability is an amazing vehicle for artistic release amongst the masses: people who have something painstakingly long to say and now have, at their disposal, the methods with which to say it.

    Time or, at the very worst, propaganda, will decide exactly how many people are engaged by it, thus materialising its worth.

    Reply

    • Brenda Coxe
      Jan 10, 2013 @ 19:50:12

      My problem is not with self-published writers who compose a good product but with those who think it’s okay to publish their first draft or publish without benefit of an editor. While I do not currently support self-publishing for myself–at least not for a novel–I may change my mind when mine is complete. However, I would not publish without hiring an editor. Anyone who does any is not operating in a professional manner in my opinion.

      Yes, the industry will determine who is good and who isn’t, but think of this: if readers continue to buy work by independent authors and keep finding the work to be inferior, they will discontinue buying from SP authors, and that will hurt the industry more than it already has.

      Reply

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