I’ve been bothered lately by a trend amongst wannabe authors who don’t have the patience, or perhaps the skill, to make it with legitimate publishers. There are a lot of writers out there who want to be authors. I’m one of them. I would say most who read this blog are as well. And from what I can tell of the blogs I read, most are like me—waiting for their big break.
Then there are those who feel they don’t need, or want, to wait in line with the rest of us. And in this day and age they don’t have to. And that’s what bothers me. They can self-publish for all the world to read, assuming anyone can find their work. The problem is anyone can do this. I can do it. You can do it. And, if she had the money, seven-year-old Sammy next door could do it.
Who wouldn’t want a published book? But here’s where I, and I like to think most writers, split from the self-published crowd. We re-write, edit, revise, send it to beta readers, and then do it all over again. If we get lucky enough to find an agent to represent us, my hope is that agent will want further revisions. I’m not a sadist, but I want to take advantage of the experts. Agents and editors know what works and what sells and the truth is I don’t.
There’s something very satisfying about reading a book that has been pored over by committees whose job it was to ensure it was the most well-written, best possible story, best product I could buy. What such guarantee is there from self-published authors? I’m skeptical there’s any.
There’s a parallel to this in my real life as an airline pilot. Unless you come from the military, there are two ways to get a job as an airline pilot. Both require discipline and hard work. The FAA doesn’t just hand out pilot licenses. They have to be earned. But, in as few as 2oo hours, you can earn a commercial license. Now someone can pay you, legally, to fly an airplane loaded with cargo, people, or nuclear waste*.
The problem is, there are an awful lot of pilots out there. And most insurance companies require a lot more than 200 hours before they’ll let a flying outfit add a new pilot to their policy. This is the Catch-22 of the budding pilot career. You want a job, but you don’t have the experience to get a job. So how do you gain experience? And here’s where it’s like publishing.
I’m a bit biased, in case you couldn’t tell. I built my hours the old fashioned way. The hard way. I flew whenever I could, for very little money, as a flight instructor.
WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU JUST LEARNED HOW TO FLY YOURSELF AND THEY LET YOU TEACH OTHERS?
That’s one of aviation’s little secrets. Once you get your commercial license, there’s no minimum required to become a flight instructor. You just have to prove you can do it. But believe me, the feds don’t make it easy. But flight instructing taught me so much more than if I hadn’t done it. I hated most every minute of it, but I’m glad because of what I learned. And, I gained valuable experience that you, sitting in the back of a shiny big airliner, need not worry about. I’ll get you there alive. I’ll get you there safe. Someone asked me if I ever get nervous with so many lives in my hands. The answer is no. Only one life on that plane matters and that’s mine. If I make it safely, everyone else is along for the ride.
But, like in publishing, there are those who don’t want to earn their stripes. And, like in publishing, there are outlets where they don’t need to. It’s been a trend with large flight schools to offer programs for people willing to spend way too much money. Certain airlines even have similar programs. Believe me, I spent plenty on my training. Once I had my commercial and instructor ratings, I’d spent enough. Anyone worth working for wouldn’t ask for any more.
But there are those who are willing to pay for a job. And what employer would turn that down? Training is expensive. That leads to people who spend tens of thousands of dollars to sit in the right seat of an airliner while the captain basically acts as babysitter, flight instructor, and single pilot. After however many hours they’ve paid for, these greenies can point to their logbook and claim to have that much experience. And the airlines can then hire these people without worrying about their insurance policies.
The problem is, these inexperienced pilots, like the self-published writer, have had minimal oversight. In this respect, self-publishing is less dangerous, but I hope you’re able to see my point. I would much rather read a book that I know is the best it can be, just as I’d rather sit in the back of a plane knowing both pilots earned the right to sit up front.
*My first post instructing job was for a cargo operator. The owner had a friend in need of a biennial flight review, which is required of every pilot. Since I was fresh from instructing, I was “asked” to fly with this guy and sign him off. We flew a load of stuff to the Bahamas and back. He passed, thanks to some wide latitude on my part, and I signed him off, giving no thought to what we’d been carrying. He was good for a further two years. About two years later I read in the newspaper how he’d been arrested for hauling nuclear waste. Not exactly legal. The article listed the dates he was alleged to have done this, prompting me to pull out my instructor records. I missed it by about a month.