Saturday, December 12, 2009

Self-Publishing and Self-Flight Training

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. 



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.


Gemma Noon said...

well, other than scaring the hell out of me re: flying, I totally agree. If my stuff isn't good enough to be picked up by a publisher, then I need to work on something else, write something else, or give up.

Having said that, there is space for self publishing - family histories, memoirs, some poetry, specialised works with a small audience, etc. In these instances, then yes, I see the point. It is vanity publishing that I have the real issue with. Sadly, there's always going to be people who will pay to get their book into print just so they can claim the "author" badge.

Mind you, if I pay to get the "pilot" badge, does that mean I get to sit in the executive lounge at the airport?

Matt said...

Gemma - I wondered what kind of response this would get. I agree there is a place for it. I just think people should be up front about it, rather than accept the accolades that should accompany a publishing deal.

As to that executive lounge, if you find it, let me know where it is, because I've sure never been in it.

Lost Wanderer said...

I used to work for Airbus, and the one lesson I learned was that the less I know about airline industry, the better for my peace of mind, because I like flying and I like to travel.

Anyway so leaving flying aside, regarding self-publishing, I am on your side. I would definitely wait to be published the traditional way.

Also, I personally wouldn't consider self-pubslihed books as "published." They are "self-published" and that's the difference. I don't care if people go ahead and do it to satisfy their own ego, but I am sure as hell not paying a penny for it. They might be good. But I am not willing to waste my time or money in taking that chance, when there are millions of books that have gone through the channels, waiting to be read. That's my little contribution to the traditional publishing. I will spend my hard earned money on those books (bought 6 today).

Michael said...

Lost Wanderer said: "But I am not willing to waste my time or money in taking that chance, when there are millions of books that have gone through the channels, waiting to be read."

That's a narrow and self-defeating view.

There are many excellent and many lousy self-published books, and many excellent and many lousy books that "have gone through the channels."

A major brand name on a book is certainly no guarantee of quality. Major publishers choose books based on potential profit, not on literary merit. Major publishers produce books with factual errors and typos.

The fact that Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" got the backing of a major publisher should finally kill the notion that traditionaly-published books are superior to self-published books.

Major publishers guess wrong most of the time. Many books that are rejected by one publisher later become money makers for other publishers. Most books from major publishers end up on the buck-a-book table.

It make no more sense to reject a book because it was self-published, than because the title is printed in blue ink.

I strongly believe that most vanity press books are crap that should be avoided. But a growing number of authors are establishing their own companies to self-publish their books, and hire professional editors and designers, and produce books that are as good as -- or better than -- "Going Rogue."

Michael N. Marcus
author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher,"

author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10.

Matt said...

Michael Marcus - Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. It seems we are in disagreement, and perhaps I should have been more clear in distinguishing my own views on self-publishing vs. vanity press. To be honest, I really didn't understand the difference before posting. It does seem clear there is a place for self-publishing, but I agree with Gemma Noon that it seems better suited to small printings, perhaps for local markets, rather than the masses. The fact is I know of no self-published books (without doing much research) that are on any legitimate best sellers lists.

On your many blogs you tout your own book, a self-published book about self-publishing, as one of Amazon's bestsellers. Yet, of the many blogs you own, I found zero to only a small handful of comments on most of your posts. In addition, of the many blogs you own, you had only one follower on any of them. Yourself.

If self-published books are so well written and so well received, I would expect a best seller such as yourself to have a great many fans. Yet the evidence is lacking. I might suggest you spend less time complaining about Sara Palin and more time working on your craft.

Your argument that major book publishers choose a work based on potential profit rather than literary merit is bunk. Of course major book sellers are profit driven. I, too, am profit driven. If I wanted to write something no one was interested in reading, I wouldn't have this blog. To suggest you feel otherwise, seems, at best, ingenuous. I fear you have joined this discussion for reasons more self-serving than you might admit. I have serious reservations on the literary merits of a self-published book on self-publishing and can only surmise the reason for the many links in your comment is to drive up your own book sales.

I'll thank you not to push your wares on my site.

Good day sir.

Patti said...

I don't think I would ever self publish to try and sell to people. If my book doesn't sell then I would probably get some copies made to give to my family and friends. There's something legitimate about being paid by someone else that appeals to me.

Erica said...

Way to tell him Matt!

Great post. It's takes balls to put it all out there. I don't think I could self publish, I think if an agent doesn't want to take on my work, there's a reason for it, and so I will keep writing until one takes me on.

I don't begrudge anyone else from being able to self publish, and I really wouldn't care if what I read turns out to be self published. Truth is, I don't buy them anyway, but I never say never ;o)

I believe in working for hard for what you get. That's the bottom line for me.

I do however hope that when I get on a plane the pilot is experienced!

Matt said...

Erica - Thanks for the support.

No one comes into my house and tells me how it's done.

At the end of the day, I expect everyone to think like I do:)

Jade said...

My comment just vanished. Sigh. I don't have the engery to re-write it. The gist was publishing, good; self-publishing, bad.

Great Post.

Matt said...

That's all right Jade. Sometimes my mind vanishes. And I don't have the energy to re-think.