f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: An Active Prejudice

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

An Active Prejudice

We all have our biases in life. The word so often has a deeply negative connotation, but sometimes they work to our advantage. I am biased against milk chocolate. If I’m given a choice between milk and dark, I go dark and am satisfied 98% of the time. Sure there’s times the milk chocolate might have been imported from Switzerland and the dark chocolate from Newark, NJ, but overall my instincts, honed over years of experience, help me make the right decision.

This post is a confession of a bias I hold and so do many of my publishing colleagues.

I’m (very) wary of self-published books.

I want to be respectful here, because I know many of you have taken the self-published route (and I have a heard a large number of the success stories) but my first gut reaction whenever I’m pitched a self-published project is to make one of those leery “Mmmmm,” sounds that Marge Simpson often uses on Homer.

Self-publishing absolutely has its place. It’s ideal, I think, for niche non-fiction books for which there will be a targeted, sustained, but small audience. Health condition books are an example of this.

I’m less convinced of its efficacy for fiction. And I’m doubly hard to convince that a self-published book is likely to be republished by BHP.

The first reason is that by self-publishing I feel you’ve already been turned down my multiple publishers and have decided to pursue this route. What are the chances that a book multiple other publishers have rejected will work for us?

The second reason is that most self-published works, when submitted, don’t look so hot. The editing is rough. The typesetting is basic and unimpressive. The covers are often uninspiring. You are quite likely better off submitting your story in manuscript form to me. It’ll feel fresher, like it has more potential.

Finally, this intractability of mine is getting worse not better. Unfair as it sounds, you’re not just battling to sell your own book, you’re faced with the ghosts of all those rejected self-published novels that came before yours.

That said, there’s always the story of the small press or vanity press who first published some soon-to-be-mega-star. John Grisham started that way, I guess. Tom Clancy. Which goes to show that editors know nothing. We’re just like you though—operating on biases and hunches that are designed to make our life easier and cut down on unnecessary work.

I hope you all prove me wrong. I really hope you’re the next John Grisham. I will still take a look at your work. But I want to be upfront…you’re facing an uphill climb.