Wil Wheaton and the Lulu debate

I’ve been a fan of Wil Wheaton’s blog for a couple of years now. For those who may not know, Wil is an actor, he was Gordie in Stand by Me and Wesley Crusher in ST:TNG. He’s gone on to create one of my favorite blogs, and has written some pretty damn good books. 

He’s also done something that took me by surprise; he published something using Lulu, and has had a bit of success with it. Granted, he has name recognition, and that helps far more than anything else could. However, I also think he is in some ways doing a disservice to would be or wannabe writers by his endorsement of self publishing.  For those familiar with my blog, and the Legion of Nitwits, you know there are some who should have their writing implements taken away. There are also some-I’ll say many-who should be barred from publishing their own work. Most delude themselves into thinking they’ll be able to make a living from what they do, and sadly that’s not the case.  Even writers who get published from small press or larger press publishers still have to supplement their income by other means.  For every Stephen King, there are thousands of writers who will never be able to support themselves from their writing.  

Being the type of person I am, I made this comment on his blog, and needless to say the poddites were swarming over my remarks. One person mentioned this piece in the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28selfpub.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2 . And in all fairness I think the article articulates my position more than those of the self publishing industry.

Of course, authors who take this route also give up a lot. Not only do they receive no advance payments, but they also often must pay out of their own pockets before seeing a dime. They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.

Still, many self-publishing companies allow authors to take more than the traditional royalty of 15 percent of the cover price on hardcovers and 10 percent or less on paperbacks.

And while they may get more than the traditional royalty, twice nothing is still nothing. The last sentence in the article, really illustrates the problem,

Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers. “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published,” said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”

The fact is, if you have the talent, and a story worth reading, it will get published. People send one thing out and it gets rejected and get discouraged. Rather than maybe reworking the story, or sending it out somewhere else, they resort to self publishing. The thought that what they wrote isn’t worth the paper they pay to print it on never crosses their mind. 

Let’s not forget also, POD and self publishing are two different things. Self publishers and vanity presses like Lulu may use POD technology but the result is still the same: untold numbers delude themselves into thinking that they’ll be on the bestseller lists simply by paying for the privilege of killing a few trees.